Last week was intense. The atmosphere of hope over COP21 meetings in Paris, a couple of days in Mombasa working with a supremely creative local performance group on our Young Cities initiative, and then a former British colony celebrated 52 years since independence.
Like many Kenyans celebrated Kenya@52. And how I wish we could all truly love our country, denounce greed and corruption and jettison from narrow ethnic calculus. This country can be great but such greatness must be built on the backs of selfless individuals who ask not what they can reap, but what they must sow.
Energy is at the heart of the global climate crisis. What is needed is a robust and binding commitment by all countries to shift from the use of oil, coal and gas, which supplies 80 percent of global energy needs, to the use of renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro. However, such a transition would require huge breakthroughs in technology and major investments in infrastructure. Moreover, the expectation of developing countries is that developed countries pay for their energy transition through direct spending or through inexpensive transfer of technology.
COP21 started on a promising note. The United States and 19 other countries pledged to double their spending over five years to support clean energy research. Led by Bill Gates, 28 private investors, including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon's Jeff Bezos, pledged money to help build private businesses based on publicly funded clean energy research.
The promising, cooperative start of COP21was short lived. It was depressing to see hubris and ego of nations on display in the final days of the COP21 meeting in Paris. China led the so-called developing world in pressing for the continuation of the current two tier system where obligations to cut back carbon emissions or a shift to clean energy must be shouldered by the so-called developed countries.
On December 12, 2015, after 13 days of negotiations, diplomats issued a final draft of a climate change agreement in Paris. If adopted, the agreement would set an ambitious goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.
However, the agreement does not mandate how much each country must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. But it establishes a bottom-up system in which each country sets its own goal, “intended nationally determined contributions”, (INDC) and communicates plans to achieve that objective. While it is commendable that many countries including Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania actually submitted their INDC before COP21, greater emission reduction pledges will be required hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
I think Article 4 paragraph 1 of the Paris Agreement is pretty tepid in mandating an end date to greenhouse emissions for developing countries, which include the world’s foremost polluters such as China and India. The agreement requires that “Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties”. Such wording waters down, significantly, the stated goal to cut greenhouse emission and slow global warming. Moreover, it is hard to see how the requirement to update pledges made in nationally determined contributions every five years after 2020 will be enforced.
The scientific community is skeptical about how the Paris Agreement will achieve the goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research based in Britain believes that the Paris Agreement is not consistent with the science and is between dangerous and deadly for the most vulnerable nations of the world. Former NASA scientist James Hansen has described the agreement as a fraud.
It is shameful that world leaders have shown no interest in making hard choices to de-carbonize the global economy. The Paris Agreement was the easy thing to do because a legally binding agreement would pose international resistance from developing countries. Moreover a binding agreement would face stiff domestic political challenges in the United States.
Paris was a missed opportunity. The narrow imperatives of economic growth triumphed. As Naomi Klein said, the climate change movement has yet to find its moral voice on the world stage.