Learning from Copenhagen and letting go
As fast as they came, the UN negotiations delegates, negotiators, press and civil society are high-tailing it out of Copenhagen. The buses and metro stops are now empty, or otherwise filled with anxious people in suits holding luggage. The Bella Centre is quickly becoming just another building in the Copenhagen landscape, despite the drama and events there these last two weeks. And for many who look at the UN negotiations and feel unsatisfied, disappointed, and a lack of closure, we ask - what's next?
Jamie Biggar, a colleague of mine on the Canadian Youth Delegation, wrote a blog post that I feel summarizes what we are suppose to take away from the meaning of Copenhagen, and the hard, but necessary work that must come next.
Here's what he says:
So much time, energy and emotion was invested in the Copenhagen Summit because it was supposed to be “the end” - the moment when the world came together and created a deal that would set the solutions in motion, if not save the world entirely. The political strategy was that a strong global deal would empower people advocating for strong domestic action - regardless of what country happened to be domestic to them.
It didn’t happen, and in the process it has provided a lesson in raw power and resistance.
The Canadian and US governments came to the negotiations with targets that they and everyone else know would commit the world to climate catastrophe. The targets they brought are not shaped by science, not shaped by ethics and morality, not even shaped by a basic self-interested cost and benefit analysis - they are shaped by the power politics of countries where fossil fuel industries and anti-government ideologies have enormous sway. From Canada’s tar sands and anti-government minority government to America’s globally dominant oil companies with their lobbyists, campaign contributions and Manufactured Doubt Industry, to the conservative Democratic senators from coal states that hold US climate legislation hostage, the anti-climate action forces hold strategic levers in our politics. This is what raw power looks like, and I confess that it filled me with rage.
We could have had a bad deal that would have locked in these catastrophe targets if it wasn’t for the heroic resistance of some of the poorest countries in the world - led by small island and African countries who know they will suffer the worst catastrophes unless we peak emissions soon and get back down to 350ppm. These countries were backed up by global civil society, by tens of millions of people who rallied and organized to demand a fair, ambitious and binding deal that would peak emissions within a decade, provide support for the most impacted, and create a pathway to a global convergence of per person use of the atmosphere. I’ve never seen resistance like this, and it fills me with determination.
In Canada we set out to make climate leadership a major issue for Canadians, and to make sure that our government knows it. We’ve succeeded on both counts. Thousands of Canadians have taken civic actions for the first time. Millions of Canadians have been engaged by the issue and watched in horror as their minority government ruined their reputation and abdicated its responsibilities to protect its people and secure their prosperity. With countless phone calls and actions we’ve helped significantly shift politics in Ottawa, most obviously by getting the Liberals to join the Bloc and NDP in passing a motion that called for world class scientific targets to come from Copenhagen. As for the Conservatives, they are betting everything on the assumption that the movement will just dissipate now that the Copenhagen Summit is over. They are wrong.
Things have changed. There is a massive and mobilized movement of Canadians who are not going away. We have watched our minority government choose catastrophe and we’re never going to stop until Canada is a climate leader. We have learned from the Copenhagen Summit that we need to develop raw political power. We can let go of the promise of the Copenhagen Summit knowing that the Summit is now a beginning, and not an end. We can turn rage into passion. We can turn our sadness into determination.
What started as a movement to tell our government what Canadians wanted in Copenhagen must now become a movement to develop raw political power - the ability to put a climate leadership government in power and ensure that it follows through with policies that work for the climate and benefit people. In the new year it will be time to build a political movement with thousands of organizers that can engage millions of people in civic action. In doing so we will collaborate with our friends in the US, jointly working on our shared political challenges.
But that’s at least a couple of weeks from now, now it’s time to enjoy a well deserved rest. Willpower is like a muscle, over time it is strengthened by use, but in the short term it can be worn out. Half an hour ago I almost lost it because my power cord was tangled up with other wires and I couldn’t get it to go where I wanted it to. Sleep, fun and community are the remedy for near burn-out, and so in retrospect I am very glad that the Copenhagen Summit was scheduled right before the holiday season.
For now we can rest knowing that we’re in it to win it, and thanks to all the work that we did this fall we’re about to get a lot stronger.'
From my own perspective, I thoroughly enjoyed working on this blog and covering the climate change negotiations and the people, events and stories coming out of this seminal conference. I will be taking a break from the blog for the Christmas break, but will be back in January to begin to assess where we go from here, and to track the work and the negotiations as they move forward towards Mexico city and the G8 and G20 to be held in Canada.
Thank you so much everyone, and see you next year!'