The temptation is to mark another year in the climate change debate by citing the latest evidence of global warming; more frequent weather extremes with consequent devastation in pockets around the globe. The passing of 2014, nonetheless, should be noted for the emergence of an undeniable consensus on impact of carbon pollution; more clear-cut evidence that irreversible impacts loom a lot sooner than anticipated and a greater collective understanding that a response in the best interests of the planet needs to be co-ordinated across every state of the developed and developing world.
Yes, we limped to a deal in Lima on a possible way forward helped by the momentum of more meaningful commitments announced by the US and China in November. But it helps set the agenda for 2015, when we should commit to bringing an end to 20 years of tortured and largely failed negotiations on climate change – by way of action, not mere sign-up. A gathering in Paris by year's end must draw the line and mark agreement on a multiplicity of actions that ultimately turns the temperature down.
A new form of collective action where powerful and wealthy countries take the most radical measures; where giant polluting economies commit to de-carbonise, and all help developing countries make their contribution is needed – with special protection of the world’s most vulnerable communities who invariably are most exposed to the worst effects of climate change. It has to come with an agreed transparent methodology in measuring emissions. Investing in renewable energy sources, despite a collapse in oil prices, will be an important indicator of commitment.
Political uncertainty, unrest and conflicts across the globe suggest there might not be grounds for optimism for an international agreement on anything, and even more so on a global deal among some 190 countries that will bring inevitable economic pain before the possibility of seeing off an environmental catastrophe.
But as Naomi Klein contends in her most recent book 'This Changes Everything' progress may be possible if driven by a great alliance of grassroots movements that are environmentally focused. She contends it has to go beyond the realms of a dominant neoliberalism and preserving a globalised carbon-hungry market fed by high-consumption that is facilitated by mega-mergers and monopolistic multinational corporations that are more powerful that major states.
[Her proposals for what she calls “a politics based on reconnection” involve real, ordinary, active humans, working in properly modern, complex societies. Green industries, such as generating renewable energy, and public transport, are all much more labour-intensive than their fossil-fuel equivalents. “Climate action is in fact a massive job creator as well as a community builder and source of hope,” she believes.]
There are many options that will slow global warming and don't require drastic government regulation that ultimately will bring economic benefits. In addition, Ireland is in a strong position to contribute globally on the critical food production front, notably by improving the science around the generation of crops that are significantly less dependent on carbon.
Minister for Energy Alex White said after Lima that Ireland was accelerating its actions to combat climate change. It was playing an active part in meeting collective EU targets and global aspirations for reduced carbon emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy, afforestation, improved agricultural practices, and financial support for developing countries.
Long overdue Irish legislation to counter climate change and to add substance to such broad commitments is imminent. The Bill will “provide the statutory framework for transition to a competitive, low-carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050”, the Government insists. If that is so, the time has come for binding target dates to be at its core. This bill, by some distance, will be the most important to come before the Dáil and Seanad this year, and potentially for decades to come.