There is a certain irony that, while the Paris Agreement was being debated in Madrid and going through its slow motion of nonaction towards the end of 2019, apocalyptic scenes were playing out in Australia.
The Madrid round of global climate negotiations received polite treatment in the mainstream media. The negotiations were an utter disaster, if not a failure of global collective action to deal with the climate emergency.
The conclusion we can draw from the Madrid climate meeting is that we should expect no big shift in the Paris Agreement, despite the fact that the past decade had the highest recorded temperatures and 2019 witnessed the biggest number of extreme weather events.
The Paris Agreement is a dead-end alley where rescue from the climate crisis seems improbable. The United Nations- (UN-) facilitated negotiations will lead to more tunnel vision, with recalcitrant States like the US, Australia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and few others holding back progress and holding the entire world to ransom.
In the meantime, Australia burns and is pretty much on its own when it comes to dealing with this crisis.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has had his own chickens come home to roost. Having flown to Hawaii for a nice holiday, he had to rush back to Sydney as Australians protested his leadership failure. It does bugger belief that he remains a climate denialist.
Morrison is not only the problem Australians have; he is also the epitome of the problem the world has. He is a merchant of agnotology – the science of turning ignorance into ‘truth’ so that no national and international responsibility is taken for climate change.
Morrison will not change his conviction as his Rome burns because he has vested his entire political career in the idea that his era should dethrone climate science with denialism. For him, it is a game of deny, defer, deceive and deflect.
There is no doubt that the fires in Australia, which have raged for several weeks, have been unprecedented in Australian history. Close to five-million hectares of land have been consumed by bushfire.
The Australian experience is probably the most persistent and longest-enduring extreme weather event in recent history.
The heat hanging over Australian skies is unbearable, and so too is the haze, like a smouldering chimney, wafting through Sydney for weeks, making working and breathing in that city unbearable. The world is getting a glimpse of what apocalyptic climate events look like in real time.
The world is at a fork in the road and we have to decide whether we should continue to put faith in intergovernmental processes or allow citizens to take climate politics into their own hands. In any case, who can trust the intergovernmental panels, given how dominated they are by corporates and UN spin? Corporations that want us to continue using fossil fuels are using any dirty trick they can to dissuade us from taking radical action. Just as an illustration, fossil fuel producers are jumping on to the bandwagon of the Greta phenomenon by funding youth missions, camps and young people to come and speak on the future of the planet. (Greta Thunberg is a 17-year-old Swedish environmental campaigner who has gained global recognition and has addressed political leaders and assemblies, urging immediate action to address climate change. She has inspired many of her school-aged peers in what has been described as the Greta effect.)
In essence, the fossil fuel producers are looking to buy off the youth and hijack youth environmental awareness for their own ends rather than have them speak truth to power in the hope of shaping the climate politics of the future.
It is clear that we should no longer rely on the Paris process for anything dramatic; rather, we should focus on local action. Local action will not only require civic action that puts pressure on the political establishment but also institution building and organising to create more adaptive and resilient societies for the increased frequency of extreme weather events.
The Australian experience has to be studied more carefully, as it tells us what resilience means in the period before extreme weather events, during the course of such events and in the period after their occurrence. The bushfires Down Under provide insights in terms of the characteristics of leadership required, mass behaviour and the dynamics they create for the organisation of disaster management and relief.
Australians are better resourced, compared with poorer countries, but they too have demonstrated the extent to which the State and communities affected by the raging bushfires were not fully prepared for bushfires of this scale and the speed at which they quickly got out of control.
Nonetheless, extreme heat in Australia will be the new norm, requiring a relook at building standards, the resilience of critical infrastructure and better models of organisation of government and nongovernmental organisation action to deal with a world that is already living in 1.5 ºC-above-the-norm global temperature ranges.
Will mitigation of climate change help? We have to invest much more in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but we must also invest significantly more in the organisation of local communities and under-resourced States to deal with extreme weather events. As the Australian experience has shown, we are already in a 1.5 ºC world – we are no longer waiting for it to come.