Oxfam International hosted a side event at the climate conference in Copenhagen on December 15th. The event was an handled like a judicial hearing with four indigenous witnesses from Peru, Tuvalu, Bangladesh and Uganda testifying about the effects on climate change on their daily lives. Mary Robinson (former Irish President) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu orchestrated the hearing offering opening and closing statements as well as the verdict on the hearing.
Tutu believes that climate change is a moral issue and as humans we have a shared and simple goal to save our earth. This goal can be realized if humanity can come to hear and listen to each other, identify with the experiences and stories from victims of climate change, and regain empathy. Tutu delivered his opening speech with a smile and a sense of optimism unparalleled by any other speaker at the conference. He said it is humanity’s duty to amplify the voices of the unheard. Tutu called the audience “fantastic individuals” who in caring about climate change place a “smile on god’s face which is frequently contorted by tears” because humanity is “making an art of being nasty to each other.” Tutu stressed that the purpose of Copenhagen was to remind the world leaders of the interconnectedness of nature and humans- we either “swim or drown together”. Tutu was the first to testify in the hearing as a witness of climate change and its effects on his nation saying the South Cape is in drought and has no food, the effects are “not coincidental, not random events”. The disaster is already happening because those who are polluting greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere are too hesitant and selfish to take action.
Four Indigenous Speakers came to testify at the Oxfam hearing. The first witness was a farmer from Peru who is suffering water shortages. The farmer emphasized that climate change is already happening in his country. There are new and unknown diseases, changes in the weather patterns, heavy and sporadic rainfall, and severe droughts. The source of water he depends on for the growth of crops is slowly diminishing as the glaciers melt. This means less income for his family. The farmer begs those responsible for GHG emissions to reduce them and that Peru should be compensated for environmental damage.
The second witness was from Tuvalu. Tuvalu will be one of the first countries to disappear if climate change is not mitigated. She was incredibly passionate and animated in the presentation of her testimony saying that the mountain that needs to be conquered is in the heart. We are waiting on the industrialized to conquer their mountains and learn to love others. She highlighted that COP15 is based on the purchase and sales of human life and the rights of others. She said, “I stand with Tuvalu”, the small island nation who pleaded for an emission reduction to 350 PPM. She then asked the audience to stand with Tuvalu; this statement answered with an eruption of applause and standing of the crowd.
The third witness was a woman from the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Her speech was by far the most emotional. She is a single mother of four children and lost her husband to a tiger. She was left homeless with her children and eventually taken in by her in-laws who beat her and took all her money. She noticed that the summer was noticeably warmer. There was an increase in freshwater salinity perpetuating harsh conditions when harvesting crops. Six months ago a cyclone hit her town and ruined the crops and huts within the community. The woman floated on her roof with her children while her village became immersed underwater. The cyclone left 35,000 people homeless and in poverty. The witness asked to be compensated by those responsible for climate change saying, “I want my life back”.
The fourth and final witness was a woman from Uganda, Africa. Her story at the hearing was representative of her country, her community, and Africa. In 2007 floods came to Uganda and covered her village, devastating her entire community. Diseases such as malaria and cholera came with the floods. Immediately after, about 5-7 months later Uganda was hit by a drought. She said there used to be two seasons where she comes from and now there are none, the community doesn’t know when to plant, harvest, or eat. “We want our seasons back…we want out generations…we want them to stop emission, we are suffering out of them…we want money to adapt” the woman said passionately addressing the audience.
Mary Robinson stepped in as judge of the hearing. She gave the verdict after empathetically listening all of the testimonies of the day. Robinson said that climate change is currently exacerbating challenges communities are already facing, and proudly acknowledged the individual situations of each situation, both the resilience of Tuvalu in the face of wealthy nations and the gender specific perspective coming from Bangladesh. “Climate change is undermining human rights on an unprecedented scale…social and international disorder is created by inability of leaders to act and reduce emissions,” Robinson stated. The verdict of the hearing consisted of the demand and crucial need for a fair ambitious treaty, a 40% cut of emissions below 1990 levels by 2020, and 200 billion dollars annually of aid for developing nations by 2020 for adaptation and mitigation efforts.
