Countries taking part in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Paris, faced with the possibility of total failure, were elated to reach any kind of agreement. As politicians will do, they convinced themselves and as many people as possible in their home nations that the accord signed by 195 countries was an amazing breakthrough document.
Such enthusiasm was extremely premature.
The agreement that was whittled down to 31 pages over 12 days of laborious negotiations is jam-packed with lofty language and idealistic goals. However, it is totally lacking in any legally binding mechanism to hold governments or corporations to emission quotas that will stop global warming from reaching devastatingly high levels.
The greatest challenge the world faces is to get off fossil fuels and, if possible, to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
But author and activist Naomi Klein said the promises made by governments as part of the agreement were disastrously weak.
“They don’t lead us to 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees. They lead us to warming of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius, which is beyond catastrophic.”
The only check on government performances will be audits carried out every five years.
And how will governments be kept honest? Officials claimed that countries that miss their targets could be shamed into doing better.
If the Paris summit had a theme, it could be: Rich countries fail to do their part because of an economic system that puts the interests of fossil fuel corporations above those of the people.
However, the overall pressure to reduce and eventually keep most fossil fuels in the ground was a clear message coming out of Paris. Over the long term polluting corporations will be forced to change dramatically and many will disappear.
For now fossil-fuel corporations and multinationals are so powerful they dictate to wealthy countries, even the United States.
For now fossil-fuel corporations and multinationals are so powerful that they dictate to wealthy countries, even the United States.
When it comes to huge decisions involving the economy, or international trade deals, or processes such as COP21 that affect their business, fossil fuel companies are very powerful and skilled at getting their way.
Corporations were involved in just about every aspect of COP21, including helping to pay for the summit. Meanwhile, a few select non-governmental organisations were permitted only to look over the draft of the agreement at the end of each day. Organisers kept thousands of protesters away from the delegates.
Largely because of the power corporations wield, the COP21 agreement includes mostly business-friendly market place solutions.
None of the words “fossil fuels”, “oil” or “coal” appears in the agreement.
Carbon markets, which allow some companies to make huge profits but are slow to reduce emissions, were looked upon favourably. Because no action was taken against fracking, the practice, which produces highly damaging methane gas, will increase.
Financial institutions are already making large profits from financing many activities related to global warming. The most common funding is for clean energy solutions, underwriting green bonds and structuring catastrophe-linked securities to help clients to manage climate change risks.
Trillions of dollars are available for climate and renewable energy projects. The US bank Goldman Sachs created an environmental funding framework in 2005 and has allocated $150bn to finance clean energy projects by 2025.
In what environmentalists see as a very risky assumption, the COP21 document counts on corporations investing billions of dollars to create future technologies capable of removing huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere many decades from now. If the dream technology does not materialise, keeping emissions to reasonable levels will be pretty much impossible.
Because of the rapidly increasing concerns over global warming, investors are concerned that fossil fuels will eventually become so unpopular that they will lose their value.
In September, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said investors need to be concerned about the potential for huge losses from a sudden shift in regulations designed to curb global warming and the use of fossil fuels. Trillions of dollars are invested in all forms of non-renewable energy.
Coal is the worst carbon dioxide emitter. It’s already under serious attack, particularly in developed countries. Market values of coal producing corporations are falling. China and India, the two largest users, are facing pressure to dump coal.
The value of oil has fallen tremendously around the world because of OPEC’s decision to flood markets. The low valuations are making it possible for renewables, particularly solar, to compete for investment dollars. More than half of global investment in new electricity generation is in renewables.
Even in the oil-rich Gulf states, solar energy “presents a significant opportunity to make savings, reduce fuel cost risks, achieve climate ambitions and, at the same time, keep more oil and gas available for export”.
While unfettered capitalism and the marketplace have been the nemesis of a clean environment for some 50 years, now some aspects of the marketplace will help to save the environment – but in its own way and in its own time.
Nick Fillmore is a Toronto freelance journalist who specialises in climate change issues. Formerly a senior producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, he has won investigative awards for his environmental reports.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.