Editorial: After Paris, what?
Public feedback from the recently concluded climate-change summit in Paris suggests that Caribbean delegates came away fairly satisfied with the accord that was negotiated in the French capital.
More than 190 countries signed an accord that committed them to taking action to slash greenhouse gases and halt the warming of the planet, which stands in stark contrast to the chaotic end to the Copenhagen meeting six years ago.
Instead of a legally binding international treaty, the countries were asked to submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which are like national pledges, setting out the steps to be taken over the next five years to reduce carbon emissions. It's a commitment that is renewable every five years.
Even though small countries like Jamaica contribute an insignificant amount to carbon emissions, the effects of climate change and global warming have created grief for our country and the entire region. For example, severe drought conditions have affected agriculture and caused serious challenges for householders who often cannot get water to conduct basic domestic chores.
Since the year 2000, earth has been experiencing the warmest temperatures ever, and there are indications this will continue. The threat of rising sea levels is a result of a warmer earth, which also brings with it more intense and deadly storms. The culprit for all these negative effects has been identified as carbon emissions.
Jamaica's delegation to the talks included technical experts skilled in negotiations and representatives from the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change. So far, we have heard one member of the delegation appealing to the private sector to invest in renewable energy sources so that Jamaica can build resilience to the impact of climate change. This appeal is to be taken seriously because our productive sector has to start gearing up for a future when industry will set its face against coal, oil and gas in favour of cleaner sources of energy.
And yes, it is indeed an expensive business to switch to green technology such as solar and wind energy. And even though the richer countries have pledged to donate US$100 billion annually to help developing countries transition to cleaner energy sources, there was nothing binding in the accord or any deadline to deliver on those intentions.
The more serious question that all of this throws up is this: Who is going to break down the specifics of the climate-change agreement to the ordinary man? Who is going to educate the farmer about the initiative by the French called 4Pour1,000, which basically calls for the agricultural sector to abandon old methods that reduce soil carbon? Will farmers have to change their methods of production to ensure that carbon from the atmosphere is put in the soil, and, if yes, who will show them the way?
Even though some experts warn that it might be too late to stave off the effects of climate change, the alternative cannot be to just sit and wait for disaster to happen. For Jamaica to benefit from the agreement signed in Paris, we cannot just sit and wait for it to take effect. The details need to be articulated to the population and a comprehensive education campaign be undertaken so that everyone can have a sense of what role he or she can play in these mitigating efforts.
As one American diplomat puts it, each of us can do our part starting now. Joshua Polacheck, counsellor for public affairs at the US Embassy in Kingston, urged individuals to change behaviour towards garbage disposal as a way of combating global climate change.
Speaking at an awards ceremony for solid-waste best practices, Polacheck said, "People don't think about it, but when you take a plastic bottle and just chuck it into the landfill or into the countryside and it ends up incinerated you are adding to all the other carbons and greenhouse effect ... ."
The commitments made in Paris must quickly turn into policy, for if we do not start a national movement to change attitudes toward the environment, the negative aspects of climate change will deal a stealthy blow to all Jamaica's economic aspirations.