WHILE it was encouraging to see world leaders committing to the future reduction of their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions at the start of the CoP21 United Nations conference on climate change that took place in Paris over the past fortnight, lip service alone will not solve the problem and tangible, measurable actions must now follow if we are to have any hope of limiting the damage already done by mankind to the fragile planet of which each generation is only a temporary custodian.
The weekend before the conference, over 2,000 marches in 70 countries around the world, demanding global action on climate change, left the politicians in no doubt about what the people wanted. As the world leaders themselves put on a show of strength in Paris in the wake of the terrorist atrocities that occurred in the French capital on November 13th last, there was a sense that the scepticism that previously stopped many of them from buying into the urgency of taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from carbon fuels had, at long last, been replaced by a more open-minded attitude about what needs to be done and how urgent it is. The historic agreement, reached eventually last Saturday, after the negotiations went on an extra day over schedule, gave the world a long-awaited acknowledgement of the problem, coupled with a strong statement of intent to finally tackle global warming.
The complex deal agreed by their negotiators, while widely welcomed and with good reason, has also had some justified reservations expressed about how truly effective it will ultimately prove. It contains ambitious targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to try to limit the global temperature increase to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius, and hopefully nearer 1.5C, above pre-industrial levels.
Every country is obliged to report its emissions, and on progress made in cutting them, at five-yearly intervals, but there needs to be adequate follow-up and policing of it, as it relies heavily on the goodwill of all participants – the carrot rather than the stick approach.
Our former president, Mary Robinson, who is the United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change, deserves great credit for the groundwork she did in advance of and during CoP21 to achieve such a generally positive outcome from the talks. She has long fought for climate justice and, hopefully, the Paris agreement – with a fund set up by the richer countries to help developing ones – will have the desired effect of helping to lessen the impact of global warming on some of the world’s poorest countries and their people.
As for Ireland, we come under the EU umbrella, but we have a lot to do ourselves to mitigate the extra emissions that will come from increased agricultural production, over the next five years in particular, and there is no time to be wasted in stepping up to the mark what with our 7% annual rate of economic growth far outpacing that of the United States, China, the UK and all the rest of our EU partners. We could do with less of the poor mouth from the Taoiseach about our obligations and more action towards achieving them.