COP21: The Final Agreement is promising, but much work is still needed
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History was made this weekend in Paris with the coming together of 200 countries to pledge alliance to tackle climate change together. The real work will begin after the negotiations; emissions cuts must be much more ambitious if we are to achieve non-catastrophic planetary warming. Some may disagree with my conclusions of the COP21 in Paris, but I am an optimist - well, at least an optimist that practices caution. This weekend saw two major steps in a positive global direction. First, the French Government, almost at the 12th hour and under huge amounts of public pressure, decided to lift state of emergency – which previously banned all forms of public protest and manifestations – to allow the 20,000+ crowd in Paris to legally take to the streets to protest in favour of a strong and just climate deal. In response to the attacks witnessed in Paris exactly one month ago, the French authorities had put in place a state of emergency that cracked down hard on any form of public protest. At a time where democracy, freedom of speech and liberty were needed most, this form of draconian governance sent alarm bells ringing, bringing into question: what will a future laden with emergencies look? Luckily, they came to their senses, and allowed thousands to freely express their frustration and hope for a more just world. The second sign was the finalising of a hugely ambitious “Paris Agreement”, to which over 200 countries signed a pledge this Sunday 13th December. Despite not being legally binding – a condition set by the US even before the final COP21 negotiations commenced – the agreement is historic. As French President Francois Hollande put it “This is a major leap for mankind.” However, the agreement is not perfect. Although there was an agreement to work toward keeping the temperature increase below 2 degrees, and even 1.5 if it can be helped, the current emission cut proposals submitted by countries to the UNFCCC in the lead up to COP21 in the form of INDC’s (national domestic contributions) would lead to a warming of around 2.7 degrees, which would lead to catastrophic climate change. This temperature increase has been calculated using slightly conservative IPCC data and simulators. If we were to take the approach of ex-NASA chief Dr. James Hansen, which considers longer-period positive feedback loops, the temperature increase would be significantly higher. Although there is much more work to be done to ensure we keep temperature increase within “safe” limits, what is evident is that there is global recognition that climate change is a serious matter, and a challenge that requires global cooperation. This in particular is the strength and weakness of the deal, in a bid to appeal to all 200 countries within the convention, many concessions were made, and the compliance mechanisms of the agreement are probably not as robust as some would wish. That said, the failure of Kyoto serves as an example of what happens when countries are pushed for harsher adherence to agreements – it can be argued however that this type of strict action is needed to truly achieve the pledges made. As you can see, this argument can go round in circles, which is essentially what happened over the past two weeks during the COP negotiations.
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