COP21: Will we change before the climate does?
Benji Hyer reports on the new climate change deal: COP21
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The carefully worded document balances the right of countries to develop with the need to protect the planet is a truly world changing instrument. The deal outlines firm goals of keeping temperature rises well below 2C, limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraging rich nations to help poorer one tackle climate change through renewable energy.
The rhetoric and reaction have been exorbitantly positive. “A major leap for mankind,” President Hollande of France said. “A tremendous victory for all our citizens,” John Kerry, the US secretary of state, added. Although, Britain’s energy and climate change secretary, Amber Rudd, was less stratospheric, describing developments as “a significant step forward”, and she is right to be cautious.
The Times newspaper highlighted, “the Paris agreement identifies the destination, but gives directions for only half the journey.” Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now, clearly is displeased at this, arguing how “it’s outrageous that the deal that’s on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world’s most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations.” It seems as if the folk in Paris just had to come up with a deal or else they’d look like failures, however the deal is far from the total solution. In fact, Harif – a listener of my show – humorously commented that “the amount of hot air expended in the conference by these politicians that the world temperature would have risen at least 2 to 3 degrees”.
The main problem is that not all the targets are binding, meaning they may be missed without consequences. For instance – though the USA was not a signatory at the 1997 Kyoto conference – half the countries that did partake didn’t reach the emissions targets. This time around, it is equally unlikely that the world’s biggest emitter, China, will be willing to suffer the costs of decarbonising seeing it is not really profitable to build wind farms instead of coal power stations. And of course there is no global police forcing countries like to fall into line.
The Paris agreement is just the beginning. Now the world must start investing in cleaner energy, like solar panels. Crucially, these projects should be coalesced with education too. Why? Because of the example that people in the US town of Woodland in North Carolina have expressed their fear at a solar farm being built nearby as it would “suck up all the energy from the sun” and therefore “the panels would prevent plants … from photosynthesising”. These are the words of Jane Mann, a retired science teacher; if someone who taught the topic of climate to little children is ignorantly preaching such ridiculous falsities, then God help America.
And things won’t look brighter for the environment if Donald Trump becomes President as well.
Talking of Presidents: Barack Obama claimed that the agreement in Paris is the “best chance we have to save the one planet we have”. This is probably true, but the real achievement would be taking it, rather than making no progress at all.