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May 26, 2016

Paris: a step forward & the road ahead

Photo credit: Owen de Visser.

The Paris Climate Conference came to a conclusion in December 2015, with a deal being struck by 196 countries to try to limit greenhouse gas emmissions and curb climate change.

Thank you to everyone who took part in actions leading up to (and during) the conference, to push for a meaningful deal – including everyone who attended the inaugural Footsteps events and who supported the Lambeth Declaration.  The pressure brought by huge numbers of ordinary people undoubtedly had an impact on leaders at the conference.

Paris has been a positive step: but how far has it gone, and what does the road ahead look like?

Analysis of the deal varies from highly positive (see this celebratory article from campaign group Avaaz) to critical of the gap between the rhetoric of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5C and the realistic results the details of the text will provide (see this more sober analysis from climate organisation 350.org)

The key positive points from the Paris agreement seem to be:

  • A commitment, in theory, to limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C – described by Action Aid as “an important hook on which people can hang their demands”.
  • A 5-year review mechanism that pushes countries to ‘ratchet up’ their emissions reductions targets on a regular basis.
  • A recognition that the age of fossil fuels must come to an end this century.

Meanwhile the major gaps still to be filled are:

  • More ambitious emissions targets: what countries have currently pledged will only limit the temperature rise to between 2.7 and 3.7 degrees, so significant ‘ratcheting’ will need to be done.
  • Decarbonising faster: to realistically limit warming to 1.5C, we need to get rid of fossil-fuels by 2050: not ‘in the second half of this century’, as the agreement currently suggests.
  • Ensuring emissions are reduced by lowering consumption and using renewables: not by using dangerous, untested ‘geo-engineering’ techniques.
  • Spreading the cost fairly: the richest, who have emitted the most greenhouse gasses, must pay their fair share of the costs.
  • Integrating human rights, indigenous rights and women’s rights into agreements on climate change: these were moved to the non-legally-binding parts of the Paris text.

We knew that Paris would only be one step on the journey – that’s why the Lambeth Declaration calls for “a legally-binding commitment at the international Climate Change talks in Paris, and with the continuing programme beyond.” [our emphasis]  It’s going to be up to ordinary people to hold governments to their promises, to ratchet them up and to ensure that the burden of living up to those promises is shared fairly by the wealthiest.

Perhaps the most important outcome of Paris is not to do with governments at all: it’s that huge numbers of ordinary people around the world have come together to push for change, and get inspired for this journey ahead.

Even those downbeat about the text of Paris agree that this coming together of the climate movement has been positive (see this article from New Internationalist).  And you can be a part of it!  Here in Birmingham, Footsteps (the group that formed to organise events ahead of Paris) will be continuing to organise events, to help faith groups work together for a low carbon future.  Check our events listing for the latest activities that you can get involved in.

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