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Climate Change: it’s like smoking... so why hasn't the world quit?

Beginning Nov. 30, Paris will host the United Nations 21st Conference of the Parties, or “COP21.” With the risk of sounding over dramatic, this is a crucial landmark if humanity is to save the planet from the catastrophic consequences of climate change. I don’t think you need me to tell you that accelerated climate change is very real and very terrifying. Over the past decade we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in temperatures and natural disasters that are far ahead of scientific projections. 

What is COP21?

The COP21 summit taking place this weekend will bring together representatives from over 190 countries and aims to secure a legally binding climate treaty that will either set us down the path to transition to a sustainable planet, or not. Absolutely no pressure here. 

Why does the world need COP21?

You may ask yourself, if this is really the case, if our planet is in this much immediate danger, why aren't countries already doing literally everything they can to stop climate change? My conclusion is that it’s a little like smoking. There is clear, hard proof that smoking can kill you or at least seriously damage your body - yet people smoke. Now I know that smoking is an addiction blah blah blah, but the premise is basically the same (plus, economies are pretty addicted to fossil fuels). Humanity is doing something really damaging to our planet and most people know it, yet a plan to stop hasn't come about. 

As with smoking, it’s the decision and willpower to quit that matters, and that’s exactly what the world needs this weekend at COP21. Now, this isn’t a question of individual action (like taking a "bag for life" to the supermarket to avoid the charge for a plastic bag), COP21 is where industries and governments (the big smokers) across the world need to take decisive, large-scale action. The world needs them to agree to speed up the transition to a 100% renewable energy future for all. The good news is, this is already happening. In fact, 55 countries already get over half their electricity from renewable sources--yay!  However, the world is still smoking heavily, emitting more carbon now than it ever has in the past. 

COP21 is a huge test of our commitment to actually address climate change, so the question is, will this be a good COP or a bad COP (see what I’ve done there?) 

Good COP

A good COP will involve a bold new climate agreement that signals the end of the fossil fuel age and will spur responsible governments to speed up the transition to 100% renewable energy. This commitment would dramatically increase our chances to keep global warming below 2 degrees celsius, and to build resilient communities free from poverty and inequality. 

150 countries have already pledged their commitment to cut emissions and and switch to clean energy sources. A good COP meeting will see commitments from all countries and provide ways to help them transition to 100% renewable energy. Not only this, but a good COP will foster collaborations and solidarity between these nations (you’re always more likely to quit smoking if you do it in a group, aren’t you?) 


A bad COP involves vague commitments without defined strategies and targets. The kind of “yeah I’m sure I’ll quit smoking one day” type of commitment. The choice for governments really is commit now or spend the rest of your career cleaning up climate disasters - quite an easy choice if you ask me. 

Most importantly, a bad COP will hinder efforts to end extreme poverty by 2030, and threaten the achievement of The Global Goals. Climate change and poverty reduction are two sides of the same coin--the world can’t address one without the other. The sad truth is that climate change hits the most vulnerable the hardest, making it even tougher to find food, shelter and water. Rebuilding after disasters and protecting communities from climate risks costs money that many vulnerable communities don’t have and can’t access. Without this strong and bold agreement in Paris, much of the incredible progress made to ending poverty will be undone.

Oh and then there’s the whole thing that if countries don’t speed up this transition and keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, climate change will spin out of control and threaten civilization as we know it. Don’t want to alarm you or anything...

So what’s it going to be?

The shift to 100% renewable energy is already happening, and amazingly it’s completely achievable in our lifetime. Not only that but it’s entirely necessary for our survival. Humanity knows this. But will anything be done about it? 

COP21 on it’s own can’t fix climate change, but it’s the start of the journey. It’s the moment where the world decides to quit smoking. From there, global citizens need to play their part to make sure we don’t slip, and support the transition to a safer, sustainable planet.

We know what we need to do. Now we need to just do it. 

If you want to make sure this will be a good COP for people and planet, click TAKE ACTION NOW to sign up to join us at the People’s Climate March in London.