Image: Nagy Istvan (Flickr)

International Climate Agreements: Useful or Useless?

28th June 2017

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Felicity Gray joined RegNet in 2017 to examine engagement by people experiencing displacement in the creation and implementation of peace processes and peacebuilding programs.

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Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has put the status of the international processes on climate change in doubt. In this discussion Green Agenda editor Simon Copland and researcher Felicity Gray debate whether Trump’s withdrawal should mean the end of the international climate process.

Simon Copland argues that “The landmark Paris Agreement […], called by many a turning point for our climate, is nothing more than an extraordinarily weak agreement, which sets ambition that is nowhere near strong enough for what our planet requires”.

He continues: “To change everything requires real democratic involvement, something which international agreements do not supply. Instead they not only suck away the attention of National Governments (who spend more time negotiating deals than working to reduce emissions), but also sop up the energy of grassroots organisations, in a way that is neither empowering, nor democratic. At a time when we need all hands on deck, the international process once again gives power to the few at the one, a few that time and time again have proven themselves completely untrustworthy on this issue.”

In response, Felicity Gray argues that, whilst the Paris Agreement is far from perfect, “the Agreement and the global climate architecture that it sits within provide crucial political momentum. Targets may be non-binding, but the real power of these agreements is often found outside the black letter of the law. We know that non-binding ‘soft law’ prompts state action because of increased levels of political scrutiny and transparency. Importantly, the Paris Agreement sets out involuntary transparency and review mechanisms to track country progress.”

Further, she argues, “contrary to Simon’s suggestion that these international commitments limit grassroots action; they confer legitimacy for action at grassroots, local and subnational level. For example, the commitment to 1.5℃ affirmed in the Paris Agreement has become a benchmark for organisations, communities, local and state level action. Even with Trump’s inelegant exit, in the last week American cities, states and companies have formed the United States Climate Alliance, pushing to meet the Paris targets – both in spite of Trump’s exit but because of global climate cooperation. Grassroots climate organisations and activists regularly employ the language and commitments of these agreements to hold power to account.”

Felicity Gray concludes that “advocating for the abandonment of international climate agreements risks accelerating frontline suffering even further. Yes, international climate agreements can be technocratic and anti-democratic. There are a myriad of ways in which both their processes and outcomes could be improved. But to advocate for their abandonment is flagrantly reckless. A desertion at this time would erode momentum for action on global warming, undermine the core platform for intergovernmental action, and damage our capacity to assist those already dealing with impacts of climate change first hand.”

You can read the full debate here on Green Agenda.

Updated:  12 February 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet