There are many shortcomings a committed climate hawk (of which, I am one) could find with the COP21 Paris agreement. There is no legally binding commitment to reduce climate pollution, for example. But the agreement is nonetheless a landmark event. All the countries of the world have signed up to an agreement to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees centigrade, ideally 1.5C. This effectively signals the end of burning fossil fuels sometime this century.
As Eric Beinhocker, Chief Director of Oxford’s Institute for New Economic Thinking, said today, the Paris agreement means the global conversation has moved from debate about whether we should do something about climate change, to how we are going to limit warming. This is progress, even if we are pressed for time to get agreement on the how, because we probably needed to be at this point 15 or 20 years ago.
Beinhocker was the keynote speaker at the OECD’s 4th annual Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum, which I attended this week on the Monday following COP21. His message was simple and stark: the math says to achieve the goal of the Paris agreement, we need to be net carbon zero by 2040 at the latest.
That means we have around 20 years before we can add no additional greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.
Given the long life of most energy and transport infrastructure, he and his colleagues at Oxford have looked at a carbon budget that would get us there in time. It requires from 2017 (now, basically) all of our new energy infrastructure projects to be net zero carbon.
This must be the age of renewables, and all the legacy projects conceived in the past need to be chucked out in favour of projects that will reduce carbon pollution. From next year, energy policy and investment in infrastructure must reduce greenhouse pollution.
In New Zealand, the National Government has reacted to the Paris agreement by saying everything is sweet, no need to change course. This is madness. It is inconsistent with the maths. National’s policies and infrastructure are continuing to lead to an increase in pollution, which is completely inconsistent with meeting the Paris goal.
Another speaker at the forum, Jan Rotmans, from the Dutch Institute for Transistions at Erasmus University Rotterdam, said he had stopped using the word “green”. Post the Paris miracle, he said, there is only the Old Economy and the New Economy. The fossil fuel economy will not survive.
The Green Race is on, as Sir Nicholas Stern said, and it will be bigger than the industrial revolution. But in New Zealand, National’s policies on transport, energy, housing and buildings, even most of the Business Growth Agenda, have locked us in the starting blocks of the old economy.
The Green Party will continue to champion the New Economy. Will you help us?