I am one of two co-spokespersons of the Young Greens of Norway. Thanks to the Green European Foundation, I was able to attend the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) as an accredited observer. Norway is a nation that, for more than the duration of the decade-spanning UN climate talks, has been accumulating substantial wealth from the extraction of oil and gas. Hence, I am part of the problem. And, more importantly, I am part of the solution.
In the past couple of days, many have been trying to define what story we should tell ourselves about the Paris Agreement. What’s the narrative, really?
Members of civil society and the climate justice movement voiced concerns and disappointment about the lack of mention of human rights in the agreement itself (it is merely included in the preamble), the non-binding character of the agreement (the deal being entirely non-punitive, disregarding the fact that failing to comply means irreparable damage to life-sustaining ecosystems and societies), as well as anger over the huge gap between the stated level of ambition compared to the current levels of pledged and undertaken action.
While the deal sets out 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”, the aggregate effect of the so-called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) that 186 countries submitted for COP21 has us rushing for above 3 °C of global warming – and that’s if governments actually implement their pledges.
However, the parties recognise this discrepancy in the decision text, and there are several provisions in the agreement setting the stage for a “ratcheting up” of ambitions. Countries must update their contributions every five years, and each successive update has to be at least as strong as the current one and must represent their “highest possible ambition“.
This leads us to the other, more dominant narrative, the one where the Paris Agreement is portrayed as historic, more ambitious than we could’ve hoped for and a crucial step in the right direction. This line of thought could be traced in the celebratory speeches at the onset of the final meeting where the gavel ultimately came down, not to mention after.
Do not underestimate the value of having 195 countries signed up for a perpetual increase of climate ambition. The deal isn’t as binding as it could have been, but if we can use this momentum to force the blockers and fossils out from under their rocks, name and shame them in full view of the world – if we can stigmatise obstruction and make progression in tackling climate change the name of the game – then that will have an impact. That will send a signal, not only to governments, but to investors and business – as the Paris Agreement already has (coal stocks plummeted after Saturday).
Will that be enough? Probably not. The carbon budget for a reasonable shot at limiting warming to 1.5°C will likely be depleted as early as 2020, the year the Paris Agreement will enter into force.
Nevertheless I intend to use that ambitious temperature goal for what it is worth. It will aid the Young Greens of Norway in our fight to limit oil-lobbyists stranglehold on Norwegian society. For years they have been pointing to dubious 2-degree scenarios, claiming oil and gas extracted from the Norwegian Arctic “fits” within the two degree target. Their hypocrisy will become all the more apparent now.
The Paris deal is not even remotely perfect, but it will fit nicely in any climate action toolkit: It resolutely places responsibility for addressing climate change in the domain of national policy, its goals forces politicians to confront whatever meagre ambition they had before Paris, even though the deal is wanting for palpable measures, and the direction the deal sets is clear: we’re headed towards an era where fossil fuels and industries will be marginalized.
But to bring about that change, the people, businesses, NGOs and the press must step up and hold politicians accountable. We must reward policymakers who value the interconnectedness of ecosystems, biodiversity and functioning societies, and see that they may have our trust. We must demand clean air, clean water and food security, and spread the word that greening our cities and communities means revamping them, implementing smarter and more efficient tech and adopting healthier lifestyles. Ultimately, this is a message of hope that has been gaining momentum for years. Let’s use this occasion to further it, so that our movement may grow and make the ideology and policy of the fossils obsolete.