What We Want from COP21

- Posted by Publications Committee in Resources | 5 min read
Shelley Tanenbaum, QEW General Secretary
COP21 Paris 2015

Editor’s note: Shelley wrote this article prior to participating in COP21 in Paris. You can find out more about her experiences there by checking out her blog posts at http://www.quakerearthcare.org/news/qew-cop21-paris.

Greetings, Friends! As you read this, I am in Paris along with a handful of QEW folks, dozens (hundreds?) of European Friends, 40,000 climate policy wonks and (we hope) many hundreds of thousands (millions?) of grassroots activists on the streets all over the globe. You have the advantage of knowing what is going on, while I have written this article several weeks in advance of the actual events.

What are we seeking from the Paris conference of the parties (COP21) and from the masses of people assembled to voice their concerns about global climate chaos? Can we raise up concerns for the world’s most vulnerable people—people living in poverty in the low-lying wetlands of the world, in the path of hurricanes and typhoons, in the shadow of retreating glaciers, in the over-heated and parched deserts and near-deserts? Is this the start of a transition to living in right relationship with the natural world, providing a habitable world for future generations and other species?

Our first task is to confront the despair that many of us have felt for the past decade or more. This is a despair that comes from predictions of a vastly different and nearly uninhabitable planet within our (or our children’s) lifetimes and a despair that comes from a world in denial or self-absorbed greed.

At QEW’s October Steering Committee meetings we were led by a master to get in touch with that despair—not to ignore it—and to use our deep passion and concern as a way to empower our work. Joanna Macy provided a sample of her most recent workshop, the Work that Reconnects. She set us up in dyads with one of us representing a person from 200 years in the future and the other being our present selves. As a person from the present, I felt honored and appreciated by my partner from the year 2215 for my work as a climate activist. I also felt ashamed for my culture, for being so slow to react to this crisis and for caring so little for both our fellow human beings and species who are at risk, as well as for future generations. This mixture of pleasure for being appreciated and sorrow for being so slow had the interesting effect of strengthening my resolve to continue this work. I call her a master because Joanna found a way to reach each of us in our hearts as well as our heads and to embolden and excite us to do this great work.

To help identify what we want from COP21, I am turning for guidance to CARE, an international humanitarian organization working to end global poverty (http://www.care-international.org/). They have created the following list of goals for the conference:

  • Keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Cut emissions from fossil fuels drastically. Speed up the transition to renewable energies.
  • Build climate resilience and adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable and marginalized people, and
    address the loss and damage they will face.
  • Protect the food and nutrition security of the most vulnerable and marginalized people.
  • Scale up financial support for vulnerable and marginalized people.
  • Ensure actions to tackle climate change, advance gender equality and human rights.

How well are we doing, as you read this article?

At this point we do not expect that the Paris agreement will be enough in the long-term, but we hope it will launch a process for drastically reducing carbon emissions. At present, the greenhouse gas reduction goals and financial pledges that have been made are only enough to keep global warming down to about 2.5-3.5 degrees C (depending on who does the analysis). This is clearly not enough, with some scientists saying we need to keep warming down to 1.5-2 degrees C. COP21 needs to be the beginning of a 50-year process of periodically ratcheting up our goals and ratcheting down our carbon emissions. I have my own list of specific benchmarks that can be used to evaluate the climate talks in Paris in 2015:

  • Firm commitment to decrease anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission by 2030.
  • Revisit the greenhouse gas emission goals every five years—to build in a way to decrease emissions beyond what is agreed to in Paris.
  • View the Paris agreement as the starting point in a significant trend downward in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Green Climate Fund (a fund set up to encourage richer countries to support renewable energy and sane environmental practices in developing countries) must be handled with transparency and be a legitimate use of funding.

We Quakers often seed new movements. We all know about the role Friends played in the abolition of slavery. Did you know that the AFSC arranged for Martin Luther and Corretta Scott King to travel to India and study Gandhian non-violence? Did you know that one of the chief architects of the civil rights movement was Friend Bayard Rustin?

At the October Steering Committee meetings, it was exciting to learn that Friends played a role in launching Joanna Macy’s career of leading workshops on empowerment. She told us that the place we were meeting, Ben Lomond Quaker Center, was the site of her first empowerment workshop. Joanna has spent her life teaching us that we can’t get rid of despair, but we can use the pain of the world to open up wider and to be present. Her first set of workshops were on Despair and Empowerment. Later, she created the Council of All Beings. Now, she is fully engaged with the Work that Reconnects, connecting mind and body with spiritual and political concerns.

“Even if you think it is unlikely to have a good future, aren’t we called to try?” —Joanna Macy

During worship-sharing after Joanna’s workshop, a Friend told this story: “There is an enormous flock of birds in the sky, all flying in the same direction. Suddenly, they all move in another direction. Who is the one bird that changed the direction? What can I do? There needs to be a great turning. There are one or two birds who start the turn. We are those birds.”

And another Friend added: “We already have the knowledge and information that we need. What I learned this weekend is how to better use that knowledge and information. We have what is right and what is true.”

I am honored and emboldened to continue this work with Friends like you.