En Route to COP21- A personal reflection

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Is it normal to be this excited about going to United Nations Conference of Parties (COP)? Last night, I was like a child on Christmas Eve, unable to sleep with the anticipation of today’s journey. I’ve heard from colleagues that the COPs can be awful, frustrating events and that I didn’t miss anything in Lima last year at COP20, but I’m cautiously optimistic that COP21 will be worth the effort to attend.

Change is in the air

Part of my optimism is borne from a growing sense I’ve had lately that public opinion and acceptance of the climate crisis has shifted considerably in the last few years. There are a number of possible reasons for this:

  • Famous people, like Naomi Klein and Leonardo DiCaprio, have raised the profile of the issue by speaking publically and frequently about their concern.
  • The beauty of U.S. Presidential term limits and a consequential focus on legacy means the United States can finally engage in a meaningful way and use its influence to engage other high-carbon countries
  • The revelation that Exxon actively tried to protect their business interests from climate risks while investing large sums in trying to convince the public that climate change was not a problem has opened people’s eyes to the con-job that vested interests have played on them.
  • Civil society organisations have come together like never before to coordinate their actions and demand climate action from one collective voice. The global People’s Climate Marches showed a level of coordination not seen in the environmental movement since the birth of Earth Day.
  • Finally, climate change has already started in a big and scary way. It’s no longer a problem of future generations, but of our generation.  There is clearly no more time left to delay action.

Whatever the reasons, the evidence for this shift in perception is clear. In a recent U.S. Gallop poll, over 2/3rds of people surveyed bought into climate change, compared to 50% only a few years ago. Even the climate deniers barely deny climate change anymore and have switched from saying it’s not happening or not anthropogenic to speculating that it might not happen as fast as the models indicate or that it might benefit humanity in some ways. The scientific evidence for the causes and impacts of climate change has become too strong to deny.

The vested interests are losing their stranglehold on global negotiations, and the voices of those in civil society demanding climate action can finally be heard. Ordinary people like you and I really can influence policy, and the internet is enabling us to find each other and speak collectively. I believe it’s the people power that’s finally pushing COP in the right direction.

Maybe not a leader, but at least forced to follow

Our Taoiseach’s embarrassing performance at the COP last week certainly didn’t infuse me with optimism, but fortunately, his opinion that climate action and economic growth have an adversarial relationship appears to be the minority view at COP21. Most leaders recognise that clean energy security is a win for both climate and economy (along with health) in the long-term. Developing countries are generally happy to bypass fossil fuels and develop via renewables instead.

While Enda Kenny’s remarks lead me to give up on any hope of Ireland being a leader in climate action, I’m transferring that hope to the leadership and initiative of other countries in COP, who will force Ireland in the right direction rather than risk becoming a dinosaur by remaining dependent on subsidised fossil fuels.

While I’ve heard relatively positive reports about the negotiations at COP21 so far from colleagues, I know that anything could happen in these last few days. There is still no guarantee of a successful outcome, but as I kissed my daughter good bye this morning, I hoped I was heading off to witness the launch of a new future for her. I hoped I’d witness the moment the world began the transformation from our Industrial past to a cleaner future.

Here’s hoping from COP21!  – Cara

Cara will be blogging and tweeting for Friends of the Earth Ireland from COP21 in Paris through Sunday


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Climate Change