There’s been a lot of straight talking by political leaders, environmentalists, NGOs, indigenous people, all of them admitting to climate change and the critical and dangerous future that is ahead of us if nothing is done about it. The warnings have never been clearer, or the stories more powerfully told. And the answer to the problem is clear: stop the use of coal and other fossil fuels so that the planet will not warm 1.5 degrees more that pre-industrial times. If this is to happen developed nations, who have benefitted from industrial growth and contribute most to carbon emissions will have to financially support the developing world in their attempts at green environmental projects and prove this not just by words but by action.
For some people the resulting pact does not go far enough, for others it is a step on the way to future improvements around climate action and next year nations will have to report on their work in that direction. The disappointment has focussed on a last-minute change in what was the third version of the Cop Pact which substituted the commitment to phase out coal power to phasing down coal power. I’m sure this is important, and I wouldn’t want to downplay it in anyway, but I was struck my how amazing it is that 190 nations can spend two weeks in discussion and negotiations and work towards consensus.
I watched the last general session on television when the third version of the document was presented to the floor. While the President of the Assembly, Alok Sharma, obviously hoped that the report would be accepted, he was respectful to all those who wished to make interventions and thanked them for their contributions. Each one was listened to with great respect and patience. Many of the developing countries acknowledged disappointment with some of the wording, feeling recommendations were not strong enough, but they were willing to go with the report as it stood rather than obstruct its acceptance. All except India and China who were unhappy with phasing out coal, saying they had to mine their coal resource for the sake of an industrialisation that would lead to economic growth and the reduction of poverty. After all the western industrial nations, who were now calling for changes to carbon emissions, had already made use of fossil fuels for their own growth and development and had contributed more to the dangerous levels of carbon dioxide than developing nations. And so, there was further small group discussion to avoid India and China opting out altogether and bringing the whole process down. In the end there was a reluctant acceptance of the phrase ‘phase down’ coal rather than ‘phase out’ for the sake of the whole and the good of what else was in the report.
It is this watering down that has caused great disappointment and criticism but as Alok Sharma says, India and China will have to explain themselves to developing nations and Boris Johnston says it is the death knell for coal power. I do feel that the whole question of climate change will not go away. There is such a swell of public opinion, governments admit to its reality. We know we must all take it seriously and do our bit - and encourage one another in doing that. But I am left with a great respect for the United Nations. Again, I know it has its critics and no doubt there will be need for reforms but what an amazing organisation to bring together 193 nations to listen to one another, to work together for a common purpose. The world needs more of this. The European Union is also an attempt to get nations working together and while this means working slowly and sometimes compromise it is important that we hear and understand one another’s stories and share in caring for our common future and our common home. Thank God for an organisation such as the United Nations.