"What gives you hope? This is a question I'm often asked these days. And what I've come to realize is that being hopeful, in the face of so much bad news about climate change, is not something that just happens -- at least not to me. It's not a passive process, but an active one. Hope isn't something I have, it's something I have to go out and find."
These were the opening lines of a speech I delivered at the Momentum for Change awards ceremony in Doha last Tuesday, which celebrated innovative work on the ground to address climate change. But now that this year's climate conference is over, driven nearly to the brink of collapse by a process awash with OPEC influence, they bear repeating.
To be clear, we are still barreling down the highway to a dangerously warming world. Nothing happened in Doha which could even remotely be thought of as hitting the brakes, and the U.S. was roundly criticised for blocking key agreements despite President Obama's election night hint of a new-found sense of urgency.. But in the wee hours of the final night's negotiations, as prospects for an outcome were looking grim, I asked a number of seasoned delegates whether they found any reason to be optimistic about the future as a result of their time in Doha.
Youth delegate from the Philippines. Creative Commons: Adopt-a-Negotiator, 2012
Here are the five answers I heard most often:
- First off, a bit of light relief. When I put my question to Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, he quipped "yes -- the prospect of not seeing "Lord" Monckton here anymore." The "potty peer" as he's known at home in the UK had been traipsing around the convention center looking like an extra from Lawrence of Arabia. But he was expelled and permanently banned from all future United Nations climate conferences for impersonating Myanmar and taking the floor. Watching him get booed out of the room by negotiators and observers alike, I was reminded that here, no one questions the scientific consensus that climate change is happening, that humans are causing it, and that it is extremely dangerous.
As I was leaving Doha Saturday, bleary-eyed and rather worse for wear, the Doha Climate Gateway was adopted -- including a new lease on life for the Kyoto Protocol. But it is weak, and the politics are fragile. The international climate negotiations essentially provide a once in a year opportunity to see where we stand, collectively, in the global fight against climate change, and frankly, we're in the ICU on life support.
So my final optimistic thought is for all of the progress being made on the ground in so many countries at the national, state and local level. Let's hope that it generates enough political will to get the job done properly next year.
Doha Conference Center at dawn. Creative Commons: Kelly Rigg, 2012