This coming Monday the Paris climate change conference will begin. The event starts on Monday 30th November and is scheduled to finish on December 11th. This conference is a huge deal and will be attended by leaders including Barrack Obama, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin with many delegates from over 190 countries. Delegates will include energy ministers from each of the countries involved, press coverage is expected to be extensive with over 3000 journalists booked in for the event.
What is it all about ?
The United Nations want to reach a global agreement on how to tackle climate change, which means how do we stop global average temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels this century.
This meeting is an annual event under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), these events have been taking place since 1992 after the Rio Earth Summit. This is the 21st conference of the parties involved in the agreement, which is why it is formally known as COP21.
What is significant about this year’s event ?
The significance is the aim of this years conference, which is to reach global agreement on emissions which are known to effect climate change. Its such a hot topic because the last time this was attempted in Copenhagen in 2009, it ended in failure.
What is the UK contribution expected to be ?
This remains to be seen, however I’m not expecting the UK contribution to be any different from what we have already agreed. There is already legislation in the UK (the UK Climate Change Act) which pledges to reduce our emissions levels by 80% of 1990 levels by the year 2050, this would bring us in line with the overall aim of halting average temperature rise by 2 degrees.
But the UK contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is insignificant compared with other leading industrialised nations such as China, the U.S., Russia, India – even next to many under developed but over populated countries our greenhouse gas emissions are relatively low. (Yes, I agree we have been polluting since the start of the Industrial Revolution). But where the real work needs to happen at the conference is with these much larger pollution emitting countries, and with poorer heavily populated countries. So, it’s probably going to come down to some kind of deal involving money – how can the larger richer nations finance what needs to be done in the poorer countries where much of the problem is. Part of the problem is that poorer developing nations want to have what we in the west have enjoyed for a long term already which is relative economic prosperity (OK, maybe not the case since 2007) – but you get what I mean ? In order for developing countries to grow economically they have to invest, that means building new infrastructure, more production, more movement of goods and services – all of this needs energy and lots of it.
Exacerbating the problem is that the cheapest and quickest way to produce energy is to burn fossil fuels, which is compounding the problem. This is where investment is needed in these less well developed nations. Investment is required to introduce an energy mix which can sustainably power the energy needs of future generations. You can see from the map below, that many of the countries going into this conference have not yet even submitted how they are going to tackle the overall targets which have been set.
Is there anything else we should be encouraging our leaders to do ?
Of course there is, there is no room for complacency here and I’d encourage everyone to get involved in this important issue. I don’t think we can just sit back and wait for our government to do something, or wait for sea levels to rise until water is lapping by the side of our gardens. For me, the first thing we need to do is encourage our leaders to walk the talk. Making the shift away from a fossil fuels based economy to a low carbon one requires a complete shift in our way of thinking. Energy consumption is an inherent part across all aspects of our society, it encompasses Communities, Transportation, Building and Architecture, Industry and of course the electricity generation and transportation aspects.
The elephant in the room
Aside from the obvious areas of Community, Transportation, Building and Industry there is another obvious elephant in the room (or more appropriately cow in the room). The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimate that total emissions from the live stock supply chain account for 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic green house gas emissions worldwide – that’s a staggering 7.1 giga-tonnes (7,100,000,000 tonnes) of CO2 equivalent every year in emissions as a result of livestock production.
But has anyone ever heard our leaders in government talking about this at the top level ? All of the focus has always been on Transportation Efficiency, Carbon Footprint, Embodied Energy of Materials, Low Power Consumption devices, Renewable Energy but I haven’t really heard our leaders talk about the impact that livestock production is having on the environment.
Aside from the obvious exploitation and suffering that we impose upon other species due to the demand that we create for animal based feed products, the climate change argument to reduce livestock production and exploitation really is becoming more compelling. If you haven’t yet seen Cowspiracy, I’d encourage your to take look (and organise screenings in your local community to socialise this important issue).Checkout Cowspiracy at Cowspiracy.com
So what should we expect as a sign of success of the Paris summit ?
National emissions pledges – We should expect all 190 countries to make pledges or statements describing how they are going to contribute towards the average 2% reduction … and wouldn’t it be great if they also said by when they were going to enshrine these commitments into law in their own country ?
Money – We should expect to see a statement by leading industrialised nations describing how they are going to Finance a move to renewables / low carbon impact based power production in developing nations.
Efficiency – Renewables have a big impact to play, but we can all get much more efficient about how we use energy. I’d expect to see legislation limiting the ability of manufacturers to create high power consumption massed produced devices for our homes e.g. I’d expect to see legal limits on power that devices in our home can consume such as televisions, hoovers, washing machines, fridges and so on. With efficiency its all about scale. If we can stop rampant power consumption in billions of household devices this will be a good contribution. I’d also expect to see power taxes on heavy industry, we can’t penalise the individual and leave the big boys out.
Overall long term goal – An overall statement by the United Nations describing how they are going to meet the 2% target by the end of this century (2100).
Accountability – There should be a mechanism to hold individual countries to account if they fail to meet commitments.
Whether or not we finish the summit with these things in place, lets see. I’m always optimistic but I well understand the difficulties and challenges faced. Either way, climate change action shouldn’t stop on December 11th when this summit concludes. As Vegans and Vegetarians lets continue to raise awareness of this important issue, become involved in our local communities and speak up – if not for the animals then at least for the climate.