A Tale of Two COPs: Making Sense of the Climate Negotiations

Andrea Harden-Donahue
5 years ago

We are coming up to the crucial final 24 hours for the UN                                                           negotiations in Paris, aimed at agreeing on a new global treaty on climate change.

No pressure.

In my previous blog I attempted to map out some of the critical issues during the talks and whether or not they are on track towards the type of agreement we need. Unfortunately, by and large my answer was no. And I stand by that assessment, based on the updated draft being discussed. 

But wait – it’s not all doom and gloom here (although when it comes to talking climate, it’s easy to get sucked down that rabbit hole). Make sure to check out the movement building section below for where I truly see hope emerging.


“The goal should be 1.5 degrees. That is what will keep us alive,” said a delegate from Barbados. “We will not sign off on any agreement that represents a certain extinction of our people.” 

"At 2 - 3 degrees of warming we may trigger systems we can not control." ~Hans Joachim, Potsdam institute for Climate Impact Research.

In good news, over 100 countries have agreed that the goal should be to keep global warming below 1.5 degree temperature rise. This is a much better target as far as keeping the most vulnerable island nations and Arctic a standing chance in the face of vast changes. It also keeps humanity a safer distance from the critical climate change tipping points, where abrupt shifts could happen to the climate beyond our control.

But, the wording in the draft text is ‘to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5’ leaving room for an increase towards 2 degrees. There is also a serious questioning happening of whether Global North countries now backing this target, actually have any intention of meeting it (more on that when we discuss Canada). The actual pledges for emission reductions submitted from countries still amount to a temperature rise closer to 2.7-3.7 degrees of warming.

The draft text’s long-term goal also fails to talk of being fully decarbonized, fossil free or zero emissions by 2050 or 2060, instead opting for the language of greenhouse gas neutrality. This leaves the door open for countries to use false solutions like geoengineering and offsets to meet their emission cuts.

There is also the concern of how legally binding the agreement would be. While it will be presented as legally binding, there won’t actually be any enforcement mechanism requiring the countries to hit their targets. There also isn’t any inclusion in the text specifying that trade agreements can not override policies in place to meet this targets – a clear gap given the power of legally binding trade agreements that give corporations the right to sue over policies that impact their profit.


“To the poor and climate vulnerable…the current text is somewhere between dangerous and deadly.” ~Professor Kevin Anderson is the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Who cuts emissions the most and the supports available for states suffering the ravages of climate change. There is also support for Global South countries that have contributed the least to the crisis, in the needed shift towards 100% fossil fuel free while lifting people out of poverty.

This remains a contentious area of the negotiations.

There are commitments to $100 billion in funds, while this sounds like a lot its actually not based on a review or assessment of what is actually needed. It is recognized as floor, not a ceiling. There is also the issue of how the money is spent, whether it is in grant for or less direct, for example, and leveraging private finance.

There is also a failure to include just transition clearly in the operative text, a core demand of the international union workers movement.


“To have any chance to stay under 1.5C, rich countries need to have zero fossil fuel use by 2030.” ~Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre

Let’s start with the good. Canada continues to call for Rights of Indigenous Peoples and human rights to be part of the operative text, not just the non-legally binding pre-amble. The earlier removal from the operative text was highly controversial. 

And, I think it goes without saying or necessarily lauding the current efforts of the Liberal government, the actions of the current Canadian delegation in Paris is leaps and bounds better then what we saw under the Harper government.

Canada was also one of the over 100 countries to adopt the 1.5 degree target, a big deal in Canada’s media. 

As highlighted earlier, this is progress but certainly the lack of the target being legally binding, and the failure to include an enforcement mechanism is a significant shortfall.

As for Canada’s adoption of 1.5 degree target, it also remains to be seen how we’ll actually meet it. Fair enough, the Liberals have only been in power for a couple of weeks. But the history of the Liberals in meeting Kyoto targets, recent appointment of a former VP of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer by the critical Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr  and the ongoing vagueness of the Liberals on proposed Energy East and TransMountain pipelines which would make a 1.5 target pretty much impossible without significant cuts from other areas of the economy, is disturbing.

Earlier this week Canada received it's first fossil of the day award for Canadian negotiators reluctance to have compensation for weather destruction in poor countries included in the agreement, under the 'loss and damage' segment of the agreement.

Movement Building: Leaping to the future we want

“…above all to bring people together not through fear but through hope, through imagination, through optimism - Unleash the optimism, unleash the imagination, unleash the hope that is the way forward.” Jeremy Corbyn

 “It is time for us to struggle against our own ambition deficit, not just those of our leaders.” Sean Sweeney Trade Unions for Energy Democracy

I predict there will be split in how the final agreement is presented to the public – the tale of two COPs.

On one hand you’ll have certain state leaders and environmental groups lauding the progress, while saying there is more room for improvement. It is certainly easier to swallow this pill, a comfort in the face of the biggest crisis humanity has faced.  And, certainly, as will be discussed here, there have been some improvements.

On the other hand you’ll see people in the streets of Paris and around the world demanding justice, highlighting how insufficient the targets are, a lack of legal culpability for these targets, loopholes for avoiding cuts and not enough support those hit hardest by climate change. People working under the banner of ‘system change not climate change.’  

 This split captures the struggles evident within climate movement organizing. Where interests join on deep emission cuts and the importance of an energy revolution, but split over things like the role of corporations, trade agreements and what constitutes a win.

While we collectively muddle our way through this, there are signs of hope – and this is truly where I see hope moving forward.  Our ‘wins’ are adding up. Keystone XL. Shell pulling out of the Arctic. Fracking bans. Coal phase outs. Big increases in renewable energy. There is also the broadening tent of the climate justice movement, linking up with the trade and water justice movements, Rights of Indigenous Peoples movement, Refugees welcome, peace movement and beyond – all joined together in recognizing the joint causes and solutions to the crises we face.

For some inspiration, check out this beautiful solutions page with the This Changes Everything project.