After all the back slapping, high fiv’ing, check kisses and congratulatory popping of champagne corks, as 195 countries signed off on the Paris Climate Agreement on December 12, 2015, we must now face our sober reality in the light of day. The Paris climate conference, or COP21, didn’t “solve” global warming – we didn’t even come close – we didn’t come up with a concrete plan and our children’s world and future remains severely threatened. What world leaders did acknowledge, and what is a critically important starting point is: “The sh$%*t has hit the fan.”
What we did in Paris was pull the curtain aside just a little bit more. We all looked out of the same window and we collectively acknowledged seeing the same mega storm brewing. We know it’s at least a category 5 hurricane – and in our heart of hearts we know it is in fact much worse.
What we did in the lead up to Paris and at the conference itself, and what we must do in the conference’s aftermath, is clearly and forcefully continue to stand by the “gauntlet” we have laid at the feet of our world leaders, and we must stand fast – demanding sustained and real action. Paris was about coming face to face with the realities of climate change, acknowledging it is here, now and threatening our survival. The final agreement has been carefully worded and crafted, it lays out hopes for what we should do, it apologizes for what we haven’t done, but what it doesn’t do, is lay out a clear path on how we will get to where we need to go. Will we be able to protect ourselves and weather the storm? Not with this Paris agreement – but it is at least a floor to stand on, which is more than we had before.
Paris was a clear acknowledgment that there is a mega storm off our shores. But instead of racing forward immediately with short term plans to weather this impending mega storm, and with long term programs, policies and plans to deal with the recovery needed, the Paris agreement – after facing reality – gives us too much time to “catch our breath” as we “wait just a little longer” watching the winds howl and blow.
“Tell the truth, actions speak louder than words, and we aren’t afraid.” Our job, post Paris is to live by this mantra and to keep sustained pressure on all our leaders – politicians, business, religious and community leaders – who have taken the first steps by “telling the truth.” Actions must now be put into place – urgently and firmly. We know they are afraid; but we must demand they be fearless. Our children’s eyes – looking into ours, trusting us to protect them – won’t allow for inaction or fear.
Top 5 agreed to outcomes from Paris, what was decided:
1. We must hold temperatures “WELL BELOW 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.” The world will likely reach 1 degree C above pre-industrial levels in 2016. Ice caps are already melting, sea levels are rising, and havoc is having a “hey day” messing with our planet and us, as extreme weather events “rue the day.”
2. Much of the world’s remaining reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground and can’t be burned. Those who see the “glass half full” see this as a clear signal to fossil fuel companies, investors and financiers, that the age of fossil fuels is over. Those who see the “glass half empty” see this as a warning, but with no clear plan how to move decisively to renewable energy in adequate time to stave off the worst climate impacts.
3. Countries will review their intended nationally determined contributions (their country climate plans) every 5 years, with new and stronger greenhouse gas reduction targets. Our job will be to hold government’s “feet to the fire” plans must be far reaching and much stronger then they are now.
4. Significant and consistent financing must be mobilized, from government and private sources, to help developing countries move to renewable energy now. This remains a critical yet a perennial problem. The financial requirements to implement climate plans and effective solutions in both developing countries and at home, are not being met. This also remains a clear justice issue that calls for moral and ethical acknowledgment and action.
5. “Loss and damage.” This phrase was used for the first time in the official UN text to acknowledge that many countries, particularly small island developing countries, are facing huge and devastating consequences from climate change now, even though they have done little to nothing to contribute to the causes of climate change. The expectation is that those responsible for these devastating damages (the big polluters – USA, China etc) should and must pay.
The critical take away from Paris is the collective acknowledgement that global warming is not only here and now, but that it threatens humanity’s very existence. All countries have acknowledged this, with at least “tacit agreement.” What is also critical, and what must not be left out, is that when we add up all the commitments from all current country climate plans, we don’t go far enough, nor fast enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.
What now needs to happen – and what we must do to ensure our children’s future not only includes rainbows, but also the treasures at the end of the rainbow like clean air, clean water, food security, good health and a real future that is sustainable, safe and livable – rests in our hands and in the hands of those with real power to create and make change urgently.
We are moving in the right direction, we are finally telling the truth, but unless we back it up with heroic and urgent actions, the truth will only keep us on the path that leads us to a cliff. Paris is a crossroad, and we are at the fork in the road. The path home, to safety and a future that has a flicker of hope is clearly marked, but we must open our eyes wide, swallow our fears and step forward boldly. We have no other choice.
Our job as parents and guardians is to keep demanding the truth and to lead by example…no actions are too small, we each have a role to play – lying must no longer be tolerated. Climate change actions must be included in all policy decisions and plans. NO ONE hoping for our vote or support – in politics or business – will be allowed to deny climate change. The truth must be told, and cannot go unchallenged in our homes, our communities, our houses of worship, schools and places of business. This is our job as parents and as guardians of our planet and of our future.
Yours in hope, faith and resolve,