Phew! Finally the COP 21 climate change conference is over. Was the Paris conference successful? What has been achieved?
From a diplomatic point of view it has been an extraordinary triumph. Years of effort have gone into this process and every sentence has been fought over. This act of collaboration and cooperation is significant. Humanity will need to get better at cooperation if it is to rise to the macro-ecological challenges ahead. Getting all the 196 nations represented in Paris to agree to any document is in itself a historic achievement. It is a tribute to the United Nations and to the skill of French diplomats who hosted the complex process.
Avaaz is hailing this agreement as a tremendous success while James Hansen is bemoaning that it will do little to actually deliver the low carbon economy we need. They are both right. Getting this agreement is to be celebrated as a diplomatic breakthrough. However it offers little in terms of how we will keep temperature rise to under 2C, let alone 1.5C, when we have already passed 1C, but it does accept that these are agreed goals. In a blog of 12th November I quoted Christiana Figueres as saying ‘negotiations don’t cause change, they mark it’. It is changes in the ‘real economy’ that matter.
We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The renewable energy revolution is in full swing and the huge possibilities of increased energy efficiency are beginning to be realised. The falling price of energy is bankrupting many fossil fuel operations, and the disinvestment campaign is helping shift moral and financial legitimacy out of fossil fuels and into Cleantec. The best thing that could happen next would be a globally coordinated tax on fossil fuels to help speed up their demise and to raise useful funds for Cleantec research and to help poor communities develop sustainably. If all 196 countries can’t agree to this let’s have a coalition of those that do and get on with it as soon as possible. Those countries would then reap the benefits of increased investments in making their economies more energy efficient and less polluting.
As well as massive technological change we need massive behavioural change. Greater cooperation must replace some of the conflict and competition in the world, and perhaps this is the most significant achievement of Paris. How countries cooperate with each other to rapidly transform their economies will be of critical importance to us all.