Can Hope Be Found In Global Climate Negotiations?


We say it here a lot. News about climate change can be pretty depressing.

Australia is burning. 2019 will go down in the history books as the second hottest year on record. And the UN climate talks (COP25) designed to reduce global emissions ended in disappointment… again.

And yes, if you’re only reading the headlines, there’s not a whole lot to celebrate. But according to Niyanta Spelman (CEO of the Rainforest Partnership) there’s plenty of exciting things happening just beneath the surface.

Last week, Niyanta sat down with AEN to talk about her experiences as a longtime observer delegate to the COP talks and to share her hopes for 2020.

Wait, what’s the COP again?

COP stands for Conference of Parties, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). During its annual meetings, nearly all the world’s governments gather in an attempt to take global action on climate change. These meetings have been going on for the past 25 years with mixed results, leading to increasing frustration over the seeming inability of the international community to actually do something about climate change.

However, big steps were taken at COP21 with the Paris Climate Agreement. The world’s first real global accord on climate change, the Paris Climate Agreement included individual emission reduction pledges from nearly every country in the world.

That was a big deal, but a lot of work still needs to be done. The rulebook for how to measure those reductions and regulate carbon markets still needs to be hashed out. There’s also rising pressure to consider strengthening the emission reduction pledges initially made for the agreement, especially in the wake of a growing body of research that says the Paris Agreement simply doesn’t go far enough.

This was what was discussed at COP25 this past December in Madrid, Spain.

In the end, no big decisions were reached, setting the stage for an important COP26 this year in Glasgow.

Despite this disappointing result, Niyanta says that she noticed a real difference at this year’s COP, compared to years’ past.

“It’s almost like, people are finally paying attention,” Niyanta said during our interview. “And I think it affects us all. And I think that’s what’s going to be different about 2020. And I think that’s what’s already different…”

In particular, she pointed to the growing youth movement that’s been putting pressure on governments, companies, and local communities to take action… and to do it fast.

“So, you’re right, not much happened at the UN level,” Niyanta said, “but so much more is happening in terms of innovation in other countries and other continents. So much is happening with the youth movement, and what’s happening at corporate levels and NGO levels, and just personally, individual levels.”

In other words, all of these protests, innovations, and policies bubbling up all over the globe are starting to build on top of each other, creating the kind of momentum that the global community is having a harder time ignoring.

“2020 for a lot of people is the year when we’re going to change this trajectory that humanity is on in terms of climate change,” Niyanta said. “And I’m not the only one who feels like that. There are a whole bunch of people that are working with us and partnering with us that I think I couldn’t have gotten them to talk to me a year ago.”


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