Editors Note: This is a running series documenting four UNC student's experience at the COP 23 in Bonn, Germany. See last week's recap here.
By Mejs Hasan
The number of women government leaders at the climate talks is a beautiful thing. They come from all corners of the world. Zimbabwe, for example, was represented by Ms. Oppah Muchinguri, minister of the environment. She delivered Zimbabwe’s speech in the big hall where all governments were allotted time. She showed up even though when we woke up this morning, chaos in Zimbabwe dominated all the breaking news. Apparently there’s a coup? The fall of an ancient dictator? After Ms. Muchinguri, the rest of us don’t have an excuse to skip work.
In sessions hosted by Morocco, there were many women government officials. They spoke in Arabic, while their PowerPoint slides were written in French. They peppered their talks with, “May God will our success at limiting climate change.” They described Morocco’s new constitution, which declares sustainable development is a right of all citizens. They showed us pictures of the new public parks, bike programs, and electric buses embedded into Morocco’s carbon reduction plan.
These measures are a small part of the world-wide effort to reduce carbon emissions enough to keep average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius – better yet, only 1.5 degrees Celsius. The bad news is, based on current action plans, we’re not going to make it – in 2030, we’ll be emitting 11-13.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide beyond the target, every year. Way more ambitious pledges will be needed to scuttle those dozen-some gigatons.
In the meantime, people and ecosystems are already struggling. Ms. Edna Molewa, environment minister of South Africa, bemoaned the virulent droughts striking her continent, and also the hurricanes in the Caribbean, the wildfires in California. Doubtless, Ms. Siti Nurbaya of Indonesia was trying to console her when she described the plans of her country’s environment ministry: the wild stretches of forest Indonesia aims to preserve, the vast tracts of peatland marked for restoration.
Ms. Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, was also there. She tried cheering Ms. Molewa up with a friendly handshake, then told us all about Sweden’s climate plan. It is the most ambitious in all the world. Sweden aims to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2045. Sweden itself has not experienced drastic drought or storms. “But we see the pictures from the Caribbean on the news,” Ms. Lövin said. “In Sweden, we have a good economy, knowledge, and high environmental awareness. So if we can’t meet the climate goals, who can?”
Ms. Lövin also happens to be my favorite person in the world, and then I took a selfie with her, and then I nearly died! But I recovered in time to watch the official speech of the American delegation by Ms. Judith Garber.
She started by saying the U.S. is pleased to cooperate with the world on climate, which set everyone in the small audience to giggling. She ended by saying, “we intend to remain engaged,” then walked to her seat amidst polite applause and big grins and nods from her fellow American government team.
One thing all these women stressed, despite their government roles, was that climate change can’t just be fought in solemn halls of negotiation. It’s not just governments that must cooperate on new ideas; people in communities must cooperate, too, on creative, smart projects that bring emissions down locally. No one should think: “well, Indonesia and Sweden are going to take care of it all, I guess they don’t need me.”
Don’t forget, we’re currently on track to fail. Action, pressure, awareness must increase without delay. There’s not a single person on the planet who doesn’t have a meaning and a purpose in this fight.
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