Cultivating Change for the Climate

Nov 28th, 2017 | By | Category: Climate Change

By Suzanne York.

Climate art outside the climate negotiation zones, Bonn [photo: Suzanne York]

Climate art outside the climate negotiation zones, Bonn [photo: Suzanne York]

The climate negotiations that took place earlier this month in Bonn, Germany (referred to as COP23) dealt with challenging issues, including the U.S. government sticking its head in the ground regarding the reality of climate change.

Still, there are reasons to be somewhat hopeful that global society overall is moving in the right direction, albeit at a glacial pace. States such as California are leading the way by supporting efforts in many areas, from renewable energy to organizing climate summits, and former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called climate change a public health issue. He went so far as to say that governments around the world should put public health warning labels on fossil fuels, similar to the ones now found on cigarette packages.

While it was no surprise that Al Gore was in attendance at COP23, it was good to hear him mention population growth as a key challenge (and the need to address fertility rates). Others did as well, such a Project Drawdown, which in their top ten solutions to climate change include both voluntary family planning and girls’ education.

Raising Marginalized Voices

But the main reasons for hope lie in the passage of a gender action plan and indigenous peoples platform, both efforts to raise the role and voices that are not heard enough at climate talks.

The Gender Action Plan has been a work in progress of the Women and Gender Constituency for the past five years. Its passage is meant to bring more women to the negotiating table and into other prominent roles, and ultimately raise their voices. This is badly needed, as according to Reuters, the average percentage of women participating in negotiating sessions from 2008 to 2012 was about 31 percent. At a side event on women and climate, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, said empowering women is critical for effective participation, noting that “gender equality has everything to do with climate change.”

As for another “group” whose voices haven’t been heard enough, that of indigenous peoples, the conference parties agreed to create a platform for them to actively participate in UN climate talks. “The overall purpose of the platform will be to strengthen the knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change.”

This platform is a step in the right direction, yet just that – the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, though it now has a seat at the table in the UN climate negotiations, has no decision-making power.

The world’s best chance for stopping the great losses in biodiversity lie in the hands of indigenous peoples. We need them at the negotiating table and beyond.

Tom Goldtooth of Indigenous Environmental Network [photo:]

Tom Goldtooth of Indigenous Environmental Network [photo:]

Warnings and Rights

While the climate talks were taking place, approximately 15,000 scientists issued a warning to humanity – an update to an original warning made 25 years ago – on the dangers we all face. The signatories stated that “Mankind is still facing the existential threat of runaway consumption of limited resources by a rapidly growing population.”They went on:

By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere.

The scientists at least provide a list of recommended actions we can take to “transition to sustainability”; see the list here. Will humanity heed this second notice?

Beyond warnings to humanity and the confines of global climate negotiations, there is a movement that incorporates the above for what really is global society’s best chance at overcoming our pressing problems. And that is acknowledging rights of nature. The Global Alliance for Rights of Nature did have a presence at events at COP23, which is encouraging. The basic premise behind environmental rights is rethinking our relationship with nature – simply put, it’s not viewing nature as property, something to be exploited by humans.

A report was released at COP23 called “Rights of Nature & Mother Earth: Rights-based Law for Systemic Change.” This should be a guide for all negotiators, activists, media and decision-makers for future climate meetings. This report will be explored in a future post, but for now, here is the important take away:

To avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis and move toward a planet in balance, we must challenge the idea that Earth’s living systems are property and change our legal frameworks to adhere to the natural laws of the Earth. Recognizing Rights of Nature means that human activities and development must not interfere with the ability of ecosystems to absorb their impacts, to regenerate their natural capacities, to thrive and evolve, and requires that those responsible for destruction, including corporate actors and governments be held fully accountable.

There is much work to be done, but we can start with changing our view on nature and bringing all participants to the negotiating table.


Suzanne York is Director of Transition Earth and attended COP23.

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