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Fragile earth will not be saved by Sunday

  • 10 December 2015

In Paris this week the curse 'May you live in interesting times' pervaded. Living in interesting times demands deep sobriety as to the conditions under which we live and negotiate. The single treaty being negotiated at COP21 is symbolically heavy with expectations that it's our only salvation from climate devastation.

I left Geneva for Paris where the biggest gathering of nations attempt (yet again) to address the single greatest challenge to life on earth by reviewing the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Concurrently in Geneva, secret talks are being conducted around the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). Potential clauses of TiSA will penalise nation states for subsidising renewable energies. This closed door process threatens to undermine any progress made within public international law on technology transfers, climate finance and the capacity of states to reduce their emissions: issues at the heart of the UNFCCC.

This powerful law, constructed in legal shadowlands as a protective mechanism for corporations, indicates that COP21 exists within complex legal and power arrangements not yet reconciled.

Like public international treaties, free trade agreements are consensual, but carry onerous fiscal penalties with more force and enforceability than any public international treaty. Unresolved differences between these layers of law weaken nation state sovereignty, environmental protection and the UNFCCC itself. As well, the constant use of the words 'a legally binding treaty' in relation to the UNFCCC is misleading. Kyoto was also legally binding and many countries ignored it without any sanctions.

Meanwhile in Geneva the potentially powerful force of fiscal law negotiates a contradictory future. In the face of such realities, futility comes too easily. The UNFCCC is soft, fragile law.

In Paris, pockets of silence ask for sobriety. While it's easy to believe that normal life goes on, the state of emergency pervades the city. Idealism and resistance is cleaned off the streets by hard law. Climate activists are under house arrest for the duration of COP21. Gatherings and protests are intimate and don't access the greater public domain as expected. Shoes that represented absent protesters in the Place de Republique were immediately removed by police.

Last weekend the National Front was ahead in regional elections, signifying the rise of politics of fear and nationalism. Standing before the Bataclan, there's an overwhelming reverence for unanswerable questions that persist since the tragic shootings last month.

Meanwhile COP 21 occurs in a multi-layered security bubble outside the city where sobriety also pervades.