Now is a time for real leadership, now is a time for climate justice.

With three days to go to the opening of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties - COP21 - the Foundation looks at what is at stake in Paris.    

The window of opportunity to act on climate change to avert devastating human suffering is closing fast. Next week world leaders arrive in Paris to conclude 4 years of negotiations on a new global agreement to tackle climate change.

The most recent scientific report on global temperature rise, released by the UK Met Office earlier this month, indicates that that the global annual average surface temperature is set to reach approximately 1°C above pre-industrial levels before the end of the year. We are edging closer to a human catastrophe. Climate change aggravates poverty; food insecurity; water scarcity – it affects most those people who live in already vulnerable circumstances, exacerbating existing socio-economic inequalities. Often the people on the front lines of climate change have contributed least to the causes of the climate crisis.

This injustice is the moral dilemma of our time and it must be remedied. In the coming two weeks the global community has a unique opportunity to rise to the challenge – they must seize this opportunity to advance climate justice in order to steer the world on a course for a safe and prosperous future for all people.

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) takes place between the 30th of November and the 11th of December in Paris, France. Negotiators from 196 Parties (countries that have ratified the convention) are expected to conclude the first global climate agreement since the Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997. In Paris, our world leaders can arrest the global slide towards dangerous climate change and put in place robust measures to increase global resilience. They will need to demonstrate real leadership and courage to find the compromises necessary to reach an ambitious, fair and legally binding climate agreement.

At the heart of COP21, beyond the hype and slogans, the political statements and the protests, there is a 54 page text, containing the makings of the new agreement. Since the COP agreed that they should work towards a new climate agreement in Durban in 2011, there have been 128 days of negotiations, spread out across 14 negotiating sessions to arrive at this text.

From this coming Monday, negotiators will spend 11 long days pouring over the text, line by line, seeking consensus on an array of challenging issues, such as how Parties differentiate the action they are required to take; how technology should be shared to combat emissions; how compliance with the agreement can be ensured; and how necessary skills can be established globally to implement the new agreement.

Square brackets around a given section of text indicate that the Parties have yet to come to consensus on that section. Currently there are 1,617 sets of square brackets, including a pair of brackets enclosing the entire text. There is still a lot of work to get through. It is hoped that the Heads of State and Government, who will present on the first two days of the COP, will mandate their negotiators to seek more ambitious compromises.

From a climate justice perspective, the success of Paris should be measured by how the final agreement protects the rights of the people in the most vulnerable situations, now and into the future. In this regard, there is still a long way to go.

To deliver a climate just agreement, Parties must head the warnings of science. They must set a long term goal to reach zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century. Such a target would give us the best possible chance of staying as far below 2oC as possible – it would also keep the possibility of stabilizing warming below 1.5oC alive. Warming exceeding 1.5oC would pose an existential threat to some of the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Over the past year, countries have indicated the climate action they intend to commit to in Paris, including by how much they intend to reduce their emissions. A recent civil society review of these pledges (called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) revealed that their collective contribution still leave us on course to a 2.7oC to 3.7oC warmer world – a world marked by catastrophic climate change and unimaginable human suffering.

Paris must be an inflection point, the first step down a path to a safer world. To achieve this, the agreement must include a mechanism that calls on parties to regularly increase their ambition so as to reach this path over the lifetime of the agreement. The Parties must also provide clarity on the mobilisation of climate finance that is essential to enable developing countries to pursue sustainable development pathways.

The transparency of the process is also critical to securing a just outcome. As negotiations intensify, it is of upmost importance that the process around the negotiations remains accessible to all Parties. In the past, the more powerful countries have sought to push through decisions in smaller groups, excluding some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries. The opportunity to participate in decision-making processes which are fair, accountable, open and corruption-free is essential to the growth of a culture of climate justice. There can be no equitable solution if the voices of the most vulnerable to climate change are not heard and acted upon.

Finally, as the world moves to take action on climate change, we must ensure that in saving the planet we don’t trample on the rights of people made vulnerable by poverty or social standing. There are already examples of how action that is positive for climate can have negative outcomes for poorer communities. We have seen the forced displacement of indigenous people in order to construct hydroelectric dams or preserve forests. In the last decade, the conversion of corn to biofuel in the US was a significant contributor to global food price increases and led to heightened food insecurity with the worst effects on poor and vulnerable people. To prevent these unintended consequences, the new agreement must uphold the normative values of the United Nations and require all Parties to respect human rights in climate action.

On the 10th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt said:

 “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

In Paris, the home of human rights, world leaders can recognise that fundamentally, climate change is about people – our homes, lives and our futures. They must find the courage to take the steps necessary to forge a path to a safe world in which the rights of all people are respected.

Related Links 

Rights for Action – Putting People at the Centre of Action on Climate Change

Zero Carbon Zero Poverty, the Climate Justice Way

Find out more about the Foundation’s work on human rights and climate justice.

Find out more about the Foundation’s work on women’s leadership on gender and climate change.