Ahead of UN Talks, Real Hope Placed in 'Contagious Courage' of Global Climate Justice Movement

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Ahead of UN Talks, Real Hope Placed in 'Contagious Courage' of Global Climate Justice Movement

As government leaders gather in Peru for COP20 negotiations, experts and campaigners say solutions to crisis of global warming do exist... if you know where to look for them

Activists with Oxfam International unveiled this banner at the Huaca Pucllana ruins in Lima, Peru on Sunday ahead of the climate talks that will begin on Monday. (Image: Oxfam International/Twitter)

With the latest data showing the world experiencing its hottest year in recorded human history and just months after the global climate justice movement expressed itself on the streets of New York City and cities around the world with hundreds of thousands voicing their determination to fight for a more sane energy and economic future as part of the People's Climate movement, diplomats from more than 190 countries are about to convene once again to see if they can finally agree on bold action to mitigate the worst impacts of global warming and resulting climate change.

Though some of the world's top diplomats attending the UN's climate summit that begins Monday in Lima, Peru are reportedly "upbeat" about the ability of the talks to result in a strong draft agreement to curb global emissions of greenhouse gases, many climate campaigners are looking at the summit with more critical and skeptical eyes.

"When people in large numbers start believing that change is possible, only then does change become possible."
—Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace

The meeting in Peru—officially the twentieth Conference of the Parties (COP20) summit held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—is the next large step towards forging an international climate agreement that delegates hope to finalize at COP21 in Paris next year. The stated goal for the Lima summit is to finalize a working draft of an agreement, something that has proved elusive since the breakdown of the Kyoto Protocol which was finalized by the UNFCCC in 1997 but never fully adopted by all nations.

Following the repeated and increasingly urgent warnings of the scientific community, leaders of national governments have agreed that global temperature rise should be kept to no more than 2°C this century. In order to achieve such a goal, however, drastic emission reductions must take place and so far, according to experts and climate campaigners, nothing currently on the table goes nearly far enough to ensure meeting that goal.

According to Dipti Bhatnagar, the climate justice and energy coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, if the texts under consideration by the delegates in Lima are the basis of the agreement that ultimately arrives in Paris, the planet and those that inhabit it are in grave danger.

“Looking at the texts that our governments are negotiating in Lima," said Bhatnagar, "the climate deal that they plan to reach next year in Paris could turn out to be, at best, an empty shell. They must reverse their course of action urgently."

Though groups like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and others agree that solutions do exist to address the climate crisis and that the United Nations continues to be the best place for governments to forge a binding agreement, their faith in the UNFCCC process has steadily eroded with each passing conference.

"There are real solutions to the climate crisis. They include stopping fossil fuels, building sustainable, community-based energy systems, steep reductions in carbon emissions, transforming our food systems, and stopping deforestation."
—Jagoda Munic, Friends of the Earth International
Asked about his predictions of the COP20 agreement to include binding, as opposed to voluntary emission cuts, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben told Al-Jazeera on Saturday that his hopes are not high. “My guess is [binding targets] will be punted, even in Paris, and we'll emerge with something vague that tries to make countries sound good without committing them to much,” McKibben said. What previous climate negotiations have taught climate activists, added McKibben, is to focus on "actions more than promises" when it comes to government and industry leaders.

Though some have sighted a recent bi-lateral agreement between China and the United States to voluntarily reduce reductions as a source for hope, experts note how the agreement— even if acknowledged as a positive development in some respects—simply proves how little even the world's largest polluters are willing to offer in order to address a situation that scientists warn could so drastically alter the life-sustaining systems of the planet.

As Robert Weissman, president of the U.S.-based advocacy group Public Citizen, recently wrote of the U.S.-China deal, "The problem is that this politically significant agreement is incredibly unambitious when it comes to actually reducing greenhouse gas pollution."

