Tuesday 25 October 2016

Climate deal in Paris may be a game-changer - and Ireland must step up and play its part

Published 27/11/2015 | 02:30

People put the final touches to an installation for the ‘Paris de L’Avenir’, a showcase for climate solutions ahead of the World Climate Summit, in front of Paris City Hall
People put the final touches to an installation for the ‘Paris de L’Avenir’, a showcase for climate solutions ahead of the World Climate Summit, in front of Paris City Hall

I believe there is going to be a climate deal done in Paris in the next two weeks and there is a real possibility this could be a moment when the path of history turns.

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How will we know if it is the right deal? One of the signs will be whether it includes more than just the commitments that have already been given to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

If there is to be any justice in this turning point, then there will have to be long-term financing to help developing countries pick up the pace of their own transition.

There will also have to be a commitment to help countries to adapt to the climate change that is already inevitable, and some provision for the losses and damage that we know this is going to cause.

The second big test will be whether the deal provides for a new regime, which allows for ongoing assessment and revision of targets as progress starts to take shape.

This is a deal which has to have a material outcome in the real world. If business and other political operators sense that we are serious, then the level of change that is possible is going to surprise everyone. If we agree to come back in 2020 to ramp up ambition as part of a new pledge and review process, then we might be on the right track.

This could be a moment where political leadership takes over and goes further than the administrative system thought possible. Such leadership might be possible, because any rational analysis will show that all the main players coming to the table have something to gain. US President Barack Obama has staked his legacy on getting a positive outcome. He spent the first seven years of his administration fracking the hell out of North Dakota, but in the last year he has said 'no' to drilling in the Arctic and to a new oil pipeline from Canada - and yes to higher power plant standards, which shut out coal.

It looks like he can do a deal in Paris which is strong enough to have real substance, but which is legally crafted to avoid giving 'flat earth' climate deniers in Congress the opportunity to hold the rest of the world to ransom.

What helps Obama is that the Chinese, and to a lesser extent, the Indians, are also on board. Their absence was one of the main reasons that the former Kyoto climate agreement fell short.

It now makes sense for China to act because their own people are choking on the fumes from their coal-fired power stations.

Meanwhile, the Indian prime minister was elected to office on the promise of starting a whole new solar energy revolution. The two countries have already pledged between them to install twice the current global capacity of wind and solar power in the next 15 years.

But this leaves the European Union in a precarious position. Having been a global leader in climate action for decades, we risk falling behind - just as the race starts to get interesting.

We could end up buying in low-carbon software from the US and cheaper hardware from the East, due to the lack of development of our own green industrial base.

The union has been battered by a financial and refugee crisis, and Paris is clearly in a state of shock after the recent terror attacks.

Who knows what effect that will have on the negotiating teams, but perhaps there will be an understanding that getting agreement on a big multilateral international deal is the best way of defeating those people who would prefer us to live in a more fearful, divided and dangerous world.

A series of 'People's Climate Marches' are being planned around Ireland and across the world.

There are two reasons to turn up. Firstly, to make the case that international agreement and not war is what we need now, and secondly, to highlight the shameful record of our current Government when it comes to climate change.

If our country is to live by any moral code then we have to play our part. The campaign groups behind the marches have made 'keeping fossil fuels in the ground' the focus of their immediate campaign.

That means the closure of our peat and coal-fired power plants and saying no to fracking for gas. It would be a disaster for our country if the rest of the world set off on this path and we decide to stay behind.

Eamon Ryan is leader of the Green Party and former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Irish Independent

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