I left Copenhagen on Wednesday morning, just as World Leaders started to descend into the city and protestors mounted their most “direct action” on COP15 yet. Like the rest of the world, I can only watch and wait, nervously for a positive outcome from the last few days of negotiations. From a personal point of view, attending the COP has been a lesson in understanding ‘how the world works’. I’ve a much stronger appreciation for the participating actors, their arguments, the sticking points, the administrative process and the political process. On the flip side, being at the COP just as easily can be a frustrating, overwhelming and disappointing experience.
As a dual degree MBA+MS student at the Erb Institute I’ve been warned about the polarizing impacts of “Light Green and Dark Green NGOs” (ref: Andy Hoffman), but no amount of reading can prepare you for an actual confrontation. Yesterday I was volunteering at The Climate Leaders Summit, organized by The Climate Group, where head’s of regions and states, businesses and NGOs come together to make written commitments and sign on to partnerships that would aim at reducing impacts of climate change. From my perspective this is a ray of hope – local action and partnerships at the State, Region and City level that are surpassing efforts at the National and international level – surely this is a positive outcome? Why then did we have an army of protestors attempt to storm into our premises to disrupt proceedings? Why did we have individuals storm into our round table and lie on the floor in protest against business collaborating with government to tackle climate change? It is obvious that neither party understood each other’s intentions but chose boisterous, aggressive action that made a loud but empty statement. So often we end up fighting one another, even though we are all playing for the same team.
Yesterday’s experience was just a microcosm of the events at Bella Center – people talking from their pedestals, past one another rather than engaging in meaningful debate. Each party sticking to their guns, their speeches rooted in rhetoric and ideology, focused on process rather than content. The atmosphere in conference center was electric at the beginning of the 2nd week. The buzz was palpable, the lines were long, the activism intensified but yet political gridlock did not seem to give way. I walked the exhibitions halls, talking to representatives from different organizations, understanding their role, their perspectives and learning about their work. What gives me some hope is that there seems to be a groundswell of action in perhaps what is one of the biggest social movements that we have seen in a couple of generations. Paul Hawken, estimates that there are close to 1-2 million organizations around the world that are working toward ecological sustainability and social justice – the two themes that underpinned this COP. This will not go away.
I cannot help but wonder if the premise that this agreement is based on is flawed – it presupposes that development cannot be decoupled from carbon emissions and that a shift will be painful and wholly negative. We therefore end up in a situation where we are forced to pitch our battle tents around ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ and ‘least developed’ and are locked into battles over burden sharing. It does not take a global treaty to unlock the economic potential of a decarbonized model of development. Germany with it’s strong policy instruments are already achieving significant reductions while positioning their economy for growth.
In the event this multi-lateral global climate treaty falls through (fingers crossed) we will have to look to more unilateral or bilateral action from states and governments, strong commitments from businesses and sectoral alliances, and continued action from the NGOs and Civil Sector Organizations who have ben leading the way thus far. Grassroots, bottom-up action may be our only option.