Five Issues To Watch on Climate Change Ahead of the Paris Summit

By: Remi Moncel

These past weeks have been rich in announcements on climate change, and the next round of United Nations climate talks begins in Lima, Peru on December 1. That conference paves the way to a major climate summit in December 2015 in Paris, France. The coming year will be critical in the fight against climate change, an issue with wide-ranging impacts. Its effects on water availability and crop yields make climate change a livelihood and national security issue. The threat that sea-level rise poses to low-lying States makes it a human rights issue. The world’s necessary transition from fossil to renewable fuels makes it an energy and economic issue. Here are the highlights of recent developments and five issues to watch on the road to Paris.

The Science

 According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2014 is currently on track to be the warmest year ever recorded. The world’s leading scientists agree: humans cause climate change, our climate is already changing, and at the current pace the effects on people and the environment will be dire. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summarizes every four years the state of peer-reviewed climate change science. The IPCC’s latest report came out in 2014 and describes more clearly than any previous report “the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” It also highlights the greater risks posed “to disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.” The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and other countries’ science academies have come to similar conclusions.

Worse, our efforts to fix the problem are woefully inadequate. All countries’ current commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions, when added together, fall short of what we need to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. And it’s not even close. World leaders vowed in 2009 to limit an average rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. But every passing year without more serious cuts in emissions makes it more likely that we will miss that goal, with severe consequences for people and the environment. A new report by the United Nations Environment Program shows just how much ground we need to make up.

National and Local Action

Despite this bad news, it is not too late to correct course, but doing so will require aggressive policies. National emissions in some countries have started declining and some governments have made significant commitments. Grassroots movements, like the 400,000-person march in New York City this fall, may also signal a shift in public attitudes on the issue. Some businesses are also demonstrating climate leadership by going beyond what regulations require. And some mega cities around the world are taking proactive steps to reduce emissions and increase their resilience to climate change.

Five years ago, the United States, the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, pledged to reduce its emissions by seventeen percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and just this month, President Obama announced a reduction goal of twenty-six to twenty-eight percent by 2025. Reaching these targets will depend on U.S. regulations and possibly new legislation. The Environmental Protection Agency has been rolling out a series of regulations tightening automobile fuel economy standards and allowable emissions from new and existing power plants.

The European Union is more ambitious than the United States, with planned reductions of twenty percent by 2020 below 1990 levels, at least forty percent by 2030, and eighty percent by 2050.

The developing world too is acting. China just pledged to peak its emissions of greenhouse gases around 2030 and possibly earlier, to cap its coal consumption in 2020, and to source twenty percent of its primary energy consumption from “non-fossil fuels” by 2030. India pledged to reduce the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by twenty to twenty five percent by 2020 compared to 2005, and the country is expanding its renewable energy capacity. And Brazil enacted national laws to reduce deforestation.

Other countries are laggards. For example, Canada, a developed country that should be reducing its emissions, is actually projecting an emissions increase of thirty-eight percent by 2030. And Australia’s Prime Minister oversaw the repeal of a national carbon tax and has taken the defense of the coal industry.

Climate Diplomacy

The next major international milestone is the twenty-first Conference of the Parties to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in December 2015. Countries are supposed to adopt “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties.” That carefully negotiated language means that the agreement will include commitments by all major economies, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which required only some developed countries to make quantified reductions in greenhouse gases.

Over the next year, countries will put on the table their proposed climate commitments. Some have already started. President Obama and President Xi, in a historic move, jointly announced this month their countries’ respective opening offers. The two countries’ commitments are not bold enough, but they could be strengthened over time, and they represent a major breakthrough in an international process long crippled by an acrimonious divide between developed and developing countries. Now, the world’s two largest polluters and economies are starting to face their respective responsibilities and call on everyone to step up in time for the summit in Paris.


Clean energy technology is critical to the world’s transition to a low-carbon economy. It determines how quickly and cheaply we can wean developed countries off fossil fuels. It also determines how easily we can decouple economic growth from a rise in greenhouse gas emissions, a particular concern for developing countries with legitimate economic and development aspirations.

For a long time, renewable energy was costly and only competitive with coal and natural gas thanks to expensive government subsidies. That is no longer true. The production costs of solar panels and wind turbines have plummeted in recent years. In several markets, the cost of electricity from renewable sources already rivals coal and natural gas.

Still, it will take time to retire existing coal power plants and source most of our power from clean sources. There are also political and institutional barriers to faster diffusion of clean energy technology. The fossil fuel industry retains greater access to political capitals than the nascent clean technology sector. For example, a recent report estimates that the fossil fuel industry, despite its healthy annual profits, receives $88 billion per year in subsidies from developed country governments. Banks and utilities around the world are also more hesitant to invest in clean technologies because they are less established and tested. That makes them more expensive to finance.


