Archive for January, 2016

Paris summit offered nations a new resolve to act.

The Paris Agreement has brought renewed credibility for Canada and for many other countries that are now committed to taking much more seriously a reduction in their fossil-fuel emissions. One of the chief complaints voiced by climate justice activists is that unless we address keeping fossil fuels in the ground and never dig them up there will never be an end to those emissions. Just take a look at the gas and oil industries’ rapacious movement towards the Arctic reserves, let alone the tar sands.

Although the Agreement is a potpourri of a few legally binding decisions, it is also a repeat of many aspirational declarations, making it difficult to stomach for many scientists, climate justice activists and developing nations. MP Elizabeth May’s plea put it succinctly: “Paris threw us a lifeline. Don’t let it slip through our fingers.”

Politicians from every corner of the globe are calling the Agreement an unequivocal historical victory, and surely it is no small feat to get 196 countries to agree on anything; but the bottom line should be vigorous planetary health, and not just survival. Does this Agreement give humanity a very strict schedule to ensure this health? Or is it just a stepping stone to something more concrete – and, if so, do we really have the time to ponder action for very long? The Agreement will not take effect for quite a few years. Many say it merely voices good intentions that will probably be implemented too late: something that the fossil-fuel industry seems more than happy to see happen.

Back in 1988 NASA scientist James Hansen brought the concept of catastrophic climate change to the attention of the U.S. Congress, and like other scientists he has contempt for a drawn-out timeline in emissions reduction, as well as being upset that the Agreement did not once mention a tax or fee for greenhouse-gas emissions that would then be used to kick-start a revolution in renewable energy for the entire population of the planet. Other activists are not so polite. George Monbiot commented: “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

The Agreement speaks of having greenhouse-gas emissions peak as soon as possible, and later in this century to allow only emissions that can be absorbed by our oceans and forests. The desire for a limit to global temperature rise of 1.5 °C, or well below the 2 °C maximum, gained momentum in Paris, and a 5-yearly review of each nation’s progress will be conducted. The US$100 billion a year pledged to lower-income nations to help them adapt to climate change will be extended beyond 2020, but Loss and Damage issues kept the Agreement away from actually accepting responsibility for industrial nations’ offering compensation to developing nations that did not contribute to the crisis and are now feeling its effects. Other than the scientifically accepted 1.5 °C limit in temperature rise, nothing is really new. It is almost banal to say that finally nations rich and poor accept the perils of climate chaos.

So, yes, if Paris is a lifeline, what are local communities and individuals doing right now to foster greater respect for this planet’s fragile biosphere? The answer is to be found outside the halls of government and can be discovered throughout the world. Perhaps that is where nurturing innovation and indeed love for this miraculous Earth can be the true lifesavers.