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COP23: Trying to push conversation forward while US tries to pull it backwards

24th Nov 2017
COP23: Trying to push conversation forward while US tries to pull it backwards

Some nations are seeing the effects of climate change far more starkly in their own backyards than others. This year has been plagued by natural disasters, including major flooding in south Asia, wildfires in California, earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. The annual Conference of Parties (COP23) was held from November 6 to 17 in Bonn, Germany, this year. The Government of Fiji led it, though it was not held on the island due to logistical purposes, ie the effects of climate change are too great to host tens of thousands of people from around the globe.

Fiji is a part of the 44-nation Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), an intergovernmental body, formed to push a clean energy agenda to avoid extreme warming that would leave their nations underwater and displace their people. At many COPs, powerful western nations spend time bickering over details in order to defer emission reduction implementation, while AOSIS nations watch their coastlines disappear. Fiji’s leadership this year has kept the plight of these vulnerable nations at the forefront of the agenda. In the spirit of cooperation and shining light on the less prominent, indigenous peoples made a call to be part of the solution on Day 2 of the conference, suggesting the use of age-old wisdom and practical adaptation methods.

This was the first COP since President Donald Trump announced the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Many prominent political players from the US have tried to convince the rest of the countries who have ratified, that they remain loyal to the pact. The US’s official representation has kept a low profile, though, Trump’s special assistant on energy and environment, George David Banks, presented a pro-fossil fuel strategy, called “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation” on November 13, to the disgust of many COP attendees.

According to the rules, the US cannot leave the Paris Agreement until 2020, and there is a new US group aiming to assert its clout: the USCAC, or United States Climate Action Center, whose hashtag is #WeAreStillIn. Its members include former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, and current Governor of California Jerry Brown, as well as faith groups, universities, cities, and companies. Though, many protested about Governor Brown’s ties to the fossil fuel industry, he mentioned that transitioning to renewable energy would be a long process, and that economies would be greatly affected if oil drilling stopped immediately, reminding conference participants that many of them reached the conference by airplane, a particularly energy-intensive mode of transportation.

Just before the conference began, two nations who had failed to ratify the accord, Nicaragua and Syria, decided to do so. Nicaragua had held out because it did not find the targets strong enough. As a war-torn nation, Syria’s ratification was a symbol of commitment amid difficult times and left the US’s withdrawal that much more disappointing to the rest of the world. Bill McKibben, prominent climate activist, author, and founder of 350.org, stated in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, of the US’s withdrawal, “The way to just imagine official American position is, we’re not the caboose on the train; we’re tossing an anchor of the caboose, trying to bring the whole show to a halt.”

Without the “leadership” of the United States, the world will still turn, but without its commitment to reduce fossil fuel emissions, as one of the world’s largest polluters, it may be difficult for nations whose livelihoods are on the brink due to climate change, to get through the day. American citizens do not have to agree with their President’s decision to withdraw from a hallmark piece of legislation that the world urges it to uphold for the sake of posterity, but the damage the “leader of the free world” can do is extreme. Countries all over the world are uniting around the issue of climate change because natural disasters do not discriminate – droughts, floods, and tsunamis know no human-drawn boundaries. The US denies this to the detriment of everyone, including its own citizens, even after the White House approved the publication of a report that acknowledges human-induced climate change in early November. Still, Puerto Ricans are left to suffer from barely enough federal aid to recover from the extensive hurricane damage they sustained. During these trying times, people can unite, or leave others behind. The US historic message of justice and unity in the face of adversity sounds like empty words now, as the rest of the world shows them how it’s really done.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Science and Policy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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