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.