By Alister Scott, Professor of Environment and Spatial Planning, Birmingham City University

After two weeks of tense negotiations, on Saturday evening we finally heard the outcome from the Paris talks on climate change.

The agreement was celebrated with many fine words and self-congratulatory standing ovations, claiming that this landmark agreement would be a huge leap for mankind and a major step towards saving the planet.

However, on closer inspection you will see that the agreement is largely an aspirational document with hope more than realisation. A utopian reliance on technology to help deliver the required carbon reductions in the future is extremely dangerous and fails to identify any delivery mechanisms to change our current behaviours and addiction to economic growth and fossil fuels.

In the UK in general and England in particular  we need significant governance change to wean ourselves off the fix for growth at the expense of the environment. The current shift away from renewable energy subsidies and cutting support for community energy schemes is deeply disturbing; even more so when oil and gas still receive huge government subsidies.   We need to work with nature rather than seeking to conquer it with technological fixes. The current floods in Cumbria still highlight the way people expect engineering solutions to keep them safe as we continue to build more houses in flood plains.

The lack of any legally binding commitments to the agreement other than a five year review makes this agreement a cop out in my view; a paper tiger where governments can bury their heads safe in the knowledge that the Paris rhetoric  is saving the planet (hopefully). Meanwhile other policy priorities that conflict with this green agenda will take precedence once the media furore of this phase of the issue attention cycle dies down.

Paris brings with it an urgent need for this government to live up to its promise to become the greenest government ever. That commitment requires leadership and investment in climate change concomitant with the need to go beyond the rhetoric, to develop delivery mechanisms involving sticks (taxes) and carrots (incentives) and instigate behaviour change that will improve the quality of our lives and actually help deliver improved long term economic performance. This needs to be a commitment across all government departments including the Treasury and their future delivery plans.

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Alister Scott

Alister Scott

School of Property, Construction and Planning at Birmingham City University