After listening to the emotion and pain within these stories I believe it is extremely important for everyone to truly listen to the stories of others. This is the only way feelings of empathy and interconnectedness will be initiated within humanity and allow us to come together as a global community. Stressing the moral and humanistic aspect of climate change is imperative in persuading powerful government to mitigate emissions within a safe spectrum.
On Monday December 14th, 2009 the campaign 350.org hosted an event at Klimaforum in Copenhagen, Denmark. I have been attending countless events and negotiations for the last week and this event was by far one of the most empowering and emotional events I’ve had the privilege to attend. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org commenced the ceremony with a discussion of his campaign’s purpose and the global movement to halt climate change.
According to McKibben the awakening of the world to climate change began in the summer of 2007 when changes in the melting of ice and sea level rise began increasing at unprecedented levels. McKibben said that global CO2 levels in the atmosphere are currently 390 parts per million (PPM) indicating an increase of 40 PPM all thanks our fossil fuel driven economies. The level of safe PPM is debated but McKibben strongly believes that anything above 350 PPM welcomes global devastation. The threshold denoting a functional world, which has been maintained for thousands of years, has been ignored. This is why the arctic is melting. We are in a time of crises already.
McKibben explains that in a 350 PPM worldwide weather patterns were predictable and powerful civilizations were able to build upon the dependence on seasons. Now we are experiencing a world of 390 PPM where glaciers are melting, coral reefs are being destroyed, oceans are becoming more acidic, drought is noticeably happening in 3 out of 7 continents, and ecosystems are slowly being ravaged. 300,000 people are already dying from the effects of climate change each year. Yet somehow the global society has failed to notice the warning signals until recently. In order to avoid future damages McKibben urges politicians to recreate a 350 PPM world. Unfortunately as of today the COP 15 is offering a 770 PPM world or a 3.5 – 4 degrees C increase in worldwide temperatures.
In order to evade the effects of climate change, McKibben calls upon the world to create a global movement that recognizes political failure as unacceptable as pertaining to climate change. The effectiveness and beauty of the 350.org campaign is underlined by the simplicity of its title. McKibben and his team chose this number for the campaign because 350 PPM means a safe world for today and future generations. People of all languages, and ethnic backgrounds can understand this number; this overarching theme trounces cultural divisions and political borders and is the most powerful way to initiate a global movement.
On October 24th, 2009, people all over the world protested for climate justice. The empowering factor within this movement is that climate change concern is not limited to the educated or the rich. In fact the poor are providing a great majority of the momentum for the movement. CNN called this day “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history” because people in Ethiopia, New Zealand, Australia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, the Congo River, Turkey, Tahiti, Wales, Puerto Rico, Cape Town, Ghana, Iraq, and more participated in the day of protest. 350 became more than just a number on this day and was filled with stories, culture, passion, and emotion.
The President of the Maldives, Muhammed Nasheed made a special appearance supporting a 350 world. He called upon political leaders to take control and actually lead claiming that no one has done so thus far. Ironically enough President Nasheed is a very short and humble man, but after hearing him speak for just a few moments it is obvious that he embodies more hope, inspiration, immovable political will, and leadership than many other leaders out there today. He received a standing ovation and the audience held up a sign saying, “you are our global president”. This portrays the overall sentiment towards President Nasheed’s stance on climate change and truly inspiring presence within the movement.
On Thursday December 10th, 2009 I attended a side event at COP 15 regarding the growing concern between transportation and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The event highlighted how exactly transport is affecting climate change, as well as what governments and policy makers can do to mitigate these emissions. Surprise appearances were made from ambassadors from Korea and France.
A bit of background about the transportation sector: Transportation is now the fastest growing sector in CO2 emission increases in developing nations. Asia alone was responsible for 19% of global transport emissions in 2006. In order to change the direction of transportation emissions, the panel suggested a solution in which countries should avoid, shift, and improve. Avoiding transportation calls for better land use and urban planning making biking and walking the main form of transportation within major metropolises. A shift in the transportation market would require creating more efficient and effective transport through the use of increased public transportation and biking. Finally improving transportation would be done by innovations in green energies and distancing society from the use of dirty and inefficient fuels that currently exist.
