Oil-Gushing Saudi Arabia Major Obstacle at COP21

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TRNN correspondent Dimitri Lascaris discusses the major obstacles in the draft agreement coming out of Paris.

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Welcome to the Dimitri Lascaris report. Today Dimitri’s coming to us from Paris. He’s at the COP21 meeting on climate change, and he’s gone through the draft agreement that was tabled yesterday. Dimitri, welcome to the Real News.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you, Sharmini.

PERIES: So Dimitri, give us your main concerns about the draft agreement.

LASCARIS: First thing that struck me is there’s a tremendous amount of stuff that needs to be resolved. There are literally hundreds of bracketed words and phrases in the agreement of the draft. It was narrowed down to 29 pages from I think about 48 or 49 pages. But really, a daunting number of issues remain to be resolved in an extraordinarily short period of time, including key issues like the temperature limit. Finance from developed countries to developing countries. The pace with which countries will be required to ratchet up their emission reduction targets. I mean, really a whole host of key issues remains to be resolved.

And I, frankly, not based on anything I’ve heard, just based on my review of the agreement, I have some skepticism about whether this can be done, whether an agreement can be agreed to within the next 2-3 days.

PERIES: Now, Dimitri, I understand there’s a whole lot of issues we should dig into. But one of the main concerns right now coming from various movements and organizations that are there is the presence and the role of Saudi Arabia in all this.

LASCARIS: Actually, [in] every significant respect the Saudis are proving to be a major obstacle. When it comes to the temperature limit, they’re opposed to a 1.5 degree temperature limit. When it comes to, you know, the pace with which we are to decarbonize our economies, they are militating for a longer time frame, which could be potentially catastrophic. When it comes to the inclusion of human rights in the operational part of the agreement, they’re opposed. When it comes to, you know, recognition of [inaud.].

PERIES: And let me remind everyone they are the chair of the Human Rights Council at the moment in Geneva.

LASCARIS: Right. And it’s extraordinary. I mean, it’s extraordinary in any case that they’re a chair of the Human Rights Council given their human rights record. But to have the chair of the UN Human Rights Council militating for the exclusion of human rights from the operational part of the agreement is really mind-boggling.

So–and one wonders, really, to what extent some major powers in the West, particularly the United States, are content to see the Saudis play the role of the spoiler and take the heat. I mean, no one is going to at the end of the day be impressed by the Saudis’ human rights record. They really don’t have much to lose in terms of a reputation in that regard. So perhaps the United States is quite content, U.S. government, to see them take that lead. But on that issue of human rights, apparently the U.S. is, itself, being an obstacle. At least to the extent of demanding that human rights be put into the preamble and out of the operational part of the agreement.

PERIES: And what’s the reaction of other member states to this? Because I mean, it’s very obvious that Saudi Arabia is at war in Yemen, they’re playing an incredible role in the region in terms of the war in the Middle East, in Syria. And was one of the largest arms supplier, not to mention beheadings that they’re carrying out in Saudi Arabia itself. Why are they getting such a major presence and power in the global stage today, given what’s–I mean, and mostly I must say, as an oil producer, why are they getting so much of a presence in Paris?

LASCARIS: Yeah. You know, I just came from a press conference where–that was moderated by a representative of Amnesty International. There were representatives of major civil society groups here who were quite upset about what the Saudis and to some degree the U.S. and also Norway, surprisingly, are trying to do with the inclusion of human rights. And what they said was, you know, the majority of states simply are not prepared to go to the wall on this issue. You know, we’re now down to the crunch time where people have to be making concessions, perhaps important concessions. And they think that a large number of states use the concepts of human rights, indigenous rights, as being expendable. As a bargaining chip.

So that was rather disappointing to hear. It doesn’t appear that–and they also said, interestingly, that the European Union is not taking a stand in opposition to the Americans and the Saudis on this question of the inclusion of human rights, indigenous rights, in the operational part of the agreement.

PERIES: And all right, that’s something we will table and take up in the future in terms of the role of Saudi Arabia in the world stage now. But let’s continue in terms of the draft agreement. What else is in there that concerns you?

LASCARIS: Right. So the Article 2 of this agreement is the one that defines the purpose–and by the way, this is the nub of the problem with the human rights and the indigenous rights. Right now there’s bracketed language in Article 2 which specifies the purpose of the agreement which refers to indigenous and human rights, and they want that taken out of Article 2 and put into the preamble as indicated.

But Article 2, the main purpose, is the temperature limit. And there are three options on the table right now. That the temperature limit be–the temperature threshold be 2 degrees Celsius, so the increase can’t exceed 2 degrees Celsius. The second option is well below 2 degrees Celsius. And the third option is below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Now, it’s important to understand that even though Article 2 is part of the operational part of the agreement it is only a statement of purpose. So what it says in particular is that the purpose of the agreement is to, quote, enhance action, close quote. So as to, among other things, limit the global temperature increase to the stated limit.

