Even before the signing, environmental groups and development charities have criticised the agreement as being far too weak to affect real change. Any significant commitments are now off the table.
Before the summit, scientists across the globe were advising their governments that urgent action on consumption and population trends will be needed to protect the world for future generations. A group of more than 100 science academies, including the UK’s Royal Society, warned that “global consumption levels are at an all time high” and that developed countries need to reduce these levels if the billion poorest people on the planet are to have adequate food, water and energy. A recent Royal Society report says that unless changes are made to economic models, there could be catastrophic consequences for the world and the welfare of human beings.
But if nations are not prepared to sign up to strong commitments on change, does it mean there is no hope for the planet? Some charity and environmental workers, while despairing of the global picture, hope that successes at a local level will show the way forward. They take comfort from the fact that many small steps can sometimes be more achievable and effective than trying for large strides.
In Senegal, for example, farmers have been restoring soils and boosting their crop yields by turning their attention back to nature and trees. Like many countries across the Sahel region, Senegal is suffering from severe drought, the third in a decade. But for the last few years, small groups of growers have been practising farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR), where tree stumps and wildlings are protected and coppiced so they rapidly grow or regrow. Encouraging these naturally occurring trees to spring up alongside fields helps to bring nitrogen and humus (from fallen leaves) into the soil and stop erosion of topsoil by the wind.
One farmer spoke to the Guardian about the FMNR scheme which has re-greened his peanut-growing area of Kaffrine and how the drought has affected him less than other farmers. When it has rained, he reports that “the humidity stayed longer on my fields” and that he no longer needs fertiliser for his crop. Wildlife such as bush pigeons, guinea fowl and jackals have returned and wild fruits and leaves can now be used as extra sources of food.
Results from similar schemes where farmers regularly prune and encourage the growth of indigenous trees (which often have 50% of their biomass underground), suggest FMNR is more successful than replanting in many parts of Africa. In one area of Ethiopia, where FMNR has re-greened nearly 3,000 hectares, springs which have been dry for three decades are now welling up again. These small successes show that with just a little care and attention given to our environment, everyone benefits.