Get Over the Global Climate Talks (But Why We Shouldn’t Give Up on Stabilising the Climate)

Truth: The climate movement is in an unhealthy relationship with the international climate talks, known as COP.

Every year we invest our time, our money, our carbon miles and our hearts in levelling as much pressure as we can to ensure a climate deal that matches the ambition that science dictates. Every year we show up, we shout, we cry, we plead. Every year, global governments promise to change. Every year everyone walks away exhausted. This year was no exception.

So do we give up on the COP climate talks? No, despair is a luxury we cannot afford.

We need a united global emissions reduction plan to signal to companies everywhere that their old business model must be transformed to a clean green one. And we need the countries who have committed their words this month to be arm twisted into following up with cold hard cash. Whilst it seems 15 yrs too late — and this feels a lot longer if you are 15 years old — it remains a massive victory for our movement that this year’s COP agreed, finally, that fossil fuels are a problem, that coal is over (whether we phase it down or out) and that rich countries need to pay for the transition, even if that particular cheque seems lost in the mail.

The trick is not to invest all our activist energy, or our hope, in the international climate talks.

Governments change because the system changes, not the other way around. If we look at our world from this gaze, we find hope is all around us.

Governments aren’t leading the way for large-scale change; grassroots activists are.

In my own climate work I’ve found inspiration in a spectrum of activism, from a determined alliance of evangelical and indigenous campaigners in Brazil trying to save the Amazon, the older women of rural Poland taking a stand against coal, and The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and White Earth Band of Ojibwe , activists getting pelted with rubber bullets in Minnesota as they obstruct the building of the Line 3 oil sands pipeline. Let’s take the lead from these champions of climate action and pick fights we can win.

Speaking as a climate activist of 15 long years, I can confidently say that while we are woefully short of time, the wind has never been more at our backs.

So rather than hit our heads on the brick wall of global talks, let’s look for where there is more room to drive the transition forward, and have faith that governments will move into the space that we create. The battle is far from lost, and the future is in our hands.

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