While some of my activist colleagues were rallying at the French Consulate in Miami this morning, to deliver an urgent letter to Laurent Fabius, Foreign Affairs Minister and President of COP21, I decided my readers might appreciate some guidance to the information about the conference that has been accumulating. COP21 began today in Paris, the largest gathering of delegates ever, and will run until December 11.
As good place to start as any is Five Things You Need to Know About COP21 from the U.S. Department of State. In case it isn’t obvious, COP21 means there have already been 21 previous meetings of world leaders to address climate change. Or, to put it another way, we have had over two decades to try to figure out what to do about climate change, while the target has been moving at an accelerated pace.
If you’re familiar with Britain’s The Guardian (home to environment columnist, George Monbiot), you won’t be surprised that its article, Everything You Need to Know About the Paris Climate Summit and UN Talks is somewhat less upbeat than the State Department’s take. One thing you need to know is that previous agreements on greenhouse gas emissions are about to run out, which makes agreements at this conference even more urgent. The article also inconveniently brings up the 1997 Kyoto protocols, which were signed by then Vice President Al Gore but never ratified by Congress.
Too many American politicians, including those running for president (yikes!), have tried to mask their failure to confront climate change behind the “not a scientist” statement. Alas, recommendations from scientists on a ‘carbon budget’ to set a cap on carbon emissions do not appear to have gained any traction at COP21 either. The New York Times’ Paris Climate Talks Avoid Scientists’ Idea of a Carbon Budget is an excellent overview of the thorniest aspects of the stalled agreements. Look also at the excellent ‘cheat sheet’: Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change.
I love Andrew Revkin’s DotEarth blog for its crisp, clear take on the subject, and this piece, As World Leaders Kick Off Paris Talks, Prescriptions Abound From a Carbon Tax to a New Nuclear Push is particularly insightful, albeit deeply frustrating. We have no shortage of answers, but as has been noted many times elsewhere, relatively little public pressure or political will to act. A tax on carbon, a idea argued for repeatedly by New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, and others, seems in the current political climate a complete non-starter.
OK, saving the best for last: Transition founder and champion, Rob Hopkins’ Why COP21 Matters, and Why I’m Going. Let me quote a passage and urge you to read the rest:
…in many ways, the world is already changing, and it’s happening at pace, it’s fast and it’s deep…If you believe things aren’t changing, you’re looking in the wrong place. More and more forms of renewable energy, such as onshore wind, are now the cheapest form of electricity in many places…COP21 is acting as the catalyst for many organisations, businesses and governments to refocus on climate change, move finance into climate change, put pressure on governments to create a stable environment within which to build a low carbon economy. All manner of shifts and realignments are going on behind the scenes. And the politics are changing to accommodate this new worldview…
I believe with Rob Hopkins that things can flip quickly when enough people are prepared for better alternatives to the status quo. Something is happening when BP and Shell start to worry about ‘stranded assets,’ when Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are on the same page, and when a young Canadian premier announces to the opening session in Paris, “Canada is back, my friends, … and here to help.”