A short cut past the information overload, past political and economical static. What happened during COP21 - the world's biggest climate change conference, and are you going to feel the difference?
What climate change looks like in media?:
If you haven’t heard about COP21, I don’t blame you. In fact Google predicted that even if you had heard about it, you still wouldn’t take the time to.. well, Google it.
A platform so fittingly called What’s up with that? constituted that this year, during what’s said to be the most pressing climate change conference to date, people won’t be researching the issue any more than they did in 2005. Forbes magazine predicted that this means either people assume they already know enough, or they simply don’t care about it.
Another curious bit of information that Google Trends provides is this: Believe it or not, the only regions of the world researching “climate change” and “cop21” this December are small island states and third world countries such as Fiji, Philippines, India, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nepal, Zimbabwe.
The US, UK and the rest of Europe are just not interested. What is up with that?
What climate change looks like in degrees?:
2°C - the lucky number of COP21 Paris
Climate change is not really as abstract and fluid as one might think.
It actually comes with a numeric value and a price tag (read below). In 2009, world leaders put a ceiling on how much we could afford to ignore the problem and settled that we shouldn't let the average global temperature rise more than 2°C.
This year, in 2015, we officially made it to 1°C.
For the record: African leaders opposed the 2°C agreement in Copenhagen 2009 and insisted on 1.5°C, claiming that the 2°C limit is geographically biased. The point five difference meant “to write off whole countries as sacrifice zones for the consumption of the rich, to allow lands to become barren and millions to starve or be flooded”.
What climate change looks like in finance?:
It costs $7 trillion dollars a year to save the world
Before the talks at COP21 reached any conclusion, numbers were compared. The official statement is that the world needs to invest $359 trillion in clean energy before 2050, in order to avoid cataclysm. For comparison, last year the world spent only $391 billion for that purpose. That’s 17 times less than it should be, if anyone was really serious about climate change solutions.
The ideal COP21 solution: For rich countries to radically cut their emissions and provide financial and technological aid to less developed countries, both with transferring to clean energy sources and with natural disasters.
The reality: Rich countries, with the US in front, are pushing for carbon budgets called ‘net reductions’ and/or lack of legal responsibility.
“ Essentially, ‘net reductions’ means that US emissions could in fact rise, as long as pollution is outsourced. This would most likely happen via a new financial market, like the carbon market, which allows countries to sell credits for their lack of emissions. Speculators will get more wealthy, emissions from rich countries expand, and poorer countries – or their elites – sell off their right to develop. “ 
If a carbon budget was established globally, an American citizen would have to pay 212$ a year for the right to produce emissions, while a Qatari citizen would have to pay 567$.
Finally, COP21 rejected the proposal of ‘net zero’ emissions, while it still left the purpose of the agreement less ambitious than desired.
What climate change looks like in language?:
Shall and Should become the disagreement points in the draft
When it comes to legal documents, the difference between the two words is key to the nature of the agreement. In short, ‘should’ translates into a matter of choice, while ‘shall’ has legally binding qualities.
The financial section of the document earned the biggest number of vocabulary disputes. Understandably, poorer countries insisted that a ‘shall’ be used in the part that constitutes whether rich countries would provide the money for the third world to adapt to clean energy and climate change. On the contrary, the US insisted on a ‘should’.
Other words that the representatives at COP21 fussed over are ‘in a position to do so’. This refers to the proposal that the words ‘developed economies’ be replaced with ‘countries in a position to do so’. Changing the words would expand the circle of financiers from United States, members of the European Union, Canada, Japan, Australia to also include China and Brazil.
Why does the language matter? In fact, that’s what you need to understand about COP21: it’s not really about discussing climate change. Political and corporate leaders know what must be done, and have known for a long time. Only, up until now, there was no one to confront them if and when they didn't follow through.
The COP21 agreement is meant to serve as just that: a piece of paper to be ‘waved in the face’ of those who aren't cooperating as promised. Therefore, the vaguer the language used in the document is, the vaguer the responsibility.
Unfortunately, even in the final draft of the COP21 agreement on climate change action, the language issue was not positively resolved. Developed countries are still not legally committed to make deeper cuts than poorer, developing countries.
What climate change looks like in solutions?
During COP21 Paris, all countries were asked to review a plan of action to reduce their greenhouse emissions by 2020.
Many had set admirable goals - India, for example, promised to generate 40% of its electricity from clean, non-fossil energy sources by the year 2030. While motivation is more than welcome during discussions for global action, blind faith isn't: when examined closely, it was revealed that India’s plan relied on wind turbines running 24/7.
Not to be underestimated, however, renewable sources have infinite potential. Ever heard of Solar Impulse? It’s an experimental Swiss project that succeeded in flying an aircraft non-stop for a week - using only solar power.
Or perhaps you’ve heard of the Swedish recycling revolution? Sweden turns 50% of all household waste into energy - a clean fuel called biogas, used to power public transportation. The entire country’s waste collection system is made to fit an efficient, sustainable model of recycling and even importing rubbish from other countries. Biogas, however, is yet to make a significant breakthrough in waste removal systems in the UK, US and Europe.
Why am I telling you about these projects? Because there’s more than a few options ahead of us, but none of them will work until we've poured all our time and money into them. It took 12 years for Solar Impulse to become a reality (and that was just two aircraft) and a billion-euro annual budget for the waste to energy technology to become the norm in Sweden.
To implement that on a global scale, you would need time, research and finance hundreds, thousands of times that amount. Even nuclear power, which would be the cheapest and most efficient energy source to replace fossil-fuels, requires years of research and technological development.
The solution that COP21 offered is this: To access the resources needed for a clean, climate friendly world, we need to shift investments from the petrol business onto alternative and feasible solutions, and we need to do so with the help of science and technology. While the final draft of the agreement left us with the feeling that we shouldn't really expect significant legal repercussions for corporations who continue to frack, waste and pollute, it certainly makes it easier to point out hypocrisy and corruption. Polluters would have to, from now on, defend themselves not against someone else’s word, but their own signatures.