COP21 is over. The highly anticipated negotiations concluded in the highly predictable way: falling far short of the action needed to protect our world from climate chaos. It was always clear that the UNFCCC process was a necessary but insufficient mechanism for addressing global warming. Why? Because the processes that propels COP21 embodies the same behaviors of the climate crisis. COP21 can’t fix the climate change because it is climate change.
This is what I saw at COP21. The conference venue was split between the Green Zone and the Blue Zone. The Blue Zone was exclusive, accessible only to those with badges. The space inside the land of badge-haves has been described as a “hanger.” Big enough for a fleet of airplanes, people in suits milled around, exhausted, scowling. Booths of NGO’s—some touting dubious climate solutions—were neatly laid out to fill up the space. The colors were dull and monotonic.
A few hundred feet away, negotiators slaved over a text so politically charged that it electrocutes anyone who gets too close. Negotiators locked themselves in rooms to hash out an agreement. The United States was a key player because of wealth, power, and contribution to global warming. But our policy was dictated by realpolitik not real people. Fear of Republican repercussions corralled US negotiators into a tiny pen in which justice does not exist.
The result of this process was…a weak agreement! Who would have guessed that two weeks filled with stress, anxiety, and politicking would result in a policy lacking in empathy and ambition. Yet life goes on after COP21. The climate crisis grows ever more severe, its impacts increasingly terrifying and destructive.
As I sat in the halls of the Blue Zone and watched this process unfold, I could not stop wondering why our political system functions with such disfunction in the face of crisis. Then I realized that COP21 reflects the climate crisis. So the outcomes of this conference will inherently perpetuate climate change.
Negotiators isolated themselves, completely removed from the people and voices that are being impacted by climate change. Their world was about policy, not the people who require strong climate action as a matter of existential necessity. Similarly, the climate crisis evolved and strengthened because the fossil fuel industry and developed nations extracted, transported, and refined ungodly amounts of fossil fuels with no regard for the communities and places that were impacted by those processes.
COP21 was an exclusive space of privilege. Youth did not have a seat at the table. The voices of representatives from developing countries were drowned out and bullied by rich nations. Only those with power and privilege dictated what policy looked like. This situation parallels the Boardrooms of fossil fuel industries, where climate denial is born and the voices of a few coerce the many into acceptance of the fossil fuel economy. No one who is actually affected by fossil fuels has any say in the kind of energy system that we have.
This physical space of COP21 is completely alienating. Fluorescent lights bring out the worst in everyone’s faces. The space is Azkaban, the metal roof, white walls, gray rugs, and white chairs sucking out your soul like Dementors. Climate change became a crisis because of this divorcing of people from people and people from nature. We have forgotten what the Earth gives us. We take it for granted. We destroy our only home and don’t even care.
The next piece that I post will be about how we can create systems that break free of the status quo that is the climate crisis. For now, I needed to share these thoughts. As I recover from COP21, the experience gains clarity.