6 Reasons to Be Cheerful About the Paris Climate Summit – Yes, Really

Two weeks before the next Conference of the Parties (COP21), the UN’s crunch meeting in Paris, we get the news that by the end of 2015 the planet will have warmed by 1C since pre-industrial times.

That’s halfway to the all-important 2C, which is widely agreed to be the cut-off point for dangerous climate change, and awfully close to the 1.5C which many see as a more appropriate limit as anything more will render parts of the world uninhabitable.

But I said this was going to be a cheerful article, didn’t I?

Despite this scary milestone, there are several reasons to be cheerful about the prospects of the COP21. Whether we come out the other side with a scientifically valid and socially just legally binding global agreement remains to be seen, and I’d forgive you for being sceptical. But these trends tell us we’re at least in a much better position than in the run-up to the infamous Copenhagen flop of 2009.

Fossil Free Rally

Fossil Free Rally in Edinburgh. Image credit: Colin Hattersley Photography. Creative Commons.

Trends that give hope for the COP21:

  • International consensus: It sounds basic, but the fact that the international community now agrees that climate change is real, man-made and dangerous and that we need to tackle it by reducing carbon emissions already puts us ahead of previous negotiations. It was a big moment when China and the USA made a joint announcement on their climate ambitions. China and India have both agreed to peak their emissions relatively soon, and even Saudi Arabia has published an (admittedly weak) climate action plan.
  • Religious declarations: As I discussed in this post, religious leaders all over the globe have come out over the last few months to preach climate justice and call on their followers to act. The Pope, 60 Muslim leaders and 12 Buddhist leaders have published impassioned declarations so far. Those three religions account for 3.3 billion people, almost half the world’s people.
  • Divestment: While governments drag their heels through countless climate summits, the last few years have seen the rise of a practical and effective strategy: the divestment movement. Mostly led by 350.org, it consists of lobbying institutions to divest their money from fossil fuel holdings, and ideally, reinvest it in the green economy. So far $1.5 trillion has been pushed out of the fossil fuel industry, meaning the trend is being recognised by financiers, the Economist and energy companies themselves. High profile wins for divestment so far include the Norway Sovereign Wealth Fund, Stanford University and the Church of England.
  • Blockadia: In This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate Naomi Klein calls Blockadia “a roving conflict zone that is cropping up with increasing frequency and intensity wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill”. As the fossil fuel industry advances into more risky types of extraction and more populated areas (and more middleclass areas) locals are taking direct action. Protests, sit-ins and blockades have been part of the environmental movement for decades, but most of these newly activated activists are not environmentalists. From Mongolia to New South Wales, extreme extraction is being met with resistance from people of all walks of life. This is best illustrated by the unusual alliance of Indigenous tribespeople and cattle ranchers along the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline. Who knows what part they played in Obama’s rejection of the project, but they certainly broadcasted their message wide and clear: big new fossil fuel projects are unpopular with almost everyone, a PR nightmare, a political controversy.
  • Renewables on the up: the price of renewable energy technologies is plummeting and the sector continues to grow. In 2013 the world finally added more energy capacity from renewables than from fossil fuels. In the UK and Germany, wind is now the cheapest energy source – and that’s without subsidies. The Power For All campaigners say those without reliable energy in the developing world can now leapfrog straight to clean energy – which is cheaper and quicker to install than fossil fuel infrastructure. Earlier this year, India ramped up its solar target by five times, from 20 GW to 100 GW by 2022. China has a solar target of between 100 and 200 GW by 2020. However exciting this is, it’s important to make sure extra renewable capacity is actually replacing fossil fuel energy, not adding to it.
  • Corporate pledges: So far has the climate movement come in recent years that even corporate CEOs can no longer stay quiet on the issue. This open letter from the CEOs of 43 corporations including IKEA, Unilever, HSBC, DONG Energy and Dow Chemicals are all calling for a binding deal in Paris, a price on carbon and a scientifically informed and transparent regulatory framework. Call me cynical, but I suspect this is more greenwash than genuine commitment. They all think the green economy will generate stronger economic growth and they don’t see anything unsustainable about that. But this really signals where public opinion is: they think climate action is important PR because that’s what their customers want. Also, many people (such as Republican voters in the USA) are very unlikely to listen to environmental groups on climate change. But now the message is coming from religious and corporate leaders, they’re more likely to listen.

Only time will tell what happens in Paris. In the meantime, I’m going to head up to London for the next big climate march. Will you join me? There are marches happening in loads of cities at the same time to make one global event on the 28th/29th November, just before COP21 starts. It’s a fantastic way to make your passion be heard loud and clear around the world. And that’s what we need: we need citizens everywhere to keep on shouting until our leaders listen.

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