What the Paris Attacks Mean for COP21

Tue, 2015-11-17 16:10

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) is scheduled for Nov 30-Dec 11 in Paris. The objective of the 2015 conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all nations of the world.

On Saturday, the day after the now-infamous Paris attacks, the French government vowed to forge ahead with the long-scheduled international summit.

COP21 Climate Change Summit logo

In the aftermath of attacks like this one, which killed 129 and critically wounded nearly as many, two sets of questions tend to arise: How could this happen? And why did it happen? Police have spent a great deal of time investigating the first question. In the meantime, many have supplied theories regarding the why.

Theorized Reasons Why the Paris Attacks Occurred

As mentioned in William McCants’s article “Why Did ISIS Attack Paris?” there are a range of theories, some of which could overlap, some of them mutually contradictory:

  • This is what global jihadists do—they can’t help themselves.
  • This was always the plan, but ISIS didn’t have the capability or opportunity to carry it out before.
  • The Islamic State wants to offset its territorial loses in Syria and Iraq by carrying out high-profile attacks abroad.
  • It wants to show up al-Qaeda to cement its position as leader of the global jihad.
  • It wants to deter powerful nations from carrying out more attacks against it.
  • Quite the opposite: It actually wants its enemies to go all in in Syria and Iraq in order to a) drain their resources, b) create total chaos, c) present itself as defender of the Muslims, and/or d) bring on the End of Days.

Oliver Tickell seems to be one of the leading journalists to speculate that the Paris attacks were committed by some coalition of ISIS and OPEC to derail the COP21 climate summit and raise oil prices. He wrote that ISIS was probably not acting entirely on its own: “While not alleging direct collusion between ISIS and other oil producing nations and companies, it’s not hard to see a coincidence of interests.” Failure to reach a strong climate agreement would be an outcome that would suit ISIS, considering oil sales generate $500 million per year for the organization.

Peace for Paris logo

Are the Paris Attacks Related to COP21?

Why Paris? Why now? France has been active in its air strikes against ISIS in Syria, and presumably the ISIS commanders knew that the world was awaiting COP21 in Paris. For a group that establishes its power and income from oil, the last thing ISIS needs is a global climate agreement that will, over time, limit global consumption of fossil fuels.

To understand ISIS’s relationship with oil a bit more, let’s take a look at how ft.com describes it.

"Oil is the black gold that funds Isis’ black flag – it fuels its war machine, provides electricity and gives the fanatical jihadis critical leverage against their neighbours...Estimates by local traders and engineers put crude production in Isis-held territory at about 34,000-40,000 bpd. The oil is sold at the wellhead for between $20 and $45 a barrel, earning the militants an average of $1.5m a day...While al-Qaeda, the global terrorist network, depended on donations from wealthy foreign sponsors, Isis has derived its financial strength from its status as monopoly producer of an essential commodity consumed in vast quantities throughout the area it controls. Even without being able to export, it can thrive because it has a huge captive market in Syria and Iraq."

The truth is, we probably won’t know the answer for sure for some time. It took years for the real reasons why al-Qaeda attacked the United States on 9/11/01 to surface.

How the Paris Attacks Will Affect COP21

It should be first noted that the international summit will continue as planned. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “[The summit] will go ahead with reinforced security measures. This is an absolutely necessary step in the battle against climate change and of course it will take place.”

Prior to the attacks, 30,000 French police officers were scheduled to secure the event. More than 10,000 diplomats, non-governmental organization employees, and journalists are expected the attend the summit. Specific new security measures have not yet been made public, but we can expect extremely tightened security following the attacks.

Aside from greater security measures, what else can we expect?

  • Credible journalists, campaign activists, and businessmen to potentially experience difficulty gaining access to the conference
  • Less travel into Central Paris from leaders and politicians
  • Densely packed streets in Paris from the more than 10,000 climate change activists attending COP21 events and demonstrations
  • Police officers on high alert both around the conference and patrolling the densely packed streets of Paris

Will COP21 Be Effective?

Prior to the Paris attacks, COP21 was starting to generate worldwide buzz. As Tim McDonnell wrote in his Newsweek article, "the Paris summit is expected to yield a better outcome than the last major climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, which failed to produce any meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions or prepare for the impacts of global warming.”

Now, many wonder if the attacks will derail the conversation and instead inspire world leaders to talk more about terrorism and security than climate change.

Paul Bledsoe, a former climate advisor to President Bill Clinton, does not prescribe to this line of thinking. He told Politico that the attacks could actually improve the odds that the talks reach a successful outcome.

“The resolve of world leaders is going to be redoubled to gain an agreement and show that they can deliver for populations around the world. The likelihood for a successful agreement has only increased because of these attacks,” Bledsoe said.

World Climate Summit

The reality is, we won’t know until the conference begins in two weeks. Nevertheless, I admire the French government for staying strong and allowing the summit to proceed. I’m sure it was a very difficult decision, and we'll be thinking about everyone traveling to Paris and participating in the conversation.

On a personal note, I can’t help but believe that the summit was somehow a factor in what happened. It may not have been the sole reason, but I can see Tickell's view that ISIS was trying to send a message about fossil fuels and climate change. It was shameful and despicable, don't get me wrong. As Tickell notes, the effort to reduce the need for fossil fuels - oil in particular - just took on a whole new dimension:

"Yes, it’s still about the climate, very much so. But there are also immediate and compelling reasons of national and global security to reduce the world’s demand for oil. An important part of achieving that is to reach a strong agreement in Paris next month, sending a clear message to energy corporations and investors that oil and other fossil fuels are no longer a smart investment – and instead to put their resources into the clean, green, renewable energy technologies of the future."

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, families, and all those affected by this tragedy.