Applause and overwhelming emotions after years of negotiations– these were the pictures at the end of COP21 this Sunday. While critical points remain, such as binding timelines, enforceable and more ambitious reduction commitments, the new climate deal is a significant diplomatic achievement:
- 186 countries submitted climate mitigation commitments representing some 96% of world emissions,
- The goal is to keep global temperature rise below 2°C and aim for a more ambitious 1.5°C,
- Global greenhouse gas emissions shall be peaked as soon as possible,
- Reporting processes shall be put in place and the progress will be monitored by the United Nations,
- And lastly, to invest $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020.
Great promises! But words remain words if they are not put into practice. If our global society aims to achieve these goals (especially the 1.5°C goal seems tough) then change has to happen fast. And we need powerful mechanisms to realize this change.
I consider the GO Movement to become such a significant force. While it is not our core competency to establish a new disruptive energy grid or to implement a carbon tax, Green Offices create something very powerful: They build capacities of young people and communities to address climate change. Capacity building is a core component of the Paris Agreement.
GOs all over Europe help to build capacities to address climate change by putting sustainability on the agenda of students, staff and faculty. (See our map of GOs here). In this way, GO themselves are a great vehicle for students to improve their environmental competencies – see research results here -, and to embed sustainability into their universities and communities.
A first overview of the projects of 9 GOs in the Netherlands and Belgium (download it here) suggests that GOs run projects ranging from reducing food waste, improving the energy efficiency of the IT infrastructure, organizing conferences, workshops and movie screenings, piloting new sustainability educational programmes, and encouraging students to take up sustainability questions in their theses.
And even if the core competency of GOs is not to do the carbon accounting work for universities, GOs have already published sustainability baseline reports for their universities. Maastricht is of course a notable example with the first Climate Action Report from 2012 which presented a first calculation of flight and energy related CO2 emissions. As more GOs pick up this practice, they could add significantly to the transparency requirement of the COP agreement.
What then does the COP21 agreement mean for GOs?
First, the changes outlined in the agreement need to take place in the lifetime of the students currently working in GOs. By 2050, a student who is currently 20 years old will be 55. While most of the politicians who signed the agreement will not be in power by then, the generation of current students needs to lead the change. The agreement can thus be a leverage point for GOs to push their universities to embed sustainability and climate change into the curriculum and to become role models of climate neutrality for the larger society.
Second, I believe that GOs can benefit from positioning themselves more explicitly towards the new climate change agreement and maybe even take climate change as an overarching or annual theme to work on. Among others, GOs can help to assess the emissions of their universities, develop zero emission strategies, raise awareness among students, staff and faculty about climate change, integrate it into the curriculum, develop transparent reporting mechanisms, and encourage research on climate change by students.
I thus believe that the new climate deal can help to legitimize, fund and boost the climate change related work of GOs, and that GOs can act as local hubs to help realize this global commitment, moving the world towards zero emissions by 2050.
What do you think? Just write me an email with your opinion.
By Felix Spira. Photo by John Duffy, flickr Creative Commons)