Environment & Health HKFP Voices

What price failure? Why I’m bothering with this week’s UN climate talks

By John Sayer, Carbon Care Asia

There are several reasons I care about the slow, complicated, technical and sometimes baffling international climate negotiations which start this week in Bonn Germany. Here are two: I care about the health of our children; and I also think that there is much about human civilization that we should try not to lose.

International studies from the public opinion research group GlobeScan indicate that most adults have a declining belief that their children’s lives will be of better quality than their own. This is the first time since the surveys began last century that a majority of people have stopped believing that tomorrow’s world will be an improvement on that of today. Most parents will do what they can to ensure a bright future for their children, but many feel powerless in the face of challenges of global proportions.

We are not powerless, and that’s another reason I’ll go to this large and complicated meeting.

hong kong flooding

Flooding hits the Western side of Hong Kong close to the Central district after a torrential downpour 24 June 2005. Photo: Mike Clarke/AFP.

This year’s round of climate talks are quite technical. Parties are still working out the ‘rule book’ which will make the Paris Agreement work.  Discussions will centre on ways of planning, measuring and reporting what each country is doing. There will be talks about talks, talks about technology and, of course, talks about money.

America is no longer great when it comes to international cooperation. Their perverse logic seems to matter less and less as everyone else’s resolve strengthens and they get on with the job. These meetings are all about planning international climate action from now until the end of the century, not for the remaining US presidential term.

We look forward to eager participants from States, cities and companies in the US, who are balancing off Washington’s solitary sulk. There remains hope that the physical impact of climate change will see the US back to the table; blown there by the winds and the tides of common interest and a rediscovery of truth.

Climate actors from government, from business and from the grassroots will contend in the huge conference and exhibition centre in Bonn. We will wrangle and we will accuse; we will give and we will take, and all because we know there is much to be done, and ultimately because we all care about the same issue.

The Paris climate summit reached an agreement.

The Paris climate summit reached an agreement. Photo: Flickr via
UNclimatechange.

It is often inspiring to see such a large part of humanity represented in one way or another. Not only the governments of all colours from all continents, but companies ranging in size from global multinationals to backyard startups from Africa with a smart green idea. There will be organized youth with messages on their T-shirts demonstrating, disrupting and challenging the be-suited members of their parent’s generation over the slow progress; exposing what they call ‘fake solutions’ and greenwash.  The indigenous people will be there from the Amazon, from inside the Arctic Circle, from stretches of North America and from the islands of the Pacific Ocean. They will remind us that we might need to think about where we came from in order to re-imagine a better future.

Although this meeting takes place on the banks of the Rhine, it is officially hosted by Fiji. Under their leadership, many hope there will be a spotlight on the plight of small island states and other low-lying countries. One of the subjects under discussion goes under the heading ‘loss and damage.’ This concerns how nations help one another through the damage wrought by climate change where adaptation cannot prevent destruction. There is much talk about money, insurance and compensation here, but the issue goes beyond that to challenge what we really are as a community of nations.

There are quiet plans being made for the re-settlement of entire island nations. What price can you put on the loss of your original place, and the damage to many aspects of your culture and community? Through history, many have put more value on these things than any money, and many have fought and died for the notion of land, identity and belonging.

The small island states will be facing existential decisions in Bonn, and posing the question to the rest of us: what price failure?

John Sayer is Director of Carbon Care Asia Ltd. and will attend the UN climate talks in Bonn this week.

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What price failure? Why I'm bothering with this week's UN climate talks