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If you didn’t know, there’s a UN climate change conference about to begin in Poland – and it’s a big one.
COP24, as it’s known, kicks off this weekend. For the next two weeks, a number of very smart experts and politicians will be locked in meeting rooms in a conference centre in Katowice trying (we hope) to move the Paris Agreement forward and ramp up climate commitments.
And it’s in moments like this that our voices really need to be heard. So here’s your chance!
Sir David Attenborough is inviting us – the normal people – to contribute to his opening address. You just have to say your piece with the hashtag #TakeYourSeat on Twitter, in the hope that his speech to delegates will reflect a number of voices from across the world.
The venerable David Attenborough makes a good point. The issue with ‘conferences’ is they sound dry and exclusive — not open to the rest of us. But the reality is they set the goals and rules for how we intend to limit emissions and, well, ultimately save our planet.
In September, I went to my first ever UN climate change conference on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. It sounds tedious, but stay with me. Unfortunately the term ‘climate change’ is too often guilt-inducing, depressing and encourages a sense of helplessness. But what was exciting about this UN meeting was the opportunity to see first-hand how nations are coming together to actually do something about the problem.
I had high hopes, and in lots of ways my optimism was well founded. I saw what it was like with NGOs, Greenpeace included, directly lobbying decision makers to get the best possible outcome. I saw nations come together to work on a framework of rules and timeframes for action that should free governments to make full commitments at the upcoming conference in Poland, COP24.
But, what I wasn’t expecting was the deep complexity of the subject, the circular conversations, or the number of words thrown around that I really struggled to understand.
Learning to speak “climate” is a bit like learning to speak code. Sentences like “14(a). Scope of and modalities for the periodic assessment of the Technology Mechanism in relation to supporting the implementation of the Paris Agreement”are thrown around and everyone nods. Very. Seriously.
Occasionally someone cracks a climate science joke (yes, that’s a thing) and everyone titters. It’s really hard, and you have to really want to follow it.
What struck me the most is that delegations really are just working on words on a document.
I had imagined they’d be operating differently somehow, in a way I wouldn’t recognise. But instead, imagine the whole world in a Google document for up to 18 hours a day, and you’re getting close to what working on a ‘rule book’ for what the Paris Agreement looks like. And it’s not just any Google doc, it’s one that could maybe save our climate and ourselves. The fate of the oceans, the forests, the animals all potentially resting on… a Google document!
The problem for someone who works in communications, like I do, is that documents are not sexy. That’s not how we imagine people saving the planet. Sure, we imagine people fighting aliens, yes. People who fly, yes. Men dressed as bats, women dressed as cats, both yes. But never a complicated document.
I have a newfound appreciation for the realities of what the parties involved in the Paris agreement are trying to do. But the thing is, this is an issue that concerns every single one of us. It especially concerns the huge swathes of people living in climate vulnerable developing countries who have never gone anywhere near a Google doc, let alone a UN building.
And the longer our representatives feel free to roam the halls of power ruminating over politics and technicalities, using language that either terrifies the average person or bores them to tears, the harder it’s going to be for all of us – especially as we increasingly face the very real impacts of climate change
There are still reasons for hope, as the recent UN’s special report on climate change revealed. So, as the curtains draw back on the next climate showdown in Poland, I encourage you to join me in demanding action from the delegates making the decisions.
Let’s not let them get comfortable or lost in complex language. Instead, let’s take our seat right next to them and demand to be heard in ways we can all understand — before it’s too late.
Donate a tweet and find out how else you can get involved here!
Juliet Perry is a Communications Officer with Greenpeace International, based in Hong Kong. She’s supporting the Greenpeace delegation at this year’s COP24 in Poland.