Despite the fact that the final Paris Agreement has several shortcomings, compared to its predecessors it was a momentous achievement. The very fact that the text includes not only the aim to keep the increase in global average temperatures “well below 2°C” – but also “efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C” is a small miracle in and of itself. Yet despite such ambitious language, and regardless of how difficult the negotiations were – the real challenge remains with how these ambitions are to be implemented on the ground. This begs the question: how are real actions being taken into account, and how can these be scaled up?
In a recent talk given by János Pásztor, senior climate change adviser to the UN Secretary-General, he reflected upon the COP21 process and outcome. In particular, he discussed the role of the Lima to Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) that aimed to encourage a “virtuous circle” of positive examples of action on the ground, in order to inspire and motivate actors in and around the COP. A virtuous circle is a positive feedback loop: where a cycle of events has an increasingly beneficial effect on the next. From Pásztor’s perspective, the effect of the LPAA demonstrates the virtuous circle at work: it resulted in real-world actions for the first time to have played a significant role during the COP21 negotiations, and in the final text of the agreement – and its impact is set to continue growing. He also pointed out that this was in large part due to the fact that the circle was extended beyond the intergovernmental realm, including the impressive work being undertaken by both civil society and businesses around the world.
The work of the LPAA – and its purported achievements – points to a key factor that is often overlooked in the climate change discourse. This is the power of positivity. And in the realm of international climate change negotiations, positivity is a rare resource. From the failed Copenhagen negotiations in 2009 (COP15) to the math that shows countries’ individual greenhouse gas emission commitments fall short of meeting the 2°C target, let alone the 1.5°C ambition, it is difficult to maintain a sense of faith in the process. All too often, we are overwhelmed by the “vicious circle” instead of a virtuous one – where it seems that with each passing day, the negative feedback loops associated with climate change, from melting Arctic sea ice, to economic systems locked into fossil fuel dependency, put us in an increasingly downward spiral. Still, positive examples abound – from small citizen groups, to cities, to multinational businesses – people are using their own power to shape what our future will look like. With global temperature increases steadily rising, and each year hitting new records, it is clear that change and progress is needed from all sectors of society – and all of us have a shared responsibility in this.
For us to achieve any real change, the power of positivity cannot be underestimated. From scientific research that demonstrates how positive thinking can have a tangible impact on health outcomes, to using positive social competitiveness to lower energy usage – the evidence is clear. And it is time for this to be applied to the actions and communications around climate change. To strike a balance between rose-tinted and doomsday scenarios is still essential, but the positive examples of what is already happening on the ground, is the way to move forward. We can continue to criticize the UN and our governments: we have to hold our leaders accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. But without the power of the positive, we can all too easily fall victim to finger pointing and fail to lose sight of our greater vision.
The work of the LPAA and similar initiatives should be commended, and built upon, in order to continuously grow the virtuous circle, and achieve what is necessary in a world where the climate is already changing: beyond agreement and signatures, action and implementation on the ground.