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Will COP21 save the planet?

UPF:s very own UFS-representative and board member, Kajsa Fernström Nåtby,  together with Klara Ezvik Nyström from UF Uppsala, spent a week in Paris, following COP21. This is their final post on their thoughts in regards to the conference and its outcome. Enjoy! 

Exhibition on how to create sustainable cities, outside L’hotel de ville in Paris. Source: Kajsa Fernström Nåtby
Directions towards COP21 in the metro system. Source: Klara Elzvik Nyström

“Together, in this room, you are going to decide on a historic agreement.” These where words of Laurent Fabius, the president of the COP21, just before the world leaders adopted the Paris agreement. And historic it is, indeed. Apart from it being the first time an universal climate change agreement is established, the presence of 144 world leaders made COP21 one of the biggest political gatherings ever. A significant majority of the leaders are proud of and satisfied with the result. The French presidency has been praised for hosting and facilitating the successful outcome, and even more people are paying tribute to the agreement itself. “One planet, one chance to get it right, and we did it in Paris. We have made history together.” Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC. Then of course you might wonder – what is really stated in the text? Will this agreement save the planet?

Probably not. The agreement is, as most international conventions, very vague. The lack of directives that will meet the determined long term goals is a topic of concern. One clear example is the set target seen as surprisingly ambitious “…to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”. The truth is that the INDC:s, which represent the actual mitigation commitments for each country, will not be enough to keep temperature incline under a 2 degree increase. The gap between the ambition and the planned commitments can be seen as intimidating. It is also reasonable to question whether this target even is low enough. Furthermore, the absence of penalties if countries fails to fulfill its commitments, is said to diminish the actual strength of the agreement. Nor did the parties agree on any further financial support for developing countries. Another element that makes the agreement vulnerable is the fact that the countries defined as least developed countries are excluded from the obligation to submit INDC:s. Taking this into account it can be argued that the adopted agreement is a framework without dignified substance. Now it is up to the world to supply this fundamental foundation with actions, global commitment and local engagement.

Exhibition on how to create sustainable cities, outside L’hotel de ville in Paris. Source: Kajsa Fernström Nåtby
Exhibition on how to create sustainable cities, outside L’hotel de ville in Paris. Source: Kajsa Fernström Nåtby

It is obvious that the agreement will not save our planet. It is simply a piece of paper. Although, it is a piece of paper that clarifies a historic position. One major difference from earlier climate change negotiations is that people did not expect an agreement ambitious enough this time. The world wide audience had lower expectations but also a transformed purpose. Dr Bertrand TCHANCHE that we met at the metro in Paris shared his view with us: “It is important to remember that COP21 is not going to save the world. I don’t believe in that. But at least we can listen to voices from all over the world and hear them witness about how they are affected”. The negotiations illustrates how far international relations have reached in developing our ability to collaborate. The result of COP21 is more than an agreement, the outcome has for many entrenched a powerful sensation of global spirit. The negotiations were previewed as more optimistic than ever before which has brought ambition and energy to the environmental sector. “It gives me hope for a better world” says Karina Svensson, chairman of the environmental board i Malmö. COP21 was also more than just a major meeting for politicians. It was a meeting for people active in all different arenas. Dr Bertrand TCHANCHE came to Le Bourget in Paris to meet new business partners: “What I’m looking for is people who are ready, people who want to do something and see if we can do something together”. Paris did not only give the world its first universal climate agreement, it also relit the flame of climate ambition.

Flags from all represented states at COP21 outside the negotiation hall. Source: Kajsa Fernström Nåtby
Flags from all represented states at COP21 outside the negotiation hall. Source: Kajsa Fernström Nåtby

The agreement will now be open for signature during one year, starting on the 22th of april 2016. Then it will enter into force after 55 countries, accounting for at least 55% of global emissions, have ratified it. “Today we celebrate, tomorrow we have to act” as the EU chief of climate Miguel Arias Cañete, stated. This landmark can be seen as a signal to countries, cities, organisations and companies, that the world has an ambition to combat climate change and that the actual work can begin.

The outcome of COP21 could be describes as a successful framework or a stack of paper with empty words and promises, but no matter what we need to embrace the relightened flame of climate ambition. Consensus was reached in Paris. The agreement can be seen as a weak commitment but a strong signal to the world. “In Paris we write words. It is when returning home we have to drag rail way, cook vegetarian food and install solar panels” said David Kihlberg from the Swedish society for nature conservation. Whether the agreement will stop climate change is now up to us. It is up to us to  start acting now. As Bill McKibben, co founder of 350.org said “COP21 didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

Kajsa Fernström Nåtby  and Klara Ezvik Nyström

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