The conference with Heads of State on November 30th and the meeting that brought together hundreds of mayors on December 4th, turned out to be just old-fashioned speech contests on the obligatory theme of climate protection and the future of humanity – talk shows – which took place while negotiators worked to edit out the thousands of bracketed clauses in the agreement.

Will there be an agreement? one asks, playing along. Of course there will be an agreement! Even at Rio+20 where no one agreed on anything, the Brazilian Presidency managed to whip out a draft text that was approved by acclamation: it did not amount to much and the return flights were waiting.

The only question worth asking is whether the agreement will oblige countries to keep warming below 1.5°C (or even 2°C) and to come up with substantial financial support for poor, vulnerable countries in order to assist them in moving towards sustainable development, and enable them to adapt to the already obvious effects of global warming. This is evidently far from being resolved. So, what is needed?

First of all, clearly-defined responsibility and legal accountability, which would force key political and economic players to assume the impact of their decisions or indecisions. I gave an overview of what this would require in my previous posts: in the short-term, the agreement needs to include regulations that oblige governments and transnational companies to be responsible and accountable, followed by the rapid adoption of a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities and an international responsibility law that reflects the interdependent nature of our world.

Taking an expansive vision of responsibility in this way would force governments to assume the consequences of their actions, avert damage and manage the biosphere as a commons of humanity. This would involve taking two measures.

The first would be to immediately set quotas for global greenhouse gas emissions for the coming decades, with a steady decline towards full carbon neutrality by the end of the century, because it is a precondition to ensuring temperatures conform to collective international objectives.

In the attached proposals sent to the President of the European Commission, I illustrated that the simplest and fairest approach in terms of regulations would be to set an emissions quota per capita which is the same for all countries (calculated by dividing up total global emissions). This would mean defining territorial quotas, which could then be freely bought and sold, and which would include “grey energy” used to produce imported goods and services (this represents a third of fossil fuels consumed in Europe).

This would be a much better approach than a carbon price that is supposed to provide a “price signal”, and which is aimed at changing behaviour, but which ultimately impinges more on the poor than the rich.

Quotas represent an “energy currency”, which means that we would be finally able to decouple human development from fossil fuel consumption, which twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio, we have not yet managed to do.

The second measure is that assistance to poor countries should logically be financed by a global tax on fossil fuels, applied at extraction sites – adjustable depending on the degree of assistance needed. Such a tax would be easy to calculate and collect due to the concentration of fossil fuel extraction sites.

These three ideas – responsibility, a territorial quota system and subsequent energy currency, and a global tax applied at extraction sites – are interrelated and are all ideas based on common sense. Yet the logic of international relations, political dogmas (legislation based on state sovereignty, countries’ monopolisation of the earth’s resources) – and economic ones (blind faith in market mechanisms and an outdated vision of money) mean that they will never be on the UN’s agenda nor will they be on those of climate negotiators. This is why we requested the host country’s Head of State, President François Hollande, as a last resort, to put these new ideas on the table. The proposals are compiled in the attached document.

It won’t magically change the outcome of COP21, it won’t suddenly turn the negotiating tables. Yet, by highlighting the inadequacy of the current forms of negotiation in a situation as urgent as that of the climate, by stressing the responsibility that political and economic players have towards our fragile planet and our only home, it may well trigger a radical shift in global governance.

Related blogs by Pierre Calame

Education: a blind spot that represents a major lever in shifting towards sustainable societies – November 2015

Universal Declaration of Interdependence and Human Responsibilities – as
applied to the climate – November 2015

The Climate, Lima to Paris: a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities is more urgent than ever – November 2015

COP21 : How cities and regions can live up to their role as chief drivers of the transition towards sustainable societies – September 2015

The European Union Can and Must Assume a Global Leadership Role
in the Climate Negotiations – May 2015