On 18 December 2016, a small group of people added a postscript to the Wellington Climate March by gathering in front of the French Embassy to hold a “celebratory demonstration” in honour of the positive outcome from the Paris climate change conference. Our efforts were graciously received by the French Ambassador. Below are the comments I prepared for the occasion.
Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has described climate change mitigation as the Everest of our generation. With the Paris Agreement, we just reached base camp. The Paris Agreement pulls 195 countries into a common legal framework for reducing emissions, and puts in place a clear, methodical long-term process for reviewing progress and increasing ambition over time. It strengthens channels for financial support, capacity building and technology transfer to help developing countries move more quickly toward low-emission development. It also opens the door to harnessing private-sector action through carbon markets.
This agreement has been more than 20 years in the making. Past attempts have failed, but from each failure countries have learned and have kept trying. Bringing 195 countries with very different priorities, capacities and needs into a common framework required enormous logistical effort and diplomatic skill. The leadership shown by the French presidency of the COP and the Secretariat made an enormous difference. But the credit for this success belongs to all the world’s countries – and not just their governments, but also the businesses, the NGOs, the communities and the individuals that have called for transformational change to safeguard our future.
As Professor Jonathan Boston at Victoria University has pointed out, scaling the Everest of climate change is not the work of one person. It is the work of all people. All of us are the Sir Edmond Hillaries of climate change. If we stay at base camp with the bold words of the Paris Agreement but nothing changes to our energy and land systems, the world could warm by 3-4 degrees C or more. If we climb to the target levels that countries have put forward so far, the world could warm by 2.7 degrees C. Reaching the summit of climate progress means achieving net zero annual emissions of greenhouse gases quickly enough to limit temperature rises below 2 degrees C.
What matters now is what all people do to reduce emissions within their sphere of influence: at home, at school, at work and in government. Solutions are available. Here in New Zealand, there are mitigation actions that all sectors can start taking now but we don’t yet have a clear map to guide our steps. This could take the form of a low-emission development strategy with cross-party support. It is time to gear up and begin the ascent.
To the French Presidency, I want to say, “Félicitations et merci!”
For the rest of us, it’s “Allons-y!”