There’s a difference between a statement of purpose and a hard legal obligation. A statement of purpose informs the interpretation of obligations imposed by other parts of the agreement. But that’s not the same thing as imposing a hard obligation on parties to take all such actions as are necessary to keep the global temperature increase below the stated limit. That obligation, to take all such actions as are necessary, just doesn’t appear in this draft agreement. And moreover, as expected, there are no emission reduction targets in the agreement. And without emission reduction targets or hard obligation of that nature, you know, targets that are legally obligatory and enforceable and adequate, the stated temperature limit in Article 2 really, probably, is going to mean very little.

And this was a point that was made forcefully today by Payel Parekh of 350.org at a press conference. You know, he said unless there’s actually a mechanics–an obligatory set of mechanics for ensuring that the temperature limit remains below 1.5 degrees Celsius, it doesn’t really mean a lot. And if you stop and think about it, why would large emitters like the U.S. insist that the emission reduction targets stay out of the agreement, and it’s not just the U.S. by any means? I think Canada, also is in accord with the U.S. on this point. And as are many other states.

And there’s only one plausible reason for the exclusion of emission reduction targets, and that’s these countries want to have the freedom to violate their emission reduction targets with impunity. There’s no other reason why they would insist upon their exclusion.

PERIES: And as it stands now, they can do it with impunity because there’s no enforcement mechanism at play about anything they table.

LASCARIS: Absolutely. And let’s recall that their emission reduction targets are grossly inadequate. That even if they comply with them we’re going to see a temperature increase in, you know, when I came here the information I had was that it was going to be 2.7-3.0 degrees Celsius. But you know, others have estimated, in the scientific community, that actually it’s even worse than that. That if they comply with those emission reduction targets it could be closer to 4 degrees Celsius. Truly catastrophic level of warming.

So it’s quite alarming that they are not there to be bound legally to comply with those grossly inadequate emission reduction targets. And they’re reserving to themselves the right to violate them with impunity.

PERIES: Which puts the entire conference and agreement and the whole leadup to this particular effort to rein in CO2 levels into question.

LASCARIS: Absolutely. Now, what people are trying to do to confront this problem is to say, well, let’s have provisions in the agreement which oblige countries to escalate their emission reduction targets periodically and aggressively. And so this raises a key question, and there are provisions in there to that effect, the key question is, what is the pace with which emission reduction targets are going to have to be scaled up.

And what is the point in time at which emissions are going to have to peak? This agreement says that emissions should peak as soon as possible. But what does that mean? You know, the scientific community is saying they have to peak by 2020. But this language appears to give countries the discretion to allow the peak in emissions to occur later than that. Who’s going to be the judge of what is possible, at the end of the day?

And then beyond the point in time at which they must peak, the agreement speaks to the question of decarbonization. The science is saying we have to decarbonize by 2050. The options in this agreement, however, are as follows: 40-70 percent below 2010 levels by 2050. That’s one option. The other option is 70-95 percent below 2010 levels by 2050. And then a third option is net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century. I’ll get back to net zero in a second. And the fourth option is net zero greenhouse gas emissions after the middle of the century. So none of the four options in there contemplates decarbonization of the global economy as quickly as the scientific community is telling us we must accomplish it.

Now, on the question of net zero, there are many who say in the scientific community this is a dangerous and misleading concept. Net zero carbon emissions means achieving net zero carbon emissions by offsetting a certain, measured amount of carbon released with carbon offsets. So rather than embark immediately on dramatic emission reductions, some countries would continue to emit massive amounts of CO2 while claiming to be taking action by supporting unproven technologies, like carbon capture and storage. So this concept–and civil society has been very worked up about the notion of net zero and its inclusion in the agreement, because they see that as a recipe for disaster.

Sorry, go ahead, Sharmini.

PERIES: I was going to say, you know, given that protests have been banned in Paris, there seems to be a culmination of all sorts of organizations working on these issues that are sponsoring various activities and substantive conversations are going on about what to do in this situation that they are faced with in the official conference. So what is taking place, and what are they trying to do here?

LASCARIS: Well, there are a lot of small-scale actions in and around–I’ve seen many of them here at the site of the conference. But they have to be authorized. And you know, I saw one today at the climate generation space, which is the part of the conference site that is open to the public. But even there, it went on for about half an hour. It involved about 100 people. And they were simply chanting and singing. They came from all over the world to talk about the inadequacies of the agreement that was on the table. And after 30 minutes security personnel were telling them they had to file away and quiet down.

Outside of the conference site there’s been very little activity. There’ve been scores of arrests. A few people have attempted to breach the rules of the state of emergency. But this Saturday, at 12/12/12, which is 12:00 on the 12th day of the 12th month, 350.org and other civil society organizations are going to mount major actions here in Paris, I understand at a variety of sites. They’ve not yet released the locations. They’re going to do that, for obvious reasons, I think, at the eleventh–at the twelfth hour. And it will be very interesting to see how the authorities respond to that. My suspicion is, based on what I’ve seen thus far, is they’re not going to respond favorably at all.

PERIES: All right, Dimitri. I know you have a lot more to say about the agreement. Let’s continue that discussion in the next segment.

LASCARIS: Thank you very much, Sharmini.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us.

End

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