IATP spent the past week at COP 24 in Katowice, Poland. We wanted to connect with civil society groups working on climate, agriculture and land use, particularly on securing land, human and food rights of communities around the world. We hoped to learn how governments plan on addressing agriculture in climate negotiations. We also wanted to understand what influential intergovernmental organizations (such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the World Bank) were proposing for action, and how agribusiness is aligning itself. Last, but not least, we were at COP 24 to share critical findings on agribusiness emissions in the livestock sector and what can be done about them through two of our joint reports. The first with GRAIN, Emissions Impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet and the second one as part of the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance: Missing Pathways to 1.5°C: The role of the land sector in ambitious climate action.
We were in between two different worlds at the COP and therein lies the problem.
There is the world of obscure—often meaningless in terms of action and at other times, downright dangerous—wordsmithing on a number of negotiated texts that only a handful of CSOs (and governments) understand. These are groups that have the resources to follow and painstakingly try to influence the outcome of the climate talks, particularly to do damage control on their particular issues.
Then, there is the radically different world of groups coming from places like Colombia, Indonesia and the Congo, representing communities on the ground—many of them coping with the dystopia at the COP of governmental non-action or worse, steps in the wrong direction, in contrast to the realities back home. Other grassroots and/or rights-based climate activists come for direct action, media work, networking and alliance building to strengthen global campaigns.
Many CSO representatives working at the COP acknowledged that the radical shift they seek in dealing with our climate crisis will not be achieved from within COP negotiating rooms—at least there is no sign of it thus far. Industrialized countries had committed through the Kyoto Protocol to lowering emissions. Instead, the world continues to emit at record-breaking levels in 2018. As we left the talks, there were no clear signs that things were going to change.
For 25 years, countless people have come to the U.N. climate conferences begging our world leaders to stop emissions, and clearly that has not worked as emissions are continuing to rise. So, I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future. I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.
Others recounted how governments are weakening the climate treaty with each passing COP, even as the latest science screams that we have underestimated the impacts of climate change. I do wonder whether civil society as a whole should publicly walk out of the climate talks to shame our governments. The IPCC gives us a 12-year window to take concerted action. Had Kyoto been seriously implemented through actual emissions cuts (as weak as we thought it was back then), we might already be transitioning to a low-carbon pathway. Instead, governments and business have continued to add more loopholes into the treaty to shirk obligations for actual emission reductions.
“Almost 50 percent of global carbon emissions arise from the activities of around 10 percent of the global population, increasing to 70 percent of emissions from just 20 percent of citizens,” said Professor Kevin Anderson on the panel we organized with CIDSE and FERN yesterday. He added, that our climate challenge “requires a transformation in the productive capacity of society, reminiscent of the Marshall Plan. The labor and resources used to furnish the high-carbon lifestyles of the top 20 percent will need to shift rapidly to deliver a fully decarbonized energy system.”
On the train back to Berlin, I was with a scientist from the Potsdam Climate Institute. He runs climate impact models that show, among other things, how many people will migrate from their homes due to climate change by 2050. Their research estimated a 143 million people will be displace by 2050. This physicist believes we could entirely meet this climate challenge without scary, almost science fiction, technologies such as geo-engineering. But it would take a radical shift in our lifestyles in the next few years. With the right public policies that respect human rights and planetary boundaries, this can be achieved.
Reasons for hope, you might ask? I came to the conference with Laurel Levin, our 22 year-old intern Levin who is engaged in the Fossil Free campaign at UC Santa Cruz, pushing universities to divest from fossil fuels. She is way more clear-eyed about the challenge at hand and what needs to be done than I was at 22. She, along with many other youth leaders from SustainUS, Gastivists and so many other grassroots groups, have such a clear analysis about climate justice—about who the losers are in this game and what needs to be done. As cliché as that sounds, these youth inspire me to do better. They give me reasons for hope.