By Johannes Bauer | 21 November, 2015
What we already can tell before the talks in Paris start
End of November many thousands of delegates and participants will arrive in Paris to discuss the future of the world. In the lead-up there has been growing activity in cyberspace and the momentum still grows. Organisation from around the world have already made their contributions and there is unprecedented pressure and expertise from research institutions, development agencies, civil society, the UN itself, World Bank, even IMF, on leaders to act. There are now also groups of countries, like SIDS (Small Island Developing States) which are in despair on what already happens to them. They have stopped mincing words: Blaming the developed world for a destroyed future. A lot of money has already been spent also. Every development agency and NGO has by now redesigned their climate change agenda. Norway alone has over the past 10 years given more than US$ 135 million to promote climate projects to the NGO sector alone. As a first, most countries have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and we already have some tangible evidence on what we are willing to do (pay). We have also, a first, a comprehensive analysis by many institutions on what went wrong with the past COP (Conference of Parties) meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). So, this year, in Paris we can, before the talks start, make a fair assessment if what we intend to do adds up. Well, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) the answer, simply put, is no. The IEA report stated that “If stronger action is not forthcoming after 2030, the path in the INDC Scenario would be consistent with an average temperature increase of around 2.6 °C by 2100 and 3.5 °C after 2200”. So what we INTEND to do is still not quite good enough. Even if the INTENTIONS were followed up- and we know all about such. But on the other hand we at least have some idea where the world now stands, we have a foundation of consensus and we can work towards improving it. Obama and the Pope have joined the action even.
A seismic shift in our willingness to act
As science keeps coming in, new organisations develop and fine-tune their message, Obama and the Pope weigh in, and action, even consensus grows, for example a near universal condemnation of the coal industry and the fossil fuel sector. I would suggest that a seismic shift has happened this year which will lead to an agreement and dramatically increased action. If we have read Jeremy Leggett’s Book: The winning of the Carbon wars http://www.jeremyleggett.net/latestbook as it was published in instalments to the lead-op on Paris we also see that there has been a major mind shift amongst industry leaders. We might as well start with the Pope. For the first time in its 2000 year history a pontiff has spoken out FOR the environment and AGAINST the destruction we visit on it and he has not minced words. With the pope’s before him ignoring it, Pope Francis has made it a moral issue for 1.2 billion catholic’s around the world and has enshrined it in Vatican doctrine as nothing less than an Encyclical in June and September. Did it change anything? In the US (a country which has been in all the past negotiations one of the greatest stumbling blocks) alone a recent survey from George Mason University showed such major shifts in what even Americans thought and it has taken the researchers by surprise. There has also been action which sets precedents. Barack Obama has, for the first time in US history, cancelled a major infrastructure project, the construction of the keystone XL pipeline, built to ‘transport the dirtiest and most expensive type of petroleum from tar sands in Alberta, Canada to US refineries in the Gulf of Mexico” because of what he perceived as lack of benefit for the US. While much of that decision is of course based on the new found fossil fuel independence of the US, at least for the time being, it goes well with an Exxon inquiry , which will be accusing that major company to have, like the tobacco industry before, suppressed its own findings for many years. A moral issue that can only grow the momentum. Nor is this all, even the growing moral argument is trumped by the sheer economic scale and loss of inaction. If we just look at coal. While here in Australia the conservative government continues to support and drive investment in the coal sector, such as the Galileo Basin development, , the major superannuation funds, World Bank, IMF and the UN divest from coal big time and demand that it is being left in the ground. This is all supported by hard science, including science from the fossil fuel sector itself, suppressed as it was we just found. A recent document published by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, The Coal Atlas (www.boell.de/coalatlas) provides a staggering and colourful collection of maps and graphs which show just how bad it is. The new question is not any longer whether it happens and/or we caused it but who will pay. With the US and China having already made their own deals (they were the major stumbling blocks for the past years) I am sure this time this question will be settled. There will be much pressure to use the markets, and many future carbon billionaires have already lined up. But we can also hope, as I do, that much of the action will be regulated by the global community and payed for by the rich states. There is also a rapidly growing business sector around renewable energy and there are countries such as Germany which have all but already made the transition. With hundred thousands of new jobs created and even a shift in power relations in the energy sector (which had been more or less a monopoly between a few providers) who could argue any longer that what the world is starting to do makes no business sense. There can definitely be the dream of a better world, instead of a descent into a climate hell if we continue as with business as usual (BAU).
And what about agriculture and forestry and wildlife harvest
And what about agriculture and forestry and wildlife harvest, the major landuse of many forest dependent communities. Many of them will be greatly affected by the changes to come (and are already). Around the world farmers have become beholden to a type of agro-industry, land grabs at a growing scale and the commodification of environmental resources (water) mostly to the benefits of the corporate empires, that have neither their welfare nor that of society at the top of their agenda. So far too many governments, including the Australian one, have unblinkingly supported often multinational companies instead of investing in the diversity, intelligence and capability of its own farmer community. Divesting from central dirty energy and fossil fuel and an overhaul of many outdated and often plain wrong landuse policies can and needs to happen as part of a global shift towards a more sustainable agriculture and society. As the saying goes, the Stone Age did not end because our forbears ran out of stone. This is also happening to the coal age with major investors including IMF, World Bank Group, Deutsche Bank and the Norwegian Future Fund, the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, pulling out of investing in coal not only because of the moral issues, but because it is proving a suicidal business strategy. Who, in a sane frame of mind, would invest in a technology (thermal coal) which is out-dated, dirty, ill-perceived by a growing number of people, and increasingly affected by legislation even. One would have to be crazy to continue with BAU.
And where does Australia stand in all this?
Australia will, not stand as a ‘world leader’ the favourite posture of our leaders, but perhaps also not any longer as one condemned for irrelevance and ignorance. Prime minister Turnbull, unlike his predecessor will, so one hopes, have enough sense to see that not only Australia has been all but left behind in being part of that change we so much need, but also, business man he is, that standing apart would mean bad business. He might look over to Canada, where a seismic shift in politics has shown that Australia’s sister nation, so similar in so many ways including the corruption of politics by the fossil fuel industry, has had enough of leaders who, in their negation of a liveable future and their perceived obligation to an industry, have shown contempt of our society, our environment and our laws. This industry has amply demonstrated, whether in the Gulf of Mexico, in Nigeria, the Amazon, the Great Barrier Reef or in matters Exxon now that it stands against our liveable future. This industry must be reigned in, and if necessary either shut down, if it does not want to learn, or at least changed that, instead of destroying our world, make the contribution society expects and demands from it. This is not a call which is devoid of reality. There are now better industries available and these need to be promoted, not all but shut down as happened here in Australia.
The 2015 Paris Climate Accord
There is another factor which in my eyes will play a decisive role in Paris. The ISIL terrorist attack! In its mindless and inhuman brutality it has united the entire world in its condemnation. There is now a point in history, centred in Paris, to make a stand against intolerable barbaric acts against humanity and its future. France and in particular Paris, need to know that the world cares about what it stands for and that it is willing to rally in ways never done before if Paris calls for action. Paris and France stand for Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Paris can now show that it also stands for a world fit to live in and without which, all three noble terms come to nothing. What better way now to show the world that it cares, but to ensure that it will be the Paris Accord on Climate Change of 2015 which could the world away from its suicidal path.