On the first official day of the COP 24 in Katowice, Twitter buzzes every few hours with news: Trump and Xi Jinping negotiating trade, the British Prime Minister May struggling to sell Brexit worldwide and President Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Bin Salman sharing a high five. All but about the Conference of the Parties, however. Between the G20 in Buenos Aires and the climate marches all around Europe, it seems that the heart of climate action has left these “COPs”.
What is such a COP exactly, and why should we pay attention even when leaders do not? The United Nations created a convention on climate change, with the goal to unite its parties in tackling this transboundary issue. This is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or “UN triple-C” in the jargon). It encompasses an array of bodies, with the COP as the decision-making one, and it has brought states together like few Conventions have done before.
With the institutions in place, the transboundary issue properly coped with through Byzantine governance organigrams, and a goal set under the Paris Agreement three years ago, capacity is in place to act, but then an institutional bomb exploded.
About a year ago, the US decided to leave the Paris Agreement, a treaty which was an elaborate step in the direction of climate change mitigation under the UNFCCC. This made the other parties and the institutions realise that maybe not all states are ready for such a far-reaching commitment. The Paris Agreement was a treaty, after all, and that holds with it a certain legal weight. The UN is not a “world government’, however, and it does not hold any actual powers. The simple solution to not wanting to stay bound by the Paris Agreement, is therefore to simply leave. And that is that.
This puts the International Community in a bit of a pickle, however, as it shows that working on these COP’s, is like walking a tightrope. Given its way, especially with all the scientific technocracy in the various bodies, the UNFCCC would probably set forth the most far-reaching goals for its member states, ensuring global warming to stay at a minimum. But it must compromise, as states leaving the Convention would leave everyone worse off.
One element various states did not count on, however, was the tenacity of its citizens. Writing this, the largest ever climate march is going on in Brussels, as well in the rest of Europe, citizens are literally suing governments for not upholding commitments in the EU, and in the US. Even with the US leaving the Paris Agreement, US cities representing 40% of the population pledged to uphold their commitment nonetheless.
It is a messy way of going about, fighting on various fronts with equally varying success, and it will take some more hurricanes, forest fires and snow blizzards before commitments equal needs. But neither the Convention, the states, nor the individuals can achieve these goals by themselves. So hope must not be given up, each state, organisation or individual has its role to play, and the citizen’s role is now to push states as far as possible willingness to act on uniting these fronts can be seen in the inclusion of a people’s seat, in the coming negotiations. None other than Sir David Attenborough will be taking this seat, and his voice will be the one pushing the parties forward, to a world determined to take action and no longer sit by helplessly as climate change claims its first victims. Through direct participation via social media (through #takeyourseat), citizens can channel their voices and turn up the heat in the negotiating room, and cool the world outside.
Now, that should keep Twitter buzzing for a while longer.