By: Christine Burns ’14
This semester we embarked on a quest for knowledge and understanding about how climate change has affected us in the past, and what it means for us today and in the future. Then we went to COP 17 in Durban, South Africa and we got to experience first hand how a group of people united by one cause (mitigating climate change) can be so divided. All 192 countries came into the COP with many goals in fact, for a two week conference it seemed they had more objectives than they could possibly tackle, but a few were pretty clear. An agreement on a post-Kyoto Protocol needed to be reached. Some said this agreement needed to be legally binding, while others said it shouldn’t; some said it needed to include all major emitters, others spoke of historical responsibility. In many ways were these 192 countries divided on what was crucial to this new document. So what came out of COP 17? Was it a success or did they fail to reach a concrete agreement?
In the final hours of the COP the countries agreed to a document currently known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. This new document will follow the general ideas of the EU roadmap. By 2015 there will be a concrete agreement, and action will take place starting in 2020. Just as the opinions of what is crucial to this new document varied, so did the responses to the outcome of COP 17. The president of the COP, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says, “What we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today.” While Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International, says, “Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions. An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid, whereby the richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%.”
I’m a bit torn myself. This agreement has some substance, and if it is followed we could have real progress, but I also feel like this is another one of those agreements putting off to the future what should already be decided. We keep putting action off, and 2020 is so far away, why wait? In our last week in Durban we saw the people who would be my vulnerable to climate change. They are already suffering and they are already struggling to get by. The kids of Makaphutu and the women of the distribution lines, need action fast. Africa needs action fast, but who’s going to pay for Africa? Certainly a continent where a large portion of the population is very poor, cannot afford to pay to fix this issue. They have other problems to focus on like feeding the hungry and taking care of the sick. Yet these issues are so interconnected. The number and severity of the people living in poverty, hungry and dying from preventable or treatable diseases is going to increase as climate change gets worse. If their is one thing I have learned from this trip is that everything is connected. The actions people living in one country can have huge impacts on the lives of people in another.
One other lesson learned is not to be satisfied with what has been done if there is still work that needs doing. We can’t get too caught up in deciding whether or not we like this new agreement. Instead we need to focus on doing. We’ve made an agreement, now let’s stick to it! The people of Africa, the Maldives, and other vulnerable countries need action sooner rather than later. Regardless any international agreement, there are many countries who have the ability to implement green initiatives and therefore should. There is no time like the present! We need action now!
Filed under: Climate Change