COP 25 is the 25th annual Conference of Parties of the UN Climate Change Conference. It moved from Santiago, Chile to Madrid, because Chileans were rioting in the streets. It began this weekend and will continue until December 13. It is huge, every year.
Civil unrest seems to be a feature of international news these days. Even some citizens of the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica are setting light to things and blocking roads, with just two days to go before general elections. Haiti has erupted several times this year in angry protests against their government, although their vicissitudes are largely ignored by their neighbors (including ourselves in Jamaica).
Chile, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Iraq, Bolivia, Ecuador – even the much-praised, newly-progressive Ethiopia – have seen repeated and persistent protests, most of which have turned violent. Then there are the earnest neo-hippies of the Extinction Rebellion movement, who seem to relish getting carted away in police cars. Not to mention the peaceful, weekly #FridaysforFuture – the “climate strikes” initiated by Greta Thunberg.
Of course, there are many diverse issues to factor in, specific to each country where this anger has risen to the surface. There is, however, a general sense that governments are not listening. According to protesters, they have not been listening for quite a while.
Perhaps the riots in Chile are an omen for COP25 – a sign that no, everything is not OK.
Not many governments are listening to the scientists, either. Whenever I hear our own Professor Michael Taylor speak at various meetings, I wonder if he is getting through to our political leaders. The good professor is a great communicator; he breaks down climate change issues in a simple (and increasingly stark) way that non-scientists can easily grasp. Yet the last time I heard him I detected a note of frustration in his voice.
Perhaps Professor Taylor needs to sit every government Minister down in one room for an hour or two. He should tell them to put their phones away. He should tell them to shut up and listen. Then he should do the same for all the Opposition spokespersons. Then he should brief the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, separately, on climate change and what it will do to us (and our economy!) in the next ten, twenty, thirty years, if we continue this way.
Then he should ask them what they are doing about it. What are their plans?
Our governments are pursuing their agendas of continued, non-stop, unsustainable growth. They are thinking about how they can obtain more funding from international agencies to help them adapt to climate change. They are planning the next big development or investment. And of course, they are thinking about the next election.
In other words, they are simply carrying on pretty much as usual.
Our own Prime Minister made several speeches at the United Nations General Assembly recently. He spoke about the urgency of the situation. I believe he is sincere. But we are so often left in a state of suspended animation after such a speech. What next?
Small developing countries such as Jamaica often point fingers at the larger nations that are contributing to some global problem – whether it be arms trafficking, trade barriers, a host of other issues. Those big, bad countries to the north (and east) have created this problem of climate change, and we small guys are suffering, we say. They need to fix it.
Sure, they do. According to the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists and the International Energy Agency (IEA), China is the top emitter of greenhouse gas emissions – those gases that cause climate change, from burning coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels. China’s piece of the pie is 29 percent, following by the U.S. with 16 percent. India is third with 7 percent. So these three countries make up just over half of emissions. What are they doing about it?
According to the UN Emissions Gap Report 2019 – not half enough. We need to cut emissions by 7.6 percent every single year. Quoting UN Secretary-General António Guterres:
For ten years, the Emissions Gap Report has been sounding the alarm – and for ten years, the world has only increased its emissions. There has never been a more important time to listen to the science. Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heatwaves, storms and pollution.
According to Carbon Brief, China’s emissions went up by 4 percent in the first half of 2019. Demand for fossil fuels has also gone up and increased steel and cement production and rising oil consumption have pushed up emissions. There are positive trends such as electric vehicles, solar power growth and caps on coal consumption. Meanwhile, China has reportedly built new power plants in 2019, and funded even more overseas in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.
As for the U.S…Well, President Donald Trump is putting things in motion to leave the historic Paris Agreement of 2015.
The word “ambition” is a popular one in the climate change context. COP 25 is intended to be a “springboard for climate ambition” – it is supposed to galvanize countries to aim higher in terms of their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Will they make pledges, and then break them?
Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change said recently that “the world’s small window of opportunity to address climate change is closing rapidly.” We’re running out of time. In the past year we have been going in the wrong direction.
Well, what has this to do with little Jamaica, you may ask? These are the big guys. However, we must play our part, even if our greenhouse gas emissions are small.
I would like to believe that awareness of climate change and environmental issues in general is relatively high in our current political administration, and that this awareness is slowly filtering through to the general population. Am I right? In that case, why…
- Celebrate the issuing of 90 prospecting licenses for minerals across the island – gold, copper, whatever you can find;
- Refuse to revoke a special mining license for bauxite that threatens forests, water resources and biodiversity in an environmentally sensitive area in Cockpit Country;
- Continue to preside over an increase in limestone quarrying, including plans to do so at Puerto Bueno Mountain in St. Ann – an area of untouched forest;
- Talk about building a “mega tourism development” on a pristine beach area on the south coast;
- Cut down mangroves in Green Island, Hanover for development – these are “carbon sinks” and provide an estimated US$32.7 million in protection to our coastlines;
- Make plans for a “New Negril” tourism development in an area of coastal wetlands;
- Continue to break ground and advocate for large tourism developments on what is left of our untouched coastal areas, including beaches and wetlands.
Please – actions speak louder than words, every time. Never is this more true than now. Time is spinning along. Will it take a Category Five hurricane to hit us to jolt us out of our “having our cake and eating it” mentality? (We are not prepared).
Governments across the world, including our own, have got to listen, and ACT. NOW. The time for talk is done. That applies to Jamaica, too. If you are truly concerned about the impacts of climate change, please do what you know (and say) is the right thing.
I urge you to consider these words, eternal “Five in Four” growth-seekers – from Native American Alanis Obomsawin:
“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”