Firm foundations or hot air?

From the hugs, handshakes, huge applause and standing ovation at the conclusion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference near Paris, onlookers could be forgiven for thinking world leaders and delegates had already saved the planet.

The conference's achievements are certainly notable.

The global agreement - by 195 countries and some 20 years in the making - has been described as a "landmark'' in terms of setting the future course for climate-change action.

Just as remarkable was the vision of a truly united UN.

Effective action by the organisation is so often stymied because of the veto rights of the five permanent Security Council members.

That all its member states could come to an agreement about something as vast and divisive as climate change is certainly ground- breaking.

But does the agreement lay the first much-needed firm foundations or does it amount to a lot of hot air?

The accord lays out a common vision and ambitious plan to reduce fossil-fuel use and rising greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, and even hopes to keep warming below 1.5degC - even better than the 2degC threshold beyond which scientists say global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible and which was the initial target at the conference.

Rich nations will help poorer ones in the transition to clean energy and to cope with the impacts of climate change.

There will be a five-yearly stocktake of countries' progress on their emissions reductions pledges.

The first will be in 2018, and the first under the official agreement in 2023.

The bad news? Significant parts of the agreement are not legally binding, and rely on individual countries to make good on their reduction pledges.

The world is already 1degC warmer than pre-industrial temperatures.

And the current pledges aren't actually enough to keep us within the 2degC threshold.

There are many challenges for some of the biggest polluters.

The Republican-dominated Congress could block changes in the US.

China's reduction plans are long-term, and India will not wean itself off coal in the near future.

And New Zealand - although a minnow in overall emissions - is still largely dragging the chain, despite talking the talk on the shape of the agreement and what other nations should be doing around the likes of fossil-fuel subsidies.

Outgoing Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said there would be no changes to domestic policy around the issue.

Agriculture (our biggest emitter) will be left unchecked until such time as science and technology can provide an animal emissions solution, and we will be one of the few nations buying carbon credits from others who are reducing their emissions.

On the positive side, the Government has agreed to fund Pacific nations to the tune of $200 million over the next four years.

But we must do more than just support others or demand action of them.

All countries are concerned about their economic prosperity, all have problems transitioning, but all must be part of the solution.

Funding science and technology is certainly desirable, but without real political will and the implementation of meaningful policies, it is hard to see how it is possible to achieve changes at the speed necessary.

If agriculture really is our hardest issue to "solve'', we should be stepping up efforts in the energy and transport sectors at the very least.

And if we won't lead - which seems a shame given the clean, green environmentally friendly image we like to project - we must follow or forever be shamed.

New Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett needs to put her foot down (in her electric car, of course) and start driving home some real domestic policies here so our first stocktake report card is not the woeful one it looks likely to shape up to be.

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