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Did World Leaders Sign a “Death Warrant for the Planet” at COP21?

As world leaders celebrate the “historic” Paris COP21 climate deal, climate activists suggest a lot of the praise is just hot air.

World leaders pose for a photo during the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, France, on November 30, 2015. (Photo: European External Action Service)

On Saturday night, 195 countries agreed on a climate deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after two weeks of painful negotiations at the Paris COP21.

Host country France celebrated the “historic, universal and binding agreement,” according to France’s Ecuador Ambassador Francois Gauthier.

U.S. President Barack Obama said it’s “the best chance to save the one planet we have.”

If Obama is right, we should be worried.

“What they have done in terms of (Saturday’s) agreement is really signed what we are calling a death warrant for the planet,” Cindy Weisner, national coordinator for Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, told teleSUR English. “I think for people it’s a slow death that they are prescribing.”

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, a U.K.-based social justice organization, cast much of the blame on the U.S., EU, and other rich nations for passing such a toothless deal.

“It’s outrageous that the deal that’s on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world’s most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations,” said Dearden.

While many in the climate justice movement acknowledged that this year’s climate deal is an improvement from the past, the dire projections from the scientific community about our impending climate catastrophe suggests too little, too late, as climate scientists have made clear that failure to reduce warming to below 2 degrees Celsius would end human life as we know it on the planet. While the agreement aspires to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, it lacks concrete measures supposed to meet the proposed target – and there is an absence of any mention about fossil versus renewable energies, thanks to a successful industry lobbying.

Center for International Environmental Law President Carroll Muffett casts much of the blame on corporations’ stranglehold over governments and policy debates, especially with domineering countries such as the United States.

“The fossil fuel industry’s lingering chokehold over U.S. politics leaves the Paris Agreement a nearly empty vessel,” said Muffett.

He said the deal is “inadequate” and “inequitable.”

“The Agreement’s vision of a world ‘well below 2 degrees’ of warming moves the needle forward, but its weak commitment to ‘pursue efforts’ to limit warming to 1.5 degrees reflects a continued denial of fundamental climate realities,” added Muffett.

The Paris deal also failed to create an international court judging transnational crimes against environment – one of civil society’s demands, also championed by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. Furthermore, the “loss and damage” component, supposed to fund the most vulnerable countries that have little responsibility in climate change, fell far from the expectations.

“The issue of loss and damage was a clear point of contention throughout the negotiations. Developing countries called for a deal which would offer support to people suffering the catastrophic consequences of rising sea levels and soaring temperatures,” said ActionAid Chief Executive Adriano Campolina. “The U.S. and several other rich countries instead took the opportunity of the Paris talks to deny people this right putting them at their mercy for dealing with climate change impacts.

Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said that moving forward the strategy will be to challenge President Obama through a new campaign called “Keep it in the ground,” which calls for a moratorium on all new possible fuel leasing in the United States.

“We’re trying to shift the dialogue from regulating the poison that’s killing our atmosphere to preventing the poison from being emitted in the first place,” said Pica.

The group plans to question Obama’s “hypocrisy,” signing the Paris deal on one hand, while on the other pushing for environmentally damaging trade deals such as the pushing for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which Exxon Mobil helped write the energy chapter for, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which allows corporations to challenge national and international laws in secret trade courts.

Grassroots Global Justice’s Wiesner highlighted the need implement the solutions that civil society groups have formulated in order to “counter the agreement.” Considering the COP negotiations as a recurrent failure over the past 21 years, she questioned the need of social movements to legitimize the process in the future, stressing instead the importance of “local struggles.”

However, she added COP22 will mark an important step for the movement as the conference will take place in Marrakesh, Morocco. Wiesner said this will be the opportunity to build with the Saharaui people and the Arab world, while demonstrating that “what is at stake in terms of the war, economy and militarism, is about really controlling oil and controlling water and resources.”

From the beginning, many grassroots activists correctly believed that the Paris climate talks would not produce a just and legally binding plan to avert climate disaster. It didn’t. However, global public opinion is now firmly on the side of both the scientific and activist communities, something that has brought us the rhetorical, and some tangible changes from political leaders that has probably made this the most progressive deal to date.

But again, it is just not enough.

“The Paris Agreement will be known as the Polluters’ Great Escape since it weakens rules on the rich countries and puts the world on a pathway to 3C warming where, so far, only China appears to be doing its ‘fair share,'” said Victor Menotti, director of the International Forum on Globalization.

While polluters may have escaped with their profits, we may not escape with our planet unless civil society demands and wins more systemic, structural changes to our fossil fuel economy on top of this deal – and without delay.