Now is not the time for small steps: Why the COP21 Climate Talks in Paris are so vital
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I am in Paris during the COP21 talks and to experience the climate action atmosphere, which has brought in people from all over the world, and from all walks of life. The COP21 talks include over 130 country representatives whose aim is to forge out a global deal on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating climate change. In addition to the formal party members and negotiators, there are hundreds of civil society members from indigenous groups, activism groups, NGOs, Charities, and so forth. These COP negotiations have been more inclusive of civil society groups and the corporate, business world than previous negotiations and despite slightly opening up the process, and including more voices in the procedure it is becoming more and more likely that the deal, supposedly to be finalised later this week, will be crossing the ‘climate’ red lines. That is to say, the deal will be too weak and will lead us down a very dangerous and perilous path; at least this is the message supported by major environmental organisations such as 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and many others. Perhaps surprisingly, big business names - such as Richard Branson - are calling on a strict climate deal, limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5+ degrees. The planet is undoubtedly facing many challenges; the most pressing, devastating and perhaps receiving the least attention is climate change. This doesn’t refer to solely global warming and rising sea levels, it refers also to our vast resources depletion, raging floods and increased extreme weather – which the UK is currently experiencing. It refers to drought and increased desertification putting our food security at risk; it refers to water depletion, soil erosion and total ecosystem breakdown. Our seas, oceans and rivers are in crisis due to over fishing, increased acidification, and unprecedented biodiversity loss. We are at a critical point and yet no one seems to feel the immediate emergency, or at least the reaction from world leaders is much slower than the urgency requires. The list of climatic challenges could go on forever, but the point of all these fears isn’t so much the environmental destruction; it goes further than that. Last night I attended a Trade Union and Climate-Change Action talk at an Opera house in eastern Paris during which Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein poignantly articulated my greatest fear, and probably the globes greatest fear: “It’s not about things getting hotter and wetter, it’s about things getting meaner”. Only last week the French far-right party, led by Marie La Penn, won landslides of votes. Racism is on the rise across Europe; even the extremely liberal Nordic countries have recorded a huge rise in support for far-right parties and their racist policies. Over the next decades, due to climate change and stresses – lack of water, lack of food, lack of ability to survive – the UN estimates that more than 200million people will be displaced. To put that sheer number into context, that’s more than three times the entire population of the UK having to evacuate and leave the country as life has become too unbearable or impossible to stay. It’s not a fantasy, it’s something which is currently happening – only two years ago Kiribati, a small low-laying nation in the South Pacific, bought up land from nearby Fiji to relocate it’s 100,000 citizens as the rising sea levels have caused saltification of their water resources and are acidifying their soils to the point where the basics of surviving (having food and water) are a daily challenge.
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