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Saturday 22 October 2016

With world leaders gone, the real work on climate begins

Paul Melia at COP21in Paris

Published 02/12/2015 | 02:30

French President François Hollande (left) with Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius at COP21. Photo: Philippe Wojazeraim
French President François Hollande (left) with Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius at COP21. Photo: Philippe Wojazeraim
Enda Kenny at the summit

With the departure of world leaders, the real business of the climate summit begins - negotiating a global deal to reduce emissions.

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But there's a concern among observers that the fine words spoken by heads of state on Monday's plenary may not translate into concrete action to limit warming.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's speech is a case in point. He told COP21 that Ireland was committed and called for the conference to "send the signal the world is waiting for".

But just hours earlier he told reporters that while the Government would step up to the plate, it would not be to the detriment of our growing agriculture sector.

He added, in effect, that the economic collapse caused by the previous administration meant we were too poor to commit to meaningful action.

As Oisin Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth Ireland, noted, it was a classic example of doublespeak.

"It was a case of one story for Paris, and one story for Paddy. If other leaders are saying one thing in the conference hall, their fine words won't translate into world action," he says.

"I don't think anything make or break happened at a global level. The signs are it was the right decision to get the leaders to come at the beginning.

"We can only hope their messages of concern and commitment will translate into their negotiators doing a deal."

COP21 is among the biggest-ever gathering of world leaders, and their visit to Paris is a positive step. But the heavy lifting has only started.

Key issues include financing adaptation measures in poorer countries, and how much each country will contribute.

There's the question of mechanisms to verify emission reductions - will the US, Russia and China allow for independent checks? - and, crucially, the question of climate justice.

Eamonn Meehan, executive director of Trocaire, says the last point is among the most important. "One of the worrying things is there seems to be a dumbing down around human rights and food security.

"There needs to be a clear and strong statement on human rights. It's not about greening the economies of wealthy countries, it's about ensuring people have a right to food, a home and their environment.

"But there's quite a bit of opposition to human rights being included ... and that would be a worry."

Whatever about Ireland producing food more sustainably than other countries, our beef and dairy won't feed the world's poorest. Around 80pc of global food is currently produced by small-scale farmers, and it's that sector which needs help to solve the global food crisis.

"It's one thing for rhetoric about the poor needing a future, but that requires action," he says.

"There's also been a lot said about food production, but what is much more important is the concept of food security.

"Climate legislation hasn't even completed its journey through the Oireachtas, and we're being prepared by the Taoiseach to be treated as an exception. If you listen to the Taoiseach, we don't want to be leaders on climate change. We're probably going to be dragged (into this) kicking and screaming."

The stance taken by developing nation India, one of world's highest emitters, will be crucial to the success of COP21.

Unlike China and the US, there has been no pre-arranged deal to reduce carbon. Oisin Coghlan makes the point that India is insisting richer countries, which have caused most pollution, should move first.

French sources said it remained committed to striking a legally-binding agreement, but it could prove problematic.

"We won't compromise ambition, but a legal form of deal may be difficult," one said.

"China has committed, and India is engaged, and they were potential stumbling blocks. The US has also moved much further down the road than they used to.

"But the President of COP21 (and French Foreign Affairs Minister), Laurent Fabius, has taken the subject as 'his' - and he's a heavyweight.

"He's a former Prime Minister and won't have second thoughts to call on leaders if needed.

"Whatever will be needed, he will do it."

Irish Independent

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