The UN climate conference ended with a global agreement. That’s the good news from Paris. But will this agreement do the trick and save humanity from the catastrophic global warming which climate scientists have warned that we are heading towards? Is it time to open the champagne bottles and celebrate? Some say yes, others say no. So you’ll have to make your own conclusion. Read on!
The general response to the agreement from climate experts and campaigners has been that the plan is not perfect, but it is a major achievement and big step forward.
“The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned. This deal puts the fossil fuel industry on the wrong side of history. There’s much in the text that has been diluted and polluted by the people who despoil our planet, but it contains a new imperative to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C,” concluded Greenpeace after the climate agreement – now known as ‘The Paris Outcome’ – was signed in Paris, France, on 12 December 2015.
“Climate policy is no longer something that can be papered over, or worked around, or ignored, or used as a political attack weapon,” The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor joyfully reported from Paris.
Coal lobby chief Brian Ricketts wrote that COP21 means the coal industry will now “be hated like slave traders” and “public enemy number one”.
“You might be relieved that the agreement is weak. Don’t be. The words and legal basis no longer matter. Fossil fuels are portrayed by the UN as public enemy number one.”
Brian Ricketts, Secretary-General of the European Association for Coal and Lignite
The Australian fossil fuel lobby was clearly not happy, and in the days after the UN conference ended it became evident how close the ties are between the industry and the media in Australia. The industry’s view points were directly reflected in headlines and editorials of newspapers such as the Herald Sun, the Australian Financial Review and The Australian. For instance, on 15 December, Herald Sun wrote in its editorial:
“It is the clearest of signals to business and industry to move to a low-carbon world, but the collapse of economies and industry in doing so is as great a threat as global warming.”
Take a look at that sentence one more time. Reflect on what exactly it is the Herald Sun editor is saying here. That sentence in itself reveals which kind of warped and self-centered world-view not only the CEOs of the coal-gas-oil industry have, but also the leaders of its media allies: they consider the collapse of their own polluting industry as great a threat as the phenomena of global warming – a phenomena which according to some scientists threatens to reduce humanity from nine billion to one billion already within this century, and which is likely to turn even worse in the following centuries.
In comparison, the coal industry employes around 55,000 people in Australia, and to be honest, I don’t know anyone else but those 55,000 employees who will miss their polluting industry once it is gone. The toxic air pollution from fossil fuels currently kills 3,000 Australians every year – seven million people world-wide. Every year. Shocking figures which in themselves ought to be enough of an argument to transition over to renewables as quickly as possible. [Continue out this tangent with Arnold Schwarzenegger here]
» The Guardian – 16 December 2015:
Climate change deal: five reasons to be glad, five to be gloomy
John Vidal writes: “Will the deal agreed in Paris be enough to save the planet? Emissions cuts and investment are promised, but legal responsibilities are thin on the ground”
» New York Times – 12 December 2015:
Climate Accord Is a Healing Step, if Not a Cure
“While the Paris agreement pinned down the key elements of a new global regime for action on climate change, many of the details remain to be fleshed out at subsequent meetings.”
» Carbon Brief – 19 January 2016:
Paris agreement on climate change: What happens next?
“Perhaps the most important part of the deal is that it explicitly recognizes that countries were not ambitious enough in the emissions cuts they pledged ahead of the Paris negotiations, pledges that were incorporated into the document. The agreement, in effect, criticizes itself for not doing enough.”
Justin Gillis in the New York Times on 12 December 2015
“The Paris agreement marks a tipping point. Going forward the world has a shared vision that will lead inexorably to investors moving away from fossil fuels and towards a future powered by low carbon energy.”
Philippe Defosses, Director of French Pension Fund ERAFP
“The diplomats have done their job: the Paris agreement points the world in the right direction with sophistication and clarity. It does not, however, ensure implementation, which remains the domain of politicians, businessmen, scientists, engineers and civil society.”
Jeffrey Sachs, economist, in Financial Times on 12 December 2015
What does all this mean for culture and the creative industries?
