COP21: an agreement, a promise for a better future?

COP21 and Ignace Schops © Don MacMonagle

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For the first time, humanity witnessed a world agreement on climate change. 196 countries agreed on limiting their emissions to “safe levels” – 2C with an aspiration of 1,5C – as scientists announced “2C as the limit of safety beyond which the effects – droughts, floods, heatwaves and sea level rises – are likely to become catastrophic”. Furthermore, developed nations committed on providing financial support to less developed countries, affected by climate-related disasters.

“We are currently losing our comfort zone and if we don’t act it is too late” stated Ignace Schops, EUROPARC President. Having a global agreement is not a recent aspiration, although climate change has been in the media agenda during the past months more than it ever did. Since 1992, the United Nations have been warning countries, people and businesses about the irreversible effects of global warming, but rather unsuccessfully. After a disastrous attempt on having an agreement, in Copenhagen 2009, the expected commitment came to be in December 12th, in Paris COP21.

Should the agreement be seen as a real promise for a sustainable future? In fact, flak have been raised after Paris announced the agreement, describing it as “insufficient for poor countries” and “not strong enough (in a scientifical point of view)”. Others point out it is too vague and dismissing important polluters such as aviation and shipping, “but we need to give the governments the benefit of the doubt. At least for a short period of time…” says Igance Schops in his interview (see below).

On EUROPARC behalf, we believe Protected Areas play a vital role on climate change mitigation and adaptation and for that, we were also present at COP21. “All ecosystems store approximately 50% of all the carbon emissions and Protected area’s in particular store 15%.”, says Ignace Schops. The Federation will keep on working side-by-side with Protected Areas, raising their voice at an european level and creating together solutions for climate change mitigation within PAs.

Interview with Ignace Schops, president of EUROPARC Federation, about the COP21 agreement.

Climate change, is this something to care about?

Of course! Climate Change is the biggest challenge humanity ever had! Due to the emission of too much greenhouse gasses since the industrial revolution we now see a shift: the global temperature raised to 0,8°C and because of this global warming the amount of flooding’s, hurricanes, drought periods, …  increased tremendously. With thousands of deaths and enormous costs. Without action, we are heading towards 4-5°C, were 70% of all life on earth will extinct, sea levels will rise to over 6 meter and where we as human beings will be on the brink to extinction!

We are currently losing our comfort zone and if we don’t act it is too late. Too late!

Can you tell me in a nutshell what the outcomes are of the Climate Agreement in Paris?

Well,  with the approval of the Climate Agreement, 196 countries recognize that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to humanity and the planet. Global warming should not exceed 2 ° C, preferably not more than 1.5 ° C. Moreover the peak of the global emissions has to appear as soon as possible (~2020) and the developing countries will get at least $ 100 billion dollars as of 2020. To evaluate and to adjust, there will be an assessment every five years? And above all: the agreement is legally binding.

I would say this is a beginning of a process that will lead into the complete ban of fossil energy, preferably close to 2050. So we have an agreement where everybody is on board. That’s different from Copenhagen. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating! Besides the big statements, we need to see an urgent and radical shift towards renewable energy and a reduction in carbon emissions! And rightfully so, there are some doubts and concerns within this agreement. Aviation and shipping are not taking into account in this agreement and scientists doubt we can stay under the 2°C threshold with this agreement. And also I have doubts. But we need to give the governments the benefit of the doubt. At least for a short period of time (laughs).

Can protected areas play a role in the climate change debate?

Most certainly! All ecosystems store approximately 50% of all the carbon emissions and Protected area’s in particular store 15%. For free! So, there is a huge opportunity for protected areas to come into the climate debate! Just look at het abandoned land – estimated nowadays at 2 billion hectares. With smart planning and e.g. (re)forestation, we can reduce global warming a lot! I would say: give space to nature to give space to ourselves and the future generations.

But ultimately and most certainly, all greenhouse gasses need to disappear as soon as possible! Preferably as close to 2050! And we need to shift to renewable energy, immediately, if not tomorrow! It is possible, it is doable, it brings millions of jobs … it makes the world a better place and in an atmosphere we can live in harmony with!

You were at the COP21 in Paris. Was it useful to be there? Lessons learned?

Oh yes, it was not only useful, it was essential! All world leaders and world institutions like UN, World Bank, IMF, the EU … ask for integration of policies and we tend to stay far away from this. As if this is not our business. I can tell you, the support and feedback we can give and the appreciation we get of climate related organizations is empowering both movements and show we can even be stronger together!

Be maybe the most important lesson is this: there is a big difference between word and action. We are not what we say, we are what we do! Let’s hope that the big impressing words of all the world leaders will be followed by a fast and sustainable systemic changes towards a new fossil free world where we, our children and all the species on earth can have healthy a place to live! Forever!

Think globally, act locally and change personally!