We all know that our world faces an existential crisis. We all know that continuously burning fossil fuels is detrimental to our climate, health, society, and economy. Most of us agree that we must act, although there is no shortage of disagreement on how that should be done. I have learned and discussed many climate-related policies this week at the COP. A carbon tax that would place a price on the negative externality of greenhouse gas emissions would help transition us to renewables. Ending fossil fuel subsidies would end the artificial competitiveness of the fuels. Financing adaptation measures in vulnerable developing countries would ensure less people have to flee their homes as climate migrants. The list goes on and on. What is important is that there is action.
I have always worried that our society is not taking enough action on climate change and attending COP24 has not exactly made me feel any better. Don’t get me wrong, I have been inspired beyond belief by the fantastic work on display here in Katowice. However, I have become tired of hearing panelist after panelist talk about why we need to act, and not hearing enough of how we need to act with clear, actionable steps on how to do so. What are you doing today to make a difference?
Dialogue is absolutely essential to action. If policies are disconnected from the people that they are designed to benefit, they will be unjust and fail. If policies are not openly debated, they will be underdeveloped. The Talanoa Dialogue—“a traditional word used in Fiji and across the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue”—was launched at COP23 and I watched it conclude here at COP24. The results of bringing this dialogue to the plenary room were palpable. Hearing country and organization representatives from across the globe speak about how climate change affects their constituencies was vital, because action must be based in dialogue and lived experience. This must be followed with action, which is even more important than dialogue. Without inclusive action, no progress will be made.
Here in Poland I have attended panels, press conferences, protests, receptions, plenaries, lectures, and releases of reports. I have been dissatisfied with the small amount of dialogue about explicit action plans. Governments should leave the COP with concrete plans to tackle climate change, or at least the political challenge of doing so. Dialogue is important to build political pressure and courage, but unless it is followed by action, it accomplishes very little. In the words of Michaela Spaeth, Director for Energy and Climate Policy for the German Federal Foreign Office, “We have so many reports, but we need reports that lead to action.” If we are going to tackle the greatest problem of our time, we are going to need to get to work.