Julie’s Bicycle Director Alison Tickell offers this assessment of the COP21 agreement and what role culture and the creative industries can play moving forward – on www.juliesbicycle.com
The chart that shows how hard it will be to make the climate deal stick
Two journalists from the New Internationalist, Danny Chivers and Jess Worth, were less optimistic. They wrote: “Paris deal: Epic fail on a planetary scale”
James Hansen, former Nasa scientist and known as ‘the father of climate change awareness’, called the Paris talks ‘a fraud’. He criticised the talks as ‘no action, just promises’, reported Oliver Milman for The Guardian.
Friends of the Earth wrote: “Overall, the Paris Agreement fails the People’s Test on Climate — which demands a systemic transformation of our societies, our economies and our world — on all counts. It not only has weak overall goals, but it lacks the specific concrete obligations to deliver on emissions reductions, finance for transformation and justice for affected peoples. It does not rule out false solutions. It is a bad deal for climate justice.”
George Monbiot put it this way:
“By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”
Bill McKibben, author, co-founder of 350.org, stated:
“The power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry.”
350’s summary of where we are at after COP21:
Published on youtube.com on 14 December 2015.
“In a joint letter to The Independent, some of the world’s top climate scientists launch a blistering attack on the deal, warning that it offers “false hope” that could ultimately prove to be counterproductive in the battle to curb global warming.”
» The Independent – 8 January 2016:
COP21: Paris deal far too weak to prevent devastating climate change, academics warn
Exclusive: Some of the world’s top climate scientists have launched a blistering attack on the deal.
Climate Code Red co-author David Spratt wrote: “So a bunch of voluntary and unenforceable national commitments consistent with 3°C of warming were wrapped up in red ribbon, and words but no actions about 1.5°C were added in to placate a bunch of nations whilst they were totally done over on loss and damage, human rights language and financing (voluntary and no review for 10 years!) and the deal sold as a Great Leap Forward. Am I missing something?”
He said that “It’s good that there is recognition that 2°C is far from safe but the new meme seems to be “2°C bad, 1.5°C good”. Which has no basis in scientific fact, given that the West Antarctic has already passed tipping points (in the absence of strong global cooling) for many metres if sea level rise, as just one example.”
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, wrote: “The Paris negotiators are caught up in a frenzy of self-congratulation about 1.5 degrees being included in the agreement, but the reality is that the reductions on the table are still locking us into 3 degrees of global warming. This will have catastrophic impacts on some of the most vulnerable countries and communities. (…)
What has been inspiring in Paris is the multitude of action on climate being taken by a huge cross section of global civil society, from small farmers, to indigenous people, to trade unions, to direct action groups. As politicians fail to respond to the crisis, people power is stepping up to meet the challenge.”
This was Friends of the Earth’s reponse:
“Despite the historic significance of almost 200 countries agreeing to act on climate change, Friends of the Earth International cannot celebrate the outcome – because it failed the science and the most vulnerable communities on the planet.
We feel that there are three major problems with the Paris agreement:
– The Paris deal states that 2°C is the maximum acceptable global temperature increase, and that countries should pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. This is meaningless without requiring rich countries to cut their emissions drastically and provide finance in line with their fair share, and places the extra burden on developing countries. To avoid runaway climate we need to urgently and drastically cut emissions, not put it off to the future.
– Without compensation for irreparable damage to economies and landscapes through climate change, the most vulnerable countries will be left to pick up the pieces and foot the bill for a crisis they didn’t create.
– Without adequate finance, poor countries will now be expected to foot the bill for a crisis they didn’t cause. The finance exists. The political will does not. Commitments of financing for the green climate fund were not sufficient to the scale of the problem and Australia has pilfered from the existing foreign aid budget to meet its promised contribution.”
» Storify article
Citizen journalist John Englart from Melbourne wrote: “The Paris agreement was in some ways more than I expected, but less in others. But it puts the onus back on the public – you and me – to advocate, jump up and down, for much stronger national targets and action. To grow the climate movement for justice. I think the Paris moment was a tipping point, but it will require far more campaigning, more civil disobedience to reach the goals in the Paris Agreement, let alone achieve climate justice.”