The real solution, say experts like Weissman and Bhatnagar, include significant and "binding" emissions cuts by all governments, with a special focus on the largest polluters such as the U.S., China, Australia, Canada, and European nations. And beyond just lowering emissions there are fundamental transformations that must take place across economic, political, agricultural, and energy sectors.

As Jagoda Munic, chair of FOEI, wrote in an op-ed for Common Dreams this weekend:

There are real solutions to the climate crisis. They include stopping fossil fuels, building sustainable, community-based energy systems, steep reductions in carbon emissions, transforming our food systems, and stopping deforestation.

Surely, a climate-safe, sustainable energy system which meets the basic energy needs of everyone and respects the rights and different ways of life of communities around the world is possible: An energy system where energy production and use support a safe and clean environment, and healthy, thriving local economies that provide safe, decent and secure jobs and livelihoods. Such an energy system would be based on democracy and respect for human rights.

To make this happen we urgently need to invest in locally-appropriate, climate-safe, affordable and low impact energy for all, and reduce energy dependence so that people don’t need much energy to meet their basic needs and live a good life.

And Munic's list of solutions dovetails with Weissman's recent assessment:

There's not really any mystery about what the world needs to do to avert catastrophic climate change, and there isn't much difference between the national and global agendas. We need massive investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The good news is that, over time, these investments will lower our energy costs. The sun and the wind are free; we just to have to get better at harvesting their energy - major strides have already been made in the last decade. We need large-scale transfers of know-how (intellectual property) and resources from rich to poor countries to speed the transition to a carbon-free future, as well as to help poorer countries adapt to the serious costs that even moderated climate change will impose. And, we have to do all this quickly, because energy savings today are much more important than those in 2045, or even 2030.

All of this is doable, but it won't happen on its own. That's why we need binding intergovernmental commitments.

Writing on behalf of Greenpeace, the group's political director Daniel Mittler articulated three key issues which must be addressed by delegates in Lima:

Whether or not the people of the world see the outlines of those solutions in Lima in the coming days is up for speculation. Based on the available evidence, however, there are plenty of good reasons that the growing and increasingly agitated climate justice movement has decided to no longer hold its collective breath when so-called "world leaders" converge.

In her latest book, This Changes Everything, Canadian activist and author Naomi Klein told readers that "only mass social movements can save us now" from the dangers related to climate change and the neoliberal economic policies that have exacerbated the crisis of carbon and greenhouse gas pollution.

That sentiment was echoed recently by Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International, who said during a TED talk in Amsterdam that the key to solving the climate crisis—"the biggest challenge that humanity has ever faced"—is what he called "contagious courage" infecting millions of people around the globe.  "When people in large numbers start believing that change is possible," said Naidoo, "only then does change become possible.”

The repeated failures of previous UN climate talks have revealed much, said Naidoo. "What we see is that those with power actually don't deny that we have to act on climate change. You can sit in a meeting with them. You can be on a panel with them. And whether they come from government or business, they will speak with the same passion as I would speak. But when they get back to their offices and their lives, sadly, a small thing interferes with their courage. And that is: business-as-usual."

"The reality," he continues, "is that business-as-usual is not an option for us any more."

This continued inaction, however, according to Mittler, has had the effect of compounding the need for people to forgo patience with the process and created a deeper necessity for people to step into the void left by governments and the business world.  "The urgency of the climate science, the increasingly attractive economics of renewables, and the rising global climate movement, means that progress on climate action is now inevitable. Leaders in Lima can do their job on behalf of their people speed up the transition to a world run on renewables for all."

And according to Munic, preventing the climate crisis and avoiding "the potential collapse of life-supporting ecosystems" on the planet will require "long-term thinking, brave leaders and a mass movement" like the one that reared its head at the People's Climate March in New York in September and evidenced by those attending the People's Summit in Lima this week alongside the official COP20 summit.

"But we need to grow much bigger and much stronger," she concludes. "We are calling on people to join the global movement for climate justice, which is gaining power and integrating actions at local, national and UN level. The solution to the climate crisis is achievable and it is in our hands."

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