By Gary Berg-Cross
I had to turn to the inner pages in the Washington Post to find out what was happening on the final days of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durbin. It seems to have been crowded out by a mix of political hot topics such as the Euro Debt crisis, the Blagovish sentence and troop ashes put in a landfill. All news. But perhaps no more so than news of the U.N. Summit Conference effort to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto accord in a meaningful time frame (before 2020) that also would put countries under legal obligations. Americans looking to follow events in Durbin have to hunt around a bit in most corporate media takes on this topic. This is a bit paradoxical since the US puts more than its share of greenhouse gases in the atmospheric. Yet we push for the meekist emissions reduction pledge and put it off till 2020 when the best science says this is too late to avoid warming that will be costly and punishing. We will fail to limit warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.
On Thursday, US special climate change envoy Todd Stern was asked to clarify reports that he had described the 2 degree goal as "aspirational." What he said was interesting:
"that knowing ahead of time that we will overshoot the warming limit that the IPCC has identified as the point after which the globe and all of its people are thrust into out-of-control climate change did not amount to 'some kind of mandatory obligation to change what you're doing, whether you are in the United States or Europe, China or wherever you might be..."
This was not the same news I heard from the only US news group that seemed to be on site and covering the daily activities – Pacifica’s Democracy now. There I could hear Anjali Appadurai, a student at the College of the Atlantic in Maine, addressed the U.N. Summit Conference on behalf of youth non-governmental organizations & delegates. Her message urged climate justice and getting something done. Her short, moving & impassioned speech is reproduced below:
“I speak for more than half the world’s population. We are the silent majority. You’ve given us a seat in this hall, but our interests are not on the table. What does it take to get a stake in this game? Lobbyists? Corporate influence? Money? You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time, you’ve failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises. But you’ve heard this all before.
We’re in Africa, home to communities on the front line of climate change. The world’s poorest countries need funding for adaptation now. The Horn of Africa and those nearby in KwaMashu needed it yesterday. But as 2012 dawns, our Green Climate Fund remains empty. The International Energy Agency tells us we have five years until the window to avoid irreversible climate change closes. The science tells us that we have five years maximum. You’re saying, "Give us 10."
The most stark betrayal of your generation’s responsibility to ours is that you call this "ambition." Where is the courage in these rooms? Now is not the time for incremental action. In the long run, these will be seen as the defining moments of an era in which narrow self-interest prevailed over science, reason and common compassion.
There is real ambition in this room, but it’s been dismissed as radical, deemed not politically possible. Stand with Africa. Long-term thinking is not radical. What’s radical is to completely alter the planet’s climate, to betray the future of my generation, and to condemn millions to death by climate change. What’s radical is to write off the fact that change is within our reach. 2011 was the year in which the silent majority found their voice, the year when the bottom shook the top. 2011 was the year when the radical became reality.
Common, but differentiated, and historical responsibility are not up for debate. Respect the foundational principles of this convention. Respect the integral values of humanity. Respect the future of your descendants. Mandela said, "It always seems impossible, until it’s done." So, distinguished delegates and governments around the world, governments of the developed world, deep cuts now. Get it done.
I love this mix of passion, insight and courage. Good for a younger generation of leaders Perhaps this generation will have the courage to face the prospects of a different Earth with more than talk and aspirations .