Around 150 heads of state are in Paris for the next 12 days to negotiate a binding climate deal. Planet First has teamed up with Eco Action Games on a social media campaign to get everyone involved. On Day 1 we ask what exactly is at stake?
We’ve all seen the images of the melting ice caps, heard the stories of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and been shocked by sad facts concerning dwindling fish stocks or the scale of our wasteful, consumerist society. The trouble is, it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of it all. Meanwhile, year by year, the problems seem to get closer to home, don’t they? Remember those floods in Somerset? And what about the refugee crisis Europe finds itself in the grip of now? Could, as some commentators believe, the six year drought that has hit Syria be a contributing factor in the conflict there that has resulted in the thousands of Syrians fleeing to Europe, and yes, even playing a part in the terror attacks in Paris?
We know that the climate scientists are pretty much all agreed that human activity is causing climate change, and they are unequivocal in their position: unless we keep global temperatures under 2 degrees we risk unchartered and dangerous climatic change over the next decades and centuries. That will mean more floods, droughts, famine and migration, which will in future not just affect far flung regions, but all of us, wherever we live – and a very undesirable legacy for our generation to pass onto the next.
So as world leaders gather today in Paris for the start of 12 days of climate negotiations, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Around 150 world leaders are expected to attend, US President Barack Obama, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron among them. There were fears that the Paris attacks might have postponed the talks, but French President Francois Hollande was determined they should go ahead. In fact if one small positive thing has come out of the Paris attack, it’s that it has made the world more determined than ever that the talks should succeed.
Key to their success will be one woman: the UN climate chief Christiana Figueres. She has one of the toughest political jobs going right now, but encouragingly, Figueres, has spoken of being in “a very good mood” ahead of the talks. According to her, it’s no longer a question of reaching an agreement, rather how ambitious that agreement will be – that’s the attitude we need!
But haven’t we been here before?
Back in 2009, there was a great deal of optimism that world leaders would reach a binding agreement at the COP in Copenhagen, but that conference did not live up to anyone’s expectations. This time it will be different.
And that difference is, crucially, that since then not only has climate change become an even greater threat and the science even more irrefutable, but crucially, 195 nations have been required to submit their climate change mitigation plans ahead of the Paris talks. These ‘bottom-up’ pledges are called, rather catchily don’t you think, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Latest reports suggest that 180 out of the 195 had been submitted. No surprise then why Figueres’ is feeling so optimistic. But even she admits that the submitted plans are not quite enough to ensure the global temperatures are kept to a 2 degree rise – the score on the door at the moment is they will get us to 2.7 degrees.
So, what more can be done to get that extra commitment to 2 degrees?
Firstly, it means that it is imperative that a strong legally binding agreement is reached in Paris – as this will be, if not the solution, a crucial staging post. Our leaders will doubtless not want to let this opportunity be wasted, but we must all make sure the pressure civil society can apply is used to full effect over these 12 days. As citizens it is our duty to hold our democratically elected governments accountable and ensure they do what they were elected to do: protect us, our future generations and the planet that we all share and depend upon.
Fringe events in Paris will be understandably muted due to the tightened security, but that does not prevent citizens elsewhere gathering and showing their strength of feeling in numbers. Sunday’s climate march in London and elsewhere around the world aimed to do just that and mobilised up to one million people. So do what you can, and even if it is just armchair activism, please make your voice heard in any way possible – sign our Thunderclap for the climate, for example, available here, this will go off on Friday 4th December and show the world we all care.