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We've Ratified The Paris Agreement - Another Reason To Be Cheerful

22/11/2016 12:22

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Despite impressions, there are a fair few reasons to be cheerful about the fight against climate change.

Now there's another one: the UK has ratified the Paris Agreement. This is a critical step in the battle to prevent climate change from pushing people deeper into poverty. It's another example of the momentum behind an Accord which is a testament to the leadership role the UK and others have taken on the issue.

Ratification provides an opportunity to appreciate how far we've come. Paris was an unprecedented achievement - 197 countries overcoming vested interests to provide an unambiguous direction for the future of the world economy. This achievement has only been exceeded by the pace at which the Agreement has been ratified by countries, thus coming into force years quicker than comparable treaties. If we're not prepared to recognise the scale of these victories then we will struggle to maintain the momentum. We will lack the necessary energy for upcoming battles.

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And those battles are huge. Only days after Paris entered into force, we were presented with the risk of the world's second biggest polluter withdrawing from the Agreement or at least frustrating its purpose by refusing to play ball. The necessity of diplomacy shouldn't blind us to the risks of the US absconding from its moral duty towards the world's poorest communities.

Obstacles have arisen on this side of the pond too. Recent moves by the government threaten our reputation as a climate leader. Yes, the UK has made significant strides following the beacon that was the Climate Change Act 2008. The fifth carbon budget and plans to phase out coal - the fossil fuel which still contributes to 50% of worldwide emissions - offer great hope. Yet policy changes are jeopardising the growth of renewable energy, right at the time when continued investment would bolster the fight against climate change and unlock huge economic potential.

Our greatest adversary is time. Having been at COP22 in Marrakech this week, it's clear that everyone recognises we need to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels to prevent the poorest nations being lost to the sea. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy has been apace but we are running out of time.

The picture might seem grim but momentum is on our side. Paris is insufficient, though it's a hugely significant step and the wind is in our turbines. The Agreement's mechanism for reviewing commitments every five years provides enormous peer pressure for ratcheting up the momentum.

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As US Secretary of State John Kerry has noted, this is largely down to tectonic economic shifts. The cost of solar and wind power in Mr Kerry's country has plummeted 80% and 60% respectively since 2009, while onshore windfarms are now the cheapest way of producing electricity in the UK. Employment in the renewable energy sector is growing and already outstrips the number of jobs in the coal industry. Smart money is moving and stranded assets await financial dinosaurs who stick with fossils.

These shifts aren't confined to developed countries. CAFOD and our friends at organisations such as the Overseas Development Institute and Christian Aid have shown how off-grid renewable energy is the safest, cleanest, cheapest and most reliable way of ending energy poverty. Even the boss of the World Coal Association agrees. This is what the richest countries should be supporting, along with measures to boost energy storage capacity and technology; not wasting taxpayers' money on fossil fuel projects.

The Catholic Church has been at the forefront of the momentum behind the Paris Agreement, with millions of people responding to Pope Francis's clarion call. The Pope's letter to the world, Laudato Si', was lauded by heads of government at the Paris conference and inspired CAFOD supporters to walk and cycle to Paris and take to the streets with thousands of others. The Church is also spearheading the divestment and reinvestment movement and putting its money where its pulpit is, with thousands of churches switching to renewable energy.

What more is there to do? The momentum is clear but we must navigate roadblocks ahead. We need to use the most valuable currency on the market: votes. People power is the greatest energy in the fight. The vast majority of people are in favour action on climate change - 79% of people in the UK support renewable energy - but there are still too many people who aren't engaged in an issue that affects us all.

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So, let's talk to those people, have conversations with friends, family and colleagues. Inform and inspire people. Switch to renewable energy in our own homes. Write and speak up to our MPs, giving them the courage to lead on the most critical issue facing humanity.

Above all, don't lose hope. If we do, we lose the war and we betray the world's poorest people. Let's redouble efforts like never before. Let's win the fight.

Neil Thorns is Director of Advocacy at Catholic aid agency CAFOD

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