Climate change can be a depressing topic to discuss. And from what I’ve seen and heard, COPs aren’t the most optimistic environments. But there’s a story at COP23 that I think contrasts the negotiations here in Bonn. While Parties have been on agenda items at COP, CMP, APA, and SB meetings, the US Climate Action Center has been hosting events just outside the UN jurisdiction of the Bula Zone.
Typically, the US sets up a prominent US Center at COPs – hosting side events on climate research and renewable technology from agencies such as NASA. Unfortunately, in the first year of the Trump administration, it is the first time there will not be an official US Center. Instead, there will be a side-event officially promoting the use of “clean coal”, natural gas and nuclear energy. The reaction has obviously been of disgust and opposition. Some of the strongest response has been from the We Are Still In movement at the US Climate Action Center. The movement is a signal to the world that America’s citizens, cities, states, and businesses are still moving forward with climate action and committing to the Paris Agreement when President Trump won’t.
At the launch of America’s Pledge, a coalition of cities, states and businesses committed to the Paris Agreement, Michael Bloomberg who is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, said, “The American government may have pulled out of the Paris Agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals – and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us.”
While the US is very rarely a good example at COPs, it illustrates the role of non-party actors in the fight against climate change. In a separate event featuring the US People’s Delegation, comprising individuals and CSO’s fighting climate change on the ground, I saw many passionate and emotional pleas for immediate action and opposition to the American federal government’s position.
The importance of non-party actors in the fight to get to the goal of 1.5°C cannot be overstated. Yes, the UNFCCC and COP are Party-driven meetings, however, individuals, coalitions, cities and states have the power to act on climate change and make a difference. At the end of the day, the language around the texts that come out of COPs are loose and don’t draw a hardline on countries to act. On several occasions, we have seen the aspect of Nationally Determined Manner introduced and reiterated, especially in relation to NDCs in the Paris Agreement. This means that a country can act in response to climate change in any way it sees appropriate and is not strictly mandated to act in a certain way. This results in the ability for countries to get away with loose actions on climate change.
Non-party actors are clearly mentioned in the Paris Agreement and I believe they will continue to play a huge part in our collective drive for 1.5°C. Individuals, businesses, cities and states are the foundations of countries where emissions are produced, which means some of the power to curb the emissions and act on climate change. The UNFCCC process and COPs are huge conference at the highest of international levels, which can make you feel very small and inconsequential, but just remember that each person in the fabric of society can play a part, no matter how small or large, no matter how local or international.
Written by Mike
Edited by Varun