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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thinking about Elizabeth May’s Observations at Warsaw COP19

Quotes drawn from: “Warsaw COPWarsaw COP19 –Daily Blog – Meeting with Ban Ki-Moon”, b

“Everyone understands that launching a serious transition away from fossil fuels requires leadership – and leadership from the wealthy nations. What other group of countries has the capacity to do it?”

According to Nick Mabey, CEO of E3G, “Climate change is unique….it has no hard-security solutions. In fact, the only solution is cooperation.”[1] However, the international community has little experience with sustained cooperation. Beyond win-lose diplomacy, it has neither the frameworks nor the skill sets to affect cooperation over long periods of time. Clearly, cooperation is not a leader-follower relationship. It is a voluntary relationship among owners. It is the social mechanism needed when no one is in charge, as is the case with climate change.

“As the negotiator for the Gambia put it, speaking on behalf of the African bloc, ‘Without leaders, there will be no followers.’”

Actually the opposite is true. It is the followers who create leaders not the other way around. And followers will follow if they believe a) that the leader is ethical and has their interests at heart AND b) that the leader will be effective in creating the results they desire. Who in terms of climate change is trusted to have the interests of all at heart? Apparently no one. Who has all the knowledge, resources and power to mitigate climate change? Again no one person or country. So why should anyone follow? And that indeed seems to be the case. Right now, other than the EU (even they have problems), there are no leaders.”

As the clock ticks down on the next three days, we’ll watch and hope that one of the powerful nations, or a country with the capacity to break a dead-lock, demonstrate good faith and build trust, will step up and show leadership. That used to be our role. Now, we are just on the wrong side of history.”

If we put our faith in leaders to come to our rescue and save us from ourselves we will be sadly disappointed. We have stretched the usefulness of the leader-follower model to its limits and today, when we seem to need it most, it has become frayed and tattered. The plea for leadership is an empty hope that falls among a host of 'leaders' all jockeying for their own position, to impose their own answer, to exert their own control. The Gambian negotiator has missed the fact that there are too many leader wannabes and too few people wanting to be followers. What the COP process has missed entirely, is that the climate change solution revolves around shared stewardship, where a steward becomes powerful by making other owners powerful.  A leader looks to himself and his organization. A steward looks to others and seeks to make them successful in order to achieve his own organization’s goals.

A World Bank Report on Loss and Damage released today said that by 2030, 325 million people could be both very poor and living in areas very susceptible to extreme weather events. By mid-century, the report estimates the losses due to climate change to the world’s coastal cities alone could come to $1 trillion/year, every year..
A financial cost of a trillion a year however, is only the tip of the iceberg of suffering that humanity as a whole will have to endure due to flooding, drought, violent weather, human migration, revolution and devastated economies. Yet “all these [climate] challenges have two things in common,” says Ian Johnson, Secretary General of the Club of Rome. “First, they are all anthropogenic, caused by us humans.” This is actually quite a hopeful comment because if we are part of the problem, then we, humans, can and should be part of the solution. “Second, to a broad approximation, these challenges are all shared problems, and, as an old English saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. Shared problems must be addressed through shared solutions. This requires all of us changing our values, and understanding the commonality of humanity’s challenges on earth, and, they require new forms of governance: especially of the commons -- whether local, national or global.”[2]

The real challenge, the real work for COP19 is social innovation – can the participants create a new form of collaborative governance that does not take away from any country’s ownership of either the problem or the solution. But while COP19 pushes for leaders to act, or waits for someone to tell them what to do, they miss the opportunity to discover their shared humanity and learn how to work together.  

“So at this COP a deal-breaker has emerged as developing countries ask for some way to develop a plan to deal with compensation for loss and damage. And the industrialized countries are saying “no.” This is like the point on the Titanic when lifeboats were only available for First Class passengers.”

With collaboration there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is only ‘we’. Without establishing that basis of shared humanity the leaders of the world will continue to work irrationally in their own interests even if it means suffering the ultimate penalty of social traps, self- destruction. 'We' have children and grandchildren who 'we' love and want to grow and enjoy healthy, happy lives. 'We' want our communities and countries become better places. 'We' want to prosper and live in a world that nourishes us. As parents and neighbours and seekers of happiness 'we' can work this out. Everything else is secondary.


“We are negotiating as though we have all the time in the world. Neither we, nor the world, have that kind of time anymore.”


We are negotiating instead of building relationships that serve others as well as ourselves. Let’s crowdsource this from person to person, family to family, community to community. We own the problem. We produce the CO2 that goes into the atmosphere. Therefore we are the solution, actually the only solution. Let’s not hitch the future of our grandchildren to those who have no capacity to collaborate. If leaders want to join in later then let them. They are after all human too.


Time is running out.” Yes it is.

[1] Nick Mabey, quoted in DYER, Gywnne Climate Wars, Vintage Canada, 2008: 165
[2] JOHNSON, Ian. “The Challenge of Scarcity”, The Ottawa Citizen, 5 September 2013. Emphasis added.