When the Paris Agreement was reached in 2015, it was hailed as something monumental, something unprecedented, in bringing the world together in a common goal of planetary importance. But it was just the start. Paris was meant to set the ball rolling. Nothing was decided at Paris that would, in itself, bring down carbon emissions to safe levels. It was effectively an agreement to figure out a plan. Since then, the collective consciousness on climate change has shifted dramatically.
No deal on carbon markets
Four years ago, predictions of the end of civilisation, people deciding not to have children because of carbon in the atmosphere, predictions of the end of capitalism, would have sounded cranky to most of us. Now, they are serious – even mainstream – topics of debate.
A turning point came in late 2018, when the UN’s scientific body on climate change told us we had just 12 years to avert catastrophe and a Swedish teenager walked out of school to begin a lonely protest outside her country’s parliament.
From there, public awareness has gained momentum.
This year, initial shock at the IPCC report translated into public action. Around the world, students were the first to join Greta Thunberg’s protest, followed by more and more of us, from all ages and walks of life. Even our language has changed. This has been the year that people stopped talking about global warming and climate change and started talking about global heating and the climate crisis; the year Extinction Rebellion shifted gears on climate activism, from banner-waving to civil disobedience.
There is something exhilarating in seeing so many people come together in a common cause. So many of us now care, so much, that those of us who have felt despair at the most dire scientific predictions dare to hope.
But to avert the worst of the crisis, the concerted action of a global movement of citizens must translate into the concerted action of governments. Like the Fridays for Future protesters, politicians must coordinate across the planet and act in unison. That’s what COP is for.
Yet, in what should have been a crucial year for nailing down serious action, the parties not only lacked the new urgency felt on the streets, COP has come to feel routine, even its inadequacy has come to feel routine. At worst, COP25 feels like a reminder of the infamous collapse of talks at COP15 in Copenhagen a decade ago.
Carolina Schmidt, president of COP25, warned delegates: “The world is watching us.” That didn’t stop Brazil defending loopholes in the global carbon market
One of the few concrete steps the world has agreed to take on an international level – a global carbon market – has been pushed back, as high-emitting countries try to weaken the system, defending loopholes that would make the mechanism itself just another empty commitment.
With just a year to go before the deadline for countries to take serious action on closing the gap between the commitments so far – which scientists estimate could see global warming reaching around 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century – and the target of “well below” 2 degrees, this year’s COP resolution amounts to little more than another promise to try harder down the line.
But we’re running out of time. Failure to make decisive agreements this year puts huge pressure on COP26 in Glasgow next year. Five years after Paris, 2020 is the deadline for countries’ revised commitments. Now, carbon market rules will have to be finalised at the same time.
Right now, the gulf between the people and politicians seems vast. But if 2019 was the year of climate outrage, 2020 must be the year that politics catches up with the people. Momentum is building. Awareness is turning into demands for change, and those demands must in turn inform for whom we vote and allow to speak for us on the international stage.
If political leaders aren’t ready to take tough decisions, they must ask themselves where all the building hope and rage will be directed. DW