 The climate deal in Paris next year will include a financial component. Developing countries are looking for support to meet their growing energy needs through renewable rather than conventional fuels. They also need finance to build their resilience to the inevitable and growing impacts of climate change. The regions most affected by climate change are also the poorest and the least responsible for the problem. Developed countries can help finance so-called adaptation programs to respond to a wide array of impacts, including rising sea levels, droughts, floods, and decreasing crop yields.

In Copenhagen in 2009 and again in Cancún the following year, parties to the UNFCCC agreed to mobilize $100 billion per year starting in 2020 from a range of public and private sources. As part of this commitment, countries established the Green Climate Fund, based in South Korea. Countries have already pledged nearly $10 billion to the Fund, which is still being set up. For example, the United States pledged $3 billion, Japan $1.5 billion and Norway $1.3 billion. Several developing countries have also joined the effort, including South Korea, Mexico, Panama, and Indonesia. This first string of contributions is not enough, but it is a good start and perhaps indicates a collective desire to get serious about climate change.

On finance and on other issues, the climate conference in Lima provides the next big opportunity for countries to show real leadership. These past weeks’ announcements have provided some valuable momentum, but the gap remains large between where we are and where we need to be. The road to Paris over the next year will tell us just how serious world leaders are about bridging it.

Remi Moncel is a J.D. Candidate at Berkeley Law. He is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Berkeley Journal of International Law and a student contributor for Travaux.

The Record: This Week in Review

Human Rights Watch Finds Israeli Airstrikes in Gaza Violated the Laws of War

Human Rights Watch has sent detailed information to the IDF about numerous airstrikes in Gaza that may have violated the Laws of War.  The airstrikes, at least 18 of them, were carried out during fighting in November 2012 and were the result of Human Rights investigations.  The IDF has said that it is conducting “operational debriefings” of the attacks and will have completed its investigation sometime in February.

UN Security Council Set to Approve Sending Peacekeepers to Mali

Although the Malian government has expressed concerns about the presence of UN peacekeepers in the country (it fears the strengthening of a split between northern and southern Mali) it looks as though the UN Security Council will be approving the deployment of about 6,000 peacekeepers in the coming weeks.  The move comes after French troops have already secured much of the country from Islamist rebels.  Some issues that still remain to be worked out is how this UN peacekeeping force will interact with the UN backed African military force (AFISMA) which is currently fighting alongside French troops.

ICC Orders Extradition of Libyan Spy Chief

 Abdullah al-Senussi, Gadaffi’s ex spy chief, has requested that he be tried by the International Court of Court in the Hague.  He has been denied access to his British lawyer and the ICC, along with other human rights organizations, have expressed concern about his ability to receive a fair trial in the new Libya, which suffers from a weak central government and lack of rule of law.  Libyan leaders however have a vested interest in trying Gadaffi’s family members and supporters in country in order to gain credibility among their own population.

U.N. Sanctions North Korea for Latest Nuclear Tests

Tensions mounted this week with North Korea conducting additional nuclear tests, resulting in tightened sanctions from the U.N. Security Council.  However, nuclear capability concerns are drawing attention away from human rights issues within North Korea.  Current estimations put the number of persons currently held in North Korea prison camps at 200,000, where they suffer torture, rape and slave labor.  Both the United States and Japan will support additional inquiries into human rights violations in North Korea.

Human Rights Watch Report on Yemen

The Human Rights Watch released a report titled “Unpunished Massacre – Yemen’s Failed Response to the “Friday of Dignity” Killings” calling attention to the inadequate investigation and prosecution of those responsible. The massacre resulted in the deaths of 45 protesters, including University students and children, and implicated the involvement of several government officials.

Australian’s Prisoner X

The New York Times reported further details regarding the mysterious death of Mr. Ben Zygier, an Australian citizen also known as “Prisoner X,” who was being held in an Israeli maximum security prison.  Israel’s Justice Ministry issued a statement denying any violation of Mr. Zygier’s rights during the secret imprisonment or criminal proceedings. Mr. Zygier was incarcerated in 2010 and suspected by the Australian government of spying for Israel.

Abuse of Canadian Women Exposed

Human Rights Watch has published a report exposing police abuse of indigenous women and children in Canada.  The report details police brutality, threats of arrest, and shaming.  The British Columbia legislature recently established an investigative unit to further explore “police-related incidents involving death or serious harm.”  The concern is that the majority of the abuse faced is not covered by the definition of “serious harm” and more needs to be done by the Canadian government to protect women and children.

Australia Accused of Human Rights Violations 

Australia has been accused of human rights violations involving 23 Indonesian minors.  They were incorrectly housed in adult prisons where they were sexually harassed by the prison guards.  Jailed between 2008 and 2011, they were originally smuggled into Australia and have since been returned to Indonesia.

Jamaica in Final Stages of Accepting $ 750 million IMF Loan

Jan Kees Martijn, Head of the International Monetary Fund million to Jamaica, stated it has reached a “staff-level agreement” with Jamaica on a $ 750 million loan. Jamaica, which derives most of its GDP from tourism and other services, has seen a decline in its economy over the last thirty years. This loan is intended to reduce Jamaica’s “medium-term financing needs” and to contribute to its “debt sustainability,” Martijn said, but the loan still needs to be approved by the IMF’s executive board—scheduled to be completed by the end of March.

