Today was my first day attending the official COP21 negotiations in the “blue zone” of Le Bourget. While I was there today, it struck me that there are two perspectives that keep coming up as I learn more about COP21.
The first is positive and hopeful: there may finally be some movement by world governments to reduce emissions after so many years and failed attempts. I am hopeful, and pray that Paris will turn the corner and begin a concerted world-wide effort at long last. There is real momentum and urgency to act this time.
The other perspective is from the climate scientists, and is much more grim: they know more on the topic than I ever will, and they do not like what they see. If you add up all of the pledges that are made by all of the countries, it results in a world that has warmed by 2.7 to 3.7 degrees Celsius by 2100. That still spells disaster, according to the scientists in the know. Today, I heard from a climate scientist who said that we have misplaced optimism in counting on yet-to-be-developed technology to solve the problem.
Despite holding these two viewpoints at the same time, after today I am hopeful about our prospects. Even with current pledges falling short, an agreement from this conference will hopefully spur further action from individuals, business, and governments. This is also why it is important that reviewing the pledges every five years is included in the agreement – as renewable technology is expanded and better developed, perhaps we can go farther and faster than it appears at this moment. Again and again, the word “ambition” was brought up in the negotiations. This ambition is really critical as we move past Paris. Since the current proposed reductions in emissions fall short, we need to ratchet them up as technology and cost-effective clean energy solutions improve.
What really strikes me is the new, more optimistic language that is framing the agreement this time around. I still hear that it is possible for things to fall apart, but the discussion primarily focuses on how far and how fast international climate policy will progress into the future. This is a huge departure from the perspective that was offered just months ago, when questions still centered on whether or not there would be any new agreement at COP21. It is as if we have passed a tipping point as a world, and most now agree that we do need to go far, and fast, to tackle climate change. Most individuals, I believe, support an ambitious agreement. One person I met today said, “the worst thing that can happen is to lock in unambitious goals and not review them for 10 or 15 years. By then the Earth is ruined.” A stark reminder of what’s at stake.
All the failure and resistance that these talks have met with in the past two decades will hopefully become a fading memory as we move into a new era of climate policy, in which we actively and ambitiously work to climb out of the hole we have dug ourselves. We have passed a tipping point of support for climate action; now let’s hope we avoid some of the climate tipping points that threaten our future.