Engaging at the Human Scale

On the opening mood of the COP20, our #CCLLima Global Forum: Human Scale & Local Impacts, the Voices for Climate pavilions, shared vulnerability & solutions

The first day of the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP20) was devoted to opening and framing remarks. We heard history, scientific data, economic analysis, and varying statements of purpose regarding what the COP20 meetings should accomplish. There is a mood of anticipation, as most of the parties hope to set the terms of a 2015 Paris accord. By the morning of the second day, it was clear that key words and phrases were being used differently according to different perspectives.

Mitigation has become a focal point, and some have complained it is too much a focal point. Since we are here, representing Citizens’ Climate Lobby, with an aim to build support for revenue-neutral carbon pricing and the Pathway to Paris core principles, it took some digging to understand such complaints, when we have heard little about the policy we want to see embraced. Mitigation, it turns out, is to some a catch-all word for deployment of solutions that reduce emissions. For us, it means pricing carbon to reduce risk and harm.

In both cases, the idea is that we mitigate the threat. The disagreement over whether mitigation in the form of investment in technologies should be the focus of discussion appears to be related to whether funds contributed to the Green Climate Fund should be devoted to overhaul of industrial economies or to payment for costs incurred by communities who have contributed in no way to the rise in global greenhouse gas concentrations.

Global Online Policy Forum on Human Scale & Local Impacts

The discussion during our first Global Online Policy Forum from Lima was far-ranging and robust, and brought forward some important insights about the nature of resiliency, the nature of the climate problem and the real impact on human beings and communities.

The most crucial takeaways were:

  • Jerome’s “Ridge to Reef” report on intercommunity climate connections in the Philippines: Runoff from deforested upland communities can kill coral reefs and deplete fish populations in coastal communities.
  • Lowlying Bangladesh and Nepal, at some of the world’s highest elevations, are linked by how dislocated climate patterns add real threats to their local environments.
  • Real resiliency filters through the social fabric: extended family connections are a crucial, but often overlooked aspect of social resiliency.
  • The climate connects us: discussion of impacts doesn’t have to be about spreading fear; it can be about recognizing what we face, and sharing the knowledge we need to take action.
  • To make resources available on the scale required to ably address the threats facing real human communities, pricing carbon is the most economical way to reduce cost, risk and harm.

In Bangladesh and elsewhere, entire communities have already become uninhabitable, an impact which is already driving intenal displacement of significant numbers of people. Rashedul, CCL’s national leader for Bangladesh, shared the story of a woman he met who wept as she told him that her family was down to one single glass of drinking water, which she was saving for her husband. Their family had no way of knowing what the future would hold, and no way of knowing how to get their next drink of water.

It isn’t just island nations that face this level of challenge. In conversations on Monday evening, and during our Tuesday Global Forum, we were reminded that “New York City is an island nation.” It is a populous urban environment, built mostly on islands, with most of its territory close to sea level. Climate disruption subjects everyone to increased vulnerability.

The connection between communities affected in very different ways by climate dislocations is a crucial insight, because so many different voices and interests are competing for time at the COP20 that each of them tends to worry that their perspective will be left out of final consideration. That the climate itself bridges those divisions is a healthy starting point for serious discussion about the best way to empower transformative mitigation action for each nation or group of nations.

Our Place in the World

One of the sticking points for the global negotiating process is where each of us fits: What is our place in the world? In many ways, the lack of clarity about this question comes from a lack of direct responsibility for our effects in the world. As we begin to assume responsibility for our role in creating effects in the world, we begin to see connections that illustrate where we fit, what our capabilities are, and how we can improve.

Through the Voices for Climate pavilions, the COP20 is providing a space for testimony from citizens and stakeholders. The wisdom of Jerome’s Ridges to Reefs report was a feature of the Peruvian perspective at Voices for Climate. In the Mountains exhibit, the disappearance of glaciers, the degradation of agricultural land, and the conflict between considerations of the sacred and the way we live.

Indigenous peoples are in many ways more vulnerable, because they live in closer contact with natural processes, or in remote areas with less infrastructural resilience. For some, that discussion needs to focus on how to compensate populations put into peril by the actions of the wider world; for others, it must focus on learning from people whose lives honor the sacred and seek sustainable interactions with life-sustaining resources.

Value, it can be said, is connected to vulnerability. Where we see that human beings, at the human scale, must struggle to achieve sustenance, or to hold to a vision of the sacred connection between life and nature, between action and outcome, we witness the distance that exists between not making the attempt and committing to patient, persistent, agile collaboration, in search of better outcomes.

The COP20 is meant to be that space, where despite differences, frictions, and competing agendas, participants come together to find common ground, and to set the world on a course to a balanced, efficient, and comprehensive solution. What all of the COP20 meetings have in common is that they arise because of a shared vulnerability, and the need to respond intelligently, in ways that allow for a livable future.

Bringing our Vision to the Discussion

With all of the competing interests looking for the best way to fund a major overhaul of the global economy, our aim is to bring a shared and simplified focus to the question of how to free up resources for that effort. The Pathway to Paris core principles—if applied country by country, and in a way where each rises to the higher standard of more forward-looking countries—can provide the economically efficient motivation for that commitment of new capital, from across the global economy.

The central idea is: there is no more effective or efficient way to identify and motivate funding for the transition than a smart, transparent, market-wide price signal that builds local value. All other things become easier, if we get this part right.

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About Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He coordinates the building of CCL's citizen engagement groups on 5 continents, leads the Citizens' Climate Engagement Network and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes. He is a member of the Executive Board of the UN-linked NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY and of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want. He is also the founder of Geoversiv.net and the Geoversiv Foundation and the lead strategist supporting the high-level climate dialogue series Accelerating Progress, Advancing Innovation.