The spirit of Paris

While environmental considerations remain supreme within a climate context, the Paris Agreement has made it very clear that climate matters too for the economy as well as for the alleviation of poverty.

From left, President François Hollande of France; Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister; and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations during the climate change conference on Saturday in Le Bourget, near Paris
From left, President François Hollande of France; Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister; and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations during the climate change conference on Saturday in Le Bourget, near Paris

That the Paris Accord on Climate will go down as a game changer is a given. Even the World Bank President hailed the deal struck as such, since he not only felt that it would set the world on a new course of economic growth and cooperation but also that it would redefine what economic development means for the future. This can only happen if one and all ensure that the need to invest in a low carbon future is included in future plans for economic growth and lifting people out of poverty.

While environmental considerations remain supreme within a climate context, the Paris Agreement has made it very clear that climate matters too for the economy as well as for the alleviation of poverty. No wonder Nicholas Stern, the UK’s former top climate advisor, stressed that businesses around the world simply would have to take note. Paris was more than just a signal.

It gave a strong sense of direction on the urgent need of investing in a low carbon economy. The emphasis on economic growth was also evident in President Obama’s initial reaction to the deal when he stated that it would create more jobs and economic growth driven by low carbon investment. There were no losers to my mind in this complex and sometimes tiresome and tiring process.

But those who came out really on top must indeed be both UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. The UN SG had long been arguing that climate change is the defining challenge of our time.

From the resultant outcome one could tell that he literally meant what he said when he claimed that he has listened to the people – the young, the poor, the vulnerable, from every corner of the globe. And more importantly that ‘we’ have heeded their voices as was ‘our’ duty.

One topical and burning issue will remain the 1.5°C issue.

A pledge that even HH the Pope had emphasised strongly. Something that even the EU was hesitant to commit itself to when it drew up its strategy for negotiations last September. While many feared that it could be also operational to my mind it remains aspirational at this stage but the fact that there is such strong reference to it in the final accord, still gives it added gravitas. I am of the opinion that it was pivotal and key to helping gain the support of small islands and low lying countries, which risk being deluged by sea level rises if warming rises beyond that threshold.

I am equally satisfied that I have contributed in my own way to various initiatives in Paris at the invite of the EU Commissioner for Climate Change, Miguel Arias Canete, to engage with a number of these countries, Tuvalu and the Philippines among others, on the thorny issue of loss and damage.

But to be fair not only have scientists warned that the lower target will be hard to reach but even most economies – including those in developed countries and those in the so called BRIC area where the economies have a rate of growth often far in excess of what we are used to on this side of the globe – know that it can take years to achieve and will only come at a hefty economic and financial price. There should nevertheless be no room for complacency and all those engaged in the oil and coal industry would be committing a grave mistake were they to try and send out the type of signals that some are already sending out that they see no short term change in their strategies and policies.

Some even claimed that the accord is unlikely to change economic choices for big polluting industries in the short term. Those who are sober enough and strong willed enough to think outside the box must realise that the fossil fuel-based sectors are in actual fact faced by an existential threat and challenge from climate change and the expected and inevitable energy transition away from fossil fuels that is bound to happen. It is only the pace that remains questionable and worth exploring further.

This is why I intend to bring all stakeholders together on the island for a deep analysis of the multilateral, international, regional and national implications of the Paris Climate Accord on our island state. I am not implying that the changes will all happen overnight but greater heed must be given to two strategies – our green economy strategy and action plan as well as our low carbon development strategy that although still a work in progress, should be completed well ahead of the 2020 UNFCCC deadline by end 2017 and early 2018 at the very latest, following the most extensive consultation process.

All sectors need to be addressed for the change process to come about. Transport, heating, energy, lighting, and the provision of goods and services. The global economy needs to be weaned off fossil fuels whether by incentives or other measures. Research and development need to be stepped up in the non-carbon energy sectors. While on the other hand in spite of the dip in oil prices, the scientific and technical challenge remains that of the imperative need to drive down further the cost of alternative sources, particularly such renewables as solar etc.

That stakeholder involvement is a must is something I realised the moment the accord was reached. I am very pleased to note that even the eminent personality, Jeffrey Sachs, reached such a conclusion when he stated last Monday that the urgent long overdue challenge of implementation now begins. This according to him is, rightly so, not a job for diplomats – but for business leaders, engineers, financial managers and politicians.

Let us look upon Paris as a road map and yardstick as well as a legal framework with various obligations. Our duty is to rise to the occasion by showing the same momentum that so many countries showed when taking the accord on board, by giving proof of true commitment when we get to the implementation stage.

Bearing in mind that countries like China and India, together with the USA, are responsible for a sizeable chunk of global carbon discharges between them, the commitment eventually shown by all these countries together with smaller polluters, augurs well for the future. On the local front I am very confident that the partisanship that has often clouded most of our discussions and debates will be spared this ‘traditional’ tinge when we get round to further discussing climate issues and even more so, implementing climate friendly measures.

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