Boundaries or ambition. What sets the line?

The first week has finished, it has been a time of intense negotiations. I have had the chance to witness different interesting discussions with the common theme of setting a red line. This kind of negotiations happen at all levels, from the smallest working groups sitting in the corridors until the whole international community meeting in the plenary halls.

One of my first experiences on setting the red lines at COP21 was when demanding human rights at the core of the agreement. In such demand, an extraordinary diverse coalition, comprising workers, indigenous, women and youth have come together in solidarity. Our demand includes the especial acknowledgement of each and every of the communities basic rights as a key piece of the agreement.

We brought forward the demand to the Philippines chief negotiator, he is our best ally inside the negotiation rooms. He liked the proposal, his country stands with our demands. But he came up with a boundary, a limit to our suggested mention to communities rights. He told us that the text was too long, and included too many rights that would not be tolerated by certain countries.

At that point I was stunned, it shocked me to witness him talking in these terms when addressing the most basic human rights. Apparently, the other fellows in the coalition were not surprised, they have been to many COPs before, and I assumed these situations are the norm in the climate negotiations. But we were conflicted, we had to set a red line to our essential demands, we had to choose between an external boundary and our ambition. We had to chose which of our untouchable rights should be ignored.

But we could not do that, solidarity was stronger than pressure, we decided to stay united and set the red line at our ambition. We, as global civil society representatives, could not subordinate our most basic rights to a limit that was set by a political position of a certain country. Rights are not negotiable, they simply have to be respected!

Rights are not negotiable, they simply have to be respected!

At this first stage; ambition, solidarity and trust set the red line. But this was not the case on Thursday, when Norway put forward a proposal that dismissed a set of basic rights. I do not believe that Norway is against holding the respect of human rights at the core of the agreement. They justified this decision to facilitate an agreement that all the countries could sign. They did that after learning that China, US, Saudi Arabia and other arab countries would never tolerate an agreement explicitly acknowledging certain rights. It was their boundary. This time, Norway placed the red line at the external limit and not at their own ambition.

It is clear now that it is a balance between will and pressure, ambition and limits, that drives all decisions and concessions in the international negotiations. I have been able to see it at COP21, at all levels. But we have to understand now one thing, at a social level we, humans, set the limit and we set the ambition, and therefore any possible balance can render a successful agreement. What many fail to see is that our societies are related and depend on the ecosystems of the Earth. Therefore, in the climate challenge, we set the ambition and the planet sets the limits.

In the climate challenge, we set the ambition and the planet sets the limits.

If we reflect on how the Paris agreement intends to address the climate challenge, we will understand that, as it is now, it will not deliver the needed commitment to resolve the climate challenge. The Paris agreement will fail. And it boils down again to a matter of red lines: ambition versus limits. With the Paris agreement we are trying to mitigate climate change by an ambition mechanism, but we are not regarding the planetary boundaries that we have to meet.

With the Paris agreement we are trying to mitigate climate change by an ambition mechanism, but we are not regarding the planetary boundaries that we have to meet.

In technical terms, the different countries are putting forward their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) with which they set their ambitions on climate change mitigation. This document is a pledge of to what extent every country will implement their climate action strategy in the fields of mitigation, adaptation and financing. These pledges are voluntary, every country decides how much action they are going to take. Ambitious action and zero action, they are both tolerated.

But this is a very narrow minded strategy, we are assuming that our ambition will set a successful red line of climate action and justice. This strategy does not support a fair deal since it does not acknowledge the fact that some countries have been emitting way more than other in the past. Not to mention that by taking this assumption we are denying that the Earth has limits, that there are planetary boundaries.

Wouldn’t it be fair and obvious to set a red line at the Earth boundaries? We could begin by setting to what extent global communities can stand global warming, once set that level we can calculate how much carbon dioxide can we emit in order to remain under the safe threshold, and finally we could divide this remaining “carbon budget” among the different countries taking into account historic emissions and capabilities.

You may be thinking now: what a complex calculation to work out! Indeed, it is very laborious to do such calculations, but actually scientist from around the world have done such calculations. We should be thankful towards these people doing such a difficult task and elucidating how to fairly solve the climate challenge.

Referring to the Stockholm Environmental Institute or the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya studies, the ambition set by the countries pledges exceeds, by large numbers, the carbon budget set to remain below a 2ºC global temperature increase by 2100, considered the “safe” level. It is obvious now that the ambition mechanism is not going to give a solution to the climate challenge.

It is important to bring the human scale to the problem, temperature rise means lost lives. A study shows how millions of livelihoods could fall in the gap between a 1.5ºC and a 2ºC global temperature increase. With the ambition strategy it is not a number that we are failing to achieve, it is millions of lives that are being sacrificed.

With the ambition strategy it is not a number that we are failing to achieve, it is millions of lives that are being sacrificed.

The scientific reports also study the fairness of the INDCs pledges, and they clearly show that the developed countries are not doing their fair share. Developed countries should take immediate bold action taking into account their historic responsibility, and they are doing not.

If the Paris deal is set as it is, we are going to lose millions of livelihoods and the countries that have been polluting the most will continue doing so with minor compensations to those countries suffering from their anthropogenic climate change that they did not trigger. This Agreement is not sufficient, it is not fair.

This Agreement is not sufficient, it is not fair.

I therefore would ask the developed countries to stand for their responsibility, be accountable for their acts. The industrialized world should work beyond Paris in order to deliver Climate Justice. We have to immediately stop our emissions and compensate the most vulnerable communities for the adaptation measures and the lost that they are now facing because of our historical emissions.

We should recognize that our existence depends on the natural ecosystems and acknowledge that the planet has organic boundaries. Only by underscoring our climate action to the planetary boundaries we are going to resolve the climate challenge. Millions of lives are going to be sacrificed until we don’t understand that we have to keep within the planetary boundaries, we have to harmonise Humanity and Nature.

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