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carlpopebwNeither Paris nor Lyon are burning—yet. But sweltering, roasting under 400 centigrade (1060 F) skies, they definitely are—and the delegates gathering in Lyon to channel the climate action potential of cities, states and provinces feel the heat. In addition to the weather, the World Summit on Climate and Territories suffers from the usual conference burden of deadening boiler plate and an occasional diplomatic aversion to hard truths—such as an entire document on transportation and climate which managed to avoid a single use of the words “oil” or “petroleum.”

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Nonetheless, listening to these proceedings and tracking the outside context, it seems likely to me that COP21 may entrain as much climate progress as the previous 20 COP’s put together—which is the kind of breakthrough the world needs. 

The reason is simple. This time climate action has momentum. Christiana Figueres, who will chair the 21st UN Climate Summit in Paris this December, fires up her constituency—and she’s worth quoting:

“Why are cities and states doing so much—not just to save the planet! From the local point of view there are huge benefits—better and more efficient transportation, better waste management, more energy efficient, cleaner air—a new economy creating more jobs and more industry and more growth.

“So individually, that’s why you are going at it. But what are you doing collectively—you are creating a new reality for the world. You are making possible what heretofore was only in the literature—a low carbon, high growth society. And collectively you are getting the global economy ready for the 21st century. Perhaps since it is 2015 you are late. But better late than later.

“Yes there will be many different lanes, to reflect local differences—but it is one highway, and there are, if we do our work well, no off-ramps before we get to a low carbon society.

“This year’s national commitments are the first stop, the baseline—from there we move up. The transition is irreversible, it is unstoppable, and Paris is merely the first stop.”

These delegates are here to make sure their voices—and their contributions—are heard and counted by the national governments which will convene in Paris in December. What is different about the mood this summer, compared to the months before Copenhagen six years ago, is that that summer failure loomed, and people felt trapped. This time the world—a broad diversity of actors—wants in on the action—that’s the gift momentum creates.

Listen to Sharon Burrows, the head of the International Trade Union Federation. Her theme: “Coal is gone in 10-15 years. Oil and gas have maybe another 20-30. But no government is planning for it. We’re not getting ready nearly fast enough.”

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