Water Rising

As the diplomatic negotiations of COP25 kick off in Spain, it might be helpful to think of how they will affect children in Tuvalu, a small island nation in the Pacific

December 2, 2019

10:00 am

This past August, when Pacific-nation leaders gathered in the island nation of Tuvalu, they were greeted by some of Tuvalu’s children.

But the young people of this 11,000-person Small Island Developing State (SIDS) were not voiceless ambassadors. The children were “submerged in water surrounding a model of their sinking islands with their call to ‘Save Tuvalu, save the world’.”

Kids submerged in water didn’t have to say a word — in the image-driven media cycle, the message of what potentially lies ahead if the climate emergency is met with insufficient action was skillfully delivered.

That is an important lesson to remember as today, December 2, is the first day of the critical COP25 (Conference of the Parties) summit, the annual UN climate conference. Amid all of the alphabet soup of acronyms for which the UN is notorious — and compounded by the complex scientific discussions that lie at the heart of the meeting, which ostensibly aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius — there is a danger of losing track of the human component of the climate emergency.

And when talking statistically of the billions who will be affected by the climate crisis, there is a risk that those who could be convinced to join the movement might find the whole thing too complicated or overwhelming to make a difference.

Storytelling is vital to helping galvanize the support needed to effectively combat the climate emergency.

Greta Thunberg has done a masterful job of becoming a symbol of the climate crisis, and helping to rally concerned citizens around the world to take action — particularly on Fridays, as she has led a climate strike —wherever she might be in the world — every Friday for the last 15-or-so months.

During COP23 in Bonn, Germany, a Fijian word was introduced into the climate dictionary, which emphasized storytelling and empathy. According to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — a perfect example of the UN’s predilection for unhelpful acronyms), "Talanoa is a traditional word used in Fiji and across the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good. The process of Talanoa involves the sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling. During the process, participants build trust and advance knowledge through empathy and understanding. Blaming others and making critical observations are inconsistent with building mutual trust and respect, and therefore inconsistent with the Talanoa concept. Talanoa fosters stability and inclusiveness in dialogue, by creating a safe space that embraces mutual respect for a platform for decision making for a greater good.”

The Talanoa Dialogues, as they were called, were a year-long process in 2018 that — led by Fiji and Poland, the latter the host of last year’s COP24 — ushered in a multi-stakeholder process that looked beyond just national governments, but also to critical NGOs, businesses, and international businesses. The fruit yielded by the Talanoa Dialogues included the essential October 2018 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, yet another off-putting acronym), which warned starkly that the world had but 12 years to make dramatic changes to its energy efficiency and consumer practices or face irreversible consequences from the climate crisis.

So where are we now, as COP25 kicks off today in Madrid?

In other words, things are not good. And the Trump Administration has sent no official high-level representatives to Madrid.

It is critical now, because, as the UN noted in a blog, “COP25 is the final COP before we enter the defining year of 2020, when many nations must submit new climate action plans. Among the many elements that need to be ironed out is the financing of climate action worldwide. Currently, not enough is being done to meet the three climate goals: reducing emissions 45% by 2030; achieving climate neutrality by 2050 (which means a net-zero carbon footprint), and stabilizing global temperature rise at 1.5°C by the end of the century....Because the clock is ticking on climate change, the world cannot afford to waste more time, and a bold, decisive, ambitious way forward needs to be agreed.”

Perhaps when considering the impacts of negotiations and diplomacy in COP25, it would be useful to symbolically think of the children of Tuvalu, submerged just a little more deeply, as the waters continue to rise.

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