A few months ago, new friends of ours came to visit for dinner. So shocked were they by the squat television in our living room that they insisted we accept a flat-screen version they had going spare.
Now, I’m usually of the ‘use it until it wears out’ school when it comes to my possessions and I was quite fond of the old box we had – its colours were still fine, it did its job. It was far from obsolete.
Thankfully, amazingly, over 250 senior faith leaders across the world have added their names to this combined call for urgent action on climate change. I’m flying to New York for 50 hours on the ground to witness the formal handover of this joint statement to the current President of the United Nations General Assembly.
One of my vivid boyhood memories is of scrambling amongst granite outcrops of the Canadian Shield in the shimmering heat of a July afternoon.
I emerged from the forest into mottled sunshine and stretched out on flat, lichen-covered rocks, high above the black waters of a quiet lake. Stately white pines touched the sky. Underfoot was a cushion of sharply perfumed pine needles. The air was calm.
Graham Romanes has had a deep connection with the people of Ethiopia over many decades and now leads the NGO WellWishers. He writes:
“I was very privileged to visit Tigray at the end of November to inspect 10 of the well sites in our 64 wells program for 2015. The program is on target to finish construction of the 64 wells by the end of January 2016. The number of Ethiopian villagers who will now have fresh, clean, safe and accessible drinking water for the first time is over 17,800. A fabulous contribution made by WellWishers supporters to the lives of so many people.
It took 21 years of bureaucratic wrangling to transcend tactical boycotts and get everyone to the starting blocks. If nothing else, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) twenty-first conference of parties (COP21) can take credit for a full house.
Talks have often been fraught with tension: negotiations at COP6 at The Hague in 2000 broke down and talks were rescheduled for 2001 in Bonn; COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 collapsed in disarray without agreement.
What was unthinkable is now unstoppable – Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General
His quote resonated among the many speeches that followed French President Francois Hollande’s announcement that we now have a new global understanding on climate – the legally binding Paris Agreement.
Following Copenhagen 2006, it was unthinkable 196 nations would voluntarily sign up to the world’s first global agreement to work together on climate change in good faith, with 189 lodging Intended Nationally Determined Contributions INDCs before Paris.
Yet it’s important to state plainly that the net contribution of all INDCs now in hand still commit the world to 2.7-3 of warming, so we are not out of the woods yet, but at least we are starting to take it all seriously…
By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.
But no matter what, the Paris Agreement does mark a turning point, and sends by far the strongest signal yet to banks, investors and industry. One might ask where they have been looking in the past decade if they haven’t already read the signals. Has it been gross negligence or haven’t they read their own disclaimers that past performance should not be taken as an indicator of future returns on fossil fuels? How can it be that they’ve wilfully ignored the risk of stranded assets?
“This marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground. The text should send a clear signal to fossil fuel investors: divest now.”
Discussions at the Paris climate talks take place within incredibly narrow parameters. In fact, it would not be too great an exaggeration to say that the summit’s main purpose is to send the private sector a message about which way it should steer its future investments.
The financial press tends to be the most explicit on this point. The Financial Times, for instance, described the purpose of the Paris summit like this:
Investors will need to be persuaded that governments are going to make it easier for them to make money from a new electric bus system or a wind farm rather than a highway or a coal power plant.