SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Tuesday was the eighth day of the international climate talks in Paris, COP 21, said to be the most important negotiations in the UN’s 20 years of conferencing on climate change. Or, as Desmond Tutu puts it, humanity’s last chance salon. As world leaders, government lawyers, and negotiators try to hash out a deal limiting global greenhouse gas emissions to 2 degrees, we have our own lawyer on the ground, correspondent Dimitri Lascaris. He is on the ground reporting on events thus far. I’m sure you’ve seen a number of his reports. But today he’s going to be talking about the draft agreement. And as you know, Dimitri is normally, when he’s not reporting for us from Paris, he’s a Canadian lawyer with the law firm Siskinds, and a board member of the Real News Network.
So Dimitri, thank you so much for joining us.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Always a pleasure, Sharmini.
PERIES: So Dimitri, I understand on the train today you actually got a chance to read the draft agreement. Give us a sense of what it’s all about.
LASCARIS: Right. So just to be clear, what the agreement that, the most recent version, was issued this past weekend in anticipation of the arrival of the environment ministers and other high-level government officials for the high-level talks, which began on Monday. And the agreement that was put to them, the draft agreement, was intended to narrow the issues to a manageable set of issues for the high-level government officials to resolve within the time remaining at COP 21, which is to close, you know, it may get extended slightly. But it’s supposed to terminate on the 11th of December. So in a few days’ time.
My understanding is, you know, I spoke to some people at media center today, COP officials, and my understanding is that tomorrow something that is apparently being characterized as a final agreement is supposed to be presented to leaders. It’s not clear to me at this stage, based on what I’ve been told, whether that is actually going to be issued to the public. But you know, that should be close to final if not final, and should resolve a host of issues. So what I’m going to talk to you about was the agreement that was issued over the weekend. And there have been some developments, public–although a new draft of the agreement has been issued, there have been developments that have come to light in relation to this draft. I’ll get back to that later.
So this draft, you know, everybody knew, it’s been widely reported, that it contained significant bracketed language. And the brackets signify that there is not agreement with respect to the issue that is bracketed. So we all understood that, that had been widely known. But when I went into the agreement, what I saw was, it kind of took me aback. In footnote one, it says at the very end that even if the language isn’t bracketed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the language has been agreed upon. So basically there–there’s no assurance that any part of that agreement has been agreed upon. And the language that is bracketed is extremely extensive. And there’s, you know, over and over again, you go through the agreement and you’ll see that there are a wide range of options given with respect to various issues. And you know, those options generally range from a reasonably good outcome to a completely unsatisfactory outcome.
And so what you have is really a high level of uncertainty with respect to the language going into the high-level meetings, which I [say] commenced on Monday.
PERIES: It sounds like multiple choice options, [inaud.].
LASCARIS: Absolutely. And they’re not–and they’re not simple to, you know, to grasp. You have to actually read them very carefully. And the, and there is, there is some important things going on in that language, in those various options, multiple choices that parties are being given to consider.
At the beginning of the agreement, and–they don’t even agree on the purposes of the agreement. At the beginning of the agreement there is, there are two sets of language with respect to the temperature limit. One is keeping temperature limit below 1.5 degrees Celsius. And the other language, the other option they have in there, had in there currently, or at least on the weekend, was keeping it well below 2 degrees Celsius. What, whatever that means. It certainly doesn’t mean over 2 degrees Celsius, but what well below 2 degrees Celsius means is unclear.
Now, we’ve learned that, we knew and we talked about this on a previous interview, that Germany and France had guardedly embraced the 1.5 degree limit. And I’m not going to repeat what I said there, but the language that they used was constrained. It wasn’t really a full-blown endorsement of the idea that there should be a legally binding cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius. And we learned, subsequently, that the new environment minister for Canada, upon her arrival for Paris on Sunday night, announced to what one reporter described as a shocked conference that Canada was now embracing the 1.5 degree Celsius limit. And many people within the environmental community and the media rejoiced at this. But then, you know, when the environment minister of Canada was asked to confirm that this is what she had said in negotiations on Sunday evening, her, her office issued a statement to the following effect.
Quote: The environment minister supports including reference in the Paris agreement to the recognition of the need to striving to limit global warming to 1.5, as other parties have said. This is clearly, and I’m sure that the Environment Minister of Canada Catherine McKenna chose her words very carefully, this is clearly aspirational language. And, and she goes on to say–so in other words, it’s not intended to be a hard cap. That’s not, apparently, the position that Canada is advocating.
