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Paris the beginning of climate action – not the end

Paris offers a chance at a different story. Ambitions are more modest, and more realistic. No one is expecting the agreement to comprehensively achieve the 2-degree target. In fact, documents already released suggest it would allow temperatures to rise at least 2.7 degrees.

Success at Paris will be more subtle. It will be measured by whether incremental steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to be seen as a priority for the world, long after the excitement of the conference has passed away.

It will be the intangible measure of how the world’s attitude on climate change has shifted.

 

logo Paris climate1Don’t rely on grand treaties from the Paris climate summit http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-27/phillips-don’t-rely-on-grand-treaties-from-paris/6979176OPINION

By Sara Phillips If we want to avoid the disappointment we felt after the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, we need to accept that the Paris meeting next week won’t be about signing some grand treaty, but about keeping up momentum for change, writes Sara Phillips.

Calm your farm, Greenies. Paris is an amazing city, but the United Nations conference on climate change to be held next week is not going to save the world.

We have to remember the lead up to the equivalent conference in 2009, that year held in Copenhagen. There was a frenzy of anticipation. Some even called it “the most important meeting since the end of the Second World War”.

In the end, more than 40,000 people attended. It was so packed, some delegates couldn’t even get into the conference centre.

Then when a global agreement that limited the growth in carbon dioxide emissions wasn’t brokered, there was a global anticlimax. So much energy, so much anticipation and from it, so little.

The Copenhagen climate conference was branded a failure. The UN organisers put a brave face on it, but there was no denying the fact that the much-hoped-for treaty did not eventuate.

So as we approach the Paris conference, it’s worth turning to Copenhagen as a cautionary tale.

There’s a view in the wider community that the United Nations climate process is supposed to take care of climate change.

The vociferous complaints about Australia’s weak target heading into the conference is evidence of this – as though this is the total of Australia’s ambition on climate change.

In actual fact, the UN climate change negotiations are all part of the complex theatre that is international relations.

In this case, the nations of the world attend Paris and make the right noises about acting on climate change. Depending on the subtleties of the wording of these statements, everyone assesses how serious everyone else is about actually doing something.

Sure, maybe the world will sign up to an agreement. But the main game is in fact, in the words of Dennis Denuto from The Castle, “the vibe of the thing”.

From Paris, nations can expect to take home a sense of how likely other nations are to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

Armed with this information they can then decide how strongly to tackle climate change using domestic policies. For Australia, Paris is a starting point for climate action, not the end game.

In my previous post for The Drum, I said that Australia’s relatively low target to reduce emissions by up to 28 per cent of 2005 emissions by 2030 was like bringing bad snacks to a party.

To continue the metaphor, it’s like this is the party where social etiquette is determined.

Ultimately the UN has limited power to punish nations for having high emissions, pathetic targets or missing the emissions targets altogether. Instead, it creates a global expectation of what is acceptable behaviour.

The good news is that leading up to Paris, it has got to a point where if a nation continued to belch greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contributed nothing to a fund to help the poorest nations cope with climate change, it would become a global pariah.

Economic prosperity at the expense of the climate is becoming as unacceptable as human rights abuses and manufacture of chemical weapons.

Looking back to Copenhagen, it’s easy to see that the so-elevated expectations were inevitably going to come crashing to Earth.

Copenhagen’s last gasp was when a leaked report revealed that an agreement – if one was reached – would overshoot the stated two-degree target.

The sense of failure this injected to the proceedings became self-fulfilling.

With that crash down to Earth came a period of chaos and inaction on climate change – as though Copenhagen was our one and only chance.

Paris offers a chance at a different story. Ambitions are more modest, and more realistic. No one is expecting the agreement to comprehensively achieve the 2-degree target. In fact, documents already released suggest it would allow temperatures to rise at least 2.7 degrees.

Success at Paris will be more subtle. It will be measured by whether incremental steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to be seen as a priority for the world, long after the excitement of the conference has passed away.

