In a few short days the light of the Sun which has retreated from us for a long season will begin its annual return and with it our hearts, our hopes celebrate this annual reminder that in the darkest night the light is reborn. In our darkest time there is a promise/a seed of lighter times to come. So across cultures, we celebrate this time of the year which fuels our dreams with hope for a better world.
Thus, it is easy to understand the desire by so many to believe—especially at this time of the year– that the recent international agreement on acting to turn back the devastating impacts of climate change—COP21— is a positive step forward. The coming together of so many nations to sign onto the agreement, clearly suggests we humans are not so owned by our greeds and divided by cultures that we cannot see we all have a pervasive interest in the survival of the atmosphere that has, so far, made life on Earth possible for human beings.
US President Obama has hailed the new Paris climate deal as a turning point” for the world that defines “the best chance we have to save the one planet we have”… “We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge.”
David Suzuki Foundation’s director of science and policy, Ian Bruce labels the agreement “a pivotal moment in history…While it may not be perfect, this text presents the first ever global agreement to eliminate fossil fuels and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy. It is ambitious and addresses many of the previously existing gaps in global climate action.”
Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo is disappointed with parts of the agreement but notes that “…it is progress…This deal alone won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”
On the other hand, while the agreement pledges to ensure an ‘acceptable’ level of global warning cut to less than 2C, with 1.5C the aim, it is difficult to understand the basis of optimism for an agreement whose only “teeth” is the threat of global shame to those who do not put their pledges into action.
According to James Hansen, America’s top climate scientist, the agreement is “half-arsed and half-baked. . . . We need an honest, simple rising carbon fee.”
In an interview with Huffington Post UK, Naomi Klein takes a more skeptical view of the agreement:
“It’s like going: ‘I acknowledge that I will die of a heart attack if I don’t radically lower my blood pressure. I acknowledge that in order to do that I need to cut out alcohol, fatty foods and exercise every day. I therefore will exercise once a week, eat four hamburgers instead of five and only binge drink twice a week and you have to call me a hero because I’ve never done this before…”
Can you imagine the reaction if the US agreed to let Iran monitor its own compliance with the agreement to abandon its nuclear weapons development program and threatened “shame” if it didn’t fully confirm? In any other field of international effort the idea of shaming as a deterrent to not living up to an agreement is not even thinkable. It is difficult to not see this feel good toothless, unenforceable Paris Climate Agreement as anything more than pure sham. At its worst it could be seen as a diversion to try to cool the growing rage about the consequences of climate change that are more damagingly obvious daily.
In a Guardian article James, Hansen, considered the father of climate change awareness labels the agreement “a fraud. “It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises…Every country will set its own voluntary targets and update them every five years. If you miss the targets, what happens is … er, nothing.”
Days after the delegates went home from Paris the UK lawmakers oked fracking in National Parks. The US congress agreed to lift the ban on oil exports paving the way for a dramatic increase in hydro carbon extraction and carbon emissions.
While the conference set some high sounding “aspirational” goals, the final outcome was decided before the conference began by agreeing to allow the conference to be heavily funded by corporate sponsors who were given—in exchange—a controlling interest in shaping the agreement. Groups representing the desire by ordinary citizens to survive the age of oil we banned from the site.
Given the season of hope I will finish off with a quote from Bill McKibben, founder of with the most realistic optimism I have heard coming from the COP21 agreement:
“With every major world leader now on the record saying they at least theoretically support bold action to make the transition to renewable energy, we’ve got a new tool to work with.” COP21 may not have agreed on significant action but it has certainly pulled the rug out from under the climate change deniers. It seems the ball is now in our court. If we want real, significant change, we have to take the now agreed on commitment to saving our planet into our hands and ensure that it does lead to the kind of meaningful change that can save our planet.