Braving the Battle against Complacency. Thanks CYD.
It is easy to become complacent. Largely because I am one of the 15 CYD members locked out of the negotiations this week, it has become incredibly easy for me to lose sight of what’s at stake, and even easier to feel ineffectual and want to give up.
But today fellow CYDers helped to remind me for the first time in the last two weeks that the climate crisis – and it is a very real crisis – requires immediate action. As they reminded us on the steps of the Azteca building where negotiations are taking place, 21,000 people died last year in climate change related deaths including 2000 people in the Pakistani floods and 15,000 people in the Russian heatwave. I care about climate change not because it is a hot topic (pardon the pun) but because I am a person living in the world and millions of people are already feeling the effects. I care because I am concerned about the lives of the children I hope to one day have. While pretending these things aren’t true is temping and would probably make life easier in the short term, it is not really an option.
As the 80’s classic goes, “how do we sleep while our beds are burning?”
Despite that sense of responsibility, though, I’ve sometimes wandered towards being cynical about the usefulness of our interventions. I arrived in Cancun motivated to help amplify the youth voice and influence outcomes alongside the CYD, but it sometimes felt like the UNFCCC secretariat deliberately put up roadblocks for civil society participation so that our attention would be focused on frustrations about procedure rather than on the bigger picture. Partly because of our moderated presence, negotiators have mostly been able to continue prioritizing national and perceived economic interests, sidelining the urgency of the issue.
Today, though, there have been powerful demonstrations by youth and civil society groups: Stephen McGlenn and the CYD walked out of a meeting with Canadian negotiators to express their discontent with the Canadian position; Canadians across the country and in Cancun lit candles for Kyoto, demanding that international commitments be upheld and renewed; international youth gathered at the Moon Palace to count to 21,000 to recognize the lives lost to climate change; people all over were mobilized to call governments and demand progress.
And tonight things seem to have turned around unexpectedly: a new text has been proposed calling for developed countries to reduce their emissions by 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020; Japan, who until this morning was blocking a second commitment period on the Kyoto Protocol, has supported the text; a new Green Fund has been established for developing states. It is too early in the night for celebration and back patting (Bolivia is now blocking the text and there remain issues with Fund governance, emissions loopholes, and a gap between pledges made and targets required to avoid more than 2 degrees of warming), but the outlook is more positive than expected.
Johann Hari, in a Huffington Post op-ed 2 weeks ago said, “the collapse of Copenhagen has not shocked people into action; it has numbed them into passivity.” Even a mildly positive outcome in Cancun could revive hope and citizen participation. Civil society has hustled hard here these last two weeks, and while more progressive commitments on behalf of countries like Japan cannot be wholly attributable to the efforts of these stakeholders, I’m sure we have had some sort of impact. And personally, as much as it may feel silly and inconsequential to spend my days in Mexico sitting in a hostel reaching out through social networks and risking feeling cultish for pushing my beliefs onto other people, it may not be useless. Maybe, very indirectly, I’ve helped prevent some beds from burning.