Just over 100 years before the Paris climate summit, the Eiffel Tower was the site of modern globalisation’s defining moment. On July 1, 1913, the first wireless transmission of a time signal integrated all time zones on earth. Not only did it create a world standard time, but it showed for the first time the global possibilities of instantaneous communication and electronic broadcasting.
It also made possible the idea of a global “event” that could become a shared experience on a scale never before possible.
A century on and the French are at it again, with another world-first from the tower on the eve of the climate summit. To mark the summit and the arrival of 130 world leaders, images of forests have been projected onto the tower using 3D mapping techniques.
The artwork is interactive – it is accompanied by a smartphone app that allows you to produce a unique tree with your heartrate and project it live onto the Eiffel Tower, using 3D video projectors. In the process, participants also reserve a tree to be planted in real life.
The installation, known as One Heart One Tree, is the work of artist Naziha Mestaoui. She was commissioned to inspire reforestation projects and mass global support for a transition to 100% renewable energy.
The installation is drawing on a history of event marketing usually only reserved for global sport finals and the Olympics. The iconic place marketing of Paris through the Eiffel Tower is drawn on to maximise these images’ impact, which can turn the cultural importance of the tourist gaze toward climate in an unprecedented way.
For some, there is a latent irony to this publicity for COP21. It is marketing that helped get us into the climate crisis in the first place.
The reforestation message and clean energy will feature heavily in the first week of the conference, with a series of further publicity events events in support of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda.
This agenda alone involves 6914 pledges at mostly intra-national levels. That is, instead of just asking each nation to commit to climate mitigation, the agenda has secured commitment from 2255 cities, 150 regions, 2025 companies and 424 investors in diverse areas, such as:
less polluting transportation (11 programs);
renewable development (nine);
increasing energy efficiency (eight);
forest protection (six);
subnational local action (six);
business and innovation (seven);
financial mobilisation (five);
climate-friendly building (three); and
short-term pollutants (four).
Tomorrow, ministers from Indonesia, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, Prince Charles, the former Mexican president, indigenous leaders and CEOs from multinationals will be giving a press briefing to address pressing forest issues. I will be particularly interested to hear what the Indonesian minister has to say about the disastrous Indonesian fires, which have emitted so much carbon in past three months as to surpass Brazil’s annual C₀2 emissions.
Certainly, the focus on forests is critical. Forests account for nearly 30% of the earth’s carbon sinks. This makes forest preservation in a sense more important that carbon abatement.
A study of the Amazon, reported on in April, suggested that deforestation and drought are pushing the Amazon toward destruction by fire. Described at the Rio summit back in 1992 as the “lungs of the earth”, researchers are now concerned the Amazon could flip, becoming a net carbon emitter instead of a carbon sink.
Past studies have also shown that plantation forests are also not nearly as effective at being carbon sinks as old growth.
Then there is the supervening context for the merits of reforestation. The current commitments from the 177 nations that have submitted their “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) are nevertheless putting the world on a path to 2.7℃ by 2100.
If this is the best that can be negotiated, then the planet is being committed to a climate path not compatible with human habitation and possibly not trees also. If the “Amazon flip” is generalised, planting more trees may amount to no more than providing more biofuel for future conflagrations.
Australia has already seen what record-breaking global temperatures mean for the extreme fire behaviours we have witnessed in recent years. For that reason alone, Australia has a heightened obligation to rectify its abatement policies. With the highest per capita emissions in the OECD, Australia’s current targets are wanting.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s recent pronouncements about meeting targets that are themselves so far behind our per capita responsibilities will not go down well at the conference. Not only are Australia’s per capita emissions twice that of the OECD countries, they are actually rising.
It is a curious irony that it was the French who solved the problem of the relativities of time zones by that fateful transmission 100 years ago. This time, they need to solve a more difficult set of relativities – chaotically unequal emissions targets, which is the one area likely to cause the most friction at this conference.