Home | About | Donate

COP 21: What It Does—And Doesn't—Accomplish


COP 21: What It Does—And Doesn't—Accomplish

John Atcheson

The deadline for coming up with an agreement at COP 21 has been extended until Saturday. But the penultimate draft of the agreement has been published, and we now know the basics of what will emerge.

There are some positive things coming out of the meeting, but it’s important to understand what it does—and doesn’t—accomplish in terms of avoiding catastrophic climate change.


As James Hansen says, regarding COP21, “It’s a fraud really, a fake ... There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

On to COP21 and 22 and 23 ... 30...


The failure to really address climate change is not unexpected. First of all the task is immense because about 80% of energy comes from fossil fuels. Any transition would be extremely disrupting to both many corporations and many groups of workers. Countries are in different stages of development making cooperation difficult. It is a deceiving problem because the full effect of emissions does not become evident until decades after they occur. The problem does not evoke emotional urgency. Even for scientists it is difficult to relate climate change to actual extreme weather events. The really bad effects should not occur until the second half of this century which for many people is after their expected lifetime and even for younger people seems far in the future. Basically the expected happened. The world has failed to address climate change.


Lately, I've been watching old LA Law episodes and many of the subjects brilliantly tackled on that TV show are just as relevant today--30 years later!

A few nights ago I watched as two women lawyers mocked the use of the word WE. Ann Kelsy says to a young female attorney, "Well, there's the royal WE and then there's us." She was responding to a decision made by the 2 top male partners of the law firm... with that decision then passed down.

I loved that!

It's time this understanding came across when journalists attempt to honestly cover the events of our times. I would encourage Mr. Atcheson to watch the last 2 Democracy Now programs since Amy Goodman interviews several astute female Indigenous leaders. They are very keen on this idea that Indigenous people are NOT present at ANY of the decision-making tables... in Paris now, when it counts so much!

And Ms.Goodman asks several why the issue of Global Warming is of particular interest and significance to women.

Contrast the narrow exclusivity of those making the actual Paris COP21 decisions (on the numbers, and just about everything else) with this GENERIC comment... hiding under the universal "we" tent, disingenuously:

"But the fact is, whether we choose a target of 1.5 C or 2 C, the target for a 90% margin of safety is gone. So we’re now reduced to playing Russian roulette with our future—but because we’ve delayed action for so long, we’ve got bullets in two chambers, instead on one. "

If WE represented a true and broad consensus of mankind in its genuine diversity, those numbers would be quite different, as would systems of enforcement, legal frameworks, and the financial priorities that drive these types of things.

"In essence, by playing with the margins of safety we are willing to accept, we are obscuring the urgency of acting now—right now—by increasing the risk we’re willing to pass on to our children and their children. This is inexcusable, and it is the greatest failure of the entire COP process."

A one-size-fits all conclusion of this nature does a very good job of HIDING the fact that it's Big Oil, and specific corporations like Monsanto, Raytheon, Pfizer... that hold governments hostage. IF there was a true equivalence between what people wanted--as taken through verifiable referendums--rather than what is imposed from the top-down, with the top beholden to those corporate moguls... THEN one could claim honest use of the WE frame that is promiscuously utilized.

All those beautiful, sincere-hearted Indigenous people who made the pilgrimage to Paris with the hopes that they would be heard, their views in good faith respected, were shut out.

What the corporate titans decide and impose is not the will of WE the people, nor indicative of the wisdom teachings of the most aware when it comes to human beings' relationship to the living earth, Mother.


Just as within everything from the military, to public schools, to corporate offices it's the TOP officials who decide policy that then becomes enforced, it is another attempt at the assignation of universal blame to make a statement of this nature:

"The world has failed to address climate change."

Listening to Kumi Naidoo (Head of Green Peace) as interviewed by Amy Goodman (in Paris), as well as Indigenous Leaders, they all point out this very thing: that the conditions now faced by all nations were largely produced by a few rich ones. And those rich ones do not want to pay anything close to a fair share when it comes to ameliorating the impacts on low-lying poor nations that had relatively little to do with this problem (massive energy use and uber-consumerism) in the first place.

I object to these gigantic WE frames because they consistently posit false equivalences and spread blame and culpability around evenly when EVERYTHING in society and government is anything BUT equal.

I will continue to point this out (and I am gratified that it's also being asserted by many others) since it is a fallacy that by its own logic, asks the same of the Trobriand Islander as it does of the head of Exxon.


Historical emissions are the cause of the present warming and even some more warming to come and additional future emissions could bring down global civilization. The cause of much of the problem is obviously the growth of industrial society based to a large extent on using fossil fuels for energy. Nobody is to blame in the sense they did anything wrong (the consequences only became pretty clear in the 1980s) except corporations like Exxon that hid some scientific information about global warming and then created doubt about the issue. But the rich countries have to give the poorer countries financial aid to make a transition to green energy if for no other reason than to save themselves (a strong motivating factor in addition to justice) because this crisis imperils all countries. But because of domestic politics and financial problems the rich countries are unwilling to give enough money. Granted there are poor developed countries (that have not had vast deforestation) that are not part of the problem so if you want to be completely accurate it is not quite the whole world. But certainly it is the rich developed countries and now the richer developing countries that are failing to address climate change.


I'm glad to see someone making a realistic assessment of COP21.. With all due respect, however, I think you underestimated its flaws.

You refer to a 66% probability of staying within 2 degrees as if it were an accepted but unacceptable goal. It is, as you say, unacceptable, but it is not what COP21 accepted. The planning documents for COP 21 increased the "budget" for future emissions sufficiently to reduce the probability of success to 50%, and if you read the planning documents carefully you will see that the International Energy Agency has ceased using 66% as a goal. The fossil fuel industry complained that it would lose $23 trillion seeking to meet 2 degrees with 66% probability, so the probability was reduced to give the $23 trillion back. . We reduced the probability that our children will live in a marginally safe world from 2/3 to 1/2 so as to give the fossil fuel industry $23 trillion, give or take.

Then there is the problem of "locked in" emissions: the emissions which must continue because we have approvewd the capitalization of sources which have to be paid off through continuing emissions. Taking those into account, without a program to stop future emissions, IEA predicted five yuears ago that we would within five years (ie now) have "clolsed the door forever" on meeting 2 degreees because of prohibitive costs. COP21 was the last time anything could be done about this, but nothing was. The result is that the true "budget" of allowable new greenhouse emissions is zero to meet the 2-degree goal. 350.org has confirmed this conclusion with a recent consultant's report.

You can get confirmation of all this by Googling my name ("Nicholas C. Arguimbau") and looking for articles from December 2015 forward, and by reading the recent summary in Common Dreams of the 350.org work.

But thanks again for yhour clear and comprehensive critiqjue of COP21.