After our two weeks in Qatar we've taken some time to reflect upon on our experiences. At the conference each of us attended different side events, focused on different organizations, and had conversations with individuals from around the world. It's difficult to synthesize each of our individual experiences but we feel like we have gained some common insight at COP18. First, we've learned that climate change is more than just political issue--it affects every aspect of people's lives. Second, observing the international decision-making process has reinforced our idea of transparency, political unwillingness to compromise, and the value of public opinion. Third, we've realized that climate change requires immediate action, because it's impacts are being felt at this moment. And fourth, we've learned that despite being a serious problem facing the entire world, there is hope that we can steer earth from its projected path of warming.
Climate change is more than just a change in the weather and temperature patterns on the planet. In fact, it's starting to be referred to by some as "global change", because the implications of a changing climate will alter the status quo of politics, social structures, and the economy. In our lives we tend to search for a fast fix. We are used to a straightforward, simple solution that requires little sacrifice. What is interesting about climate change is that there is no simple solution. If we are going to combat this crisis effectively we will need political compromise, financial aid from both public and private sectors, individual sacrifice, and unprecedented levels of cooperation-- from both individuals and governments. The reason solutions to climate change are this complex and difficult is because it affects all aspects of peoples lives.
Besides the content of the side events and plenary discussions themselves, we also occupied ourselves by keeping up with the international decision-making and developing an understanding of the process. As non-governmental observers, we have understood the importance of transparency in decision-making from the beginning. However, this understanding was furthered when we noticed discussions, meetings, and consultations becoming more private and open only to party members as negotiations drew on. We experienced and participated in many actions by youth at the conference, demonstrating to negotiators the issues that are important to civil society. We learned so much about the power of people determined to have their voices heard.
During our time at the conference it became apparent that the only option for our planet is to take action now. Right now there is flooding in Bangledesh, drought in Africa and the American West, record strength typhoons in the Philippines and record strength hurricanes in the US, all a result of a changing climate. In the past we have set goals to curb our GHG emissions and have all but failed to reach these goals. Not too long ago a decision was made to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade. If we continue business as usual we are on track for a 4-6 degree rise. This would be a disaster for ecosystems and societies all over the globe. These predictions are quite bleak and pessimistic. However science does provide an optimistic outlook for the future, it just requires immediate action. With current technology it is possible to become carbon neutral, the problem is that it will require sacrifice and substantial change. In order to ensure a future for our children and grandchildren we must begin to mitigate climate change now and assist the billions of our friends who are already in distress.
There is an overwhelming amount of concern for the future of the world. Often times, talk of the possibility of our “impending doom” is discouraging, but at the Conference we learned that there is always room for hope. It is often thought that in places such as Bangladesh, where the flooding of more than half of their country by 2050 is almost certain, there would be little hope or options other than complete evacuation. After attending COP18, we realized that this was not true at all. Evacuation is actually a last resort option for them. Bangladesh has come up with a variety of mechanisms which would allow them to continue on with their everyday lives even if a large portion of their country is flooded. For example, much of their country depends on farming for survival, so hearing that they had plans to create floating gardens so that they could continue growing crops was very hopeful. This is just one of the many examples of hope for the future that emerged at the Conference. Overall, it seems as though humanity will do whatever it takes to adapt to a changing climate.
I was able to see so many inspiring things during the two weeks I spent at the conference. One that particularly stuck out for me was the desire that adults had to hear the opinions of youth. I have never been involved in a situation that gave youth such a strong say in the issues that they wanted to be addressed. In one meeting with YOUNGO, the current head of the future Green Climate Fund held a reverse interview. Instead of having YOUNGO ask him questions, he asked us questions and took notes on what we had to say. This was very empowering because it showed that adults take an interest and care about the concerns of youth. At one point in his reverse interview, he said, “You will be the ones inheriting this world from us, so why shouldn’t you have a say in what we decide?” It was very validating to hear someone say this because those who will be dealing with the effects of climate change the most ultimately should have a say in the issues that are being decided upon. I was very pleased with how well all of the different organizations worked together throughout the COP in a way which gave everyone the opportunity to speak and have their voices heard.
I talked to many people at the conference and what I noticed is that climate change affects everyone differently, but everyone nonetheless. Developed countries and their citizens are so privileged and have freedom to do what they want. This isn't fair for poor developing countries because they are the ones that are impacted the most by climate change. We basically have the mind set that we can do whatever we want regardless of the consequences.
What I took away from the conference was that climate change affects everyone, especially those in less developed areas. I have used this quote before but it sums up how serious and immediate this issue is.:
"A two degree temperature rise everywhere else would mean a four-six degree temperature rise here in South Africa. At those temperatures our crops cannot grow, our cattle will die and we will be forced to move. What we have held through genocide, apartheid, and colonization we will lose through climate change"
- Yvette Abrahams
During Gender Day, I went to a panel discussion of UNFCCC women leaders, one of which was Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. When asked why she is dedicated to climate and gender issues, she responded that she constantly thinks of the futures of her daughters and granddaughters, and that our actions today will affect women at least seven generations in the future. Then she began to cry, saying that she wants us to do everything we can to ensure a happy and healthy future for future generations. This stood out to me, because it exemplified the idea that climate change issues are deeply tied to our emotions and social issues in addition to science. Even someone as powerful and intelligent as Christiana has emotional investment in these issues. I think this is why her work and behavior are especially meaningful, and it also shows the importance of the social aspect of climate change.