A reflection on COP21 by Lynne Davis
The superlatives used to describe the outcomes of the COP21 talks in Paris might convince us that human kind has made some giant leap toward genuine sustainability. Negotiators from 200 countries came together, accepted that climate change is real, that governments need to act to stop it and most signed a non-binding agreement alluding to that effect.
Politicos celebrated while activist groups mourned. The flurry of mainstream media poured praise over the proceedings and, as usual, the voices of the peasants, indigenous peoples, people’s of the global south, the world’s vulnerable and the global activist networks working in solidarity were drowned out. The silenced voice of agroecology.
The praise for the Paris Agreement centres around the idea that the world’s governments came together agreeing to end climate change. The Paris Agreement makes a ‘deal’ to stay ‘well below’ 2 degrees C temperature increase with an aim to stay near to 1.5 degree C. Although this wording made it into the agreement, the pledges made by states in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) point to a 3 degrees C temperature increase. The carbon books have still not been balanced, and it is doubtful that any negotiator actually believes they will be. Achieving this really would be a momentous achievement.
The agreement recognises that the world’s vulnerable people will be more greatly affected by climate change, that Global North countries have a responsibility to provide financial support and capacity building to Global South countries. However, the agreement speaks of mobilising USD 100 billion a year between the developed states, a figure widely accepted as a drop in the rising ocean. Specifically ‘mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels’ which technically might include loans, investment of infrastructure and conditional grants. The terms of this financial mobilisation will be a further point of negotiation, and you can bet that it won’t be the front-line communities and agroecology at this negotiating table either.
The agreement states that technology will play a key role in reaching the target of ‘well below’ 2 degrees C. Specifically it states that we will achieve a ‘balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century’. So investments in the global south will likely include a range of ‘climate-smart agriculture’ activities. La Via Campesina spoke out about what this really means to them.
On Wednesday December 9th members of the La Via Campesina protested the role and efficacy of carbon sinks and offsets in front of the headquarters of multinational company Danone in Paris. The group aimed to draw attention to Danone’s ‘false solutions’ of forcefully taking peasant land in Indonesia for the purposes of planting palm plantations. Danone greenwashed the actions claiming this was sourcing palm oil ethically, stating no rainforest was destroyed in the process. Danone also benefited by using the plantations to offset their emissions elsewhere in the world. And meanwhile peasant agriculturalists were forced off their land, and those that weren’t now experience water shortages due to the palm plantations.
The voices of those most affected by climate change should be the loudest heard in these struggles. These are the front-line communities, people for whom colonialism, land grabs, agri-business and more recently climate change have been destroying their landscape and ways of life for over 200 years. The demands of these groups are fundamentally quite simple: they demand the right to self determination and demand the right to steward their lands. This is agroecology in practice, and this is exactly what was not put on the table in Paris. Quite simply, these exact demands stand in the face of the industrialised world’s economic growth that the negotiators seem to place as number one priority. Where would the wealthy countries extract wealth from if not by creating surplus value from workers or extracting resources from the planet?
The key outcomes of the Agreement are quite transparent to front-line communities, and yet as expected these minor victories have been painted across global media while human-rights violations and environmental suicide pacts are swept under the rug. Perhaps all that has changed in the past 21 years of negotiations is that industry has figured out a wording that sounds sufficiently like instigating real change while not creating an hindrance to economic development. If the world needed any more proof that a Conference of the Parties could not solve climate change it was found in Paris.