How can we best engage with COP23?

On Tuesday 24 October we held a live Skype conversation Lindsey Fielder Cook, Representative on Climate Change at the Quaker United Nations Office.  Lindsey will be attending the COP 23 United Nations climate conference in November 2017.

Lindsey provided us with an update on the issues that will be on the table; the role that the she and the Quaker United Nations Office will be playing; and gave us guidance on what we can do from here in Birmingham.

The key points from the conversation were:

  • Governments made ambitious plans to tackle climate change in the 2015 Paris Agreement: COP23 will be about putting this into practice, and we need to make sure governments deliver what they promised.
  • Wealthy countries (who have contributed most to climate change in the past need) now need to make an extra effort to cut their own emissions and support developing countries to do the same, in a way that is fair.
  • The Quaker United Nations Office will be helping by providing off-the-record dinners where delegates can be honest and find common ground.
  • We can help by holding our own government to account; as individuals we can show our credibility by making changes in our personal lives.

Below is a more detailed summary of what we learned:

What is COP23?

COP23 is the 23rd ‘Conference of Parties’ to the 1996 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Each year governments from across the world come to a COP, to negotiate how to work together to tackle climate change.

In 2015, COP21 was held in Paris, and led to an ambitious international agreement (known as ‘the Paris Agreement’.)  At COP23 governments will be agreeing rules and guidelines to help put the Paris Agreement into action: for example, everyone needs to make sure they are measuring carbon emissions in the same way.

Success will depend on political will, and political will is driven by people’s engagement.  Policy-makers often use the excuse that ‘the people’ don’t want to make the changes necessary to tackle climate change.  So it’s very important for people to demonstrate their concern for climate change in their own lives and actions: that way we can speak to policy-makers with credibility.

Fiji will be hosting COP23 in Bonn, Germany.  This is important, because for the first time a poorer developing country (Fiji) will have the position of political power.  Fiji is an island community, who are already being affected by climate change; so they speak from a position of first-hand knowledge and determination.

What COP23 needs to achieve:

The wealthiest countries need to provide money for the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF is meant to give grants to developing countries, to help them reduce fossil fuel use and develop sustainable energy.

Each country also needs to put into practice its National Determined Contribution (NDC) to reducing the burning of fossil fuels. This is a pledge that each country has made as part of the Paris Agreement, to show what they will do to reduce emissions in their own country.

Climate justice needs to take into account both past and future generations.  Annual carbon emissions from developing countries are now higher than those from the developed countries, so supporting developing countries to reduce their emissions is important.   But we need to remember the history of carbon emissions: the CO2 that is currently in the atmosphere came primarily from developed countries.  Developed countries need to make strong commitments and put them into practice, so that developing countries can be confident to increase their commitments and feel they are being treated fairly.

It is disappointing that in the US, Donald Trump has said that he will not implement the Paris agreement.  However, this seems to have galvanised countries across the world (and cities and states within the US) to push ahead with putting the Paris Agreement into practice.

The role of the Quaker United Nations’ Office (QUNO) at COP23:

QUNO feels that climate action is urgent but it must be in line with climate justice.  We should support renewable energy, but not to the detriment of communities: for example, we should not support a hydro-electric dam if it would involve flooding an area that would destroy a community.  Making more decisions about energy at a local level could help with this.

QUNO will hold off-the-record dinners for delegates at COP23 with no disclosure of who attended or what they said. This enables delegates to speak freely, expressing opinions they perhaps can’t say publicly.  It enables informal discussions which can build bridges between the positions of different countries.

QUNO is preparing a publication to support negotiators when they go home: it will include 8 arguments for urgent action on climate change.

What can we do from here in Birmingham?

Our personal witness is very important.  Implementing Paris 2015 requires political will, and we the people need to give politicians the will to act on reducing fossil fuel use.

We can work to hold the UK government to account: the Clean Growth Strategy (published by the UK government in October 2017) sets out its plans. We need to make sure the government doesn’t back-slide on commitments to limit global warming to 1.5C warming (as agreed in Paris).  Similarly, we need to make sure the government is helping people of all backgrounds to transition to sustainable power sources.

To do this we can contact out MPs, and join campaigns and demonstrations.  Alongside these more traditional approaches, increasingly people are taking their governments to court.  Our government has made commitments to cut carbon emissions: if needed we can use the law to make sure that those commitments are honoured.

What happens next?

We look forward to hearing from Lindsey and others after COP23, to find out what agreements were made, and how we can continue to contribute.

In the meantime, look out for COP23 in the news (see official UN news here), and keep acting faithfully for the environment.  If you’d like to meet others doing the same, and get ideas for future action, join us at Tread Lightly on this Earth on 19th November in Birmingham.

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