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COP21: Is a Major Societal Shift This December Possible?

By: Robert Hall

By Robert Hall, GEN Europe President

I did not have so great expectations when the climate negotiations of COP15 was held in Copenhagen. GEN was there in a big way and set up camp in Christiania, the famous community in the centre of the Danish capital. My son did go, perhaps hoping that Barack Obama would demonstrate commitment to his election promise of “change”. It was way too early in the historical context for society to realise it took the wrong path. Climate change was still questioned then by a large section of the population, mainly because accepting it, or rather the consequences of it is so painful.

Autumn 2015 however things are different. Only duped out-of touch eccentrics still question climate change as the fact it is. Naomi Klein in her book “This Changes Everything” shows that even the high-profile professional climate deniers are simply playing well-paid theatric roles they do not necessarily believe it. So we should expect a huge shift in Paris this December. Anything else is quite frightening, more frightening than accepting that the basis of our economy, energy production, taxation system, education establishment, agriculture, etc must change radically and swiftly. The indecision at Copenhagen has cost us six years of swing room we no longer have.

While the need for a powerful Paris Agreement on Climate Change is obvious, practically creating a legally-binding agreement to be implemented from 2020, the first since such enforceable commitment since the failed Kyoto Protocol created at COP3 in Japan is not going to be easy.

On September 11, a 5-day round of official negotiations on hammering out the actual text of the agreement text finished in Bonn without noteworthy progress. How can 195 countries and one bloc (the European Union) agree to cut carbon emissions by at least 70% by the year 2050, the only way to stay well below 2°C average increase in temperatures. We already know that such a limited increase will cause unimaginable suffering globally. Perhaps the difference from Copenhagen is that all countries are submitting so-called Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UN by October 1. These INDCs include both mitigation measures to reduce greenhouse gases but as well adaptation measures to deal with the unavoidable effects of global warming. The agreement is to include a package for finance, capacity building, and technology development and transfer, following a five-year cycle for both mitigation and adaptation.

What does Global Ecovillage Network, and more specifically GEN Europe hope to accomplish by participating in COP21 in Paris? At COP21 – the abbreviation for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties – the European Union is participating as a consolidated block with a common position. GEN Europe as a European-wide network of the most dedicated practitioners of “sustainable living” needs to be there to make alliances with other like-minded European movements. Perhaps we can strengthen our network of networks ECOLISE, and push the European Union to raise its ambitions to achieve a less-sweaty future scenario. For example, the European Union proudly offers a mere 27% average use of carbon-neutral renewable energy by 2030. As energy consumption continues to grow and we actually must reduce total atmospheric carbon, this low ambition by the wealthy European Union is simply unacceptable. We have to achieve over the 50% renewables in 2030 to have a chance to be 100% renewable by 2050, just 20 years later.

GEN Europe needs to push for an EU-wide or at least national phase out plans for fossil fuels while we ourselves ensure that our own ecovillage communities become completely fossil-fuel free by 2020. We need an immediate EU moratorium on European involvement in new fossil fuel investments in environmentally-dangerous extraction ventures, e g tar sand and shale oil exploitation, fracking and Arctic and deep sea drilling. Fossil fuels must stay under the Earth's surface and we must encourage consumer boycotts of any investors in such practices.

The European Union must enable legally binding objectives for energy reduction and such as 55% European emission reduction by 2030, and 95% by 2050. We as ecovillages need to continue to demonstrate low-energy use and carbon-neutral practices in farming, transport, heating, and construction to the broader society that is becoming increasingly receptive to such ideas. Mitigation of greenhouse gases must include widespread community-led mobilisation to support carbon-negative actions – soil regeneration schemes, reforestation and wetland restoration, permaculture food production/agro-forestry. The European Union needs to lead the global process of resourcing community-led action of local civil society and local informal groups such as neighbourhood joint investments in clean energy, nearby employment and service creation shifting to low-carbon economies and lowering the need for mobility, and where still required enabling eco-mobility infrastructure.

Mitigation is not limited to what we ourselves can do. It is about climate justice with the global South and the payment of restitution for past crimes that have created climate change inequality. The worse-hit areas of global warming are inhabited by those most innocent of and least benefited by the unsustainable extraction-based high-carbon economy of the global North. We in the global North need to finance the transition of the global South with the wealth we built up creating the mess we are now all in. For this reason, we need not only to demand a European Union stance on financing mitigation and adaptation in the global South, I suggest that ecovillage communities and national networks in the North need to partner with counterparts in the global South to bring this abstract notion of restitution home and make it concrete. As a movement we should support the Fair Shares Approach recognising that there is a very limited global greenhouse gases budget if we are to succeed with a 1.5 degrees warming. This global budget demands that it be fairly divided according to rights and responsibilities and our historic climate debt.

COP21 is very much about adaptation to resilience. Most of our communities work to achieve resilience as permaculture, a thinking quite common in the ecovillage movement, strongly encourages adapting to local context, promoting diversity and function duplication and most importantly integration into local closed loop systems. GEN and ecovillages need to bring our experience of adaptation to the broader society. We need to facilitate community-led action of civil society and local informal groups: tree-planting, local gardens, crisis preparedness, flood protection. While we ought to ensure the global South is able to adapt to the realities of global warming, we in Europe should as well reduce the vulnerability of marginalised Europeans such as Roma, migrants, the poor and disabled, ensuring that they are included in community resilience-building actions.

GEN Europe's ambitious efforts in Copenhagen were demanding for an idealistic and poorly-resourced network, resulting with the burn-out of our COP15 coordinator. It was that event which directly led to my joining the GEN Europe Council in 2010. This December GEN, still poorly resourced but now a more functional global organisation, will again try to be noticeably present and influence at the UN's climate conference. It is really time for a major societal shift and hopefully the contributions of our movement as living models of sustainability to be presented by the GEN delegation will be in more demand for large-scale replication then they were 2009.


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