The following post was written by Sierra Wylie, one of our new UNAC-Vancouver website writers.
On November 30th, 151 world leaders will meet in Paris to temporarily put aside terrorism, ISIS, Republican presidential candidates and low commodity prices to focus on climate change. In the lead up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference 2015 (more frequently called COP 21), countries drafted plans for national emission reductions. This is widely seen as a constructive approach as past conferences where leaders would come together to attempt to make a commitment in 2 weeks may not have been as productive or binding as many would have hoped. The clear international commitment stands at preventing temperature rise from more than 2° Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
The UN began talks on climate change in 1995, and every year since nations have met to varying degrees of success in committing to more environmentally friendly policies. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol was then seen as a significant step in global acknowledgement of climate change, but its fifteen year obligation did little to curb emissions and limit temperature rise. The world therefore carries high hopes on the shoulders of ordinary citizens and politicians alike for what may come of COP 21. Protests have erupted across the globe in the days preceding the conference, ranging from hundreds of individuals breaking France’s state of emergency anti-protest ruling to Sydney’s 40,000 protesters marching for an end to fossil fuel usage and a real deal on climate change.
One significant challenge is that concerns over climate change and emissions are a rich man’s burden. Poorer countries will gain little (in the short run) by curbing emissions and pursuing cleaner technologies. In fact, in developing countries such as India, increased use of fossil fuels will be profitable. In 2013, Ecuador auctioned off 1/3 of its rainforest to China for oil drilling purposes, understandably causing severe opposition from environmentalists and local indigenous groups. Richer countries like Canada are subject to the democratic convention to consult First Nations and assess environmental impacts of energy projects in sensitive ecological zones, but this could be done to a greater extent. Even traditional “First world” countries fall below expectations when it comes to compromising between immediate economic benefits of supporting fossil fuels and the planet’s wellbeing. Countries have made promises and pledges left and right, but there is little tangible change applied to emissions.
Protesting members of the public are not alone in their stand against climate change. Prominent journalist and writer Naomi Klein has spoken out to a great extent about the global responsibility to act before her book’s title, “This Changes Everything” truly unfolds. President Obama has recognized the American position as the world’s second largest emitter (the largest emitter is China as of 2007), but clarifies that the United States is making significant strides towards carbon neutrality, and articulates the gravity of the situation in a powerful global call to action.
There have been small-scale efforts to encourage recycling and composting, using less water when washing clothes, promoting alternate ways of commuting to work, and on and on. These small changes may contribute minutely to lowering emissions, but for there to be real action against climate change, these changes must occur on a society-wide scale. The target of capping a temperature increase at 2°C sounds like positive momentum, but we have a long way to go. While a marginally warmer planet could have devastating effects worldwide, the financial benefits and modern practicality of fossil-fuels prevent us from truly changing our habits. Especially in the wealthy west, the world is accustomed to a certain way of life, dependent on non-renewable energy sources. Before we figure out how to overcome this dependence, there is not likely to be significant action on climate change.