Three International Organizations Collaborate for the First Time

The World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Trade Organization released a book, “Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between Public Health, Intellectual Property and Trade,” marking the first time that these three organizations have come together to tackle some of the most pressing issues involving medicine and health. The book examines a range of issues related to these fields, uncovers powerful studies, and most notably, provides tools for future development and success of medical technologies and innovations.





Sciences Po Law School Clinic Involved in Transnational Campaign against Herakles Farms Project in Cameroon

By the Human Rights, Economic Development, and Globalization Clinic, École de Droit, Sciences Po

Oil, and palm oil in particular, has been hot news in France, especially due to the controversy over the so-called “Nutella tax,” which aims to cut obesity by tripling the tax on products that use oils such as palm oil. This is despite an unprecedented boom in the use of palm oil in the past decade.

Yet people in France often forget that the production of palm oil also has environmental consequences, notably vast deforestation, reduction of biodiversity, soil depletion, and water pollution. This also impacts inhabitants of the areas concerned, especially by displacing populations and negatively impacting sustainable and people-based development.

Prime areas of palm-oil cultivation include countries in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia (4,819,483 hectares) and Indonesia (7,527,760 hectares); Central Africa, such as Sudan (3,123,430 hectares), Ethiopia (2,412,562 hectares), and Cameroon (147,980 hectares); and Central and South America, such as Brazil (3,871,824 hectares) and Argentina (1,505,020 hectares). Foreign investment in plantations most often comes from former colonial powers such as France, and emerging economies, such as the Gulf countries and China, whose interest in palm oil mainly stem from its use in biodiesel and a desire to produce a clean environment in their own countries.

On Saturday the 2 February 2013, Greenpeace activists, led by coordinator Fréderic Amiel, met at the Place du Palais Royal in Paris to demonstrate against the Herakles Farms project in Cameroon. For the completion of this project, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Herakles Farms called SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon PLC will demolish 70,000 hectares of forest in the Ndian and Kupe-Manenguba Divisions of Southwest Cameroon to make space for a palm oil plantation. The project is based on a questionable contract including a 99-year lease where SG Sustainable Oils will pay a rent of only about $1 per hectare. The company estimates that the project will impact 14,000 people, a figure which local and international associations and NGOs fighting the project denounce as representing half of the real number of affected people.

Greenpeace has focused its efforts on this case because of its highly negative impact on the livelihoods of local communities, and its potential to set precedent and excite repercussions on future land-grabbing cases. Land grabbing is indeed a controversial issue, which reflects a quasi-absence of regulation of sovereign and private actors conducting themselves, at times, in a neo-colonial fashion. As of today, estimates show that national and international investors have claimed more than 80 million hectares of land, primarily in Africa and in low-income countries, with the primary intention of producing cash crops, and with little focus on local environmental or human impacts.

Brendan Schwartz, member of the Cameroonian NGO Réseau de Lutte contre le Faim (Network fighting Hunger in Cameroon), and Samuel Nguiffo, associate of the Center for the Environment and Development, have joined forces to protest the illegality of the lease contract under Cameroonian law, as well as international conventions to which the country has signed. Despite ongoing legal proceedings, injunctions from Cameroonian courts, and contrary evidence from environmental and social impact studies, the project has continued its operations.

Paul Biya, President of Cameroon since 1982, came to the Elysée presidential palace in Paris from January 30th to February 2nd to meet with President François Hollande and to discuss the development of economic ties between the two countries. During his visit, several environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, denounced the silence of the government of Cameroon regarding the Herakles Farms project. At this stage of the ongoing campaign against the project, a transnational coalition of NGOs and advocates is coordinating a series of advocacy initiatives, including the arrival in France of Nasako Besingi, Director of the NGO Struggle to Economise the Future Environment, who has been a central figure in this campaign. Mr. Besingi and some of his volunteers were jailed for two days without official cause, although it appears their arrests resulted from their fight against violations of the rights of affected communities generated by the SGSOC and the Herakles Farms project.

In light of the past and present relationship between Cameroon and France, due to the alarming increase in land acquisitions in the Global South, and with willingness to contribute to a wider and deeper understanding of large scale land investments, the Paris-based Sciences-Po Law School Clinic has decided to include the Herakles Farms case among the ongoing projects of its Human Rights, Economic Development and Globalization (HEDG) program. The first in France to link academic theory with legal and multidisciplinary advocacy in this emerging field, HEDG involves teams of law and international affairs students, Ph.D. candidates, faculty, and practitioners affiliated with the Clinic. A HEDG team is currently working to analyze the legal and economic dimensions of the Herkales Farms project, as well as potential advocacy and recourse mechanisms in support of those locally affected.