Talking Point: People create the climate for the good life

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THE Paris Agreement to tackle climate change officially entered into force this month.

This comes just after NASA declared 2016 the hottest year on record, at 0.91C above the global average temperature.

The agreement was concluded in December, 2015, to commit world leaders to limit the global temperature increase below 2C through national pledges, aiming for a maximum of 1.5C. Article 4 of the agreement calls for net zero emissions between 2050 and 2100. This has been called transformational, but the nature of the agreement, which allows countries to set their own non-binding targets, makes it difficult to achieve the transformation needed in a timely manner.

The national pledges made through Intended Nationally Determined Contributions are not legally binding and will see a catastrophic rise of 2.7-3C, but a review mechanism in the text is binding and calls for countries to ramp up pledges every five years from 2023.

The problem with Paris is that to achieve the target, global emissions need to be cut by 35 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide annually, but pledges made by 180 governments will see annual emissions at 60 gigatonnes in 2030.

This is compounded by the fact the agreement does not limit fossil fuel extraction. According to the 2014 report by the International Panel for Climate Change, fossil fuel and industrial processes were responsible for 65 per cent of annual global emissions in 2010. Yet Paris prioritises the interests of governments and the private sector over people and the environment.

The agreement is a turning point in global co-operation and a step in the right direction because it has placed a sense of urgency on the world’s governments.

Is it enough to achieve the kind of transformation needed to keep the planet safe?

The agreement allows extractive industries to continue with business as usual and provides them a chance to benefit from carbon markets.

Human activity has caused a 37 per cent rise in emissions between 1990 and 2015. More recently, the world had a growth spurt in carbon dioxide — a larger than average atmospheric increase between 2014 and 2015, with levels in the atmosphere expected on average to be above 400 parts per million in 2016. This has a raft of direct and indirect effects on human populations.

The UN is now calling for a new era of “climate change reality”. In a recent report, Beyond Coal, by influential development organisations, the argument coal is good for development has been shot down with proof that non-renewable energy can lead to greater poverty and injustice. The report says the global planned expansion for coal alone is enough to push climate change to catastrophic levels.

The need to find renewable solutions has been stated by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who argues that if extractive projects continue with business as usual, there are no prospects of limiting warming below 2C.

If we are to have a more sustainable and socially just world, governments need to act more on renewable energy industries like solar, wind and micro-hydro-electricity and other sustainable initiatives.

While government action is imperative, solutions must not only come from the top, they must be built at a local level.

Community solutions like the Latin American concept of Buen Vivir, which allows for alternative proposals through a local approach, could improve human wellbeing and environmental sustainability.

Buen Vivir, which roughly translates as “the good life”, is a non-market-centred approach to satisfy community needs through a participative democracy based on respect for the environment. Approaches like this will help tackle climate change issues head-on.

To achieve the good life we must move from the polluting extractive industries to a cleaner, more socially just society. It involves changing the way we look at the environment from a resource to be exploited to one that helps sustain life.

This is not just up to governments. People can help tip the balance through actions, attitudes and education in their community, social group and homes. People-led change does not hinge on ratifications and long-term dates, it starts now.

Natasha Chassagne is a PhD candidate with the Institute for Regional Development at the University of Tasmania. Her research is looking at Buen Vivir as a model to sustainable development.

Cross posted from Mercury: