The 20th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change must tackle a number of major challenges: First, draft, review, edit, redraft, and approve, language for the treaty to be agreed in Paris, at the end of 2015. Second, countries (the Parties) must find a way to collaborate for mutual benefit, so their focus is no longer to hold back bold climate action, for fear it will be costly. Third, while everyone is talking about who will finance which solutions, and at what levels and to what end, the COP process needs to find a way to make all climate finance and mitigation action more efficient and effective.
Differences over vocabulary
Inside the negotiations themselves, closed to everyone except Parties and Observers, it quickly becomes evident that the struggle over phrasing is not just a matter of which country prefers what policy. The very meaning of words like mitigation seems to be in flux. Everyone understands mitigation to mean preemptively reducing the harm from climate disruption driven by the excess emission of heat-trapping gases. But some view mitigation as regarding policies that pull down emissions; others view mitigation as investment in low-carbon technologies, more specifically. Perhaps most problematically, a number of countries worry openly that mitigation focuses investment in already wealthy countries.
For Citizens' Climate Lobby, mitigation has to be the priority, because it will carry more reward than risk and build value more efficiently than any other option. Revenue-neutral carbon pricing is the most efficient and cost-effective way to mitigate. A crucial question is whether the differences between the Parties' vantage points allow for a real agreement, if a core policy choice that can act as value-building glue is not there to hold it all together. While some attendees see the negotiations as legislative deal-making, our aim is to build support for a core policy choice that builds value for all Parties.
During this first week, one of the controversies centered on the meaning of the word "bankable". One concern was that it could impose real limitations on the ability of a given project to succeed in mitigation or adaptation. The term itself could lead to a biased policy environment. The assumption is often made that donor countries want "bankable projects", while vulnerable countries want the means to adapt. What people on the front lines want, however, is often more straightforward: generally, people want the clarity that comes from knowing there is a way to deal with crisis.
Words like "or" and "all" are also up for grabs, and the subject of genuine intellectual sparring. In the last two days, various constituencies made the complaint that the phrase "all countries" could lead to unforeseen legal constraints on national sovereignty. What one sees if one takes a broad enough view is that not every question is a challenge born of factional interest; it's the asking of the question that lends power to the process. There is a genuine effort, from nearly all sides, to make sure the language provides for a just future characterized by human thriving.
Some countries and blocs of countries have more influence than others over the process. This differentiation of influence intensifies support for the principle of differentiated responsibility. Many believe that particular term is so vital to the negotiations that any move away from it will make a just outcome impossible. Another view suggests that by infusing all climate response with the logic of differentiated responsibility, a significant amount of value will simply never be put on the table.
The tension between those two points of view is significant, and crops up in meeting after meeting. Resolution of this question (how to motivate serious carbon pricing in all markets, while allowing donors to provide serious financing according to means, need and merit) would make comprehensive agreement much more likely.
A mood of possibility
As much as the UNFCCC process is a tangle of political difficulties, it is a global civics project with a simple, universal ethical motivation. There is something fortunate and encouraging about that, and with all of the complexity and the competition between and among strategies, there are a lot of good people here with a tremendous amount of talent and commitment.
As complex as this negotiation is, it seems evident that when all these factors are considered, any claim that agreement is unworkable is just naysaying. It is difficult; it is unwieldy; there are so many side roads and loopholes to explore, anyone could get lost in the complexity. But the task is not unworkable, and the goal is not an impossibility.
In fact, there is a mood of possibility about this climate conference. 12,500 people have not come here from across the planet, because they believe achieving real solutions is impossible. This conference is full of people who are working for solutions they believe are viable, helpful, and full of potential for scaling up across the world. The question, in each case, is whether the focus area is one that can attract interest and action from all of the Parties.
We have hosted two Global Online Policy Forum events so far. The first one, on Tuesday, Dec. 2, on Human Scale and Local Impacts, is written up here. The second, on Friday, Dec. 5, on Solution from Crisis, is written up here. We have two more Global Online Policy Forum events next week: our first in Spanish, Liderazgo desde los Márgenes, will be on Monday, Dec. 8. The last of the four, How Citizen Engagement Improves Policy, scheduled for the last day of the COP20, Friday, Dec. 12.
While we have been here in Lima, CCLers have been busy organizing other events. Djordje Samardzija, our local leader in Belgrade, co-hosted the first visit by IPCC scientists to Serbia on Dec. 4. On Monday, Dec. 8, CCL's Rhode Island volunteers are bringing Scott Nystrom, the lead author of REMI's study of our Carbon Fee and Dividend plan's macroeconomic effects, to Brown University.
In the days before the COP20, Canada's CCL held its Annual Conference, and brought citizen volunteers from across Canada to Parliament Hill, to lobby for a revenue-neutral fee and dividend plan. This weekend, December 6th and 7th, CCL's Third Coast region holds its regional conference in Austin, TX. And, of course, every Thursday, our volunteers have the opportunity to attend CCL University, an online forum for advanced training in policy and organizing.
Next week, we will also be hosting a Special Briefing on Carbon Fee and Dividend, on Monday, Dec. 8, at 2:00 pm, in Room B30 Chira, inside the COP20 venue. On Tuesday, we will deliver an introductory CCL volunteer training to an audience at the People's Climate Summit. On Wednesday morning, we will join the International Energy Agency in speaking to environmental economics students at Colegio Roosevelt, where young people committed to climate action organized their own international climate conference for three days in November.
Getting out from under old biases
One of the most stimulating events of the entire week featured 5 young leaders, doing research and advocacy in relation to intergenerational equity (inteq). All in their twenties, the presenters were bringing powerful economic analysis and a strong moral case to the proposition that future generations' rights should not be discounted. What was so compelling about their intervention was that they simply presented the reality, made the moral case clear, and asked that action be taken to meet basic obligations.
Whether the young people at Colegio Roosevelt, the energetic and imaginative environmental engineers staffing the Voices for Climate conference, Tim Damon of SustainUS and Evan Weber of the US Climate Plan, or the young students from China who eagerly talked of strategies to transform the world's largest economy into an unprecedented hub of green innovation, young people are bringing fresh thinking and a renewed focus on solutions.
There has long been a reflexive bias in the reporting of what can be expected of the UNFCCC process. Reporters who are not among those seeking solutions, studying or advocating for them, or building coalitions, have too often professed to be unaware of any such efforts. This venue is full of people who show that such reporting distorts the reality.
Young people from around the world are playing an active role in these proceedings: tracking negotiators, offering dissenting voices while representing their countries, calling for more substantial commitments to ensure a safe and livable future. They are part of the engagement that is emerging everywhere, as civil society gains momentum in bringing stakeholders directly into decision-making processes.
That energetic engagement, infused with a fresh perspective and determination to achieve a solution, is setting a tone. Increasingly, decision-makers are aware that young people are watching them and demanding leadership. If you are not sure the UNFCCC process will produce an effective climate change mitigation strategy, you are not alone, but wherever you are, you should be encouraged that this vast democratic process is unfolding, and that so many people are here, representing people all over the world, in an effort to overcome old biases and achieve lasting results.
The way forward
Citizen participation and economic efficiency are vital to getting this done right. Watching this vast effort at global civics unfold, I am proud to be representing Citizens' Climate Lobby's 8,500+ volunteers. We are fortunate to have so many hard-working, thoughtful and engaged change-agents, committed to doing what they can to improve the world. This is the energy that makes this effort possible; channeling that energy into support for an economically efficient, simple, transparent policy change is our best hope.