If you’ve ever flown and gotten the chance to look out the window as you ascend, the view often leaves us with a sense of awe—especially the first time. If you haven’t flown before, I can try to describe it to you. When you’re stuck on the ground, it’s easy to only see what’s in front of you. But from above, your viewpoint both literally and metaphorically will change.
It’s kind of like zooming out. You see individual lights become less distinct; you see how all the roads connect and how exactly you get from point A to B. Your city becomes indistinguishable amongst the lights, you see the trees that separate towns; you see your individual home become something so much bigger than what it is. It becomes part of a system. It becomes part of a whole.
As we bid farewell to Lima, Peru and the 20th Conference of Parties (COP 20) on Sunday, an annual United Nations climate change negotiation, it’s these thoughts that were running through my head.
Did they run through the negotiators’?
No matter if they flew in a helicopter, jet, or stuck on a plane like the rest of us—did they watch as their bubble melts away into the surface of the Earth? Did they think about what they discussed this past week? Did they fight hard enough to save the fate of this delicate system?
The official outcomes of the countless hours of negotiations have been released in the Lima Call for Climate Action, as it’s being called. I think the name is extremely significant, no matter what the content is: no longer can we sit and talk about climate change. We need to mobilize and start fighting against it.
It’s easy to get this feeling from the COP as an observer. As an observer, our days were often filled with interesting talks and side-events presented by the people who are doing something. These are people from all kinds of organizations, mostly different kinds of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Each side-event, usually an hour and a half to two hours long, is basically a panel of experts giving presentations or engaging in conversation about a specific topic (agriculture, technology, energy, water, et cetera).
When we’re bouncing around to each different side-event, trying to decide which to spend our time at, furiously taking notes and trying to soak up all the knowledge we can, it’s easy to feel empowered about climate change. With or without governmental help, these are people who are making massive changes in their communities and beyond.
It makes me wish more people in America, especially students my age, were like them.
In addition to the official side-events, there’s also the opportunity to meet countless individuals, who are wonderful sources of information as well.
Sure, some of the more higher level stuff might be exciting to talk about (getting to hear Al Gore, or sneak into John Kerry’s press conference, or getting to go to the Presidential Plenary), but it is these individuals who really matter in the battle against climate change.
However, there is always a slight lull in the air that fills the non-existent silence; the slight itch that everyone has in the back of their mind. So of course, it all boils down to that one, single question:
What will come out of COP 20’s negotiations?
For all of the work that the NGOs are doing, will their governments hear their cry? Will they follow in their people’s example and do what’s right?
So we hang onto every word of the negotiations that we can: what country is saying what, who is being difficult and refusing to be flexible and is in the way of progress? A good recap that happened at 6 pm every day was an event called the Fossil of the Day, which highlighted a country (or a couple of more) that was “the best at being the worst – doing the most to do the least – who is trying to their hardest to keep us from a fair, just, and binding climate agreement.”
It has been outlined that at COP 20 in Lima, the idea was to establish a signed, legally-binding draft of a document akin to a treaty that would bind all of the world’s nations together against climate change. This draft would be finalized in Paris, France at COP 21.
On Friday, the last day at the COP, the energy was thick in the air. Everyone buzzed around the two Plenary sessions, listening to countries talk about what they needed changed in the document, trying to bide their time until an agreement could be reached. As the hours ticked by, our group decided that there was no way anything was getting done tonight – and so, we took the shuttle bus home, our hearts and minds still back at the COP, wondering when we’d get news.
However, despite having an original deadline of Friday, we did not receive news until Sunday morning. Some of the last meetings were held early into Sunday morning; an emergency press conference had been called at 1 am.
And so, the outcome of the Lima Call for Climate Action has been released. At to the dismay of many, many people, nothing has been signed.
Sure, officials like COP 20’s president have released statements that they are optimistic about the outcome of Lima – that we’ve made forward on a lot of ground and they are left with high hopes for COP 21 – but other people are not as excited. NGO’s are quick to take a more critical eye to the Lima Call for Climate Action.
In all reality, the negotiators have done nothing but kick the can to Paris in 2015, despite the name of the Lima Call for Climate Action. Many people from the NGO’s are frustrated and upset that such a thing has happened. It’s obvious that because the fossil fuel industry still has such a hold on our economy and society that our governments will not willingly make moves in the right direction. Which means that this call for climate action was a call to the people. It was a call to you, me, and every other individual in the world.
We need to show our governments that change is not just what we want – it’s what we need. If we want to curb the effects of climate change, we need to act, and act now. Because right now, it just seems like we’re rejecting the call for climate action.