Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 24th 2015 Contents BG16 COMMENTARY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt DECEMBER 24 • 2015
The results of the Climate
Change conference in Paris
(COP21) give no reason for
small island states to cheer.
The agreement reflects many
promises and little action. The
one item of concrete action is merely an under-
taking to evaluate carbon emissions every five
years; and even that has no teeth.
What is not in the agreement is a firm,
legally binding commitment to limit average
global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees
Celsius. Also, not in the agreement is a legally
binding commitment to provide developing
countries with the funds needed to adapt to,
and mitigate against, the effects of climate
change. There isn t even a commitment to a
fund, in the sum of US$100 billion a year, that
was frequently touted before the conference
Once again, the industrialised nations of
the world---the worst polluters---took advantage
of the weakness of the smallest countries of
the world which are the least polluters and
the biggest victims of climate change.
To their credit, through the Alliance of Small
Island States (AOSIS), representatives of small
states did put up a good showing in Paris.
Armed with the latest statistics and bolstered
by a structured expert report released by the
UN Framework Convention on Climate
Change, they argued for the containment of
global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, showing
that, at 2 degrees, destruction would be wide-
spread and irreversible. But, in the end, despite
all the hoopla, applause and celebration, small
Representatives of AOSIS countries might
have been flattered by a brief visit to them by
US President Barack Obama, when he declared:
"These nations are not the most populous
nations, they don t have big armies they have
a right to dignity and sense of place."
But, while President Obama was undoubt-
edly sincere in what he said, he also knew,
even as he was saying it, that he could not
deliver ratification by the US Congress of any
agreement that limited carbon emissions or
bound the US legally to warming no higher
than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
So, the world has a so-called agreement,
still to be ratified by the 196 participating
countries, that only expresses an objective to
limit global warming to "well below 2 degrees
above pre-industrial levels".
The goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, as described
by Amber Rudd, the British Minister for Energy
and Climate Change, is merely "aspirational".
In making her statement that the target of 1.5
degrees is aspirational, the minister was sending
a clear signal to the British industrial world
that driving down carbon emissions from fossil
fuels is not an immediate objective and there-
fore will not affect their business.
In truth, the climate change action plans
submitted by 188 countries would lead to a
temperature rise as high as 2.7 degrees Celsius.
And, if that is not bad enough, the signatories
to the Paris agreement are under no legal obli-
gation even to meet that objective; they are
legally free to enlarge carbon emissions further.
So, no cause for small island states to celebrate
over that one, and profound reason for them
At three degrees, the size of islands will
shrink, productive areas will be under water,
people will have to move habitats inland and
many will be forced to migrate, legally and
illegally. We have to hope that all the scientists
who predict this scenario are wrong.
On the money side, the developed countries
declined to insert into the Paris agreement
their often-made oral commitments to transfer
funds to poorer countries in order to help
Yet, all the studies show that even the
US$100 billion a year that was promised would
not be enough to help developing countries
build up a power system quickly or cheaply
enough on renewable energy sources rather
than coal or oil.
Incidentally, even if the US$100 billion a
year fund was achieved, access to it by small
states in the Caribbean would be long and
arduous, particularly is the criterion of "per
capita" income continues to be applied as it
is now by International Financial Institutions.
The portion available to the Caribbean region
would be a small fraction of the total sum.
Some may argue that there are two aspects
of the Paris agreement that are beneficial to
small states. Therefore, attention should be
paid to them.
The participating countries recognised "the
importance of averting, minimising and
addressing loss and damage associated with
the adverse effects of climate change, including
weather events and slow onset events". But,
liability is completely ignored because it was
opposed by the polluting industrialised coun-
tries. Recognition of a problem is far removed
from committing to action to cure it.
Then there is the single binding legal require-
ment in the agreement. Every country is now
required to come back every five years with
new targets for reducing their carbon emissions.
But there is no sanction if they failed to meet
their previous commitment and no sanction
if they simply carry on business as usual.
COP21 in Paris may have been a triumph
for some nations, but no self-respecting small
island state should claim any satisfaction.
That is why, each small state individually
and within the many organisations in which
they are members, including AOSIS, the Com-
monwealth, La Francophonie, the Organisation
of American States and others must now
redouble their efforts to work on the developed
country governments, but also to move beyond
them to the conscience of the people of the
This is about survival and development---
two defining challenges of this century for
small states. It is the work of everyone: gov-
ernments, businesses and civil society. All are
involved and all could be consumed.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's
ambassador to the United States and senior
fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth
Studies, University of London and Massey
College in the University of Toronto. The
views expressed are his own).
No cause to celebrate
Paris Climate Agreement
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