Is a beautiful, clean future within our grasp now?

Chris Livesey reflects on the Paris Climate Summit (COP 21) and what has been achieved.   What does the agreement mean for New Zealand, and there is now real hope that we can avoid disastrous global warming?

 

Following the Paris summit there is much greater international agreement about the destination, and the destination has been much more clearly defined. Each country now has the responsibility to do its bit to ensure that, collectively, we reach that destination.

That means that in New Zealand:

  • lots of hard work is needed to develop a national transitional plan and policies that ensure that the investment needed to give New Zealand zero net emissions by 2050 (or soon after) is required;
  • government, financial institutions, businesses, unions, cities, and citizens will need to contribute to make the plan and its policies effective and socially acceptable;
  • and lots of on-going political pressure will be required to ensure that the plan and its policies are developed and then implemented.

The momentum generated by Paris must be continued.

Below are a variety of what seem to me to be important perspectives that I have picked out from the plethora of reports following the conclusion of the Paris summit.

 

… the Paris deal will be a success if it provides a signal to markets and investors that clean energy is the future. We’ll see if that happens …..

(Coral Davenport of the New York Times, reported by Brad Plumer, Vox)

 

[The Paris agreement] sent “a powerful signal” that a low-carbon future and investment in clean energy were economically viable and could create jobs, [President Obama] said.

(Radio NZ)

 

… it’s worth keeping these talks in perspective. The Paris agreement can support ongoing efforts to reduce fossil-fuel emissions and curb deforestation. But whether Earth warms 2°C or 2.5°C or 3°C simply won’t be decided by this deal alone. That will depend on what future policies get enacted by individual countries, on how quickly we switch over to alternative energy sources, on how technology evolves.

… the Paris agreement can only encourage countries to step up their efforts. It can’t force them to do so. That’s the hard part, the part that comes next. Further action will ultimately depend on policymakers and investors and engineers and scientists and activists across the globe …

In other words, the Paris deal is only the first step. Perhaps the easiest step. To stop global warming, every country will have to do much, much more in the years ahead to transition away from fossils fuels (which still provide 86 percent of the world’s energy), move to cleaner sources, and halt deforestation. They’ll have to pursue new policies, adopt new technologies, go far beyond what they’ve already promised.

There’s ample room for skepticism about this agreement. Countries are offering up entirely voluntary climate pledges that are, so far, awfully flimsy. … The parties have only agreed to vague feel-good goals at Paris – limit global warming to 1.5°C, have emissions peak “as soon as possible” – without a well-defined plan for how to actually achieve those targets.

So, yes, there’s a chance that the Paris deal, and the processes it sets in motion, could prove effective. That’s the risk with any treaty based on voluntary actions.

(Brad Plumer, Vox)

Progressive as the outcome is by comparison to all that has gone before, it leaves us with an almost comically lopsided agreement. While negotiations on almost all other global hazards seek to address both ends of the problem, the UN climate process has focused entirely on the consumption of fossil fuels, while ignoring their production.

In Paris the delegates have solemnly agreed to cut demand, but at home they seek to maximise supply. …. Until governments undertake to keep fossil fuels in the ground, they will continue to undermine the agreement they have just made.

(George Monbiot)

The biggest test will come in 2020 when countries are supposed to contribute new emissions-cutting plans. Will they actually do that? …….  If countries follow the Agreement and come to the table in 2020 with serious new climate efforts, Paris will have succeeded where Kyoto failed, and will establish itself as a more enduring international framework.

(Martin Levi, Council on Foreign Relations, USA)

“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” [James Hansen] says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

…. according to Hansen, the [Paris agreement] is pointless [if] greenhouse gas emissions aren’t taxed across the board. He argues that only this will force down emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst ravages of climate change.

Hansen believes China, the world’s largest emitter, will now step up to provide the leadership lacking from the US. A submerged Fifth Avenue and deadly heatwaves aren’t an inevitability.

“I think we will get there because China is rational,” Hansen says. “Their leaders are mostly trained in engineering and such things, they don’t deny climate change and they have a huge incentive, which is air pollution. It’s so bad in their cities they need to move to clean energies. They realise it’s not a hoax. But they will need co-operation.”

(The Guardian)

“Governments must now put words into actions, in particular by implementing policies that make effective progress on the mitigation pledges they have made. That is why my key message is to price carbon right and to do it now.”

(Christine Largarde, Head of the IMF; reported on Radio NZ)

 

“The diplomats have done their job: the Paris Agreement points the world in the right direction, and with sophistication and clarity,” [Jeffery Sachs] said.

“It does not, however, ensure implementation, which necessarily remains the domain of politicians, businessmen, scientists, engineers, and civil society.”

(reported on Radio NZ)

 

The most positive outcome of the Paris climate talks might have occurred outside the plenary rooms, Massey University Centre for Energy Research director Professor Ralph Sims said.

“The momentum of businesses, cities, NGOs, financiers, bankers, indeed across all civil society, in their intent to move towards a rapid transformation to a low-carbon economy was far more impressive than the formal negotiations.”

(reported on Radio NZ)

Most importantly, [the Paris agreement] sends a clear message to investors everywhere: sinking money into fossil fuels is a dead bet. Renewables are the profit centre. Technology to bring us to 100% clean energy is the money-maker of the future.

History delivers moments when the wind shifts, you can smell it in the air. The best of us harness that power, using it to fuel the new path. Like our brothers and sisters in South Africa who won legal equality, LGBTQ members in the United States who won the right to marry the people they love, Gandhi’s non-violent movement that gave birth to a new hope for India, we are on the brink of that new, sweet wind.

Let’s harness it together, let’s fly together under the sail of a common humanity, across the oceans, rivers and lakes that divide us. Let’s take the promise of right now and deliver our children a beautiful, safe, and clean future.

(The team at AVAAZ)

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