COP21 in Paris: we must step out of our industrialised comfort zone

Posted on 29. November 2016

by Anja Aune Selma

anja-aune-selmerEarly December, Paris will find itself with being the capital of heated politics.

Representatives from all over the world will come together in Le Bourget in the outskirts of the city, in order to achieve consensus and a legally binding agreement on battling climate change. The forum`s response to the ongoing global warming and its ability to effectively deal with the challenges ahead will not only have a tremendous effect on societies around the world, but also on future generations. Recent interest in establishing common goals may be somewhat overdue, though hopefully not too late. It has never been more important that we clean up our mess before a polluted mother earth retires.

Reaching the 2° C target will lead to the “cooking of the continent”, a metaphor rightfully used by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe his concerns for Africa in particular. The overall mission of the coming forum is to stick to the decision to stay below this target, first proposed by the European Union in 1996. However, such a measure does not ensure a stable climate. A 2°C warming from pre-industrial times would still cause severe social disruptions and several tipping points, mostly affecting countries in the South. In the aftermath of COP15, which took place in Copenhagen in 2009, a majority of developing countries changed course, claiming the target should be set to 1.5°C. Ahead of this year`s Conference of the Parties, governments are requested to prepare an outline of planned environmental achievements for future decades. With the achievements states have suggested until now, estimates are that we are heading for a 2.7°Cincrease in global temperatures, and Africa is already boiling over.

Crossing this threshold jeopardises social and environmental systems. Increased emissions can have chain effects on a number of issues such as ecosystems, economic growth, political and social development, and even health and migration.

A majority of countries might see their economic growth lag as temperatures rise. Without mitigation processes, the average income across the globe will be overall loss on 23% than it would be without climate change. Research shows that southern countries are even less well-off: the optimal temperature for productivity to peak is 13°C. Colder countries remain relatively protected, but only Canada and Russia may expect higher levels of GDP because of increased emissions. Nevertheless, change in weather patterns will have several economic implications.

Social development can also be affected by increased emissions. Food security and infrastructure are among the most vulnerable. Conflicts and water wars could emerge, and the already ongoing conflicts will be exacerbated, which will again be chiefly evident in southern continents. Whoever claimed gender equality was impervious to weather shifts, was wrong: recent incidents in some areas of Africa saw witch hunting being used as a mean for villagers to explain ruined farmland. African droughts leads to there being fewer water wells in rural areas, which makes collecting water – a responsibility usually entrusted to women and girls – more time-consuming, leaving less time for other activities, such as education.

In the wake of recent terror, researchers and politicians call for a holistic reasoning of why such conflicts emerge. Weather fluctuations tend to increase insecurity in an already instable country. This goes surprisingly well together with the current crisis in Syria, which experienced a devastating drought and loss of food at the time extremist groups came to the forefront.

Climate change will likely have direct consequences for migration fluxes as well. “No one says I`d better pack my stuff and go because I expect CO2 emissions to rise”, says a Washington official. But combine “climate” with “refugee”, and one is facing quite a challenge. Few leave their homes without reason, be it hunger or a hurricane. Recurring droughts in Africa`s Sahel region during recent years caused large numbers of internally displaced people. Some places will be inaccessible for generations. Experts warn that millions of climate refugees will knock at Europe`s doors – and Orbàn’s fences – in years to come. One should perhaps acknowledge “climate refugee” as a legal refugee status. What strategies will be incorporated in order for Europe and northern countries to absorb the influx remains unanswered.

In the French capital, by no means we should allow ourselves to be less ambitious than the European Union anno 1996. Action requires more than hosting an inspiring workshop where enterprises gain some ideas for their supply chain. It requires that leaders on all levels, in various sectors, acquire adequate responsibility and implement actions accordingly. Europe and its citizens need to take the burden off of developing countries’ shoulders, by foremost addressing its own responsibility in preventing climate change.

As the event is taking place in Paris, the security dimension cannot be ignored.. For the second time this year, terror hit Paris. Politicians clearly stated that the conference is not to be hindered by these attacks and will go on according to the original plan, only stripped down to mere negotiations. In the wake of the terror, attendees also pointed out the links between the two issues and the mentality needed to tackle them. Christiana Figueres tweeted shortly after the attack: “#COP21 = respecting our differences & same time acting together collaboratively. During a speech held promptly after the incident, President Hollande dedicated some time to advocate a need for solidarity when tackling climate change.

Even the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action addresses climate action as an act of solidarity. This concerns those who bear the greatest burden of climate change; indigenous people and tribes, as well as future generations. Europe is not completely isolated nor protected from extreme weather events, but our economy, health and social welfare remain stable compared to the countries on the wrong side of Equator. In addition, it is clear that developed countries are responsible for the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions and, in general, have too big an ecological footprint. This clearly calls for action from our side, at all levels of society.

Governments of developed countries are obliged to take a lead in addressing climate concerns through action, though there has been an unfortunate tradition of bailing out the main culprits in the past decades. COP15, with its nickname “Hopenhagen”, turned into a disaster for the boiling South, when it appeared that western representatives were not willing to offer goals realistic enough to combat the ongoing global warming. Even Norway got cold feet and could only promise to cut its carbon emissions with 40% as long as several other states joined in on a similar agreement.

Among the world’s citizens, there remains a hint of ignorance towards the linkage between individual consumption and environmental issues. Now, the fact that 91% of the deforestation of the Amazon is due to animal agriculture does not disappear just because one is unaware of these statistics. Livestock produces 65% of nitrous oxide emissions, a greenhouse gas estimated to be 296 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide, and producing a hamburger requires 660 gallons of water. Turning from food to fashion: A staggering 350 000 tons of garments are sent to landfills each year, and the apparel sector is causing 17-20% of water pollution globally via dyeing and clothing treatment. The mentioned statistics are only a few among several. The level of western consumption undoubtedly leaves a significant footprint behind, and it is time to address and decrease this footprint.

The climate change debate might focus on whether our aim should be a 1.5°Ca 2°C or 2.7°C warming. Numbers matters, but neither Africa, Europe, nor any other continent can afford increasing temperatures in its troposphere. However, it all boils down to solidarity. Europe should prevent only combatting climate change consequences that might affect us directly, but instead should take into account indigenous people`s civilizations who are so distant from the modern communities, and the generations that are yet to be born. It requires stepping out of our industrialised comfort zone, and the time has come for us to take responsibility for our policies and behaviours.

Early December, there will be a lot at stake when a community of 40,000 convey for cooperation on a common future. If they manage such a collaboration, COP21 will be a step towards solidarity.