We are working on it!

Island in the oceanAttending COP23 as an observer is a privilege because you are able to attend international multilateral negotiations. You witness established alliances use their power as a block and observe the dynamics of side negotiations. In these international multilateral negotiations, delegates agonize over words and paragraphs. They set their lines in the sand early and often. All of it done with diplomatic speak and collegiality but sometimes some get close to stepping over the line. Most of all, it is a privilege because you get to see the world trying to solve a problem collectively. With all this privilege, there is no denying that at times, these negotiations are frustrating. On rare occasions, the frustration causes one to think that the process is not working.

In a conversation with a delegate, I asked whether he is experiencing such frustration. Stalled talks are particularly challenging for him because he is from a Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which the United Nations considers as vulnerable nations because of climate change effect.  SIDS are usually located in the paths of hurricanes, which are happening with more frequency and more force. In the summer of 2017, for the first time, this delegate’s country issued mandatory evacuations from one of the outlying islands because no available shelter was adequate against the wrath of the coming storm. In the aftermath, the island became uninhabitable.

Additionally, SIDS are very vulnerable to rising sea levels. If water levels continue to rise, the oceans will soon reclaim these islands. Their challenge is their reluctance to make these issues public. Because their economy is dependent on tourism, climate change effects will drive off tourists, which will hurt an already fragile economy.

To answer my question, the delegate simply smiled. Then he started looking around at the other delegates and asked how many countries are represented. I told him there are delegates from 170 countries. He asked what are they all doing here? I told him that they are working on climate change issues. He replied with an even bigger smile, “exactly!” and repeated shortly after– We are working on it.

It is true that the COP process is complicated. One is instantly overwhelmed by the structure. There are three processes contained within the COP (UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement). Furthermore, each convention, protocol, or agreement has its own framework, and they sometimes intersect with each other. Having said that, the complexity of the process really lies in the magnitude of participants. At last count, there are one hundred and seventy countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement. These countries represent different needs, levels of development, levels of ability, and a different sense of urgency. Even with the common shared goal of limiting the increase in the Planet’s average temperature, the complexity is how to arrive at the desired results. In other words, who does what and who pays for what is the main source of difficulty at the COP negotiations, but…..

We are working on it!


Negotiation agenda

Insight from Al

This post was written by Rebecca Davidson.

Al Gore, 2006 Nobel Laureate and former U.S. Vice President, briefed a small group of non-governmental organization delegates yesterday at COP20 in Lima.  He spoke about his optimism for finding climate solutions and the urgency for doing so.   Gore is a long-time environmental advocate, pushing for innovative climate initiatives in the public and political spheres.  Building on the work that led to the book and documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and his Nobel Prize shared with the IPCC, Gore founded the Climate Reality Project to find ways to turn awareness into action.   Get Loud, Get Smart, Get Active. These are the motivating catch phrases of the Climate Reality Project.

Al’s in the House

Al’s in the House

Although he didn’t speak about the Climate Reality Project directly at the briefing, Mr. Gore did address the ways in which we are already developing a higher level of climate awareness and the innovative tech solutions that are pushing us towards a different kind of tipping point. No, not the tipping point from anthropogenic CO2 emissions that are melting the ice caps (although that is happening too). It’s the tipping point from society shifting its old-school fossil-fuel paradigm for producing energy. Mr. Gore cites that – for instance – more solar photovoltaic has been installed in CA in the last 2 years than over the previous 30 combined. This trend sends clear signals to big business and policy makers on what a new global economy can aim for.  We need to speed up this transition, exhorted Gore, for the survival of civilization.

So what to do? Mr. Gore expresses both emotion and optimism while simultaneously pushing big business and government.  His Climate Project website cuts right to the chase: “Big Polluters like oil and coal companies aren’t going down without a fight. After all, they’re making billions from dirty energy while the rest of us pay to clean up their mess. That’s why they’ve spent decades running well-funded campaigns to mislead and deceive the pugore 2blic about what’s really happening to the planet. These polluters—and the special-interest groups they support—are even following the exact same playbook as the tobacco industry used to confuse the public about smoking and cancer.”

As part of today’s briefing, Mr. Gore underscored the uniquely powerful voice of young people. If young people commit to environmental integrity and honesty, they can more clearly describe and work toward an evolving climate regime. Likewise he pointed out how indigenous people, when given an opportunity, can play an active role in developing mitigation benefits; a 2014 WRI study shows a direct link between strengthening community forest rights and mitigating climate risk.

Mr. Gore closed by encouraging everyone in the room to “keep it up please.”  With only a few days left here in Lima, and the long road to Paris, “the stakes are so high. My view is optimistic.”