COP21: The British government and institutions will have to take note

The global forces of science, of campaigning, of green business possibilities forced a move on the global stage that will have far-reaching ramifications.

On the streets of Paris on Saturday, as climate campaigners from around the world gathered, there was a buzz of excitement. It was a feeling that yes, finally, we were seeing genuine political commitment to match the leadership already being shown by campaigners and the public in calling for action on climate change.

The Paris deal is not perfect. Far more still needs to be done by the Western world to support emerging economies and poorer nations. Future work will have to ensure that action on climate change is delivered equitably across nations, genders, and cultures.

But what was generating that excitement, an excitement that all could appreciated, was the news that global leaders had understood and expressed the need to keep warming to 1.5 degrees – a figure better than anyone expected heading into the talks.

The leaders listened to environmental scientists, they assessed the possible impact of a 2 degrees rise, and they acted. Most importantly, they listened to the public who have long called for and demanded action. In Paris, those cries were heard.

The challenge of keeping to a 1.5 degrees rise gives us hope. It gives us hope that vulnerable small islands can yet be saved. It gives us hope that we can stabilise our warn-out, neglected planet.

Now we need to see the commitment put into action.

Globally, there’s not going to be – there can’t be – tolerance for foot-draggers, tolerance for countries failing to pull their weight, particularly tolerance for Britain, which has the highest historic emissions per head of any state.

After a year of disastrous environmental policy-making, on renewable energy and home energy efficiency, on transport and on green manufacturing, there’s going to be international pressure on the Cameron government to change its ways.

And that 1.5 degree warming limit puts a powerful new weapon in the hands of campaigners in Britain.

At a gathering of British climate campaigners on Saturday night organised by Friends of the Earth, the energy, commitment, and determination was evident.

The anti-fracking campaigners – now with more than 400 groups around the country, and bolstered by meetings in Paris with fellow campaigners from around the world (including those in Germany, France, Bulgaria and New York State who’ve won their battles) – are going to be pointing to that 1.5 degree global target and saying with even more power, “no fracking”.

The community energy campaigners who want their communities to power themselves, and keep the profits are going to be pointing to that 1.5-degree target and saying, “you need us”.

The anti-airport expansion campaigners who could already point out that expansion is not in line with our legally binding greenhouse gas emissions targets will be adding, “But what about 1.5 degrees?”

The campaigners fighting to preserve local bus services, essential for providing a real alternative to the individual motor car, will be saying, “these services are essential if we are to achieve the below 1.5 degrees target.”

Those fighting our disastrous factory farming system will be able to point to 1.5 degrees and say “this doesn’t add up”, while the growing pressure for investment in and support for agro-ecology approaches that work with nature, protect the soil and enhance biodiversity will be boosted.

Other institutions are going to be feeling the pressure too. University administrators are going to be faced with that indisputable, globally agreed figure of 1.5 degrees when they face divestment campaigners demanding they take their funds out of fossil fuel companies. Local council pension fund administrators when asked where their funds are placed will face the same pressure.

Usually, not much changes at international meetings. But in Paris, the global forces of science, of campaigning, of green business possibilities forced a move on the global stage that will have far-reaching ramifications.

Most international conferences are forgotten soon after the ink is dry on the communiques. Paris won’t be – and the British government and institutions will have to take note.

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