Live from COP21: Why not a zero degree target?

UPF:s very own UFS-representative and board member, Kajsa Fernström Nåtby, is, together with Klara Ezvik Nyström from UF Uppsala, spending the week in Paris, following COP21. This is part of a series of posts about their experience there. Enjoy! 

Live from COP21. Source: Kajsa Fernström Nåtby

“Al Gore’s speech is going to be shown on all screens” the voice from the speakers announced, and suddenly the area changed. Everyone gathered in front of the biggest screen to listen to the environmentalist and former US presidential candidate. His speech urged the politicians in the negotiations to realise the enormous consequences of their decisions here. By showing pictures and videos from natural disasters all over the world he was telling stories of suffering from climate change. A flood in India, a drought in Kenya, smog in China where flashing by and the audience was clearly affected. He emphasised the cost of climate change; not the cost of cutting emissions or installation renewable energy, the cost of not doing so. At the end of Gore’s performance he was screaming like he was trying to wake the politicians up, telling them to raise their ambitions, to double their ambitions.

One can wonder if the focus group dealing with the question of long term goals, mentioned in article 3 of the agreements, got inspired by Al Gore’s speech, or if they were too busy noticing it even happened. The biggest question dealt with in this group is the 2 degree target. To compile a legal instrument and to reach that 2 degree target is after all the goal with the negotiations. Many more vulnerable countries such as small island states and civil society have historically been pushing an alternative 1.5 degree target. Now the attitude from most countries is said to be positive, even India have moved its positions.

Radical actors might wonder why activists are walking the streets shouting out their message that we should heat up the world 1.5 degrees celsius instead of 2. Why should we allow any heating of the planet? The 0.5 gap of difference sounds ridiculously insignificant and the fact that their message indirectly indicates a continuation of emissions. The problem is that the line of 0 degrees temperature rising has already expired so the starting point is not below zero, it has already passed that limit. Due to the fact that the line of demarcation already has been broken, by the world leaders’ inability to agree and the global society’s way of operating, it can be considered natural that the activists no longer shout zero but 1.5. Measurement show that the atmosphere already consists of almost 400 ppm carbon dioxide. That is the increase of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that lead to temperature risings. It is impossible to determine the height of increase but environmental movements in the past have been pushing 350 ppm as the highest “safe” limit. Other questions to be raised here is why are targets set in temperature and not ppm, when it is not a linear relationship and very hard to predict? And if a goal set in an agreement where the private sector and aviation industry is not included, does it have any possibility to be reached?

What Al Gore’s strong words and pictures aims to illustrate is the importance of high ambitions. The importance to stop and think outside the negotiations, to shift the focus from the formulations of peripheral details in the agreement to what COP21 really is about: to save the world.

Kajsa Fernström Nåtby  and Klara Ezvik Nyström

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