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Climate Change: Local Action Speaks Louder Than Global Words
International climate talks may be failing to make progress, but the grassroots movement around the world has never been stronger
Post-Copenhagen gloom seems to be morphing in to pre-Cancún despondency. In the battle over how to combat climate change, world leaders have descended to the level of petty bickering. Progress at the latest round of talks in Tianjin last week was timid, and some pundits are already declaring December's COP16 summit in Mexico to be dead in the water.
In the real world this year, Pakistan and China suffered flooding and mudslides, Russia's forests burned, and millions of people in Niger and Sahel Africa faced famine due to crop failures resulting from extreme heat and drought. A 100-square mile piece of ice broke off of Greenland's Petermann glacier, and 17 countries experienced their highest-ever temperatures, while only one country recorded a record low.
Climate change will have increasingly devastating impacts. We are all in the same boat and it is sinking. Many continue to argue about why and how fast it is sinking, and who should be the first to plug the holes. But others are out there rolling up their sleeves – people everywhere are just getting on with making the boat seaworthy again. Such efforts were celebrated in a worldwide work party on Sunday, with more than 7,300 events in 188 countries. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, there were low-carbon lunches, tree-planting events, solar installations, bike rides and waste recycling efforts.
There is a lot going on outside the negotiations, and it is inspiring. India, the Philippines and South Africa are among a number of larger developing nations, already experiencing the damaging effects of global warming, who have identified the competitive advantages to be reaped from a lower carbon economy and have made ambitious plans for emissions cuts and renewables investments.
The president of the Maldives, one of the nations most imminently threatened by climate change, has pledged to make his country carbon neutral by 2020. Several other small nations are taking a similar path. Antigua and Barbuda, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, the Marshall Islands and Samoa all pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions and pursue green growth and development.
It's become clearer than ever that those nations that fail to lead on renewable energy risk becoming the big losers. Increasingly, money is flowing towards the green future. As the US Senate baulked at even the weakest of climate and energy bills in August, Deutsche Bank announced its annual "green" investment dollars – worth $6bn-$7bn (£3.8bn-£4.4bn) – would now focus on opportunities in China and western Europe. The bank's head of asset management described the US as "asleep at the wheel on this industrial revolution".
While Washington and others slept, China this year emerged as the leader in the green energy race.
Ordinary people across all time zones have accepted that it is now a matter of looking for solutions, rather than arguing about the nature of the problem. The 10 October "day of doing" was just the start of a wave of action this week, with additional campaigns planned for 16 October (World Food day) and 17 October (Anti-Poverty day). By the end of the month, hundreds of thousands of people will have stood up for action on global warming and its effects.
The momentum is growing, and it sends a simple message to politicians: the mandate for change is here and now–- we're doing our part, now you do yours.
Delegations heading for Cancún must realise that the ground is shifting beneath their feet. Make no mistake, we still need an international agreement: to ensure the scale of investment sufficient to keep temperature rise below 1.5C, and to do right by the poorest nations and communities which suffer disproportionately from a problem not of their making. At the very least, Mexico must deliver a clear acknowledgment that the targets on the table are insufficient to stave off catastrophic climate change, and real progress on key issues such as climate finance (additional money, not reheated leftovers). This would not only help restore trust in the international negotiations, but bring politics back into step with the public mood.