Impact Climate Monthly: Beyond COP 21

As part of a monthly online feature, Impact investigates the latest news, projects and discoveries in the battle against climate change.

A variety of crises in the run up to the Paris climate conference in December 2015 threatened to overshadow one of the most anticipated climate summits in living memory. After the tragic events in Paris on November 13th, François Hollande called a state of emergency which banned all forms of public protest. A wealth of planning had been undertaken by a range of protest groups and this particular decision was unfortunate for them. Some defied the ban anyway including indigenous activists who paddled along the River Seine demanding water protection. Meanwhile in Britain the debate over air strikes in Syria dominated the news cycle. One could be forgiven for pondering that governments were using these moments to mask their impending intransigent stance during the talks themselves.

The publicity released from the majority of governments and organisations involved in the discussions at COP21 was generally positive. An agreement was signed by 195 United Nations member states to take action by aiming to limit total warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. The twelve page document also included pledges to strengthen the ability of all societies to deal with the results of climate change as well as addressing the loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.  The language in the report is somewhat vague, and the ‘Paris Agreement’ is not yet in effect and will not become binding until April 22nd when those wishing to adhere to it must have their heads of states sign at the U.N. headquarters in New York. 55 parties which represent at least 55% of total global greenhouse gases have to sign for it to come into effect. At least one of the largest emitters: China, Europe, Russia and the United States must sign to reach this threshold.

“An agreement was signed by 195 United Nations member states to take action by aiming to limit total warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels”

Two of the most prominent environmental activists, Canadian author Naomi Klein and the founder of Bill McKibben were scathing in their criticism of the accord with Klein commenting: “It’s a very strange thing to cheer for setting a target that you are knowingly failing to meet.” McKibben was sceptical of the pledge by the U.S. to provide $800 million to poorer countries stating that the amount was ‘risible’ and he didn’t believe congress would pass it anyway. He may have a point given that the head of the committee on science, space and technology labelled the Paris Agreement ‘Bad for business’. McKibben and Klein both urged activists to continue the push for change with Klein pointing out a more motivated movement is necessary to fight against the energy companies who are highly motivated energy companies to ‘protect the status quo’. In agreement was a group of climate scientists who wrote a joint letter to The Independent outlining their concerns for the ‘weak action’ described in the Paris accord.

President François Hollande in discussions at COP 21

President François Hollande in discussions at COP 21

After much celebration in Australia over the election of Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister, one of his commitments to fund climate change research has been scratched off early with 350 jobs to be cut in the CSIRO, responsible for ecology and sustainability research. A senior scientist mocked the decision from the chief executive that ‘because climate change was proven to be real, the CSIRO could shift its focus’. Quoted in The Guardian “Who is he to declare that climate change is answered? And unless you know how the climate is changing, how do you adapt to it?”.

Thirteen activists from the group ‘Plane Stupid’ have been told to expect jail time after being found guilty of ‘aggravated trespass’ due to their activities on the 13th of July which involved cutting through a wired fence and chaining themselves to railings. The judge stated that whilst she believed the protestors were ‘principled’ the cost of disruption was ‘astronomical’ after 25 flights were cancelled. At the sentence, ‘this is a farce’ and ‘shame on you’ were yelled at the judge. Activists are urging the judge not to act on the threat of jail which would be the first time peaceful environmental demonstrators have gone to prison as it would suggest that tolerance to non-violent protest is waning.

Finally, on the 3rd of February the finance committee for the city of Copenhagen agreed to continue on with a proposal by the mayor Frank Jensen to divest on all fossil fuel holdings from its investment fund. The mayor stated the city was aiming to become the world’s first carbon neutral capital by 2025. A Danish divestment campaigner praised the decision, adding: ‘Wind energy is breaking records in Denmark and we’re set to cover 80% of our energy needs for electricity and heating with renewable sources within the next four years’.

Stephen Kenny 

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Images courtesy of Presidencia de la República Mexicana via Flickr


Editor for the Science Section of University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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