We tend to like framing the political moment as “the moment” when everything is coming together. And in a sense, it’s always true: what we live now flows from what came before, so we are always at a juncture between what was and what we are about to make real. There is responsibility in that, and urgency, but repeated disappointments make us forget the moment can be of great consequence. 2015, however, provides a unique opportunity to bring together three major global priorities, in a unified, open brainstorming and coordinating effort, to build a better future.
Action 2015 launched on January 15, with events around the world aimed at bringing people together to build awareness, capacity and momentum for success on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate negotiations. People joke that taking on these causes is like “saving the world”, shorthand for something we presume to be just out of reach of any particular human effort. But that’s the point: where human effort has so far failed to eliminate needless human suffering or to bring our relationship to nature’s life support systems into balance, we now determine to collaborate to achieve better outcomes.
On September 12, 1962, Pres. John F. Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University, where he described the nature of the challenge of going to the Moon, and returning safely to Earth, by the end of the decade. He said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”
To bring the world together to solve the climate issue is hard. And it is worth doing. As surely others will have noted, coordinating our boldest efforts at imagination and pragmatic problem-solving, through democratic processes, in service of a livable climate future, and a future of dignified, liberating sustainable development for all people, is a complex of challenges we take on “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because [doing so] will serve to organize the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”
On January 15, as change makers and collaborators around the world helped launch Action 2015, we held the first of our Direct Engagement Working Sessions, to coordinate an ambition-raising ground game inside the COP21 in Paris. At Impact Hub, on the edge of New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood, we brought together citizens, advocates and stakeholders, to work on language and priorities for the forthcoming Paris climate agreement. They broke into six working groups, each of which produced reports back to the whole Working Session, which will play a role in the Pathway to Paris coalition’s coordinating priorities for COP21.
Too often, we hear that there is no way to effectively engage citizens in the policy process. We are told that too much needs to be done too quickly, to let the uninitiated into the process. We are told that policy is already confusing enough, without allowing local interest to derail negotiations on an effective consensus. But what is always missed in those assertions is the degree to which local genius—the harnessing of human-scale understanding and envisioning to make policies that will actually play out in the lived human-scale landscape of those people offering their insights—can make the entire policy process more efficient, more directly relevant, and more effective.
Legitimacy is not a luxury; it is the whole game.
It was said of the inventor Thomas A. Edison that “Edison pronounces the words ‘work’ and ‘working’ as some do ‘prayer’ or ‘religion’.” The Pathway to Paris project’s Direct Engagement Working Sessions are not workshops, lectures, or symbolic representations of the process; they are an effort to serve that most sacred of civic engagement principles: the legitimacy of an approach that listens to people, considers their interests and their needs, feeds their ideas into a real policy-making process, and then represents and carries that effort forward in a serious and transparent way.
Throughout 2015, we will be using the various components of the Pathway to Paris project, working with partners, to build up to the formation of an enduring civil-society driven Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network, for real, regular and meaningful direct citizen involvement in climate and energy policy. We welcome organizations working on priorities for the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as whole established coalitions of organizations.
Our aim is to form an effective team of non-state actors, to support each other in facing these difficult challenges, working to amplify each other’s reach and secure the best possible policies to enable people to improve their condition, enjoy more freedom and opportunity, and benefit from a stable climate, in the places where they live and breathe.