Paris climate talks: out of weasel words comes light at the end of the tunnel

paris climate talksWhat do you think about the hoopla surrounding the signing of the Paris Climate Talks agreement readers? Happy? Deflated? A sense of the same old, same old? Or a new beginning for the planet?

I should be happy. Finally our pollies, like kids dragged screaming from a lolly shop, appear to be actually do something positive on behalf of those that put them in power. Even our own foreign minister — friend of the mineral lobby — hailed the agreement as “historic”.

Yet I still find it worrying. Not just this round, but any environmental summit where politicians are asked to commit to targets that mitigate climate change that might just save the world.

You just know that after claims of alleged all-night discussions, heroic stands to full stop placements and dedication to saving the planet on behalf of [fill in country name here] … it’s all just show. First on the agenda on next year’s summit will be to examine why the last year’s proposals/legally binding agreements hadn’t been implemented properly and the whole process begins anew.

Or does this represent a “light at the end of the environmental tunnel”? It’s an intriguing time.

The gabfest is a gold mine of weasel words: “framework”, “non-binding targets”, “road maps”, “clean coal”, “acceptable limits” and my favourite “a step in the right direction”.

Rather than “a step in the right direction”, we need a raft of policies that will support renewable energy and reduce our collective carbon footprint as a matter of urgency. That is now a given in all areas except shock-jock land and certain fossil fuel boardrooms.

Many of the climate negotiators and environmental groups attending the talks are undoubtedly genuine. However am I being too pessimistic to suggest the targets will inevitably be circumvented, stalled, or in the case of Australia, rejected or watered down so much as to be almost unrecognisable?

Broken political promises regarding the environment have become the norm in our country. Who now remembers former PM Rudd’s claim that climate change was “the greatest challenge of our time”, only to abandon the fight as soon as polling went south after a sophisticated pro-fossil fuel advertising campaign?

Or PM Howard’s support for a price on carbon to be so ruthlessly destroyed by the harsh, anti-renewables policies of his acolyte Abbott?

Are we as a society hard-wired to destroy our planet? No. There is light at the end of the tunnel, it just depends where you look. For times are changing, and fast.

Work is being done to mitigate climate change and recalcitrant democratic governments are being dragged along whether they like it or not. The driver though is not necessarily government departments (at least less so in our part of the world). It is progressive think tanks, university studies, renewables and environment-focussed NGOs, independent agencies and most importantly businesses and households that are providing the force and inspiration needed.

It is clear that any achievements on renewable energy, energy efficiency, solar power or battery storage systems (the new gamechanger), will be driven from the ground up. From the demand end of the equation.

The experience in our country — certainly with the more conservative of governments — is that they will act to support renewables only when it is clear that opinion polls, business leaders and the community at large supports change. And we’ve reached that tipping point in our country now.

If anything the breakthrough at the Paris Climate Talks represent a final alignment of political need and “what the people want” to quote an old, hackneyed phrase.

Where to now in Australia? Will fossil fuel lobbyists design sophisticated and massively expensive campaigns to undermine the Paris Agreement? Or will allegedly far-sighted politicians like Turnbull grasp that it’s time to change and lead the country away from a fossil fuel-dominated existence?


  1. Why leave it to the useless pollies?
    If everyone put a solar system on there roof it would reduce the carbon footprint more that any action that has come out of Australian gov.

  2. john nielsen says

    Hi Rich,
    The government owned grid where I live will only let us have 3 kW installations. I was refused a 5 kW system so had to go off grid. How can the federal government rule over the states to reduce carbon dioxide? From 1944 to 2015 the world population has 3 doubled, i.e. from 3 to 9 billion people. They didn’t mention that at the conference did they? Population is the real pollution. No solar or wind power is going to stop this growth of population. Third world sterilisation of all females after two children or no aid from donor countries through the UN. It will not happen until we begin to eat each other. More people on the planet, more cars, more holes in the ground, more trees cut down, more pollution. Were they all drunk in Paris, or am I just stupid??
    John Nielsen, Silkwood

    • Rich Bowden says

      Hi John,

      Afraid I can’t agree with your drastic solutions but thanks for the interesting comment.

      Paul Gilding’s excellent “The Great Disruption” flags our addiction to growth rather than population as the real problem. I think that’s closer to the mark although by means the whole story.


  3. Mike Lippert says

    I wholeheartedly agree with your view. One can only wish that the Paris agreement will be implemented in good face, but here in OZ I have my serious doubts at present. The PM made a positive step by restarting wind power again. But the bigger elephant in the room is coal with all it’s nasty by products. New mines being in the planning, destruction of the reef etc. I can’t see the government of the day being strong enough to make an impact. There is too much dead wood in government ranks by the likes of Hunt, Barnaby, McFarlane and many others for whom the next election is far more important than global warming?

    • Rich Bowden says

      Thanks for the feedback Mike. I have my doubts as well, particularly with, as you say, the rusted-on fossil fuel fans still pulling the strings.


  4. A bit unnecessarily negative there on the value of international conferences (see above, paragraphs 3, 4 & 6).

    The Montreal Protocol, an international gabfest ( sorted out the problem of the ozone hole. It’s slowly restoring to 1980 levels and will be back to that level about mid-this century.

    Yes, there’s still a lot to be done in relation to the climate change issue. But the top-level pollies and bureaucrats have done their bit. Now it’s time for the national-level and mid-level bureaucrats to do their bit too by implementing some of these reforms and by phasing out fossil-fuel subsidies. Yes, that’s a tall order but it can happen (see Montreal Protocol, above).

    And remember (in democratic countries with a free and non-partisan media at least) there is now a powerful mechanism to push political parties towards carbon-reducing policies.

    But the real heavy lifting is going to be done by the private sector. If solar power efficiency keeps going up, the capital expenditure keeps coming down, operational expenditure keeps coming down… as in fact happening…

    Capitalism (in all its various forms) is a very powerful force. It has reshaped our world many times. With the right incentives, we can make capitalism a force that really helps us as a society and as a species.

    Keep smilin’


  5. Now this is scary and could be the for runner of what the government is about to do in Australia.

    rather than rehash the article which deals with the German government botch up

    on renewable energy and its consequences financially to the population I have provided a link.

    It’s worth reading and worth comment

  6. Richard Gault says

    Im afraid that I 100% agree with you John Nielsen. Growth is tied to more population and therefore more greenhouse gases. Its not just the fossil fuels in our cars, planes and trains, the plastics industry is very prevalent in our Building Products Industry and so many others and each new unit of population simply means more green house gases. Look at the huge take up in eating meat worldwide. Cattle and other animals produce green house gases and so on. Curbing population growth is also vitally important.

  7. john nielsen says

    Hi Rich,
    Like Finn said, the specification of the Powerwall is very vague, but I have learned that you can charge it from the grid i.e. you can put power into the PW from your string inverter or micro inverter system. If you can measure voltage/amps on the PW’s outlets, then I cannot see why you cannot use the PW with any 240vac system.
    The PW must have inbuilt charge and drain limits, so why will you need any special brand inverter? Any electrical contractor with some electronics knowhow should be able to wire up relays/automatic change-over hybrid gear. As I see it one PW would only be good for a max 3 kW PV hybrid system, not an off grid system.
    I appreciate your comment on my population growth, however in the next 5 years the world population will increase by 730 million. Year 2036 world population will be 14.4 billion and I will be 100 y.o. provided my neighbours haven’t eaten me before then.
    John Nielsen, Silkwood.

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