“...the tension is [that] something can be politically historic and scientifically catastrophic at the same time. Those truths can co-exist and do co-exist.”
- Naomi Klein
First, let's get clear on the science. We cannot afford to get carried away by the optimism and back-slapping emanating from the conference hall. The new (sort of) target of only a 1.5C temperature rise by end of century is doublespeak. 2C is almost certainly out of the question already. To lower the target further simply distills how distant the political process is from scientific understanding (except, of course, that we can now say the world officially recognises climate change is real. A definite victory, of sorts).
Let's put aside, as we so often do, the millions of lives that will be ruined by a 2C warmer world. Then let's say this: very generously speaking there is a carbon budget of around 1000GT (GT = a billion tonnes), globally, through to 2100, to have a better than 66% chance of staying below 2C. Even keeping global emissions at current levels we will burn through that in 20-30 years - before we consider growth in the non-Western world. According to Kevin Anderson, of the respected Tyndall Centre, we need 10% annual reductions in global CO2 emissions. Starting last year. This requires radical (and absolute) decoupling of CO2 emissions from economic growth we are nowhere near achieving.
Worse, David Wasdell (an official reviewer for the IPCC), argues that models used in the science underpinning the UN COP process fundamentally under-estimate climate sensitivity to concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. He claims we are already headed for 5C-6C warming by end of century - and that we committed ourselves to 2C sometime in the early 1970s. He might be wrong. There is no room for us to find out.
So what now, after this latest round of Science Vs. Politics?
Well, we can only keep going. Here are my best suggestions, in no particular order.
When it comes to the basics of climate change, the coal needs to stay in its hole and the oil in the soil (there's no appropriately rhyming home for gas, at time of writing). Emissions targets, renwables share aspirations - whatever. They don't mean much if they don't fit into perilously small carbon budgets. The dirtiest extraction projects need to be directly challenged. In Europe, you can start by joinging the second 'Ende Gelande' (Keep it in the ground) action in the Lusatia lignite coal (extra dirty) fields near Berlin in May 2016.
The Swedish state-owned utility Wattenfall is selling all of its lignite mining and generation assets in Germany, valued at €2bn. To sweeten the deal, it might even throw in 10 hydroelectric plants. A victory for the divestment movement? Perhaps - but this also has a lot to do with low coal prices in an over-supplied global market.
Here is an opportunity for a buyer with a nose for a bargain: Greenpeace.
To keep the cost down they argued the mines are a liability to Wattenfall, not an asset, due to decommissioning costs and external (clue's in the name) social and environmental impacts. This logic didn't fly: without global (or bold unilateral) regulations to prevent burning of coal (which we do not have) someone else will offer more, and extract more 'value' form it. But the plan could be a good one, if the numbers added up: take ownership, develop a strucutred closure plan, and use revenue from the mine to transfer workers to climate jobs (ideally those that reduce aggregate demand).
Greenpeace appeared to be taking the prospect of spending money on this seriously, before they were barred from bidding. As an enormous international NGO, they might just have been able to pull it off (the Euro is pretty cheap right now...). But they can't buy every mine in world, particularly if they don't intend to realise their full 'economic values'.
Are there alternative ways for other actors to explore this, including public institutions? Can democratic ownership of carbon bombs be achieved? And can direct action movements against the assets be used in tandem to reduce their price? Wishful thinking...perhaps.
These people demand and deserve our attention and support, in whatever way we can offer it. Without it there will be no climate justice.
There is much to be done to build greater public understanding of the challenges ahead. The great danger of the (hyper-qualified) success of Paris is that the public take their eye off the ball (if it were on it to start with). Ask the casual observer and you'll likely find an idea that Paris gives us a chance of getting our act together in time. This will mean a number of different things to different people - but we have to be clear about where we stand. It would be dishonest not to. And where we stand is a place with many unanswered questions and many unpredictable events ahead of us. We need to bring people into these discussions in a meaningful and practical way, and without summoning hopelessness. This means combining inspiring narratives - energy democracy, reimagined forms of living, etc. - with realities: a likely energy-constrained, climate-battered future that cannot sustain our current levels of consumption. This is not an easy task, but we can't start too soon in schools, communities, civic groups and beyond while pointing people towards the positive responses we see around us.
We're already seeing the ways in which post-colonial, neo-imperialist global power coming home to roost filters through to the everyday: fear of the other, rejection of desperate people, further militarisation of conflict zones. The shrieking stupidity of 'commentators' such as Katy Hopkins (who at least, unlike Trump, is not running for President of the most powerful country on earth) must be paid serious attention: anyone making that much money out of media platforms is saying something that at least some people are responding to. And that way true darkness lies. As climate displacement and conflicts unfold, we need to be ready to accept our responsibility in dealing with them. This is a staggering ask, given the already high levels of anxiety about immigration to the UK amongst voters. But a priority task must be working to rebuild the cultural and institutional tolerance of change from 'outside'. We must find the capacity to welcome people, or we will live the next century in fear of the victims of climate injustice.
Whatever happens, we must continue creating new ways of gathering, distributing, using, storing and understanding energy. As an integral part of this process should be the reimagining of energy institutions: away from big centralised willy-waving, towards a universe of community, municipal regional and national bodies taking on new and progressive roles within an energy transition, from local energy co-ops to national offshore wind and 'carbon bomb' ownership. We need a national building retrofit programme, smarter smaller grids, huge investment in wind and solar - and radical new mandates for public institutions tasked with managing different aspects of the energy system.
We could start by re-instutiting subsidies for renewables, removing tax breaks for north sea oil, ending the de facto planning ban on onshore wind and allowing cooperatives to sell renewable power to their members. This would just be a start, and it is unlikely to be enough. We need to accept this, and still embrace the possibilities contained within. Most of all these processes must be entwined with sustained enquiry, and discovery of where they can take us - not a simple assumption that life will go on unchanged in all but the wiring.