On November 4th 2016, the Paris Agreement on climate change came into force, less than a year after it was agreed on 12th December 2015. The agreement aims to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” This achievement is staggering; agreed by 197 countries and already ratified by 103, including all the EU states, China and the US – globally among the greatest CO2 emitters – it is the culmination of many years of teamwork, negotiation and effort by thousands of people from countries on every continent, and a credit to the leaders of those countries for having the audacity and courage to go ahead with it.
However, for all its accolades and undoubted success, the agreement still falls short; the commitments made by the individual countries so far are still expected to lead to 3°C of global warming. Given the effects we are experiencing now with just over 1°C of warming, including droughts, wildfires, extreme weather events, wars over water, almost half the Arctic ice gone, and the displacement of large numbers of people across the globe, helping to contribute to Europe’s still unresolved migrant problem, the idea of a 3°C rise is quite simply terrifying.
Almost all this CO2 comes from the burning of fossil fuels in various forms. New figures were released in September which suggest we can only burn 843 gigatons of CO2 to have a chance of keeping the temperature rise below the promised 2°C; to have a 50-50 chance of meeting a 1.5°C goal, we must release no more than 353 of the 942 gigatons of CO2 available in existing oil and gas wells and coal mines. This means that most of the known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground, and no new ones at all must be opened.
These facts throw up various questions that need to be addressed by the entire global community. What is the best use of the fossil fuels that we can still burn? What essential things should we save them for, and what oil-derived things can be replaced by other materials? How can we make sure that the benefits of the remaining fossil fuels are distributed fairly and not just used for the profit of a few? How can we make the transition to a fair, sustainable, zero-carbon society in the few short decades we have left before it’s too late?
Answers to these questions need to be enacted at all levels; governments, businesses and the third sector must all play their part. One important response for the business community lies in the Circular Economy, which returns resources back into the system rather than releasing them into the biosphere as waste and pollution. Slovenia has made excellent first steps towards a Circular Economy; Circular Change, a stakeholder engagement platform focusing on the best practices of pioneers transitioning to circular business models, is already contributing positively by encouraging businesses to connect and develop circular economic pathways rather than linear ones.
The urgent priority for businesses now is to extend, expand and develop the Circular Economy across Europe. Only together, all of us and at all levels, can we embrace this challenge.