Next the panel underlined ten principles for development of sustainable transport in an urban arena: This segment of the presentation indicated that the global community requires a shift in the culture of motorization in which we would think of bikes and walking as legitimate and acceptable forms of mobility. Secondly
1. Start with the pedestrian. Ex: Tear down unused, inefficient highways/roads to make room for pedestrians and walking paths
2. Create high quality public transport connecting urban and suburban centers in order to cutback on emissions from personally owned vehicles.
3. Encourage cycling and link it to public transport and major activity centers. Change current mindsets about what public transportation embodies and create bike paths leading to major destinations.
4. Employ appropriate transport market incentives and pricing with intelligent transport systems. Ex: meters, gas prices, pay as you drive insurance.
5. Design “complete street safety” serving all users and modes of transport focusing on biking and walking.
6. Manage speed of motor vehicles for safety purposes.
7. Transport Services including information services, travel modes, and telecommunication to create more efficient and effective access to transportation systems.
8. Activate public space with smaller blocks, streets, and parks to stimulate a walking culture
9. Plan, regulate, and finance real estate and transport to be sustainable. This requires efficient and coordinated urban planning.
10. Improve freight movement logistics to be increasingly efficient.
Finally the surprise guests made statements on the link between carbon emissions and transport. France, being a developed nation, has a highly efficient and accessible transportation system. The French ambassador indicated that transport is key in mitigating climate change. He also appeared frustrated with the progress of the negotiations saying “there is a will to get a result but we don’t know how.”
Following this the ambassador from Korea spoke. He acknowledged that currently transportation is a large portion of the CO2 problem. He said that many policy makers in Korea understand the building of transportation as an opportunity to create private investment, but the use and therefore “payback” of the investment automatically implies that CO2 be required to pay back the investment, and this needs to change. The ambassador focused on the culture of transportation saying that although biking was popular in China ten years ago, the number of bikers has now plummeted because biking is seen as a sign of poverty. When biking is viewed as culturally trendy, as it has become in the Western world again, countries such as China return to biking.
As indicated by the panel and both ambassadors a change in transportation will only occur with effective and structured policy and an acceptance of sustainable transportation systems and technologies within society. Changes in both the government and our culture are necessary to mitigate harmful CO2 emissions in the transportation sector.
Malmo, Sweden has not waited around biting its nails for global environmental policy to be created. The city has taken the initiative and created the sustainable community of Augustenborg. Augustenborg was originally a built by the city of Malmo in partnership with a publicly owned housing company called MKB. The project was aimed at solving the economic stratification within city. They were built for the working class and remained affordable in price. After about ten years the buildings were not considered modern anymore and became a haven for the unemployed with massive social and economic problems. In the early 1990’s the city decided that these problems arising from the community were unacceptable and ultimately decided to renovate the area. Interestingly enough Malmo transformed the building project into a community project by focusing on the local residents, holding meetings, and involving the community. With the help of funding from the Swedish Government the community produced a prosperous sustainable neighborhood. In order to avoid the gentrification of this desirable eco-city and force low-income inhabitants out of the neighborhood, the city maintained low rent in the buildings. This was possible because the MKB is a government owned facility. Today there is a two year waiting list to live at Augustenborg. Due to this extremely high demand and comparably low rent the current community of Augustenborg sustains a range of economic statuses and backgrounds. Malmo stands as a remarkable example of what people are capable of if they cooperate and portrays that sustainability is functional within an urban environment.
Until walking through the uniquely designed eco-friendly city of Augustenborg covered by green roofs and heated through incomparably efficient solar power such ideas of sustainability seem to be unreachable and unachievable to the public in large. The tour left me standing almost speechless; the prospects behind this thriving green community are unbearably simple and seem to reflect a glimmer of a human instinct that has been lost in time. Who wouldn’t want to live surrounded by greenery and have access to an incredibly efficient water management in their building? Countries everywhere should take a hint from the community project in Malmo. They would learn a number of invaluable lessons including how to create community solidarity, how to implement green technologies successfully, and how to foster respect for the environment.
