Will Climate Action Be Another Casualty of the Paris Terror Attacks? (11/20)     Print

WalterNicklen2015By Walter Nicklin

With less than the two weeks to go before the COP21, the Paris attacks have perhaps done more harm to the UN conference than U.S. climate-change deniers could ever have hoped to achieve -- a perverse and happy outcome for the fossil-fuel-dependent Islamic State, which, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, derives $40 million a month producing and exporting oil.

But in the rapidly changing environment anything is possible.

The big demonstration and march originally scheduled for the eve of the conference has been cancelled and security around the site, already intense, will ensure it becomes a VIP bubble, insulated from any kind of civic participation.

Many environmental organizations continue to hope for the best, however, and see in the wake of the Paris attacks a new spirit of global solidarity that could be harnessed at the COP21. For example, Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, told reporters on Wednesday that international response to the Paris attacks has been like that of 9/11: “It is absolutely amazing -- the desire to do something in common.… If anything, it stiffens the spine in terms of determination [to reach a long-term climate deal].”

Reinforcing this optimistic view that national governments are sincerely committed to a serious climate deal was the British pre-conference announcement, also on Wednesday, that coal would be eliminated from the UK energy diet by 2025. Currently, coal provides about a quarter of the UK's electricity.

However many negotiators are reportedly now more pessimistic than ever about achieving a once hoped-for “big” climate deal, as their national governments – not to mention the constituents they represent – find in-your-face terrorism of more pressing, distracting concern than the abstract future of a warming planet.

Last weekend’s Group of 20 meeting in Turkey, for instance, saw items on the official agenda, including the COP21, get pushed aside by the sudden urgency of how to respond to the Paris attacks. Indeed, the G20's Antalya Communiqué is arguably weaker on climate, fossil fuel subsidies, and support for renewable energy than the G20's 2009 Pittsburgh Statement made shortly before the disappointing COP15 in Copenhagen six years ago. While the language is lofty -- affirming the goal to limit temperature rise to 2C -- details are sparse, with a principled but vague call for "a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC that is applicable to all Parties…[and] to work together for a successful outcome of the COP21."

Meanwhile, in the United States on Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Senate, in a 52-to-46 vote, hoped to undermine the Administration’s negotiating authority in Paris by resolving to block President Obama’s new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules to cut heat-trapping carbon emissions from existing coal-fired plants.

Walter Nicklin is Publisher of the Rappahannock News A former reporter for the Economist, he was founding editor of “Europe Magazine.