What didn’t happen in Paris

The Paris agreement is important. But, it's just as important to note those elements that were dropped. Just how important Paris is, though, will be judged on what happens next.

What didn’t happen in Paris

It’s interesting when you hear of the world “holding its breath”, as President Hollande was quoted as saying on Saturday.

Whenever I hold my breath, in a few minutes I’m coughing and spluttering. Is this what he meant?

I sincerely hope the world does not cough and splutter towards climate change, because climate change at 2C doesn’t sound like a future where a lie down and a cup of tea will set it right. Three degrees of warming sounds apocalyptic.

So is that it then? Was everything put to rights in Paris? Can we now move on, safe in the knowledge that our respective governments won’t let domestic fiscal policy ruin a global plan for sustainable cooperation? Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Unfortunately, human affairs are never that clear cut, and this deal is no exception.

So, what wasn’t said?

Something nobody said conclusively was that the signatories would: “work towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century”.

The first draft said it, but the final draft doesn’t, meaning that we can assume at least one member held their breath longer than the others until it was changed. This is not that great when you consider that 2050 is only thirty odd years away.

Thus, we are promising the next generation warming. Just not three degrees.

Also, ships aren’t in there. I expected planes to be left out as, relatively speaking, it’s a new industry. But we’ve been shipping for a while now and I would have thought shipping needed to be addressed. There is still the question of why ‘stuff’ consumed in the West comes from so far away at vast planetary expense.

It would have been great if the COP 21 outcome was that someone like me could easily quantify the difference between a toy shipped from China and a toy made in Glasgow by seeing the carbon tax added to the transport fuel. I have always wondered what green beans from Kenya really cost out of season, to who and how? What is the real cost of eating food that has come half way around the world? But no, nobody mentioned a mandatory carbon tax in the final draft, though I am heartened by some people calling for it this morning as the world wakes up to the week post the signing of COP 21.

So, now what for the UK?

Let’s assume it’s all ratified nicely in Le Bourget in north-east Paris; but what consequence will ratification have for Shelley in Sheffield or Colin in Carlisle?

Let’s also assume that Shelley is already convinced that climate change mitigation and avoidance are something she aspires to. What will she see happen in the UK?

I hope she’ll see the UK Government confess to reckless cutting of vital subsidies for renewable energy just as they were starting to work. I hope she’ll hear them apologise for subsidising fossil fuel generation in the short term to top up the grid. I’m not going to hold my breath.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is an enlightened review of the complicated and confusing tax and benefit schemes for energy use. Perhaps the CRC, CCA, MER and ESOS schemes can soon become one, with one clear purpose and one administration governing their success.

Whilst it’s true business is talking about helping, business has never been very good as setting the bar high and ‘going for it’ because commercial drivers have taken precedence. Maybe that is the point.

If COP 21 tells us that everyone agrees climate change is going to be a barrier to commercial success, maybe business will be mobilised to sort things out?

One possible route for this to happen is via Governor Carney’s promised new Carbon Police, the ‘climate change disclosure taskforce’, who will politely point out to investors that the value of their investments will surely fall if they are in fossil fuel hungry businesses, but might flourish if placed in the ‘green’ economy.

As a company already putting into practice what we consider to be the best ways to tackle and deliver energy reductions and reap financial benefits, I really hope that we look back at Saturday 12 December 2015 as a milestone international agreement. Furthermore, I hope that I will see hard and fast practical measures resulting from that milestone.

The agreement is important – but what happens next is critical. Given the present Government’s early record in this area, maybe I should practice holding my breath for longer.

Jason Plent is managing director of Minimise Solutions

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