The world woke this morning to an early Christmas gift. Not a novelty knitted jumper or bottle of tipple, but something more poignant altogether. Unconventionally, the gift in question was not only immaterial, but universal, unquantifiable, and intergenerational: the prospect of a deal on climate change in Paris.
The final agreement includes a commitment to keeping temperature rises 'significantly below' 2C, with the aim of 1.5C as a target. Whilst 2 degrees may sound inconsequential, the difference between today's average global temperature and that during the last ice age is around 5 degrees. Our climate has never changed so rapidly, it's unequivocally due to human activity, and avoiding the problem could result in temperature rises of 5-6C by the end of a century. Ask a climate scientist to describe what a 5-degree-world would be like, and you might just wish that you hadn't.
Whilst a UN agreement provides a mandate for action, the thorny issue of how we get there is likely to make the COP21 negotiations look like a doddle. To this end, we must turn to the pillars of reasoned progress: science and politics. Earlier this year, the Tyndall centre (host to some of the world's leading climate scientists) published an analysis of future climate projections for the 21st century: exploring 400 different possible 'routes' to achieving what has since been agreed in Paris. Of those, 86% rely on unproven technology, such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). For the remaining scenarios, emissions would have had to have peaked in the past at around 2010. Assuming technology will solve the climate problem is an aspiration, not a grounded projection. Whilst it's unlikely that non-existent technologies will fit the bill, it's even less-likely that Dr. Emmett Brown will be using his DeLorian to help us fix the emissions of the past.
The science looks discouraging, leaving us to examine the main political parties' plans to secure the low-carbon future, which we owe to our children. Developed nations like the UK, will need to reduce emissions to close-to-zero by 2050. Whilst David Cameron and pals have paid lip-service to the rhetoric of '2 degrees' in Paris, back home Osborne, Rudd and Truss are divesting in renewables, revoking the Green Investment Bank, and performing a monumental U-turn on the UK's £1bn CCS competition.
At the opposite side of the spectrum the Greens continue to propagate their vision for a UK energy mix based on sentiment, not science: asserting we can meet the UK's energy demands through 100% renewable energy. To suggest this is to expect a cultural shift beyond reason and recognition, whereby the entire population willingly sacrifice high-tech, energy intensive lifestyles at the altar of Natalie Bennett's flimsy ideology. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour fail to accept nuclear power and onshore gas as part of the solution. Like much of Labour's policy, Corbyn's environmental strategy is constituted of empty rhetoric, characterised by an emotive - rather than empirical - foundation. Unless the British people are prepared to swap their Breaking Bad box-set for an Enid Blyton paperback, and their widescreen televisions for a Ukulele, we are going to need a dynamic, 21st century solution: nuclear, renewables, and onshore gas must all have a part to play.
Since becoming leader of the Lib Dems in July, Tim Farron has championed climate change as a priority in almost every speech, interview, and article. Despite being an unpopular and intangible issue to the wider electorate, Farron's Lib Dems are utilising their strong, internationalist principles to develop the most sensible stance on the most pertinent issue of our time. An uncompromising, scientifically grounded environmental strategy - which sets the ambition for a close-to-zero emission UK economy by 2050 - is what sets the Lib Dems out from the rest.
I invite you to join me in raising a glass to Laurent Fabius - the chair of COP21 - and his heroic efforts at the UN this weekend. This is a proud moment for international diplomacy and cooperation. But let's not lose sight of the challenge, and the imperative for immediate action on climate change in the UK. Whilst the Tories, Greens and Labour indulge in denial, fantasy and endless posturing on this issue, there's never been a better time to support the Lib Dems.
Jim Hodgson is an environmentalist who joined the Liberal Democrats on May 8th 2015
This post was first published on Lib Dem Voice, here.