First Posted: Wednesday, December 16, 2015 in the Chronicle Journal
By Christine Penner Polle
The news of the Paris climate agreement reached by nearly 200 countries after decades of trying was cause for celebration in our house last weekend. The first worldwide commitment to phase out fossil fuels in order to limit global temperature rise is an enormous and unprecedented accomplishment.
Our joy, however, was bittersweet. It was overshadowed by awareness that the deal fell short of solving of the huge problem the world is facing.
After the negotiations, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “This truly is a historic moment. For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on Earth.”
On the other hand, pre-eminent climate scientist James Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space said about the agreement, “We’ll have a 2 degree C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years. It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continue to be burned.”
Alberto Saldamando of the International Indigenous Environmental Network made it clear he was not impressed with the treaty, either, saying:
“The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatize, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD+ projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south. Case in point, the United States’ climate change plan includes 250 million megatons to be absorbed by oceans and forest offset markets. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well.”
The final agreement does include some important components that may allow it to succeed. It sets an aggressive global temperature limit goal of 1.5 degrees C. It compiles pledges by 195 countries to cut global warming emissions within the next decade. It calls for a common set of monitoring, verification, and reporting procedures. And richer countries like Canada that have benefitted the most from the burning of fossil fuels over the last century are obliged to provide funds and technology to help poorer countries lower their emissions and adapt to the consequences of climate change.
The Paris Agreement is an important agreement only if it truly spurs action. If the world makes good on this promise, we collectively will have changed the course of history.
Hope, David Orr reminds us, is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. Here are some ideas to translate those rolled up sleeves into a stable climate for our children:
• Support the work that governments, both federal and provincial, have started on pricing carbon. Our elected officials need to hear from us. Talk to your MPP and MP about the importance of a transparent and steadily rising price on carbon that benefits citizens, not carbon traders.
• Talk about the importance of acting on climate change with your friends and family. While global warming is a planetary issue, what most people care about is much more local. Focus on the values that you share. There is a strong case to be made that delaying action on climate change will have a negative impact on our communities, our pocket books, our country’s national security, and God’s creation. Everyone you speak to will value one or more of these.
• Who is to say that the world we see today is the best we can ever do? Find other people who are talking about the transition to a clean energy economy and imagining what it might look like locally. Whether it’s planting a community garden, connecting children with nature, or lobbying for more cycling paths, people working together can make a tangible difference in the sustainability of their community.
We are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and we are the last generation to be able to stop it. President Franklin D Roosevelt said before the Second World War, “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation has a rendezvous with destiny.”
Climate change is our generation’s rendezvous with destiny. The eyes of the future are looking at us, beckoning us forward. It is time to change the course of history.
Christine Penner Polle is leader of the Red Lake chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and author of Unfreeze Yourself: Five Ways to Take Action on Climate Change Now for the Sake of Your Family, Your Health, and the Planet.