The UN international climate change negotiations in Paris, COP21, concluded on Saturday. The outcome: 196 countries came to the table, and committed to preventing the worst effects of climate change. For the first time, developing countries recognized their future responsibility, while developed nations acknowledged their historic contribution. Together they set out an aggressive goal to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C. Like countless others, I eagerly shared the news on my Facebook feed and I rushed to explain the significance to my five-year-old son.
Reading responses to the COP21 accord in the news and social media, however, revealed a wide mix of reactions. Some share my enthusiasm; others are more tentative, wondering how "they" can follow through on targets that are aspirational and not binding. There is a chorus of critiques, from multiple sides of the political spectrum. Many have validity, particularly those grounded in the science who have run the numbers on future warming.
Most of them miss the point.
The COP21 accord represents a possibility - that the world can come together and solve one of the most complex problems we face as a civilization. We could spend days judging and assessing whether the accord is good enough - in fact we already have. Ultimately, when the conversation moves forward, we'll find ourselves asking two fundamental questions. Who is responsible for achieving the COP21 goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C? How can that goal be achieved?
Answering the first question, some might say that governments, corporations, or NGOs are responsible. But WE, all of us, are their constituencies. In democracies, we choose our governments when we vote and donate. We choose our corporations when we act as their employees, customers, and investors. We choose our NGOs as members and donors. There is no "they." The beauty of this moment is the possibility for every building block of our society to come together behind this singular crisis and opportunity - our organizations, our neighborhoods, our schools, our families, all of us as individuals.
So let's not spend too much time wondering if "they" reached an accord that is good, bad, strong, weak, necessary, insufficient, early, late, historic, monumental, or disappointing. The one adjective that matters is that this is OUR accord.
That's why I'm asking everyone I know to start a new conversation about #OurAccord.
Then the question is, how are WE going to get it done? This is what the #OurAccord conversation is really about. Let's share insights and personal commitments about how to engage, vote, shop, divest, invest, innovate and shift habits to achieve the COP21 goals.
In this season of new year's resolutions, share your personal commitments for climate action in service of #OurAccord. Help others do the same.
- Where we work and where we live, let's innovate and shift our habits in so many ways big and small. EPA has a great guide.
- When we shop, or when we invest the endowments of our institutions and the savings for our retirement, let's choose climate leading companies, starting with CDP's Climate A List.
- When we vote, let's choose politicians who take climate change seriously, bring breakthrough policy ideas to the table, and take a stand for action that is bold enough to achieve the goals. Some great resources in the US are Climate Hawks Vote, League of Conservation Voters, and RepublicEn.
- When we talk with our friends and family, let's celebrate and share our energy for making the world a better place. And, let's be compassionate to their concerns and doubts. Check out this guide about how to discuss the subject without ruining the holiday dinner. (Hint: it mostly involves listening.)
What else can we do? Bring your ideas to MIT's Climate CoLab, a global community of problem solvers of more than 50,000 strong, who can contribute and improve on great ideas. Over the next few months, the Climate CoLab will roll out a new series of contests where people from all over the world (including you!) can develop proposals for what WE can do - as governments, as businesses and other organizations, and as individual consumers and citizens.
Please share your ideas, your own knowledge and inspiration, as widely as you can. Let's get started. It's #OurAccord.