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Monday, December 14, 2009

COP15: From the streets to the meeting room with Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing

Guest Post by Garett Brennan, Executive Director- Focus the Nation

The other morning, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) released their AOSIS Text. The first proposal in the negotiations so far that is actually responding to what the science is demanding:

1. Fair – securing at least $200 billion by 2020 in climate financing to support poor countries to bear costs associated with Mitigation, Adaptation and Insurance in the event of disasters

2. Ambitious – peaking global carbon emissions by 2015, and returning atmospheric carbon dioxide levels below 350 parts per million

3. Binding – a legally binding agreement that can be enforceable.

“We are not negotiating economics or science here, we are negotiating our survival,” said Antonio Lima, ambassador of Cape Verde and the vice-chair of AOSIS. “We are the ones on the front lines. Sea levels are already rising. If we leave Copenhagen without a legally binding outcome, without a strong Finance commitment for adaptation, mitigation and insurance from largest emitting nations, how do you expect me to go home and tell my children that we failed and we are going to die?”

On Saturday, we marched with more than 50,000 people from all over the world from Parliament Square to the Bella Center. I helped hoist and carry a huge 15 ft flag for about a mile in the wind, passing it back and forth with two guys from Lebanon. It was exhausting and exhilarating to march in solidarity with so many cultures all calling for the same shared future.

This morning when I arrived at the Bella Center and bumped into our friends from the Will Steger Foundation (see interview here), the G77 walked out of negotiations and completely stalled the entire process. Then on a positive note, we did a joint press conference with US and Chinese youth, announcing the clear need (and enthusiasm) for youth movements to collaborate across borders and set an example for their leaders on the issue.

Shortly after that session, myself, Billy Parish, Jessy Tolkan, Ben Wessel and several other young leaders had a closed-door, private meeting with Todd Stern (Obama’s special envoy) and the US lead negotiator, Jonathan Pershing. As soon as we found out that our request to meet with them had been granted, we quickly gathered to chart out specific questions targeting areas with a lack of leadership from the US (Finance) and pushing to establish a basic trust from other nations toward the US being actually committed to a real deal. On one hand, the US is not putting anything of real significance on the table—at least at the level that countries who are on the front lines of climate change are demanding. On the other hand, there is NO WAY that 12 months ago, the former administration would have ever reached out to the youth climate movement and wanted a face-to-face meeting. I don’t envy Jonathan Pershing’s position at all.

The big frustration at this point is the fact that the U.S. is losing major credibility with how little it’s offering in finance for adaptation and technology. When all the other countries have seen us quickly mobilize trillions to bail out the banks, automakers and launch two wars in the Middle East, they are completely dumbfounded that we can only offer $2billion for the climate. And this is a key rub. Jonathan Pershing’s argument is that there was HUGE public support for that kind of spending—public support that we don’t currently have for climate.

Something for us to really figure out in the near future is how we help average Americans realize the need to put American dollars toward this kind of re-building—the kind of help and support that will build other nations and trust between those nations. Just like we did with the Marshall Plan in 1948 that built up strong economies in Western Europe.

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