Acting on Climate at COP22
Writing these words from the Africa Pavilion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference, I find myself surrounded by participants wearing vibrantly patterned dresses, sleek business suits, scarves, jeans, smart heels, and converse sneakers. There’s a little bit of everything here, and perhaps that’s what makes this international climate conference so effective. The Conference of Parties, or “COP,” is a yearly meeting during which negotiators from United Nations member states come together to craft and implement policies to address climate change, and civil society representatives travel from all corners of the world to influence the negotiations and dream together new solutions to our climate crisis. Joining these civil society participants, I am attending the COP as part of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s delegation, a team dedicated to advocating for ambitious greenhouse gas emission reductions and robust climate change finance to support impacted communities.
The atmosphere at the 22nd COP is industrious today, and the participants milling around me appear busy, hopeful, and alert. The attitude of this crowd embodies the ethos of the implementer, the person charged with making things happen. This action-oriented environment is appropriate, because this COP is all about realizing the commitments laid out in last year’s Paris Agreement, a major international agreement aimed at limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. How will we financially support developing countries to curb their carbon emissions? How will we strengthen national greenhouse gas emission pledges, “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s)”? How can we account for communities facing irreparable environmental loss and damage due to climate change? Action plans to address each of these questions–and many more–are topline agenda items for this conference.
The United States faces an uncertain climate-engagement landscape as we look ahead to the next Administration. Still, a major theme emerging from this COP is the importance of subnational bodies, of city and regional governments, in addressing climate change. These smaller actors have the potential to make big strides in curbing emissions, and as advocates, we can plug into this potential through urging local structures to play their part in the international climate effort. As the U.S.-based organization SustainUS reminded us several days ago, we have a “People’s To-Do List” that requires our full attention and engagement. We can wallow in uncertainty as we wonder for the future, or we can take action today in our immediate context to ensure that our localities are on track to address climate change. We are all implementers, and as such, we all have a critical role to play.