Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chosing to Feel Hopeful About the UN Climate Conference

I'm sitting tonight in an airport hotel, preparing for an early morning flight to Mexico to attend COP-16, the follow-on international negotiation to last year's Copenhagen conference.

For weeks the commentary in the press has been gloomy on prospects for progress in Cancun. With the changes in the make up of the legislature in the US, prospects for the negotiations overall are widely viewed as dismal.

It's hard to leave home and family for a giant conference center in a resort city for a meeting that seems already been written off by many. There may not be a global treaty at the end of Cancun but, based on the other UN climate conferences I've attended in the past few years, I think there will be progress on several fronts, no matter what the negotiators themselves accomplish.

Deeper ties will be woven, between individuals and groups, especially civil society organizations who send representatives to share and learn. People from different countries, different sectors, and different age groups will be thrown together for these two weeks, based on their shared search for fair and lasting solutions to climate change. The momentum that these groups continue to build and the network they continue to weave is changing the world, in subtle and not always predictable ways.

Scientific and technical exchange will continue. At the edges of the conferences are dozens of 'side events' where groups talk about the research and policy experiments. What's working in Africa to help farmers adapt to changing weather? What does the latest science say about needed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions? What are the latest ideas about how to finance those emissions reductions? Whether the negotiators find any points of a agreement or not, the exchange of ideas will go on, and will lead to new ideas, new collaborations, new experiments.

In the end we do need a global agreement to reduce emissions and the sooner the better. But getting to that agreement is not only a matter of the immediate politics of an agreement. It is also a matter of creating the right conditions, in each country, to allow leaders to lead toward sound climate policy and to allow negotiators to seal a deal to implement it.

Perhaps the negotiations will surprise all of us with a stronger than expected outcome, but if they don't, it makes the rest of the work of Cancun – the learning, the relationship building, the exchange – that much more important. That is the work that prepares the ground for the kind of global agreement we need.

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