PERIES: Nor anything binding, for that matter.
LASCARIS: Correct. And she goes on to say that they want an ambitious agreement that’s assigned by the greatest number of countries possible. And then she says, and I’m quoting again, the most important thing is that each country should be legally required to submit a target, and to report on progress on that target on a regular basis.
I have two comments about this. First of all, that is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that there be a cap on emissions, and there be a cap on the degree to which we will allow the global temperature to increase. And that that cap be enforceable. That’s the most important thing, by far. She’s characterizing verification and transparency as the most important thing, and those are important things, but not nearly as important as a legally binding cap on emissions and the temperature increase.
So basically what we’re going to have, it appears, if Canada has its way and as the other developed countries have their way, is an agreement which contains nonbinding, unenforceable targets. And there will be no consequences for violating those targets. But the parties to the agreement will have the ability to verify that the other parties to the agreement are or are not complying with the targets. And if they determine through this legally binding verification process they’re not complying with the targets, they will be powerless to do anything about it. That’s what we’re getting out of Paris, it appears. And from the perspective of anybody who understands the science, that is a profoundly unsatisfactory outcome.
We are at a point where we actually need an ambitious, legally-binding agreement that limits the amount of carbon we can put into the atmosphere, consistently with the science. And that means leaving the vast majority of the fossil fuel reserves that have been developed to date in the ground. And [inaud.] getting that in Paris.
PERIES: Dimitri, seems to be cased a whole lot of UN-ese, this draft proposal thus far. Are there any groups, you’ve been speaking to so many organizations on the ground, are there any groups that are putting forth a more comprehensive, binding, simpler solution than what you’re reading on, in this agreement?
LASCARIS: Well, I think that the developing states, and particularly the least-developed states and the low-lying island states that are at risk of, you know, being swamped by the oceans at 2 degrees Celsius, or even a number that’s less than 2 degrees Celsius, they have been I think aggressively and consistently advocating, not just here but previously. For years they’ve been consistently and aggressively advocating for a 1.5 degree limit, binding emissions targets, and an agreement that is enforceable, so that there would be meaningful consequences and a meaningful deterrent for countries that did not comply with a target that would have to be adequate.
The problem is that the developing world, the developed world, I should say, just isn’t on board. And it appears that also other major emitters, like China and India, are not on board. And the reports are consistently, you know, the Climate Action Network has been consistently awarding the Fossil of the Day award to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia appears to be on a mission to wreck any meaningful agreement. The possibility of any meaningful agreement. And apparently there is something called an Arab alliance here. And you know, the other members of that alliance have sort of, including Egypt, Jordan, have apparently been silent. And they’ve been allowing Saudi Arabia to act as the wrecking ball.
So I’m not at all hopeful that we’re going to get an agreement that comes anywhere close to doing what we need to do to avoid a climate catastrophe. You know, as I walk around COP 21 I occasionally run into people who are very much of the same view. The other day as I was about to interview the gentleman from Carbon Tracker, Anthony Hobley, I crossed paths with a reporter from Ireland, whom I’ve seen many times before, and I asked him, you know, how do you feel about what’s happening here? And he said, I’m, I’m absolutely distressed and devastated and disgusted. And there’s a real, you know, feeling amongst people here who understand the science and who are serious, and don’t have an alternative agenda, and are serious about dealing with the problem, that what’s unfolding here is not going to be as bad as Copenhagen in 2009, but it’s going to be bad. And regrettably, that’s the reality. I very much hope that I’m wrong.
PERIES: We, too, hope you’re wrong. But we will keep reporting on it. And we look forward to your reports. I understand you have an interview coming up with Pablo Solon. Tell us a little bit about him.
LASCARIS: Well, he’s a former senior official within the Bolivian government. And I understand he’s been very active and passionate in the climate movement, and I think he’s going to give us a valuable perspective from the developing world about what is unfolding here. And some insight that I may not have into where we’re going to go from here.
One thing I should mention, and I hope to raise this with Pablo, is it appears that reference to indigenous rights has been removed from the agreement. There is bracketed language in the version that was released over the weekend that recognized, or sought to recognize, indigenous rights. And the reports are that that is now gone. So that’s one issue that I hope to discuss with Pablo, and I think he’d be well-positioned to speak about that.
PERIES: Well, Dimitri, we look forward to that report, and all the best. We’ll talk to you very soon.
LASCARIS: Thank you. Thanks, Sharmini.
PERIES: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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