- Lower-level negotiators released a draft agreement today ahead of tomorrow’s deadline for a document for high-level negotiators — the text is 48 pages long
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced The State of City Climate Finance report for large-scale, sustainable development of city infrastructure
- New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bank of England governor Mark Varney launched a new financial taskforce to advise companies about the risks of climate change
- Fossil fuel divestment has gained momentum: over 500 institutions representing $3.4 trillion have ceased investing in fossil fuels
Today, my question is philosophical: How do we enact a positive change in climate? As in, how do we change our actions so that we can better sustain the Earth? I think the answer lies in the United Nations concept of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), which means exactly what it says if it were not capitalized and made into an acronym.
I had the extraordinary pleasure of hearing Al Gore speak (and capturing pictures of his face) today at noon. He’s the environmentally-conscious former vice president who lost the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000. With inspiring words like other charismatic politicians, but without their farce, he spoke directly to the concerns of civil society members in the audience.
Gore gave a short introduction and conveyed his optimism about the conference. Comparing negotiators and waiters at restaurants, he said, “The people in charge of the butter are shepherding it very skillfully.” He likened the environmental movement to the anti-apartheid and civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements, which were driven largely by young people. He expressed support for electrification, sustainable fishing and agriculture, divestment, and other climate change solutions, and he borrowed the words of a prominent economist: “Things take longer to happen than you thought they would, but then they happen faster than you ever imagined they could.”
At the heart of Gore’s talk, between his answers to a Ugandan farmer, Arctic Inuit, Bangladeshi lawyer, and French student, among others, was the message that if you care about the environment — as you rightfully should — you can help save it. “You don’t have to be unkind, you don’t have to be overly confrontational, but you do have to be persistent,” Gore said.
The responsibility of civil society members like you and me is to make our values known, even if they do not carry price tags, even if they encompass the entire world. We impel our representatives governments and international organizations to “align with science,” according to Pierre Cannet of the World Wildlife Fund, and to avert the crisis of climate change.
But the role of negotiators rests in a different room — meeting rooms, to be precise. Often behind closed doors, they grapple with texts dozens of pages long, containing words too strong, weak, vague, or specific, and with literal and metaphorical implications. I observed one of these negotiations (supposedly about article 3 but actually about article 2 and 2bis because negotiations were moving slowly), and in the frame of an hour, I watched people representing countries and blocs of countries talk to each other with all the intricacies of social interaction, moderated by a single, jaded chairperson. Sudan, Australia, the Alliance of Small Island States, and others threw in their hats for South Africa, which represented the G-77 and China, a developing nation bloc. Maldives called for the reinsertion of the words “Mother Earth” into the text because they had symbolic value. Turkey wanted to bracket an entire article. Venezuela said, “We know how to do our work” and continued to talk. I was perplexed.
So COP21 operates at two levels, one that is esoteric and removed from civil society. No wonder youths have called out the COP presidency for limiting their participation in actual negotiations. No wonder my taxi driver said he had no clue what “COP21” stood for. The responsibility of negotiators is to create a document that can be consistently interpreted and supported by all the countries in the world, but the responsibility of civil society members is to care — outside meeting rooms, in the field — about Mother Earth.
Person of the Day: A high school girl who stood up to ask Al Gore a question. No one is too young or too naïve to care.
Article of the Day: The jargon of COP21, explained. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-30/cop21-paris-climate-conference-jargon-buster