Lima, the Lead up to Paris or the Elephant in the Room?

Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2015

Blog Post

George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher once said “''Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” After John Drexhage seminar presentation, I believe that the COP20 in Paris will be as unsuccessful as Copenhagen in 2009. Following the presentation, visiting Fulbright Professor Brian Murray, made an interesting and relevant statement on COP: consensus does not mean unanimity". In Copenhagen, there were numerous negotiating blocks such as;

  • G77 & China
  • Like minded countries
  • LDC’s
  • Africa Group
  • OPEC

Each of these groups has competing agendas, over 60 in all, and this is the proverbial elephant in the room.

This leads me to reflect on my childhood, and growing up in Vancouver. I remember in the early ‘70s we would have wet and heavy snow falls accumulating over a meter high. My father used to task me with shovelling the walkways of our elderly neighbors (a character building exercise as he put it). Feeling overwhelmed by this task, I asked him how I was to accomplish this. He gave me the best advice a father can give a son:

“How do you eat and elephant? One bite at a time.”

Even though this sounded ridiculous at the time, this piece of advice has served me well throughout my career.

Has the UNFCC become the ring master in the elephant circus, perhaps? As the shovelling snow is defined task, so too is curbing greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent climate change. The rest of the climate issues could be addressed in due time, however there is no due time to curb human carbon emissions.

The United Nation Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) should have been drafted by my father. I think back to that day when my father came out to help me on such a difficult and snowy task, and together, one shovel at a time, we ate that elephant together.

Copenhagen, Lima and maybe Paris may find failure because they are trying to eat the elephant all in one bite.

We could talk about climate change forever and not accomplish anything, as proven by diplomatic negotiators. So if the United Nations cannot make a deal, I propose we go it alone. As the G-20 is responsible for 80% of the emissions, these countries could change their behaviors simultaneously. This may be the last hope for serious action.

This concept has many advantages. The first one is instead of a group of over 190 nations, there is now only a group of 20. We all know what it is like to work in groups - and in this case, bigger is not better.

Secondly, the argument of unfair economic advantages would be silenced (OK, maybe just muted). As most of the G-20 are in themselves the largest trading partners, any measures could be applied equally. What if there was a universal carbon tax among the G-20? The billions raised could go a long way to address other issues that make climate change a larger problem than it already is.

At the very least, the narrative needs to change. Let’s reflect: what is the main issue? What are the goals? What is the most efficient way to achieve these goals? Let’s not try and bite off more than we can chew.

Let’s tackle this climate change elephant one bite at a time.

- Authored by Richard Wright, a Master of Environmental Sustainability student at the Institute of the Environment

Back to top