In less than a week, heads of states, scientists, students, religious leaders, regional and local politicians, and climate activists from over 190 countries will converge in Paris for the COP21 United Nations Climate Conference to make history. After 35 years of failing to listen to our greatest scientific minds and environmental activists, the world’s largest carbon emitting countries will commit to binding emission reductions, staving off the worst effects of climate change. With most of the world’s commitments already in place, we are now on target for a 3.5 degree C warmer world. Far below the catastrophic 8 degree C warming we were on track to hit by the end of the century, but still far above the 2 degree C UN agreed upon target needed to avert an unacceptable level of human suffering and climate tipping points. So is this the climate justice that activists and scientists have been championing from the frontlines on Pacific Islands and Alberta tar sands and prestigious Universities?
Far from it.
These commitments still lead to the displacement of millions of peoples from sea level rise, the continued spread of deadly tropical diseases, the acidification of our oceans and collapse of major fisheries, extensive wildfires and loss of pristine forests, human life, and property, the severe bleaching of precious coral reefs which provide the only protein source for over 1 billion people, and increased devastation of droughts, floods, and superstorms, all combining to drastically multiply national security threats and cause untold loss of human life. Yet despite the bleak future under this newly set climatic norm, this is an undeniable victory for the environment and our communities around the world. This is the first time that our governments have come together to commit to a low carbon world and avoid a climate catastrophe. The hundreds of thousands of hours of protest, community engagement, and climate activism have led to the formation of a movement that has shaped the course of human history, bringing together countries from every side of the globe, from every political spectrum to change the very future of our planet.
Thus in a week’s time, Paris will be the first climate battle to be won at the global scale. And this is a victory truly worth celebrating and be thankful for. But Paris is not the end all be all. We must continue to raise our voices and call for further action and not let this be the last say in reducing global carbon emissions. The emission targets may have been set for Paris, but the future of our climate and world remains uncertain. Our leaders must fight for transparency, enforcement, and equity, because without these tenets, the promised commitments are no better than the dozens of meaningless papers signed before them. We need transparency and enforcement to ensure that every country is meeting its emission responsibilities. Most importantly, we need to build in strong commitments for equity and environmental justice. This means the creation of a climate fund to provide developing nations and the frontline communities the technological and strategic resources needed to successfully adapt and mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change and allow these communities to leapfrog into clean renewably powered societies. This is what we must ask our governments to champion in Paris.
Above all, Paris gives us hope that we will be able to transform our economies and societies to tackle the greatest threat to our future generations and move us towards a just and equitable world for all.