Credit: European Climate Foundation
Paris, a city of architectural cohesion and artistic treasures, where style and joie de vivre usually reign, recently became a city scarred by senseless violence.
It also became, four weeks later, the city where the very survival of the planet and its inhabitants was negotiated by competing nations and interests, and where the date of December 12, 2015 was etched into history as the end of the epoch of procrastination on climate but not yet the era of carbon neutrality.
We are overjoyed by the positive outcome which will allow us all to seize an unexpected opportunity. The aspirational target of 1.5C was amazing. The text of the agreement says we aim to
“Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;”
In no small measure we owe much to Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and President Hollande whose flair and ability to compromise guided 195 nations to an agreed framework for action. It is apparent that plans were carefully laid and executed in an atmosphere of positive belief and inclusion.
We remind readers that the threat of global warming has been scientifically apparent for 40 years. In 1979 at the behest of President Jimmy Carter, The National Academy of Sciences USA undertook a study of global warming in response to earlier worrisome studies by James Hansen and Syukuro Manabe.
This study found that doubling CO2 from pre-industrial levels would likely lead to a global temperature rise of 1.4 – 4.4°C.
Since then positive action has been thwarted by the merchants of doubt, divisive politics and some powerful industries, assisted by voices in the media within Australia and elsewhere, so it has taken far too long for the majority of people to become aware and convinced of the environmental crisis of climate change.
The visible climatic changes and disasters seem to have been a compelling influence at the meeting with the consequences of sea level rise described first hand by desperate leaders of Pacific Island nations who pleaded for no more than 1.5°C. What was a distant threat which could be left expediently to later governments became an imminent and more comprehensible threat.
Some of you will be aware that Kiribati’s President Tong was in Australia in the lead up to Paris as part of the No New Coal Mines initiative of Australia Institute and two of our representatives met him as part of the initiative (Peter Doherty and Kingsley Faulkner). We commend our colleagues in Australia Institute on this initiative which Richard Denniss pursued widely in Europe before Paris. President Tong epitomised the Pacific Islands as the canary in the coal mine.
In Paris this seismic shift in attitudes intellectually marooned the climate change deniers, sceptics and agnostics like polar bears on melting Arctic ice floes.
No doubt many other factors have paved the way for change.
The Peoples Marches throughout Australia and globally, aimed to coincide with the COP 21 UN Climate Change negotiations in Paris, have demonstrated that tens of thousands of people from all walks of life represented by hundreds of different organisations have now become aware, motivated and determined to take personal and group action to preserve the environment and the health of all who are dependent upon it.
They are no longer willing to be told that the economy and their own financial standard of living will be destroyed by adopting higher emission reduction targets and moving decisively towards a renewable energy future. Countries as widely separated as Costa Rica aiming to be carbon neutral by 2021, and Germany which already has 28% renewable energy supplies, have shown what can be achieved whilst still protecting their economies and their citizens’ health. It just requires political leadership and the will to develop innovative and intelligent strategies to eventually create carbon emission free countries.
The divestment movement, gaining momentum amongst many prominent institutions and millions of individuals who have lost patience with political inaction, is putting fossil fuel industries on notice that around three quarters of the world`s known reserves will have to remain in the ground to avoid global average temperature rises of 2°C above pre-industrial times. With an awareness that a 1.5°C rise would be a much safer option, the pressure to decarbonise economies around the globe becomes even greater and more urgent.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Technological advances continue to enable renewable energy production and battery storage to be widely adopted and used locally or centrally with economies of scale and without the externality costs of fossil fuels, coal in particular.
Paris will prove to be a catalyst for change for it will be difficult to delay necessary progress which will be open to the pressure of scrutiny every five years.
What the agreement means for Australia and for DEA action will be forthcoming in further communications from us. We note that Mr Turnbull’s announcement on wind farms was immediate but recognise that progress will be difficult before the election for the back bench is already restive. The government will have to address its dissonance on support for fossil fuel subsidies and new coal mines and the needed commitment to more stringent targets which will be reviewed in 2018 according to the Paris agreement.
The emphasis on adaptation measures in Paris and the funding needed to enact them will expose the unpreparedness of the Australian States particularly in health adaptation, and unlike the US we do not have a national mechanism of imposing necessary decisions on the recalcitrant. Much will need to be done by our DEA State committees.
As always health remains an important part of the equation and once more we ask you to renew your resolve in response to this step forward.
Prof Kingsley Faulkner, Chair and Dr David Shearman, Hon Secretary