‘Fossil Fuels’ Nowhere to be Found in the Paris Agreement
Professor Chris Williams says 21 years of treaties and negotiations have all been stepping around the main problem: the production of fossil fuels
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The Guardian reported that James Hansen, former lead scientist at NASA, said that the Paris climate agreement is all BS. He says as long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be burned. If we follow this agreement, we’ll have 2 degrees Celsius warming target, and then try to do a little better every five years. It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises, he says. Further, our next guest, scientist at Pace University Chris Williams, the author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis just wrote about the Paris outcomes. And he says despite the self-congratulatory statements from world leaders praising themselves for single-handedly saving the world from climate catastrophe, the reality is that they have set the planet on course to burn. He’s joining us from New York.
Chris, thank you so much for joining us.
CHRIS WILLIAMS: Thank you.
PERIES: So Chris, let me begin with your initial take on this agreement that was signed on the 12th of December in Paris.
WILLIAMS: I mean, my take is that despite the fact that they’ve reduced, you know, how much we can go up by and stay safe down to 1.5 degrees, all the pledges that have come in, all of which are now voluntary, so there’s no enforcement mechanism, actually put us on track for 3 degrees or more of warming. So–and there’s no real mechanism for financing. They’re expanding the role with the market, cap and trade, including offsets, all of which we know don’t work. And there’s no mention of the phrase ‘fossil fuels’ anywhere in the agreement. And we know that 80 percent of the fossil fuels that we already know exist in reserves have to stay under the ground.
And that’s why Prof. Hansen said that it was BS and a fraud, because nobody’s talking about ending production of fossil fuels. All we’re talking about is at some point in the future we’ll be reducing emissions.
PERIES: How is this so, Chris? How can you have an agreement of this magnitude, spanning across the world, and not mention the word fossil fuels in the agreement, the main cause of all of this?
WILLIAMS: Well, that is the giant elephant in the room in terms of all we’re ever talking about, all of these 21 years of treaties and negotiations have all been stepping around the main problem, which is the production of fossil fuels.
So what we need to be talking about is how come we’re not closing down, first of all, exploration for more fossil fuels, which is not happening? Secondly, the most polluting fossil fuels in use at the moment, which is coal. Why we’re not ending those, and transferring the trillions of dollars that are subsidized to produce more of these things, more of this energy source, why are we not transferring that to developing nations so that they can skip the whole generation of dirty energy and move on to clean alternatives? The alternatives are out there.
PERIES: Now, Chris, now some of the major oil interests played a major role in Paris. We reported on Saudi Arabia and the role that they played, you know, oil gushing country like Saudi Arabia had a key role in Paris, as did some of the oil producing countries. And this in that sense is not unlike what happened in Copenhagen or in previous attempts to come to an agreement. And one big question was, you know, why are they allowed at the table in the first place? What do you make of them being there, and is there any way that the movement can be heard on this?
WILLIAMS: Basically, the polluters were in the conference, and not the protesters. The French government made sure that they were not heard, and yet the people who were helping to draft the agreement were supposed to end the era of fossil fuels, were in the halls of the conference. In fact, many of them were sponsoring the conference. So I don’t see, I mean, one could argue that what else could we expect from a conference where countries like Saudi Arabia, countries like the United States, are the major drafters.
I mean, one of the contrasts with the Copenhagen agreement is actually worse in terms of what was included in Copenhagen were limits, ways in which we need to address the growing and very, already very large, problem of international shipping and airlines. And so that specifically was omitted from the Paris agreement. So shipping and airlines, much of which actually is high-flying military jets, then are not included in any reductions, and they account for already about 5 percent of emissions. And that is set to grow over the life of this agreement by 350 percent.
So in that sense, actually, Paris is worse than Copenhagen, and everybody knows that Copenhagen was a disaster. So I’m not sure what makes Paris any better now that we’re another six years down the road.
