Posted by on January 4, 2016

The Paris Summit has come and gone and new year has begun. We have a shiny bright Paris Agreement that draws a new boundary line. Climate deniers are now on the other side. Everyone else agrees that climate change is real and something must be done–even if the detail remains elusive.

Like many shiny modern things, the lustre of the Paris Agreement is only on the outer surface. The underside is unrefined, pitted and dark.

We have all heard the news. The pledges on the table equal a 2.7°C rise, significantly above the original target of 2°C and even further from the new and more appropriate target of 1.5°C. Unfortunately we have probably left the run too late to cap at 1.5°C.

We are still facing a future of acidifying oceans, melting icecaps, greater storms and floods and droughts. There will still be mass extinctions. Islands will be lost. Ancestral homes destroyed. Some of the largest remaining areas where Bengal tigers occur are the mangrove forests of India. The projected rise in sea levels could cause these living spaces of the tiger to vanish altogether.

The gift from Paris is that the planet will be habitable for humans to work to turn this around.

The new battleground is about supply and demand. Governments want to focus on reducing emissions by reducing demand and have recruited business to their cause. This is their public position. The one they want us to focus on.

Quietly, individually, many continue to facilitate the fossil fuel industry to expand supply. The subsidies they are granting increase the risk of lock-in, while simultaneously reducing public resources available to support low-carbon alternatives. Yet according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as of 2014, at least three quarters of proven reserves of oil, gas and coal are unburnable–they must stay in the ground in order for there to be a two-in-three chance of remaining below the 2°C climate change threshold. Such is the folly of our current world order.

Yet, the unrefined side of the Agreement also has some unexpected glimmers that inspire me to keep writing.

Civil society can now monitor progress. The Carbon Institute will be training greenhouse gas accountants to reveal who is reporting truthfully and who is fudging data. Satellites will be able the measure tangible gains and losses–CO2 in the atmosphere, forest size and density, who is clearing or burning and who has stopped.

The next few Climate Summits will deliver an explosion of civil society generated data. There will be nowhere for governments to hide.

When I first drafted the outline for Birdsong After the Storm, I imagined a world where governments would become precarious and uncertain guardians of our world–they would need civil society as allies because of the collapse of governance. I was writing about a future some 50 years away, when the worst of the impact had already taken root.

I still see that same future, because I don’t hold faith in the voluntary nature of the existing commitments. But, as 2016 starts–as I stand in the light reflecting off the shiny side of the Paris Agreement–I see a much nearer future where governments are still precarious and uncertain guardians, but not because of the collapse of governance, because they have nowhere to hide from civil society.

Exciting and turbulent times are ahead.

Margi Prideaux

  1. Josh Gross | The Jaguar
    January 5, 2016

    The Paris Agreement gives me hope as well, although I remain cautious. Climate deniers may be on the other side of the line now, but the majority of them reside within the country that has one of the highest potentials to influence the world’s climate – my own. They also hold a disproportionate amount of political power within this country. Somehow we’ll have to find a way to appeal to these people and make it clear that we aren’t trying to marginalize them.

  2. Makere
    January 7, 2016

    The missing piece in all the discussions that I have seen is climate finance. My own experience of COP21 is that finance – especially risk accounting – ensuring that potential funders received a guaranteed return 100% of which would be returned to the funders – was the biggest underpinning issue. Risk management was also the reason that human rights and Indigenous rights in particular, were shunted to the Preamble – to avoid any possibility of costly litigation. Similarly with climate bonds. Yet none of this makes an appearance in any of the discussions that I have come across.

  3. Margi Prideaux
    January 7, 2016

    I am glad you have drawn my attention to this area Makere. I admit that I am woefully out of my depth in discussions about climate finance, so I hope you don’t mind if I use your experience to up-skill myself!
    I was watching with interest the negotiations headed by the Philippines and the Climate Vulnerable Forum and the discussions about loss and damage. Also, I noticed that the CVF were pushing for an increase in adaption and mitigation finance. I think I understand that they lost the battle on loss and damage (although I might have that wrong) and I presume the finance pledges fell short in amount and timeframe.
    Do I have that right?

  4. Makere
    January 7, 2016

    More or less, yes. Climate bonds is another area in which this falls over. A group are looking at holding a mini-conference on this topic and publishing a follow-up report as a means of getting this issue out there. I think its a must-do.

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