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The revolution will not be right back after a message

Justice doesn’t make for good news. Watch the UNFCCC from a distance and you’d be forgiven for thinking that there must be a better way of doing this. With the first week of Bonn dominated by discussions of the negotiating agenda can we really expect this process to keep the world bellow 1.5 or even 2C?

There is only one answer to this question: yes! No other process is capable of putting the world on a pathway to a secure future. When countries fail to make a fair contribution to emissions reductions they can halt progress towards a fair and binding deal. It is individual countries rather than the process that stand in the way of a secure future.

Young campaigners meet the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres in Bonn

The news media, looking for a story about the success or failure of Cancun, Bangkok or Bonn find it difficult to explain this important detail. The UNFCCC does not photograph well – poorly lit conference centres full of overtired negotiators make inspiring images difficult. But it makes for even worse news. Explaining climate change is easy compared to explaining the process and the structure of the UNFCCC.

This is just one of the reasons why thousands of campaigners attend UNFCCC negotiations every year. It is essential that countries are held accountable for their role in making or breaking a fair and binding deal. The more light we can shine on the actions of individual countries the easier it becomes to ensure they are held accountable. During the first week of  the Bonn intercessional youth delegates from the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC) have been working hard to ensure that individual countries actions are made public.

As part of a coalition of over 600 environmental groups they’ve named and shamed countries that have done their ‘best’ to block progress, presenting them with “Fossil of that Day” awards. Whilst, as members of the youth constituency, they have made interventions during the negotiations to remind negotiators why they are there. These actions along with their blogs and tweets are intended to make the negotiators more accountable to those they represent.

Climate change means there’s no standing still. The global economy must become a green economy and it must do so in time to hold warming below 1.5C. The role of environmental campaigners in Bonn is to hold negotiators accountable to this target. The successes and failures in Bonn won’t make headlines but they will change the world. To find out how take a look at our own blog.

Tom Lafford is a member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition 2011 delegation to the UNFCCC

8 Responses to “The revolution will not be right back after a message”

  1. Kirsty says:

    Thanks for making such an important contribution to the process Tom. You and your fellow youth advocates are working well to safeguard your future. It is inspiring and encouraging to all of us who are trying to do the same in our own ways.


  2. Tom Youngman says:

    This demonstrates why the youth constituency is so important at the UN – to keep things positive! Nice work, Tom.

  3. Tom Lafford says:

    Hi Neva,

    Thanks very much for your reply.

    I hope Owen accepts your challenge!


  4. Tom Lafford says:

    Hi Owen,

    Thanks for the reply.

    In answer to your question I think we must always be looking for alternatives. There is no value to the UNFCCC process unless it is the best means of mitigating and adapting to climate change. In my opinion the UNFCCC framework is the best means to this end.

    By best I mean 2 things:

    1. It is the process that is most capable of delivering a global consensus on a binding global pathway to hold the warming effects of climate change bellow 1.5C.

    2. The UNFCCC process is capable of undoing the injustices of climate change. The principle of shared but differentiated responsibility is the cornerstone of justice in a warming world and is only secure under a framework that gives a voice to those most at risk from climate change and least responsible for it.

    I agree with your analysis of the failings so far but would add that blame for these failings lies with individual countries and negotiating blocks. The process offers the capability for action commensurate to the challenge. Our role as citizens, campaigners is to press our representatives to deliver. In short, its the politics not the process that stands in the way of the fair and binding deal we all need.


    Tom Lafford

  5. Neva says:

    Hi Tom,

    A really great blog and an interesting viewpoint from the inside.

    @Owen, it seems that you also recognise that the multilateral process is important, as it’s the only forum in which all countries in the world can participate in the response to climate change.

    What I like about Tom’s approach is that he’s not sitting on the outside complaining that the system isn’t working, he’s engaging and trying to find a way of making it work. I’d be interested in what constructive contributions you have.


    • Owen says:

      Dear Neva,

      I think Tom’s ‘inside-outsider’ perspective is invaluable to the debate, and that organisations such as the UKYCC are crucial to the negotiation process. I meant neither to criticise nor complain.

      The question I pose is more of an epistemological one, such that, if we accept that the UNFCCC process is the only means available, then the search for a more effective process is held back (a potentially catastrophic opportunity cost).

      I do not think we should be stopping the UNFCCC negotiations but, as Tom said, we should be encouraging the process whilst at the same time exploring alternatives.

      As for a possible alternative, this is not exactly my field but how about: [insert solution to climate change that does not involve binding multilateral agreements].


      • Tom Lafford says:

        Cheers for replying to Neva’s comment Owen.

        I share your fear that too little is being done too slowly to prevent catastrophic CC. But I disagree with your analysis.

        The UNFCCC is a product of agreements made between the parties involved, not an institution to which we have handed the keys to global climate change policy. When countries push for action the process changes. So your point about opportunity costs should be directed at the political decisions within the process not the process itself.

        I would add that there is no alternative to binding multilateral agreements that would be just or sustainable in the long term.

        Thanks again for your comments!


  6. Owen says:

    Dear Tom,

    It seems to me that the multi-lateral process is the only game in town for now, but I do not conflate an acceptance of “it’s all we’ve got”, with the optimism of “it will work”.

    On the one hand, nations block the process, deals made are unsatisfactory, and targets are missed, but on the other hand we go to great lengths to try to preserve participation and legitimacy. Are we fighting a losing battle?

    My question to you is, how long will we have to wait, and what sort of apparent failure would be necessary, until we really sit down and think about an alternative?


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