Paris has been the site of two ‘clashes of civilization’ in the past month.
On December 9, former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, wrote that Islam must reform in order to avoid inciting a ‘clash of civilizations’ between it and the West - as prognosticated by international relations scholar Samuel Huntington in 1993.
While evidence of this devastating ‘clash’ seemingly played-out at the Bataclan Concert Hall and surrounds in November, another, potentially more perilous clash has just concluded with cheers and backslapping across town – in the suburb of Le Bourget at the UN Climate Conference.
The Paris Agreement
The Paris agreement on climate change commits 196 countries to limit global warming to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C’.
Under the agreement, countries will pursue national self-determined emissions targets from 2020 onwards.
The parties to the agreement have acknowledged, however, that the current cumulative national pledges (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) will overshoot 2°C.
Climate modellers suggest somewhere between 2.7-3.5°C.
One leading political scientist at the University of Melbourne says that under a 4°C warming scenario, Melbourne will suffer from significantly hotter days, ‘while Alice Springs would resemble the Sudan’ and ‘Darwin will resemble like no place on earth’.
This means that ratcheting up national targets over time is vital to achieve 1.5-2°C.
Goodies and baddies
Heading into COP21 in Paris, much was written about the leaders and laggards, goodies and baddies, the heroes and villains – however you want to put it.
For example, the Climate Change Performance Index of 2015 identifies Denmark, Sweden, the UK, and Portugal as ‘very good’ performers, while Canada, Kazakhstan, Australia, and Saudi Arabia are considered ‘very poor’.
The good thing about the Paris agreement is that it allows countries that are climate minimalists to become climate avengers.
Countries long pilloried for poor performance on climate change can shake off these labels and show the world what they’re made of.
Establishing a national emissions reduction cap, tightening over time, requires a clear plan, a trajectory for how to get there and bipartisan support. This trifecta would be music to the ears of the business community, who ultimately have to do most of the heavy lifting to save the planet.
Climate negotiations, and critically, the implementation phase thereafter, involve visualising what the future may look like for human civilization under various climate change commitments.
As US President Barack Obama said at the conclusion of the climate talks: “I imagine taking my grandkids - if I’m lucky enough to have some - to the park someday, and holding their hands, and hearing their laughter, and watching a quiet sunset. All the while knowing that our work today prevented an alternate future that could have been grim.”
While heart-warming, countries and their leaders won’t be marked for their performance in Paris, but for what they do next.
Weak national targets accompanied by tabloid politics and lip-service policies will undoubtedly contribute to a future where national maps are redrawn and immense hardships are visited on a large percentage of the world’s population.
Courageous targets, politics and policies by contrast, may just limit the damage to manageable levels.
Much larger and much faster reductions are needed to reduce the risk of dangerous warming.
Tony Abbott’s comments in the final days of COP21 (and those made by Donald Trump on the same topic) are distracting us from the main game.
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