OVER 21 YEARS of climate change action culminated on December 12th’s historic multilateral agreement in Paris, France. Many will say we have come to a pivotal moment, or to the end of a long road. Some will say it falls short, lacks ambitions and is shameful. Many will say we have failed our frontline communities, those most vulnerable and those who are already suffering — and they will be right.
The way modern civilizations have organized has proven deeply flawed. We have failed to understand natural limits because our economic, political and social systems have benefited from extracting resources faster than they can be replenished. We have known for decades that this intense growth has catastrophic planetary and social impacts.
We have known this, and yet, our international community has struggled to be able to come to a consensus on how to tackle the challenge. We have watched and waiting during years of stalled negotiations where the divergence between positions was so stark we could not see a way forward. We have been very close to not coming back to the table at all. Despite this international struggle, we have acted in our local communities and made change in our cities and regions. Fundamental shifts in our rhetoric around climate change, the ‘green’ economy, and jobs of the future have occurred. Children born into the climate change generation are learning about sustainable development and clean energy in primary school.
Based on what I have seen and felt this past week in Paris, we have left with a truly remarkable signal.
For these reasons and more is why it is important to see this agreement as part of a larger whole. It is just one piece, albeit an important one, in the larger climate movement. I do not think we can expect it to solve all of our problems, nor would that be a realistic assumption. What I expect it to do is to serve as a signal. Based on what I have seen and felt this past week in Paris, we have left with a truly remarkable signal. The international political community has mobilized in a profound way these past few weeks. I have witnessed nothing but strong determination to reach agreement in Paris.
We should accept this agreement as an incredible step forward with many positive elements. While there are some missing pieces, it sets a solid foundation for the road ahead. It was vital that we make international reference to the ultimate goal of 1.5°C of global temperature increase. It was vital that we make pre-2020 ambitions and set a framework in place to report back to our international community. We did those things. We set the framework in motion. These are the achievements of Paris.
If we expect this text to solve all of our problems we should examine the inputs that would make it possible to be as ambitious as possible. Our leaders are ultimately bound by their constituencies and their political institutions at home. These are their constraints — their processes, their voters and their mandate. Why do we think our leaders cannot come to Paris, or Morocco, or Copenhagen and deliver justice for us? It is obviously because we, the movement, have not done enough at home to convince the people who determine their mandate that this issue is fundamental and worthy of the utmost ambition.
We have an immense challenge ahead of us and work to do swiftly. We know that we have a 10-year “carbon budget” remaining, meaning that in the next 10 years we must achieve deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or major climate events like droughts, floods, extreme heat and more will wreak havoc on our communities. But now that we have the attention and commitment of 195 countries, I would hazard to say that the work may be less directed at these leaders in the short years ahead, and more directed at our neighbours, our families, and our friends.
If we start at home, and everyone, not just the environmental activists are demanding action — well then we can say we beat the odds.
This post originally appeared on Alternatives Journal Online, Canada’s Environmental Magazine.
Photo by Megan Nourse