It will be the intangible measure of how the world’s attitude on climate change has shifted.

Sara Phillips is the ABC’s national environment reporter. She was previously editor of the ABC’s environmental portal.

Don’t rely on grand treaties from the Paris climate summit http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-27/phillips-don’t-rely-on-grand-treaties-from-paris/6979176OPINION

By Sara Phillips If we want to avoid the disappointment we felt after the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, we need to accept that the Paris meeting next week won’t be about signing some grand treaty, but about keeping up momentum for change, writes Sara Phillips.

Calm your farm, Greenies. Paris is an amazing city, but the United Nations conference on climate change to be held next week is not going to save the world.

We have to remember the lead up to the equivalent conference in 2009, that year held in Copenhagen. There was a frenzy of anticipation. Some even called it “the most important meeting since the end of the Second World War”.

In the end, more than 40,000 people attended. It was so packed, some delegates couldn’t even get into the conference centre.

Then when a global agreement that limited the growth in carbon dioxide emissions wasn’t brokered, there was a global anticlimax. So much energy, so much anticipation and from it, so little.

The Copenhagen climate conference was branded a failure. The UN organisers put a brave face on it, but there was no denying the fact that the much-hoped-for treaty did not eventuate.

So as we approach the Paris conference, it’s worth turning to Copenhagen as a cautionary tale.

There’s a view in the wider community that the United Nations climate process is supposed to take care of climate change.

The vociferous complaints about Australia’s weak target heading into the conference is evidence of this – as though this is the total of Australia’s ambition on climate change.

In actual fact, the UN climate change negotiations are all part of the complex theatre that is international relations.

In this case, the nations of the world attend Paris and make the right noises about acting on climate change. Depending on the subtleties of the wording of these statements, everyone assesses how serious everyone else is about actually doing something.

Sure, maybe the world will sign up to an agreement. But the main game is in fact, in the words of Dennis Denuto from The Castle, “the vibe of the thing”.

From Paris, nations can expect to take home a sense of how likely other nations are to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

Armed with this information they can then decide how strongly to tackle climate change using domestic policies. For Australia, Paris is a starting point for climate action, not the end game.

In my previous post for The Drum, I said that Australia’s relatively low target to reduce emissions by up to 28 per cent of 2005 emissions by 2030 was like bringing bad snacks to a party.

To continue the metaphor, it’s like this is the party where social etiquette is determined.

Ultimately the UN has limited power to punish nations for having high emissions, pathetic targets or missing the emissions targets altogether. Instead, it creates a global expectation of what is acceptable behaviour.

The good news is that leading up to Paris, it has got to a point where if a nation continued to belch greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contributed nothing to a fund to help the poorest nations cope with climate change, it would become a global pariah.

Economic prosperity at the expense of the climate is becoming as unacceptable as human rights abuses and manufacture of chemical weapons.

Looking back to Copenhagen, it’s easy to see that the so-elevated expectations were inevitably going to come crashing to Earth.

Copenhagen’s last gasp was when a leaked report revealed that an agreement – if one was reached – would overshoot the stated two-degree target.

The sense of failure this injected to the proceedings became self-fulfilling.

With that crash down to Earth came a period of chaos and inaction on climate change – as though Copenhagen was our one and only chance.

Paris offers a chance at a different story. Ambitions are more modest, and more realistic. No one is expecting the agreement to comprehensively achieve the 2-degree target. In fact, documents already released suggest it would allow temperatures to rise at least 2.7 degrees.

Success at Paris will be more subtle. It will be measured by whether incremental steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to be seen as a priority for the world, long after the excitement of the conference has passed away.

It will be the intangible measure of how the world’s attitude on climate change has shifted.

Sara Phillips is the ABC’s national environment reporter. She was previously editor of the ABC’s environmental portal.

November 27, 2015 - Posted by | climate change

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