In December 2012, I happened to be in Doha, Qatar, at the same time as the COP18 UN Climate Change conference. I had always wanted to attend and be part of the climate camps I had heard so much about from my NGO friends: the atmosphere, the feeling that you could change things, the excited buzz of activism, these all called to me. I had been told that even if you weren’t lucky enough to have a pass to the conference itself, as I did not on this occasion, there was usually so much happening in the city hosting the conference that you couldn’t fail to feel part of the process and be constantly bombarded by the messages. Doha, was not quite the same though.
Many were sceptical about that choice of Doha as a host of COP18. As activists will constantly tell you, we have little time left to institute change, to ensure that we don’t permanently damage our environment to a level from which there is no turning back (just do a quick Google search to understand why – and if you’re a climate sceptic, well, don’t bother me because you’re living in Lala land!). The host country of any conference plays a key role in facilitating discussions, taking a lead on progress and change, and with Qatar this was seen to be a problem from the start. Although this growing desert twin of Dubai made attempts to facilitate a Middle East led dialogue on the Environment, with an emphasis on renewable technologies, responsible oil management and waste management systems, it clearly wasn’t the strong green message that activists were looking for, particularly those of us coming for the West where our messages are so anti-fossil fuels: to us these oil nations are like the anti-Christs of Green campaigning.
Qatar attempted to hold events to engage the public too, with a “Green Screen” in association with the Doha Film Institute showing films raising awareness of environmental issues, message posters on free buses transporting delegates, and a Sustainability Expo at the Doha exhibition centre. However, in all honesty, most people in Doha were probably unaware that the conference was even in town. The Expo was dominated by petroleum companies and organisations from Saudi and the UAE, although there was some great renewable research technology highlighted as well. My one stand out memory is that of the Tuvalu exhibit off in one corner, over-shadowed by the Saudi stand, unnoticed by many but making a poignant statement. (You can read my blogs on some of these issues on the MADE in Europe website or on my blog: The Nomadic Trails of a Sister)
This in the end was what really represented the reality of the COP18 talks, even as they relate to us here in the UK. We, as a world leader, who should have shown leadership and vision at the conference, did little to reach an agreement or change anything. As usual activists left disappointed: there was lots of talk by the politicians, but little in the way of actual commitment to change.
The small island nations such as Tuvalu and the Maldives (which at Copenhagen played such a key role in trying to highlight their plight and bring real change in reaching an agreement that could have been historic) which will be facing certain extinction due to rising sea levels as a result of climate change, were once again left disappointed, their pleas unheard. In such negotiations, even when these small island nations come together they don’t count for much. Yet their stand, and that which the developing country block took at this conference, is to me the most important one, a necessary reminder.
What has the world done this past year to reach a binding climate change agreement and facilitate real change? Not much! There is a great article in the Guardian on just this subject by George Monbiot: 2012: the year we did our best to abandon the natural world. What has the UK done in particular? Well there has been a lot of talk by our government: I am sure we all remember David Cameron’s promise that this would be the Greenest government in our history but has he lived up to this? I think just taking a look at the above referenced article makes it pretty clear that he has not.
However, in both domestic and international policy there are always those apologists who will try to gloss over the stark lack of ambition shown by our leaders and the lack of progress being made: Why the Doha climate conference was a success. Some would point at reaching an agreement on identifying further measures to reduce emissions in order to hold global warming below 2°C as progress, but this is more than naive, this is purposefully misleading. Not only is 2°C not going to help the pacific island nations whom this target would see drowned by the seas around them but putting down such targets in order to reach some kind of more binding and impactful agreement in 2015 is simply another delay tactic by the rich nations and their multinational cronies. It has already been stated by many climate scientists that creating binding legal targets in 2015, to be reached by 2020 would mean that it may already be too late to turn the tide, yet, such warnings continue to be ignored. AND what is our very green Prime Minister David Cameron doing about this? Why don’t you write to him to find out?! I don’t have many positive words for you here.
The irony of the where climate conference was held this year was also not lost on any of us, but after examining what we have done, can we really point fingers? We must realise that in many ways, despite the wealth in the region, countries such as Qatar are relatively new to this area and are still developing themselves. They are young nations. We are in a position to lead and influence. Let us be pragmatic and realise that these countries have the money to make a real difference and truly impact the debate, we just need to influence them to facilitate change. And by this we do not just mean the Climate Fund set up to ‘reimburse’ or ‘compensate’ the developing nations for the impacts of climate change that they are already seeing and prepare them for those they might in future. Promises of funds have been made for this in Doha and that could be seen as at least some progress. Although for me, it would always be better and wiser to cut out the tumour that causes the illness rather than simply treat the symptoms.
These oil-rich nations have the money and resources to invest in green technology and develop in a sustainable manner, and help others do so as well. How are we helping to facilitate this? How can we partner with them? The power in these nations is held within an elite group that is keen to act, to be entrepreneurial, and that can be influenced to lead the way. There is so much potential and as such it should be our aim to help in any way we can.
There were some new and unexpected sights during this conference, which included the growing youth Arab environmental movement. The younger generation is involved and active. They are connected to the outer world, eager to learn and eager to institute change. The Arab revolutions have given these young people a voice and they want to shout. They want Arab Youth to lead the way, in every way. They are so keen, if we as UK activists and civil society could only help them, partner with them and harness this energy think of the movement that could be created.
As a UK civil society, we are very fortunate to have the skills, resources and freedom of speech and action that we do have. To institute real change and to pressurise governments to enforce policies that we want, we need to raise awareness and gather a critical mass of those that share our views, as well as young change-makers around the world. To do this we must work with others as much as we can. This has started. I know the UK Youth Climate Change Forum has been working with their Arab counterparts to help them build on their work. More needs to be done. It is crucial to our future and the future of our planet.
I only hope that the critical momentum can be reached before it is too late. My only worry is that it might already be too late and our leaders simply don’t care as there are not enough voices raised in concern. For now we remain at ‘too little too late’.
By Lamees Hafeez
|“We cannot continue to ‘save the planet,’ one species, one ecosystem, one policy, one issue, one law, one treaty at a time.”|
|Quote from Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program|