The last time I can remember feeling like the peoples of the world were united in pursuit of a common good – was the Apollo 11 moon landing on 20 July 1969, a day before my 9th birthday. I was too young then to realise that the moon missions were a bi-product of the cold war and a space race between the USA and Russia. But despite that ugly political dimension, I think the curiosity of humanity was raised because it made us imagine what would it be like to be more than just gravity- and planet-earth-bound beings. The images of our blue marble planet in the midst of dark space became embedded in our collective consciousness.
Yesterday, 12 December 2015, was another day like 20 July 1969 – or at least it has the potential to be. It was the day 196 countries in the world came together to commit to lasting action to tackle climate change.
Any group of four friends or four family members that has to decide what film they are going to see (and what restaurant they are going to eat at afterwards) must surely know something of the challenge of collective decision-making and take their hats off to those 196 countries!
There have been big negative dates the world has had to be witness to – hiroshima, 9/11, the 2008 global financial crash. But, for me, that is all the more reason to celebrate the good ones.
But why is COP21 such a big deal when there are no legally binding agreements on countries to reduce CO2 emissions and the pledges currently on the table are expected by scientists to lead to devastating global warming of 2.7degrees?
- The agreement is the clearest ever mandate to every individual on the planet that they have a right to campaign for the world’s safe climate future.
- It is an agreement that gives each of us the right, if we choose to seize it, to become global citizens with a shared responsibility.
- The agreement gives substance and gravitas to the commitment to reduce global warming and marginalises climate change deniers.
If you choose to, you can use the COP21 agreement as your Global Environmental Citizen Passport.
I challenge you (and myself) to take your Global Environmental Citizen Passport and walk into any town or city council, any business or any institution and say:
“Look, 196 countries can agree we should be doing more to tackle climate change, what more can you do?”
And don’t budge till something concrete has been said or given or promised. Better still, get them to sign off on a pledge in your passport.
You don’t need to walk out branded some environmental radical. You have the leaders of most of the countries in the world behind you!
One of the disincentives to taking practical, green action at a local level has always been:
“Well, what does my little bit matter anyway? By the end of the month China will have built another 4 coal powered stations and belched another 878 million tonnes of CO2 into the environment. So why bother doing something myself that won’t make any difference?”
But that equation and excuse doesn’t work any more. Your little bit is part of a bigger plan in which China and other rapidly developing economies are also committing to reduce CO2. So we need to get on and do our bit. And help other countries do theirs too.
And before we get too self-righteous, thinking why we are having to support developing countries with their CO2 reduction, remember LS Lowry and his smoky northern city landscapes. We’ve already done our damage. We started the coal-powered industrial revolution so it’s right, and high time, we started clearing up after the party.
So what else can you do with your Global Environmental Citizen passport? Here are some ideas:
- Support research into environmental solutions. The world wars brought huge technological advances. We need the necessity of climate survival to focus our collective minds to crack thorny issues like how we store energy from the sun, sea and wind, so we can use it when we need it.
- Support your schools and universities to do more to mainstream environmental issues. They probably do loads already but as a parent or student I am sure they could always benefit from your increased time and endorsement.
- Support genuine green technology companies in your area. And seriously challenge those who are shirking green innovation by thinking they can get away with adding a bit of ‘green’ branding.
- Support the export and exchange of green technology and ideas – because climate is a global challenge and can only be supported by global thinking
- Campaign for, and support, Green Towns and Cities. We have become a highly urbanised world. This has its downsides but the big upside is that in large conurbations and buildings, you can implement intelligent, economy-of-scale solutions to capture heat and generate green energy that are big enough to make a big difference.
- Campaign for 12/12 to become Global Environment Citizenship Day in your community, company or, better still, country. Celebrate it, have fun and have ideas.
- The full UN agreement itself: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf