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OPINION: Fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement? Don't pop the champagne

by Jennifer Morgan | @climatemorgan | Greenpeace International
Thursday, 10 December 2020 09:13 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The climate emergency is impacting billions of us right now - and setting 2050 goals without short-term clarity does little to help

Jennifer Morgan is executive director of Greenpeace International. 

When we all emerged from that two-week - or rather, multi-year - marathon of negotiations that created the Paris Agreement in 2015, we were relieved, we were joyful and we were exhausted. 

Although we knew that so much of the success of the Paris Agreement would hang on its implementation, we also knew we had removed the “there is no international agreement” excuse used by our opponents to not act. We knew we were sending a clear message that the fossil fuel era was coming to an end sooner rather than later. 

After all, the agreement’s aim is for “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius” and includes a goal to bring the world to zero emissions. It also includes a “ratchet” mechanism to drive countries to speed up and deepen the phase-out of their emissions every five years. All of which would bring us closer to a brighter horizon.

So, for one night, we allowed ourselves to truly celebrate.  

We celebrated the adoption of a science-based agreement that recognised the most vulnerable people and biodiversity should not be annihilated by a system driven by greed which benefits a select few.

We celebrated a beautiful and diverse movement of people around the world who had made their voices heard and tipped the balance of power so that every single one of us, especially the most vulnerable, had a fighting chance against fossil fuel-producing countries and industries. We celebrated that the world had managed to cooperate - every country, with one voice, together - in creating an unprecedented new, binding international agreement. 

We also knew we would not be able to celebrate for long, because this agreement would catalyse an even more active opposition that would do all it could to continue on the same track and perpetuate old power dynamics where a few profit and many suffer. 

Five years later, in the middle of a global pandemic, we are in the eye of the storm of that fight. We see fossil fuel companies doing everything they can to stay afloat, from multi-million-dollar PR campaigns trying to make individuals responsible for emissions, to aggressive lobbying for public funds even as they exacerbate the climate emergency they plunged all of us into.

We saw a U.S. president, backed by those same interests, clinging on to power using lies and harmful, divisive rhetoric. We still see investments into coal in developing countries by out-of-state interests, when we know that it is not only dangerous for our health and our climate, but also a stranded asset for those developing countries in the future.


All of this breaks the pact of trust we must have with young people to protect them. They understand what is at stake; a future that is unclear, unstable and not their fault. They - and tens of millions of others, across many generations, groups and life experiences - have said: “We want a different world, one based on the well-being of all people and biodiversity. A world that celebrates, not oppresses the diversity and beauty of our shared nature and humanity.” 

On the ground we can see the growing impact of peaceful movements over the last five years and what we have achieved: the end of fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic by Denmark and suing the Norwegian government for continued oil exploration in that region; standing for justice and humanity with indigenous peoples in the Amazon while the Bolsonaro government passes laws that deny communities their land and increases deforestation; demanding environmental justice and an end to systemic racism in the United States; and driving the adoption of green and just recovery plans around the world.

Politicians need to listen to these movements, direct all public money into a clean and fair recovery and -- as they promised in Paris -- strengthen their national commitments so that the 1.5°C goal stays within reach.

Announcements of 2050 targets, 30 years from now, without clear benchmarks and binding laws to achieve them, do nothing to fulfil the expectations of that hopeful, celebratory night five years ago when we adopted the Paris Agreement. Yet, many companies and countries are still trying to invite themselves to that party by announcing far-off commitments without short-term clarity.  

The climate emergency is short-term. It is impacting billions of us right now. People are losing all that they have to extreme weather, fires, floods and droughts, and it is happening now. This means decisions have to be made now to phase out fossil fuels and stop deforestation for a better world. A world where bringing emissions to zero ensures health and well-being for so many more than have it today.

In the last year we have learned that when science is the guiding light of government policy, and when the media covers an issue as the emergency it is, and when governments place the wellbeing of people - especially the most vulnerable - first, they can act very quickly and make historic decisions, creating amazing change across the planet. 

On this fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, it is time for our leaders to dig deep, listen to the sounds of our nature and of our youth. This is the moment to accept change and take rapid action in the fight for a just and green world, as if our lives depend on it. Because they do.