We have forgotten how to live simultaneously with our environment allowing both nature and humans to flourish and prosper. Augustenborg has mastered this art and was designed by a community who possessed the passion and enthusiasm to create a sustainable city. Being green and in touch with the Earth has been a taboo for years and effective policy creation for climate change has become overshadowed by political pride, unfair distribution of power, and petty grudges. These distractions leave little room for true environmental passion to be illuminated. Augustenborg has proven society that green technologies are accessible and sustainability is a possibility today, all it takes is a little creativity and a communal decision that society supports and practices eco-friendly living.
When initially imagining what the most severe obstacle during the U.N. Climate Talks would be, what would you picture? Possibly countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, and even the United States come to mind. A country like Canada does not rise to the top of the list and seems far from a problem but recently this very country has become one of the largest threats to a successful outcome in Copenhagen and global climate change legislation.
In the last few years Canada has become increasingly dependent on a single resource that is worse for the environment than coal called tar sands. Canada has been focusing all of its energy on this one resource and moving away from a diverse economy towards a downright dirty lifestyle.
Canada is the only country to have signed the Kyoto Protocol and then shortly thereafter renounce its commitment to emission reduction. Since 2006 Canada’s emissions have risen by 26% instead of decreasing by the 6% that was called upon by the Kyoto Protocol. Canada will refuse any sanctions designated by the Kyoto Protocol signaling a breakdown in the legitimacy and power of the Kyoto Protocol as well as the U.N.’s global governance. Creating turmoil in the climate change world has become a pattern in the Canadian Government, in 2007 Canada blocked a resolution by the Commonwealth to support legally binding legislation for industrialized nations. And finally in 2008 in Poland, Canada won the fossil of the year award designated for whichever country does the best job of disrupting the climate change discussion. In addition to hindering legally binding climate change targets, Canadian Government documents were found that proved the country was attempting to separate the Europeans and their self-proclaimed alliance on environmental issues. As a result of this foul play, remaining members of the Commonwealth are looking to expel Canada.
Alberta, Canada is now home to the largest producer of carbon emissions, a tar sands operation. This is why Canada is now one of the largest threats as far as the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is concerned. Canada is acting in the interest of the tar sands industry, in which it has invested much of its time, energy, and money. In return the country expects a pleasant lump sum and apparently won’t let the Copenhagen talks stand in its way.
Almost half of the United States still refuses to believe that climate change is a reality, a fact founded in nothing other than professional and hard cold science. In fact, the number of citizens who believe in climate change has actually decreased. How could this happen in a time where we are more globally aware than ever before, with abundant information available and where a quickly approaching and anticipated global Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change is publicized daily.
The answer to my disappointment and surprise may lie within the ever-dividing political party lines. Currently the Obama Administration and Democrats in the Senate are working to publicize a climate change bill that would reduce American emission rates. The passing of this bill is viewed as a necessity for successful outcomes in Copenhagen. Other countries will look to America for leadership and advice and if they understand that we are not serious about mitigating climate change and adjusting to a low carbon economy, inaction will resonate around the world. Those that choose to take advantage of rebuilding their industries and economies will flourish while America chooses to stumble in its own failure to act.
Unfortunately the inability of the Senate to agree and create a Climate Change Bill stems from a fiercely disjointed political system in which Republicans and Democrats have completely different agendas and constituents whom they aim to please.
Those pushing for the climate change bill to be passed by the Copenhagen Conference are confronting widespread opposition from the Republicans along with some Democrats. This is deeply discouraging when taking into account the scientific evidence of the existence of climate change.
Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma called the bill a “temple of doom” and is claiming that it will cost the American Public $400 billion a year. Instead of passing legislation that will promote green energy and mitigate emissions, the Republicans are launching ideas of nuclear power and offshore oil drilling to secure future energy needs.
When did Americans forget what our country stands for? Did we forget that our country stands for progress, innovation, nationalism, justice, and equality? If we choose to discredit the science of climate change and green energy, we are choosing to renounce those values for which we stand. America will not be the most progressive or innovative. America will not produce justice and equality for all, both domestically and globally, and most of all, a sense of nationalism and unity will diminish if America loses economic power and control over green energy opportunities.
I hope that America can disregard party lines for a few moments and acknowledge that the science of climate change is legitimate, that the American people deserve better, and that the world community deserves better. I expect no less.