COP21: Politics of spectacle

The Paris agreement will not stop climate change

The Paris agreement on climate change is being celebrated in the media. "Historic agreement at the Paris Summit against climate change" says El País, and continues: "The pact sets a limit of two degrees for global warming and calls for efforts so that it 'does not exceed 1.5'" [1]. And the secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) herself says in her communiqué: "Historic agreement on climate change in Paris. 195 nations set a trajectory to keep warming well below 2°C" [2].
However, the reality is different, and they know it. In their own resolution adopted (not in the agreement) they say:

"17.  Notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2  ̊C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030, and also notes that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required than those associated with the intended nationally determined contributions in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2  ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5  ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing to a level to be identified in the special report referred to in paragraph 21 below;" [3]

The European Commission's research service says in a report that the emissions resulting from the projected contributions "could limit the long-term temperature increase to 3°C" [4]. So what are they celebrating?

The spectacle as a diversion of attention

I believe that the conclusion of a "historic agreement" serves other purposes, above all to reassure us and to show us that "everything is under control" and in the "good hands of states and international institutions". We no longer have to worry about climate change, the solutions are already in place and we can continue to consume and nothing needs to change.
And let's not forget that "national contributions" are nothing more than a declaration of intent. It is highly unlikely that they will be fulfilled without a profound change of the economic paradigm (as we already know from the international covenants on civil rights or on social and cultural rights - are they fulfilled?)
While they want us all to be appeased, they can continue with their old policy: the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated in 2013 that globally fossil energy was subsidised with 514 billion US$, while renewable energies were subsidised with only 121 billion US$ [5]. Furthermore, everyone still agrees that the way out of the economic crisis is economic growth: strengthening the market, promoting more consumption, more global trade, more competition between countries to the detriment of labour rights and nature.
One example are the negotiations on the TTIP. Florent Marcellesi, Member of the European Parliament says: "The European Union wants to agree within this treaty with the United States to include an energy chapter to facilitate the export of "coal, crude oil, petroleum products, natural gas, in liquefied or non-liquefied form, and electric power" from the US to Europe. In return, the US asks that shale gas from US fracking and oil from Canadian tar sands be included in this mix. In other words, TTIP would end any restrictions on the export of these 'energy goods', further encouraging their extraction, consumption and CO2 emissions." [6]
A contradiction? Obviously, but only when the aim would be to curb climate change.

The need for a profound change of the economic paradigm

There are research or scenarios that meet the requirements of the global emissions reductions needed to limit climate change to 1.5°C, for example Greenpeace's Energy[R]evolution 2015 scenario [7], which describes carbon dioxide emissions reductions to zero by 2050 (or close to zero). However, while the calculations seem technically plausible to me, I do not see how such goals can be achieved without a profound change in the paradigms that condition our societies:

  • the economic paradigm that demands more and more growth (in a finite world) and is not concerned with the satisfaction of human needs, but only with individual (and in fact, of few individuals) profit;
  • the paradigm of labour, "because it is unpleasant to do something as a result of an external obligation and also because we can see that it is labour that creates capital, that is, that creates a world of injustice that is destroying humanity" (John Holloway). "The rebellion of doing against labour is the rebellion of one form of activity that we choose, against another form of activity that we reject (...) the doing that we choose is more enjoyable by virtue of the fact that we choose to do it, and it is also an attempt to stop creating capitalism and create a different world." [8];
  • the patriarchal paradigm which not only includes the domination of the 'other' (women, trans and queer people, or other people who do not conform to the gender norms set by patriarchy) by 'men' representing certain masculinities (and with many other 'men'/masculinities benefiting in certain ways), but also includes binary thinking and the (masculine) idea that 'men' can control everything.
  • the militaristic paradigm that includes the idea that violence can solve conflicts, and that domination of one person by another is 'natural'.

These profound changes will not - and cannot - come from above, from governments, states, or international institutions formed by states. They cannot, because states are products of the very paradigms that are causing climate change and environmental degradation.
We have to work (or rather: do) from below to bring about this profound paradigm shift, to build the capacity to resist the attacks of states and the capitalist system on the climate and our societies, and to create alternative institutions and structures based on new ecological, social, non-patriarchal and nonviolent paradigms.

The spectacle of Paris is over. We will not allow ourselves to be lulled into complacency, and we will begin with the profound transition.

Andreas Speck

[1] El País, 12 December,
[2] UNFCCC: Historic agreement on climate change in Paris. 195 nations set trajectory to keep warming well below 2°C, 12 December 2015
[3] UNFCCC: Paris Agreement:, 12 December 2015. The Synthesis Report on the Aggregate Impact of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions of 30 October 2015 is available at
[4] European Comision, Joint Research Centre: Current climate commitments would increase global temperature around 3° C, 27 October 2015,; see also: An ambitious global goal but no binding emissions targets, El País, 12 December 2015,
[6] Florent Marcellesi: TTIP y cambio climático: donde dije digo…, La Marea, 11 November 2015,
[7] Greenpeace International:, September 2015
[8] John Holloway: Agrietar el Capitalismo. El hacer contra el trabajo. Buenos Aires, 2011, Ediciones Herramientas, p.95