The 2015 UN Climate Conference in Paris (COP21) will not produce a magic fix, curbing the emission of greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels. Since 1992, the world’s political leaders have been negotiating yet carbon emissions continue to rise. On the other hand, the Paris talks have shown an improvement over previous negotiating sessions. The question is whether human societies can cooperate fully and quickly in order to stave off a disaster, which is already being felt in droughts, wild fires, increasingly violent storms, melting ice caps and rising sea levels.
One promising sign is that most political leaders now accept climate science and know they have to act. For example, China was previously determined to grow its economy on the basis of carbon consumption no matter what the environmental costs. But choking smog caused by emissions and the startling rise of coastal sea levels have sobered the Chinese. In just a few years, they have become the world’s leader in a various green energy technologies, including wind and solar.
U.S. President Barack Obama also understands climate change and wants to do something about it. For years, the Americans were stuck with leaders, such as George W. Bush, who showed little or no interest in the issue. Unfortunately, the Republicans warn that Congress may negate any promises that Obama makes in Paris — something the American people must not allow to happen.
Canada, meanwhile, has been a leader both in pledging to lower greenhouse gas emissions and in breaking those promises
. This began with Jean Chretien’s government blithely promising at Kyoto in 1997 that it would reduce emissions but then putting no plan in place to do so. When Stephen Harper was prime minister, he was at first a climate change denier before spending years promising environmental regulations that never materialized.
Of course, Canada’s new government under Justin Trudeau says that has all changed. Rhetorically, that's promising, but a vigilant citizenry must hold political leaders to their word. Tens of thousands of Canadians did just that by marching on Nov. 29 to call for a carbon free future.
Another hopeful sign is that the cadre of climate-change deniers
has been discredited and shrunk. Be vigilant, however. After all, the state of New York is investigating Exxon Mobil
for allegedly funding groups that deny climate change even as the company’s in-house scientists warn executives about the consequences of those changes.
Finally, the climate-change debate has moved beyond the technical to the moral and ethical sphere. Pope Francis produced a climate-change encyclical in June, wholly accepting climate science and thus inhibiting the deniers. He argues that the issue disproportionately affects the world’s poor although it rests with the affluent. He also says that changes can — and must — occur at both personal and political levels.
So when it comes to climate change, at least there's a chance that religious faith may influence behaviour in a way that cold, hard facts have failed to do.