Last report from #CoP21Paris - Paul Price

13th December 2015
Press Release

An Taisce had a few members attending CoP at various times over the two weeks. We are bringing you a frequent series of background reports on what is (or is not) happening on the ground.

You can see them all at http://www.antaisce.org/articles/whats-happening-on-the-ground-at-cop21

This is the eleventh report from Paul Price, a member of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee. Paul is a conservation carpenter with a MSc in Sustainable Development.

We really recommend you read these for the quality of Paul’s pen pictures of CoP21 as seen by a NGO participant.

Report 11 from COP21 - Saturday Evening, 12 December 2015 at the Paris climate conference.

It's odd to be sitting here in a vast plenary room out at Le Bourget on the evening when a global climate change agreement is concluded. We sit UN-style, in serried, packed ranks of desks all of us with headphones delivering translated words, all watching four big video screens, and many among the crowd supplying rounds of heady applause. And this with the praised speakers actually in the similarly enormous room next door. It's like watching sport on television in an enormous and very dull pub.

Just before coming in, three of us from Ireland were outside scanning the agreed draft text attempting to discern its meaning, to see whether it has any commitments or any mechanisms to ensure its delivery. Given only a quick run-through there seems to be a very large divide indeed between the vague text, which rarely strays beyond the aspirational, and the excitement and emotion so evident in these halls.

I've no doubt that many people, our own Irish delegation included, have worked very hard to achieve this agreement. Certainly by the standard of past climate conferences this one has been a resounding success.

But we are getting far too far down the carbon road for 31 pages of laudable aspiration to be to be treated with such reverence – we have been travelling far too fast and we’re still moving ever faster. I think we all deserve a great deal more than this from the leaders of both the wealthy and the rapidly developing nations, but they have yet again failed us despite the mood music here and the massed desire for action expressed by the “red lines” protesters (ourselves included) in central Paris today.

If all of the 196 represented nations go home now and all act immediately to cut emissions radically, year-on-year from now on then perhaps, just maybe "this could be a turning point in our story, a turning point for all of us", as the young woman from the Marshall Islands hopes.

However, the Earth's climate system will only react to what we actually do or don’t do. If we want to drive on as we are doing, then more emissions on this path means much more warming. Global emissions must not only peak but they have to fall to zero very fast indeed to limit warming to 2ºC above pre-industrial levels; even faster, probably impossibly faster, to stay within 1.5ºC. At this point perhaps some nations just have to stand up and act unilaterally and shame others into doing the same. What else can we do and still act morally?

Would Ireland, for example, immediately commit to sustained year-on-year emission cuts of at least 3% per year starting now as is needed for 2ºC? That's actually only an average so a richer nation with capacity and responsibility like ours needs to be cutting emissions immediately far faster.

Or to limit to 1.5ºC, which Ireland now supports thanks to Minister Alan Kelly, emissions in Ireland would need to drop like a stone starting immediately. That would mean that transport and agriculture would have to be a big part of some national or EU system that accepts immediate cuts in demand. Government policy to date has been to grow the economy so raising emissions even though climate action demands that emissions must fall.

Failing to understand the physics is either: extreme wishful thinking, due to a level of ignorance of the science surely at this point inexcusable in any government officials; or else, the "1.5 to survive" is knowingly intended as a distracting statement of high ambition that will only be buoyed up briefly by platitudes that will be all too soon punctured by insufficient action. If immediate action does not match the rate of emission cuts aligned with the chosen warming limit then we are simply borrowing from our own (and our children’s) future, ensuring far more demanding cuts to come in the years ahead or far more risk.

I dearly want us to hold to 1.5ºC of warming (1ºC would have been better) which means we as humans do need the inspiring visions and aspirational words embodied in this agreement. But pressing reality determines that we need to start braking very hard now to slow down rapidly and stop moving down this carbon road altogether.

None of this is pleasant to think about. We’d all rather, I certainly would rather it wasn’t so. After two weeks at this climate conference though it seems the world’s negotiators would rather not really think about it too deeply either, especially tonight. Even if the urgent threat we face has influenced this agreement’s rhetoric, there are no guarantees at all in it for anything substantive to be done.

Is that good enough? I don’t think so, do you?

Paul Price

ENDS

For further information, please call:
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