I attended the United Nations Global Climate Change Conference (COP16) in Mexico in the first week of December because I wanted to be present to witness the creation of a global climate treaty, or an immediate solution to a dismal environmental crisis. In theory, all the U.N. needs to do is set carbon targets and a reasonable timeline, and convince every other country to sign on. How hard can it be? It's a small world, right?
These meetings gave me hope. But they also gave me a strong realization that creation of any such treaty is going to take more time — time that the world does not have. And especially more time than the islands of Seychelles, the polar bears and other constituents that are already suffering heavily from climate change impacts do not have. Here are the problems that I believe are hindering the process.
First, the construction of a global climate document is being hung up by the voice of individuals. Gender equality, indigenous tribal rights, social structure reformation, economic value of forests and inadequate technological advancements are only some of the complexities of the global climate crisis.
A global climate document involves everyone in the world. Everyone has a voice and everyone is shouting as loud they can to have their opinions prioritized. All of the noise creates a dull roar, in which nothing is heard effectively. So much time is placed into prioritizing and issuing all concerns and perspectives that any policy that is created is watered down.
Also, according to Christiana Figueres
, the United Nations Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, perfection is holding the process from progressing.
"Perfection is the enemy of the good," Figueres said.
Everyone was exerting themselves in the Cancun process to address all of the global climate change complexities that not even a treaty framework was established.
This framework is the decision if the treaty will be legally binding, in which all countries will sign to drop their emissions within a set time frame, or if it will be one that allows creative flexibility, in which countries will drop their percentage of emissions on their own schedule according to their specific needs. Only after this framework is established can complexities be considered.
Though the Cancun agreements failed to construct a treaty foundation, they did succeed in bringing together over 190 countries that are participating in the U.N. process.
It brought together Buddhist monks and presidents of consulting firms, discussing the importance of carbon targets and new green technologies. Chelsea Robinson, co-convener of the New Zealand Youth Delegation
, explained that the conference brought together youth from around the world to tear down the national boundaries that are interrupting negotiations of today's world leaders.
"People [youth delegations] have their own agendas but unlike the official delegations, they are actually willing to look at how that fits in with a unified youth voice and what the common ground is," Robinson said. "We found at COY
[Conference of Youth] young people are willing to open their eyes to our interconnectedness and our interdependence on each other and work within the policies." See the full interview here:
What can we do?
This conference also re-affirmed the importance for local action to occur while the world waits on the United Nations.
Though the U.N. global climate change treaty framework holds great potential, we cannot delay action until the creation of a final draft or even until next year's U.N. meeting in Durban, South Africa.
Movement has a snowball effect. Local actions that support dropping emissions will proceed to create state action, which will initiate national awareness and eventually create the international support that is needed for the United Nations to draft a global climate change treaty.
"It's all in the details and it's all about people taking responsibility to get things off the ground," Robinson said.
She also explained that New Zealand, for example, has been empowering young people through its Enviroschools
program in which schools begin teaching sustainability initiatives to children as young as five years old.
Like this example from New Zealand, we all need to be responsible for creating localized environmental movements that will create change. Writing to state legislature addressing the importance of environmental policy, teaching others about the importance of recycling or volunteering with an NGO will all contribute to the fight against global climate change.
We cannot just wait for the United Nations to solve the world's increasing emissions problem for us.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons