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From Paris promises to happily ever after

In 2015, five years before the tumultuous year of 2020, the world-famous capital of France forever gained its place in the climate conversation: the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Paris, for many, holds an endearing space in their memory or a spot on their travel wish list. For those who hope to visit, the postcard-perfect destination is the iconic Eiffel Tower. For those who have walked its historic streets, perhaps the Pompidou Centre, Père Lachaise or Notre Dame Cathedral. Not as commonly associated with the city of love is one of the world’s most significant climate change moments…

© Fabrizio Verrecchia / Unsplash
The Paris Agreement commits national governments to take action in response to the climate crisis.
A very big promise

Much like a romantic gesture in a blossoming relationship, the Paris Agreement was a landmark moment of international unity. With agreement under the United Nations climate conference from 194 nation states, it was a dramatic courtship with a big flash of affection and on-paper commitment.

But how do we ensure this initial show of promise is not where the climate love story stalls?

We need Paris to be more than a fleeting romance in response to the climate emergency.

Stand up for what is right

As with most romances, the reality of the hard work required in a relationship soon starts to set in…

A few years after the initial courtship and the official agreement signed in 2016, a young girl from a Nordic country quietly garnered global attention. Many young climate activists had raised the call before her, and many have followed including South Africa’s Ayakhya Melithafa, but perhaps it was the stoic stillness of this Nordic school girl that stood out? She protested silently in front of Stockholm’s parliament in August 2018. This girl, Greta Thunberg, had a homemade sign stating the reason for her strike from school – a call for urgent climate action. She reignited the global climate love story.

Some countries were already starting to share their climate intentions by setting targets to reduce their carbon emissions. But were they bold enough to enable a climate-safe foundation for a shared future?

© Markus Spiske/ Unsplash
Greta Thunberg is one of many who have been protesting for climate action over the years.
Stay the course

In early 2020, the Greta Thunberg climate show was trumped by the arrival of the unpredicted coronavirus, which monopolised headlines and the world’s attention.

So how do we keep the #ParisPromises of our global village alive amidst competing priorities?

If organisations wish to have a consumer-appealing competitive edge, they should address the challenge of reducing climate-related impacts. They should aim towards excellence in executing climate actions and solving the stalemate in the business-as-usual climate sphere.

But how do we enable national governments, municipalities and businesses to own their part in the great puzzle of reducing carbon emissions? And what is due and from who, and how?

Moving from romantic promises to lifelong positive relationships brimming with action, mutual respect and consistent behaviour, let’s break it down to the letters of the alphabet. Climate action – like many relationships – isn’t quite as easy as ABC. There are a few more letters involved...

© Jonathan Kemper/ Unsplash
Nature-positive, low or no emission solutions are already in existence.
Play on the same team

ABC: The science clearly shows that we need to drastically reduce our collective greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 to keep the Earth’s climate below dangerous levels of warming. To do this we need all Paris Agreement signatories to make adequately bold national commitments. And within each country, entire municipalities and businesses need to take climate action too.
Fossil fuels
DEF: We need a low-carbon climate-resilient economy. The burning of coal and other fossil fuels release carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gasses. These, together with waste rotting on landfills and some industrial processes like cement manufacturing, contribute to increased warming of our planet. This has dangerous knock-on effects to the climate causing more frequent wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, heat waves and drought. We need to switch to clean energy, keep coal in the ground and stop removing natural vegetation which absorbs carbon dioxide.

​Take it to the next level

GHI: An agreement is just the beginning; next we need action. The Alliances for Climate Action is a bottom-up initiative to bring different local organisations together to deliver on the Paris promises. Such alliances are unfolding around the world, with six so far and more on the way. Alongside Argentina, Japan, Mexico, the USA and Vietnam, South Africa has a local alliance with a growing network of committed local organisations stepping up to the challenge. By collaborating on shared initiatives around built infrastructure and low-carbon freight solutions, alliance members can do more than acting alone.

© WWF South Africa Lorren de Kock
The South African Plastic Pact is an example of a collaborative initiative towards a common target.
Share a common goal

Job creation
Low-carbon economy
JKL: In the move towards a low-carbon economy, we must invest in the development of new jobs and the transfer of skills and knowledge as climate-smart technologies and opportunities emerge. For example, renewable energy is a well-established solution and already cheaper than coal-based electricity.

MNO: The Alliance for Climate Action South Africa is calling on forward-thinking businesses, big cities and small towns to work together towards a low-carbon climate-resilient future that is positive for people and our economy. The alliance supports members to pursue collaborative initiatives in the transport and built environment sectors, which unlock opportunity for the members too.

© WWF South Africa
2050 might seem far off, but so did 2030 a few years ago.
A lasting commitment takes continuous effort

PQR: As in a relationship where it takes the effort and commitment, so each country signed to the Paris Agreement should deliver their share of global reductions – which each country decides on as a ‘nationally determined contribution’ or NDC. These NDCs can voluntarily be renewed every five years – with 2020 as the first five-year window. Amidst this intense year of the coronavirus hitting every country around the world, most countries have not prioritised renewing their climate commitments and an extra year to do so – until 2021 – has been granted. Yet, the clock is ticking. South Africa, along with most other countries, need to substantially raise their targets and tighten their timeframes – and business regulations – towards endorsing and incentivising planet-friendly solutions soonest.

Don’t rely on chemistry alone

STU: Companies can set individual targets that will reduce emissions – especially in high-emitting sectors such as energy, transport, infrastructure, food production and even the plastics value chain. There is a WWF-supported initiative called Science-based Targets which is one of the climate actions for members of the Alliance for Climate Action. The time is now for countries and companies to take bold action with setting targets and working collaboratively to achieve them.

© WWF South Africa
Climate change will require great commitment from many – it is everyone’s problem.
The time is now

VW: We can always learn from others. Wisdom comes from both observation and understanding. In relationships, and in our response to the climate crisis, there is much to learn from those around us.
XYZ: Where X marks the spot, where we are now, we must move towards net-zero carbon emissions with haste. Before it is too late. The time for Paris was five years ago, the relationship must now grow!

© City of Joburg
From transport-using individuals to emission-emitting organisations, we all have a way of taking climate action.
Keeping the climate love alive

In this crazy year of coronavirus scares and spikes and live events being postponed or cancelled – including the UN climate summit – climate action has slipped from our news feeds.

Yet the crisis of rising temperatures and extreme weather events continues.

We mustn’t let the romance fade, the climate love must be kept alive.

The #ParisPromises must be upheld even in the hardest of times – nay, especially in the hardest of times. They also need to advance. Especially while important leadership brains trusts are planning to restore economies and services, better than before. Part of that ‘better’ must be what’s best for all people – and the whole planet.

As it is with the rapidly resurging coronavirus pandemic, the climate action clock is also ticking…

What will the unfolding of this climate action story be?

Sue Northam-Ras Photo
Sue Northam-Ras, Communications Manager: Environmental programmes

Sue believes in making information valuable by writing and shaping content in a way that gives it meaning. She packages the environmental content for WWF South Africa.

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