PERIES: Now, some of the optimists are saying that, you know, there are opportunities to tighten the pledges moving forward. What do they mean by that, and is that going to work?
WILLIAMS: Yeah. Well, there is a mechanism for saying, well, we need to review this every five years, because maybe we’re not on track for where we need to go. And we already know that we’re not on track. They know that they’re not on track. But basically we also know that the sooner we take action the easier and the cheaper and the more effective all of our solutions will be. So by delaying things for another five years, and not saying we’re even starting things until 2020, and whatever we do there is no enforcement mechanism. It’s all completely voluntary. I don’t see–the optimists are there saying, well you know, we’ve got to compromise and we’ve got to, at least got people to sign on to something.
But what’s the point of signing onto something when you know that that compromise actually evades the laws of physics or attempts to, which we all know cannot be evaded?
PERIES: And Chris, you wrote the very famous book on the capitalist-led problems in this area of climate change. What are some of the solutions? If you had an opportunity to influence the Paris talk, what would you have been calling for?
WILLIAMS: Well, we, the good news is we know all of the technical solutions. We have the technology. We have the money. It’s just a question of how do we rearrange social and political power to change electrical power and transportation and so on.
So what should we be doing? Well, first of all, ending all the subsidies to fossil fuel production to incentivize that. According to the IMF that’s several trillion dollars. Trillion dollars. And yet they’re fighting over handing $100 billion a year to developing countries to help them. So the first and most obvious thing would be to end subsidies to produce fossil fuels. That would immediately alter the price of fossil fuels disadvantageously and improve the cost-effectiveness of solar and wind, and wind is already cost-competitive with most forms of fossil fuel production, even with the subsidies.
So that’s the first thing that could be done. The second thing is transfer that money to developing countries so that they could completely almost skip the fossil fuel era in the way that they’ve already skipped laying telephone cables, because they’ve gone straight to more advanced technology, which is cell phones and wireless. So the same could be done for–we don’t have to build the infrastructure in the developing countries. We could change the way that that is organized.
And the other things that we can be doing obviously are addressing the massive and bloated military budgets, starting with the United States, which is greater than half the rest of the world, and accounts for a massive percentage of emissions in and of itself. And then there are other issues to do with industrialized agriculture, deforestation. All of these need addressing. And unfortunately what Paris does is enshrine carbon trading and carbon offsets into the mechanism for how we’re going to deal with some of these things. And we already know from many years of you trying that thing that all it does is lead to scams and not really any reductions in emissions.
PERIES: Chris, it’s a shame after reviewing, the IPCC reviewing something over 3,000 studies and having so many scientists from around the world supporting its process at the UN, that the nation-states actually come up with this half-baked agreement that they consider a success. So what’s next for the environmental movement? And what can we hope for here?
WILLIAMS; Well, I mean, I think on the one hand we can be very hopeful that 1.5 degrees even got mentioned in Paris. Because the reason they’ve decided to do that is on the one hand, science has got more definitive on the question of what constitutes dangerous warming. And we know it’s not 2 degrees C, it’s 1.5. We’ve already had 1 degree C so far over the last century or so, and so we’re already seeing the effects of one. So let alone 2 or 3, would be absolutely catastrophic.
And so the fact that on the one hand, scientists have put this on the agenda. The other half of that equation is the movement that has been growing over the last decade and a half or more for climate justice. And so as much as the protesters were locked out of the negotiations, civil society organizations and so on, by the French government, I think it’s about building the movement further, connecting with the developing world in the United States, calling for climate justice, recognizing that the people who are least responsible for the problem are paying the heaviest price. And involving, actually, people as workers.
So talking about how can we use the power of ordinary working people through unions to actually build new infrastructure and transfer capital from the developed world to the developing world so that we can actually have a world that looks the same as this generation and previous generations grew up in for the last 10,000 years.
PERIES: All right, Chris. Thank you so much for joining us today, and we’ll be back to you very soon, I’m sure.
WILLIAMS: Thank you very much, Sharmini.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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