It is a month after the Paris agreement to tackle climate change was finalised, but the debate has yet to die down. The deal has been welcomed by many – indeed the fact that 195 countries reached an at least partially legally binding agreement is impressive. There remains criticism on some points (notably that the current commitments of countries will result in more than 2C temperature rise, along with concerns regarding aviation and shipping’s exclusion), but the Paris agreement represents a foundation on which to build a zero-carbon world.
After the titanic effort of diplomacy to reach an agreement, politicians, campaigners and society as a whole – including Quakers – are faced with the challenge of making the agreement a reality. We have already seen that the Paris agreement has not necessarily impacted government policy; the UK government’s decision to slash subsidies for renewable energy shows that we will still need to be vigilant in ensuring policy at all levels is coherent with the urgent need to build a sustainable world, and consistent with the commitments contained in the Paris accords.
This vigilance is of course equally necessary at the European level, and it will be important to scrutinise European Union policy to ensure it contributes to the international goal of keeping global temperature rise well below two degrees centigrade. The EU already has climate commitments for 2020 and 2030, and is currently on track to meet the 2020 targets. However, current policies will need to be strengthened to keep up the pace, and policies resulting in increased emissions need to be avoided.
TTIP and climate change
On the eve of the Paris talks, findings were published which found that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would undermine current and future climate change regulations, resulting in increased greenhouse gas emissions. The EU has emphasised its leadership regarding climate change, but one of its ten priorities for the next five years – to develop a free trade agreement with the US – clearly conflicts with those climate commitments.
The three separate, independently researched policy briefs arrive at similar conclusions; that TTIP will directly result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, and run counter to the goals of climate change mitigation and avoidance policies. An environmental assessment for Europe estimates that TTIP will increase emissions by 11 million metric tonnes annually, costing around €1.4 billion a year to EU society, without counting the costs to the US. TTIP would also result in increased exports of crude oil and gas across the Atlantic.
Along with these direct increases in emissions, TTIP could weaken key legislation on fracking, energy efficiency and renewable energy under the guise of “removing non-tariff barriers.” Lastly of course, protections for foreign investors could dissuade the further legislation needed to meet the Paris targets. The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and Investor Court System (ICS) mechanisms favour companies already established on the market – such as multinational fossil fuel companies – rather than enabling smaller, alternative energy markets to grow.
It is clear that the Paris agreements are but the start of a new series of debates and actions, ensuring that governments hold to the commitments made in December 2015. When governments propose environmentally harmful legislation, such as TTIP, the Paris accords are a powerful tool for civil society and individuals to campaign against those policies. More widely, we must use Paris as a method to assess European and national policy, so as to ensure that governments achieve what they promised to, last December in Paris.
Our colleagues at the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) and Quaker Peace & Social Witness have been active on climate change. Click here to find out more about QUNO’s work, and click here to visit Quakernomics for QPSW’s earth and economy work.