Pole to Paris – what happens next?

COP21 may have come to an end, but our climate change journey is far from over. Global warming is something that impacts on the lives of every single person on Earth, and in order to make a difference, we all need to make a collective effort.

That is what spurred Dan Price of Pole to Paris on to cycle from Antarctica to Paris, spreading the climate change message as far and wide as he could. Pole to Paris made a huge difference – from big cities, to tiny communities, it was incredible to see so many people getting behind Dan as he pushed for people around the world to put the pressure on their leaders ahead of COP21 in Paris.

A positive step towards change was when 195 nations made a universal agreement to fight climate change – but talk is one thing, and action is another.

Dan Price shares his parting words (for now) with the Macpac Blog.


Pole to Paris: Reaching Paris for COP21

There are two scales we can use to evaluate the success of the Paris Agreement. One – the political scale, two – the physics scale. On scale one, I was actually quite staggered at the ambition written in the document, given the snail pace progress over the last 20 years. But on scale two, the one that actually matters in reality, things are looking a little less ambitious.

Currently the actions pledged on the political scale don’t add up to what is required on the physics scale. The agreement is attempting to keep warming below 2°C, aiming for 1.5°C, but the pledged targets add up to around 3°C. The emissions gap is staggering and the only way to close it is to launch a project of unprecedented scale, at the global level as fast as possible. We need to keep the majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground, every new project that gets the go-ahead is a direct contradiction of the words in the Paris Agreement. We need to make installing renewable energy in every country a global priority. The Paris Agreement has sent an economic signal, but I just don’t think it’s strong enough. We need a fee on carbon, a fee that makes renewables the cheapest option, the cheapest by a long shot. We need governments and business to collaborate and aid the developing world to transition safely and securely to clean power. The fossil fuel industry itself should be forced to help, to heavily invest in renewable energy research and instalment. Their game is up this century, it’s just a matter of what decade they make it to. So why not jump aboard the new ship, and help every person on the planet, as opposed to waiting for your ship to sink, and setting fire to ours too.

The Pole to Paris team takes a break to look out over the Gobi desertWe can’t be confident that every nation will keep its end of the bargain, and that is where civil society must come in. We must keep the pressure on. Protest all new fossil fuel extraction projects. The plans of certain governments and oil companies completely contradict what is written in the Paris Agreement, so we must hold them to account on that.

New Zealand, in particular, has a real opportunity to be a global leader in this field – the ultimate example of what can be achieved, something for the rest of the world to be in awe of. The country is already dominated by renewable energy, and to step things up to take it to another level would be a brilliant card to play at the international level. A country of the future – always able to hold states that are failing to account, the tiny nation could lead the world into the future. But no, they are dragging their feet, and pretty much doing as little as they can. Yes, they can make the argument that New Zealand is a small contributor to global emissions, but if everybody did that, we’d get nowhere. The agriculture industry is the main culprit when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand, and it is a difficult problem to address, but instead of saying ‘let’s wait and sort it out later’ – why not get ahead? Be the centre of technology development and conduct research into addressing the problem, be where the world comes for inspiration, expertise and technology on agricultural emissions reductions. These are the ways to be in the game as the world transitions into a new energy economy this century. Be the solution, develop the answers.

Literally on the road to Paris

Literally on the road to Paris

Across the ditch, what happens in the Australian coal industry will play a major role in how effectively we can limit climate change. Keeping coal in the ground is key to limiting warming to the targets suggested in the Paris Agreement. If projects in the Galilee Basin go ahead, along with other carbon intensive projects planned globally, 1.5°C is gone, and even 2°C is looking unlikely. Coal has to be a thing of the past, and Australia will choose to either be a leader on this, or commit the world to dangerous interference with our climate system.

While speaking at COP21, during our questions at the end of the talk, two gentlemen piped up in the front row. They were from Samoa. The Pole to Paris project oddly has strong links to Samoa – our General Manager and my good friend Thomas Gillman was working as an intern with the UN out there last year, and that’s how the whole UNDP partnership began. Since then, coordination with all the other offices around the world has actually gone through our UNDPole to Paris: celebrating reaching ParisP
Liaison Catherine Jones in Samoa. We formed a tight bond with Samoa and held a climate march there in August as part of our Global Voices campaign. The two gents in the front row took part in the march and are actually climate activists themselves, bringing the voice of the Pacific to Paris. This is another reason that New Zealand should be showing greater leadership, its Pacific brothers and sisters are on the frontline, so New Zealand and Australia should be stepping up for them. And if you are able to ignore the moral obligation there, what about the consequences? Where are the people of the Pacific going to go as their homes are inundated by rising seas? New Zealand and Australia are first on the list.

The Pole to Paris journey was amazing. People have asked me many times – ‘how much of an impact do you think you’ve really had?” – and really, there is no way to know – Twitter followers, Facebook likes? Are these really useful metrics? Who knows. But I have come to the realization that somehow I was inspired by people to follow my studies and spread awareness of this issue. Many people, stories and facts sparked many fires in me. If this project could just play a small role in inspiring others, we are making a difference. Person by person, a change of attitude, increased understanding, slowly but surely, this is how things change. Let’s just hope it snowballs fast enough.

This journey has had many highlights, including cycling with 500 people through the streets of Jakarta followed by a speech to the Indonesian government demanding improved policy on climate change. Or dining with the French ambassador to COP21 in Bangkok and being able to personally advocate for ambition at COP21. It was also incredible cycling through rural Java alone, my face sore from returning smiles to the wonderful people, journeying across China with two of my best friends, and crossing the Gobi Desert, and being with the amazing people of coastal Bangladesh, along with getting back into the mountains in the Alps and climbing up to 2,500m on the Grossglockner Pass. But the biggest highlight of all was definitely delivering the voices of the people we had met to listeners in Paris.

Dan cycling through the streets of Jakarta with hundreds of cyclists behind him.

Dan cycling through the streets of Jakarta with hundreds of cyclists behind him.

Next up for me is a bit of time to think. This last year has been non-stop, so it’s time to step back for a little while and take in the experiences, only then will what to do next become clear. If you’re passionate about this issue, you CAN do something. From what seem like ridiculously small contributions such as growing your own vegetables, to larger efforts like launching a campaign against the government, there is always something you can do. Don’t be disheartened by the ignorant words of others.

The pressure civil society has put on the politics of this issue over the last five years has been huge. We have seen the abandonment of major fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States and key delays in the Abbott Point developments in Australia… all led by climate action groups. Adding your voice to these movements is very valuable, see how you can get involved with these groups locally. Beyond this, use your vote. Put a government in power that has effective measures to move in the right direction.

The governments of the world have pledged what is needed, now we must ensure that they adhere to what they have said. Everyone is now at least acknowledging the direction in which we must go – we just need to get everyone running!

Macpac was proud to get behind Dan, providing him with the gear he needed to carry out his epic mission as he cycled from Antarctic Pole to Paris.

Keep an eye on Dan’s journey on the Pole to Paris Facebook page.