» Read John Englart’s wrap on the Paris climate conference here: www.nofibs.com.au
Is the agreement legally binding?
“The overall agreement is legally binding, but some elements – including the pledges to curb emissions by individual countries and the climate finance elements – are not,” wrote Lenore Taylor
. In other words: Nah, it is not really legally binding.
What we can celebrate, however, is that this is the first time rich countries, rising economies and some of the poorest countries in the world have committed to work together to fight climate change.
Under the deal, adopted by consensus, all countries agreed to reduce emissions. Rich countries agreed to raise AUS$1.38 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries transform their economies.
It has been an enormous global effort to create the political pressure necessary to make this possible. To ensure that our governments keep their word and roll out strong plans of action on climate change will still be up to the people, the voters, the campaigners.
“Saturday’s agreement was the product of years of preparation and two weeks of intense negotiations, capped off by three sleepless nights, with Barack Obama and Hollande phoning other leaders to bring them on side with the deal. Accounts from behind the closed doors of negotiating session described tense exchanges between oil-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, and a rapidly constituted US- and Europe-backed High Ambition Coalition, which kept up the pressure for a strong temperature goal and regular reviews of emission-cutting plans,” Lenore Taylor reported.
“End of the fossil fuel age”
The climate campaigning group Avaaz saw it as “a turning point in history, paving the way for the shift to 100% clean energy that the world wants and the planet needs”.
“This marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground,” wrote 350.org.
“Paris marks the end of the fossil fuel age, and the acceleration of the renewable energy era, sending a clear long-term signal to business and investors,” said Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF Australia.
“This historic agreement gives young people hope that a safe climate future is still within reach. We’re still on track for a 3-degree warmer world, which would devastate vulnerable communities worldwide, but now we have a structure to increase ambition and young people will lead the call to use it. The transition to a clean energy future is inevitable, today confirms the fossil fuel era is coming to an end. Australia is being left behind, Turnbull needs to match our rhetoric in Paris with real change back home. Young people are missing out on the opportunities of renewable energy and the fairer society it helps create,” said climate change campaigner Jaden Harris from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.
The Canadian scientist and climate campaigner David Suzuki saw the Paris outcome more as something which can guide action on climate change. He formulated it as that the UN climate conference “ended with an ambitious global agreement to guide action on climate change.”
Fiona Armstrong, Executive Director of Climate and Health Alliance Australia wrote: “The Paris Agreement is a positive response to the grave threats we face from our fossil fuelled societies and a clear sign the world’s nations are willing to work together to help achieve the necessary and urgent transition to a low carbon world. This Agreement signals a shift from obstruction to cooperation, from rhetoric to action, and, we hope, marks the beginning of a global effort to protect and promote people’s health and wellbeing through cutting emissions and combatting climate change.”
» Text of the climate agreement:
Phoenix from the Ashes
The Wuppertal Institute publishes an analysis of the Paris Agreement
On 12 December 2015, after 25 years of UN climate diplomacy, the world’s governments have for the first time in history negotiated a treaty which envisages climate action by all nations. The Agreement sets the world on a path that might lead to a decarbonised economy in the second half of the century.
Researchers from the Wuppertal Institute have observed COP 21 and elaborated a detailed analysis of the results. The assessment provides an overview of the most important negotiation outcomes, assesses their results as well as shortfalls, and provides an outlook of the next steps needed to implement the Paris Agreement’s goals and to set the world firmly on a non-fossil based development path.
» For more information, see: www.wupperinst.org
Michael Jacobs, Senior Adviser for the New Climate Economy project, and former advisor to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, stated that this is a historic moment. He said: “The world’s governments have finally understood what the science has long been telling them – we have to act now if the earth’s climate is to remain safe. Today they have committed to act – and to act together. Historians will see this as the turning point: the moment when the world started shifting decisively away from fossil fuels and towards clean and safe energy systems. Remarkably this effectively signals the end of the fossil fuel era. This is unquestionably a great success. But the work really starts now. These commitments now need to turn into policy, and policy into investment. They can congratulate themselves for 24 hours – now they need to act.”
