With the final agreement and signing of COP21 fast approaching on April 22, (Earth Day) in New York, the world still seems to stand by unsure of what to expect. For the past 25 years, the global community has been working on or towards the matter of climate change but largely to no avail. The Paris conference promised an urgency and increased resolve towards environmental sustainability through Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). However as always, we will most probably face the same disappointment as at Kyoto, Copenhagen and Montreal. While global leaders try to concede on even the smallest document at a sloth’s pace, the Arctic ice sheets have receded as 40% less in 2007 compared to the 1970s, with the least Arctic sea ice cover in 2010. 477 mammals have gone extinct since 1900, which should have otherwise taken 10,000 years. Droughts have pervaded 70% of the land area, evident in Africa, Australia and the subcontinent. Crop yields are failing due to climbing temperatures and ecosystems have been annihilated entirely. These are only a few examples of the devastation.

International law, as we all know, is tantamount to nothing in the global community. States almost never corroborate with law unless it suits their national interest. Yet, international law concerns itself only with law of and by states; not individuals or corporations. Corporations are largely the culprit to climatic damage, yet they are left unbridled. The fact of the matter remains that States do not concern themselves with the ecological aspect of their jurisdictions. Kyoto gave us no timelines, in fact delayed targets and gave no obligations. Paris gave us a timeline, gave us targets (to limit global temperature increases by 1.5 degrees centigrade before a catastrophic 2 degree increase) but still no obligations.

States have been given leeway to determine for themselves how and when they will cater to this ‘suggested’ plan through INDC’s. These INDC’s are to be planned with goals, and updates will have to be made to achieved targets; these will have to be a progression from previous set targets. A timeframe for these updates has yet to be decided. Yet there is no penalty should they not comply and any agreements at the conference are not legally binding. The agreement itself does not come into effect if there aren’t more than 55 signatories. Meaning, it may not come into play at all!

The biggest thorn in the side of environmental politics (since Kyoto) has been the developing world. India in particular has been vociferous, claiming that the global South cannot account for repercussions caused by the industrialisation of the global North. That they must be allowed to continue their own economic development before they can begin to think of sustainable practices. At Kyoto, this caused the developed world to say they will not pursue environmental sustainability if the developing world does not (consequently bringing the world to today’s ruin). Be that as it may, the developing world seems to forget, that damages to the environment have exacerbated to a point where we cannot risk continuing with business as usual, especially in the crass manner done through ‘cost-beneficial’ western industrialisation. The first countries to in fact experience impacts from climate change lie in the global south. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Africa and India, to name a few. Maldives is only 5 feet above sea level, and will cease to exist very soon - the first sacrificial lamb. Catastrophic floods and typhoons have frequented these territories causing damages that no amount of economic prosperity can replace. Thus, the global south must in fact spearhead the movement to tackle climate change. Especially since most are still developing, this is an opportune moment in history in two parts. First, with brilliant minds and the resources of today, whole economies can come up with new and innovative ways of living in harmony with nature. Secondly, the climate finance economy has increased, and the developed world is willing to invest in solar and wind power. Meaning, markets forces will actually benefit from the environmental agenda. The benefits of the climate change economy (for capitalists) is even greater than overcoming climate change itself. Over $10 billion dollars were spent on renewable energy projects in Africa alone. Germany is currently the leader in renewables. Yet the biggest developing economies, Brazil, China and India need to understand these notions, considering they themselves suffer from significant local pollution issues.

Though there is suggestion that enforcement of COP21 may start from this year, the scheduled enforcement is in fact 2020. This must not happen. The agreement should in fact come into effect from the year that it has been signed, that too with all 196 attendees as obligatory signatories. The target of limiting world temperature increases by a menial 1.5 degrees Celsius should be replaced by 1 degree. The fact of the matter is, this particular literature of the agreement is wrong. Instead of ‘limiting increasing temperatures’ the provisions should say ‘reduce global temperatures to pre industrial levels through zero gas emissions’. Unrealistic is that might sound, our pursuit and vigour to achieve said goal should be relentless. All provisions must be legally binding and transparent with a set timeline. By 2030 there should be zero gas emissions. A commission to COP21 should be created to ensure that these obligations are being fulfilled. Perhaps the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) could prove worthy of this deed, by following up on progress and making sure regular updates are made by the signatories. When governments will introduce long term emission pathways into their policies, signals will be sent to corporations to know where and what is expected of them. Should governments introduce tax credits for corporations that reduce their emissions, this would not only incentivise firms to pursue sustainable technological development, but also benefit local economies in huge ways. Obligations can be soft such as when targets are met by certain countries they can be positively benefitted with other resources such as grants/aid for further sustainable development – this way every country can benefit one another. As of now pledges need to be made with greater zeal as greenhouse gas emissions are almost four times what they were when the first pledges were made at Kyoto; we have to prepare for the hottest year yet.