COP24 – big failures and small hopes

“Many people say that Sweden is a small country, and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I have learned that you are never too small to make a difference..”

– Greta Thunberg, 15, at COP24

The positive from COP24? Attendees worked hard and stayed into the weekend to get a deal. Thank you. The deal is a new “rulebook” for how the Paris Accord will be implemented. Considering the resistance from the USA and others, it is a monumental achievement to have come away with anything.

Another interesting positive is the idea that COP24 has shown that global climate-change treaties and efforts can survive the “anti-climate strongman.” However, one could say that if the result is not sufficient, and civilization does not survive.. then those who threw wrenches in the works were more victorious, for what it will matter.

But those positives don’t change the facts.

The deal is incomplete, with some of the most difficult and important issues put off until COP25 next year in Chile. Here are 3 main issues which have been avoided until next year:

  1. Working out the mechanics of an emissions trading system;
  2. Brazil, keeper of the world’s lungs, and now run by Jain Bolsonaro (a fan of Donald Trump) took issue with how forests as carbon sinks are accounted for, pushing for a mechanism which many say would allow double-counting.
  3. Nothing has been done to speed up our nation’s responses to climate change, while climate change is been speeding up.

To put the last point in other words, and at the risk of oversimplification – we are getting farther behind. We now know, as of October 2018,  that we have twelve years to make extreme cuts to carbon emissions, and that the impacts of climate change are being felt, and worsening, much faster than we previously understood.

The Paris Accord was signed in 2015, and does not reflect that new reality. It wasn’t sufficient to deal with the old reality.

In the words of Daniel Mittler, political director of Greenpeace International,

“We should have had so much more… we’ve had a really terrible year of extreme weather events, of forest fires and of scientists telling the world that we are running out of time… In the face of that, this agreement is morally bankrupt, it is just not enough.”

At the same time, here are some good things that have happened or been announced in the last few days:

The grassroots movement for a Green New Deal is growing in the USA and elsewhere.

In the USA the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia has pulled permits for an LNG pipeline to cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail, and “slammed the U.S. Forest Service for granting the approvals in the first place.” To drive the point home the court quoted the Lorax, saying, “We trust the United States Forest Service to ‘speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.’”

India has cancelled plans for significant coal-fired power stations, as the price of solar continues to drop.

And another pipeline, Keystone XL, has also been stopped, at least temporarily. Vermont law professor Pat Parenteau summarized the Federal judge Brian Morris as having said, “the Trump administration completely disregarded the climate effects of building the Keystone pipeline.”

But the real “small” victory is the young people who are stepping up and calling us out for our failures. Greta Thunberg is one of those young leaders who is taking up the mantle of leadership, because it was just sitting there, unused. This 15-year old girl bravely continued at the UN (from the quote at the top):

…And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

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