The sun sets behind the Eiffel Tower at the end of a warm, clear autumn day.

 

Saturday in Paris was one of those beautiful days of out of season warmth that begs the niggling question ‘should it really be this warm?’

 

1.5 degrees – the Eiffel Tower marks the successful conclusion of the COP21 conference, December 2015

Three years ago Paris was the focus of world-wide attention as the intergovernmental conference on climate change agreed commitments aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.  Today a major new report from the IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) sets out a stark warning: we’re not doing enough and time is running out. If current trends continue the world is heading towards a 3 degree rise by the end of the century, passing the 1.5° safety limit in only twelve year’s time.

 

Icebergs at the Pantheon and the arrival of the Pole to Paris team during COP21 December 2015

A few degrees here or there doesn’t sound much but on a world-wide scale keeping the rise in average temperatures to 1.5° rather than 2° could mean 50% less people exposed to severe water shortages, 10 million less people in danger from sea level rises, coral reefs saved from complete destruction and the risk of increasingly violent storms greatly reduced.  At 2 degrees continual warming would be locked in by permanent loss of polar ice.

 

Street art in Paris December 2015

If you’ve read this far you probably care deeply about the future of the planet and the future of humanity but what can we all do?  The IPCC report says that there must be rapid and significant changes in four big global systems: energy, land use, cities and industry.  Dr Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC offers some suggestions for personal action:

“This is not about remote science; it is about where we live and work, and it gives us a cue on how we might be able to contribute to that massive change.  

“You might say you don’t have control over land use, but you do have control over what you eat and that determines land use. 

“We can choose the way we move in cities and if we don’t have access to public transport – make sure you are electing politicians who provide options around public transport.”

 

people change not climate change
People change not climate change – street poster in Paris December 2015

Writer and environmental activist George Mombiot is clear that while individual choices are important the major shift in national policies that is needed demands political action:

‘We know what we need to do. Leave fossil fuels in the ground. Replace them in their entirety with cleaner energy technologies. Recognise planetary boundaries as the limits economic activity should not transgress. Set wellbeing as our goal, rather than growth.

‘This shift will not occur through buying different products or reducing the use of plastic bags, or any other form of voluntary consumer action, valid as these may be. It will occur only through political action.

‘What does this mean? Mobilisation on a massive scale…to put environmental breakdown at the front and centre of political life. We need to break through vested interests, denial and System Justification to force government action.

‘This is the fight of our lives. Yet most people have not yet acknowledged it, let alone joined it. So all those of us who have done so have a duty to recruit: to break the awkward silence and talk about the subject other people want to avoid.’

If you clicked on this post expecting a few relaxing photos of the Paris skyline you may feel you’ve been led off in a direction you weren’t bargaining for but I’m not going to apologise. That’s something I’m going to have to practise.