Historic Climate Deal from COP-21 – So Why is Our Government Moving in the Other Direction?

The agreement that came out of the Paris climate conference (“Conference of Parties” or COP-21), which ended this weekend, has been hailed as historic. It was certainly historic in achieving something notoriously difficult: getting hundreds of country representatives to agree on anything at all. Whether history will see this as a turning point for global warming remains to be seen.

Here’s a brief summary of what was agreed:

  • “Pursue efforts” to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels
  • Aim for greenhouse gas emissions to peak “as soon as possible”
  • A rapid reduction of emissions thereafter, to reach “net carbon zero” in the second half of this century
  • Every five years, review pledges on emissions reduction, made by each individual country, to assess whether we are on track to meet the above aims.
  • Money to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change (currently £100 billion pa, with an aspiration for this to rise)

The Guardian hails this as “Governments have signalled an end to the fossil fuel era“. Steady on. The key to reaching this agreement was to give up on trying to force countries to agree to specific measures to mitigate climate change. Instead, they were invited to come up with their own individual pledges as to what they would do in this regard. The pledges, and the “aspirations” outlined in the accord, are all non-binding. Here in the UK, we’re only too aware of how easy it is to abandon aims, pledges and manifesto commitments when they prove inconvenient.Melting glaciers

Sadly, the pledges that countries brought to this conference get us nowhere near achieving the aims that have been signed up for; and that’s before they start being reneged on. There is a massive gap here between the talk and the action: and our own government is one of the worst offenders here.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, since May alone the Tories have:

In short, not only is our government not doing enough to make the promises of COP-21 credible, it is actually moving in the opposite direction. The Tories actions have been accurately described as an “ideological assault on green energy“. And what we do in this country does make a difference: because in making their pledges, each country has a close eye on what their competitor countries are doing.

Oil refineryThe Tories, and their friends the big corporate polluters, have a simple strategy: don’t bother denying that climate change is a problem: just convince people that they have the problem in hand; that a few tweaks here and there can solve things. We must not let the announcement of this agreement feed into that rhetoric. The problem is not solved: in fact we don’t even have a coherent strategy in place to solve it. Promises are good and important, but what we urgently need now is real, effective action to solve this problem: and a major U-turn in UK energy policy.

As David MacKay has said in his wonderful book “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” (A free download): “We all use energy”.. “Don’t be distracted by the myth that “every little helps.” If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little. We must do a lot. What’s required are big changes in demand and in supply”.

The best we can say of this agreement, so far, is that it gives us the opportunity to call this government to account for its own hypocracy; and it adds legitimacy to calls for a change of direction. It is critical that we seize this opportunity and keep that pressure up.

Chris Owen