Nigel Topping from We Mean Business said: “The Paris Agreement for net zero emissions will turn the billions of investment we’ve seen so far into the trillions the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all. The diplomatic process that included businesses, investors, cities, states, regions and civil society created a powerful alliance which has clearly raised the level of ambition in the negotiations. Businesses and investors look forward to playing a continued role in turning this agreement into on the ground reality.”
Anthony Hobley, the Carbon Tracker Initiative: “A 1.5 degrees Carbon Budget means the fossil fuel era is well and truly over. There is absolutely no room for error. Fossil fuel companies must accept that they are an ex growth stock and urgently re-assess their business plans. New energy technologies have leapt down the cost curve in recent years. The effect of the momentum created in Paris means this is only going to accelerate. The need for the financial markets to fund the clean energy transition creates unparalleled opportunity for growth on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution.”
Professor Peng Gong, Co-Chair, Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, Tsinghua University, Beijing: “Beijing’s first-ever ‘red alert’ this week, called due to dangerous levels of air pollution in the city, is a clear symbol of the crucial importance of a strong climate deal here in Paris. Concerted action on climate change, particularly through a transition to clean energy, has immense potential to protect respiratory and cardiovascular health and to improve quality of life. In China, it is estimated that over 4,000 people die every day as a result of air pollution, much of which comes from burning coal, and worldwide, air pollution is responsible for 7 million deaths every year: a shocking one in eight of all deaths. By accelerating the transition to healthy renewable energy sources and continuing to scale up climate ambition over the coming years, we can protect millions of people from air pollution as well as the serious health impacts of climate change.”
Dr Bettina Menne, Climate Lead, WHO Europe: “As doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, it is our duty to safeguard the health of our families and communities. The Paris Agreement takes us one step closer to securing a future which protects the public from the impacts of climate change – the defining health issue of this century. Today, we are leaving France with a deal that bolsters community resilience, strengthens our health systems, and helps to tackle inequalities.”
The Tree wrote: “195 countries reached across traditional divides today to unite behind the greatest moral challenge of our time and seal the deal on a historic climate accord.
The Paris Agreement is an inclusive, ambitious, science-based deal that recognises the urgency and scale of action required to address climate change, and hastens the transition from dirty to clean energy that is well underway.
The Paris Agreement heralds the end of the fossil fuel era, giving the world the tools to drive emissions to net zero, to protect the world’s poor and vulnerable, and to address the desperate pollution situation in India and China. People have been peacefully marching on the street for years, while diverse groups like faith, health, parents, unionists, Indigenous peoples, cities, businesses andinvestors among others have long called for climate action.
Civil society will continue to put pressure on leaders – starting today and ramping up in the next few months – to ensure real world change continues to accelerate. In the spirit of this global response to the global climate crisis, the Paris agreement puts forth a new imperative to make a real and lasting difference.”
Read more about the agreement:
» EurActiv – 14 December 2015:
Coal lobby chief: COP21 means ‘we will be hated like slave traders’
» The Huffington Post – 14 December 2015:
The Power of Paris: Climate Challenge Remains, But Now We’re on the Right Path
By Michael E. Mann, Director of Penn State Earth System Science Center
» France24 – 13 December 2015:
Scientists hopeful but cautious on Paris climate deal
» The Guardian – 12 December 2015:
Paris climate talks: Bishop hails ‘historic’ day as nearly 200 countries sign deal
» The Guardian – 12 December 2015:
What does the Paris climate agreement mean for Australia?
» David Suzuki Foundation – 12 December 2015:
David Suzuki Foundation is hopeful that the landmark Paris Agreement will translate into global climate action
» Linkedin – 12 December 2015:
Material Change? What Does the Paris Agreement Mean for Business?
By Mark Trexler, Climate Risk Knowledge Broker, The Climatographers
» Al Jazeera – 12 December 2015:
Will the climate deal be enough to save the planet? (24-minute video)
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