Climate pact called ‘historic’ but change could take decades
Beirut - The historic agreement signed in Paris on December 12th by the leaders of nearly 200 countries to work together to curb global warming is one of the most important international pacts ever made and took decades of bitter wrangling to achieve.
The agreement, reached after intense backroom lobbying amid what is expected to be the hottest year on record, spells a sharp downturn for the international oil industry as the world moves away from fossil fuels, which lie at the root of climate change, a move that will hit the Middle East hard and change its economic base and the region’s future.
This process, one that has occurred several times as mankind adapted to new resources and technologies, could take decades as new, carbon-free resources and more energy-efficient technology are developed.
“Regardless of which resource rises to the top, oil will not disappear entirely, just as coal did not vanish before it,” the US-based global security consultancy Stratfor observed in a December 14th analysis. “Its importance will wane, however, as will the status of those that produce it.”
Environmental groups saw the agreement as a turning point. The pact, declared Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, “will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states”.
For the Middle East, which contains approximately half the world’s oil reserves, the change will be particularly difficult even as the Paris pact strives to head off potentially disastrous climate change effects that threaten the region.
“Whether the shift will be towards nuclear power, natural gas, renewable or some combination of the three, the shift away from oil is already well under way and the Paris agreement will simply speed the process along,” Stratfor noted.
Some regional states are already striving to find new energy sources. Morocco is working on a massive solar energy programme that could end up providing electricity for much of southern Europe. The Gulf states are doing the same in a frantic quest for renewables. Meantime, they are producing as much oil as they can.
Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are exploiting their vast natural gas holdings and Iraq, Algeria and Libya have plans to utilise gas reserves while new reserves have been found in the eastern Mediterranean that could transform the economies of Israel, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Egypt, and eventually Syria as well.
But there is always the risk that these energy riches will trigger conflict, just as oil has figured highly in strategic rivalries over the years.
The oil age began about a century ago in the south-west of what was then Persia, when an adventurous English businessman, William D’Arcy, struck oil on May 26, 1908, at a remote spot called Masjid-e Suleiman. Discoveries were also made in Mesopotamia and the Arabian Gulf over the following two decades.
These transformed the global economic system and spawned the rise of the fabulously wealthy Arab and Persian dynasties and a strategic power struggle that has kept the Middle East seething in turmoil ever since. Nevertheless, the legally binding Paris agreement, hammered out by consensus in 13 days of negotiations and heavily supported by the United States and China, the two leading carbon-burning powers, will take effect in 2020.
It is aimed at curbing, as quickly as possible, carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal, to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, if possible, under 1.5 degrees, and intensifying their efforts every five years to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions this century.
The world is already 0.75 degrees warmer than before the industrial revolution in the 1800s.
The Paris agreement, to have legal force, has to be ratified by at least 55% of the 195 countries that adopted it without objection on December 12th. This multi-trillion-dollar undertaking is considered essential for the survival of the planet and everyone on it by averting a global calamity that will turn Earth into a furnace, with sea levels rising to flood low-lying regions that contain many of the world’s major cities, industrial centres and farmland, and drying up water resources.
This can only be achieved if much deeper cuts in emissions than most countries have been planning, or which most developing countries can afford, are achieved. The question of who will pay for all this has divided the rich and poor states for 20 years.
Some scientists question whether the major contributors to global warming, the industrial nations, will be able to achieve the 1.5-degree goal to remove huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in time to do any good because the technologies required to do so have not been developed.
But despite the doomsayers, the consensus achieved in Paris is remarkable and points to the most determined effort yet to arrest global warming and the violent climatic changes it is already bringing about, as well as the prospect of conflicts around the globe as people struggle for access to dwindling resources like water and farmland.