On the eve of COP21 the UN has uploaded onto YouTube a brief speech by Ban Ki-moon exhorting people everywhere to “push your governments to deliver what we need in Paris”. The words and the tone are eerily familiar – indeed, replace “Paris” with “Copenhagen” and this is something that might almost have been copied and pasted wholesale from the preamble to COP15.
“The decisions taken in Paris will shape the future of our planet and human society for generations to come.” And of course, the likes of Gordon Brown, for example, were saying much the same sort of thing six years ago – “…now fewer than 50 days to set the course for the next few decades”, etc., and so on and so forth. Groundhog Day, it appears, has dawned once again.
The Secretary-General appeals to us citizens of the world to raise our voices, and challenge our leaders to be “bold and [inaudible]”. This is where I need your help, actually. I’ve listened to the video quite a few times and for the life of me I can’t make out what the next bit is. Bold and [something]. This message to all inhabitants of planet Earth has already been seen by an amazing 744 people (maybe even more, by now!) so if you’re one of them, could you help me out and tell me what that [something] is? It sounds like “to the more” or maybe “to the wall” (god forbid, not “kill them all”). Thank you.
Ban Ki-moon’s words reminded me of a speech given by Caroline Lucas, now the UK’s sole Green MP (she was Party Leader and an MEP, then) at the Climate Emergency Rally in Hyde Park in London, a week or so before COP15, in which she calls for (amongst other demands, such as carbon rationing, “millions of green jobs” and reducing the general consumption of items like sausages and bacon) an unprecedented mass movement to push through political change. “I think we need to pledge here, today, now, that we will build the country’s largest ever campaign of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience, to make our politicians act.”
That was six years ago. What is striking is that this mass movement has never materialised. True, over the years since then, there’s been no end of various campaigns, protests, petitions, hashtags and so forth, also quite a few marches and rallies – some of them large indeed. But there has been nothing on the scale that Caroline Lucas envisaged in 2009.
This is borne out by confirmation, in a very recent BBC news article, that public support for a “strong” global deal on climate change has generally declined, according to a survey across 20 countries by the Globescan research group this year. It is also in line with a United Nations survey, launched in 2013, which asked participants across the globe what their priorities should be, after 2015, and which revealed that “action taken on climate change” ended up at the very bottom of the list (see this excellent post by Hilary Ostrov for more details).
So it appears the public appetite worldwide for pushing our leaders to make a strong climate deal has generally waned – not that it was particularly massive in the first place. Most people are worried about other things – making ends meet, paying their energy bills, staying safe from fanatics with bombs and guns – and platitudes about “a healthier future for people and the planet” just don’t cut it.
The band plays on, regardless. Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Catholic Church has just written to 5,000 bishops around the world that “climate negotiators meeting in Paris need to hear the voice of ‘God’s people'” exercising en masse their “ecological citizenship”. (And as everyone knows, the Devil is in the details, which means that climate realism – containing plenty of inconvenient details – should be very properly shunned by the righteous) .
Returning to Ban Ki-moon’s video, rather than challenging our leaders to be “bold and [something or other]” about what the UN says “we need”, at the end of the day maybe we – the citizens of the world – should just keep reminding them that, as public servants, they should be acting on what we consider to be our priorities.
. Here are a few more perspectives on the COP21 circus (and related issues) that you might find interesting: