Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bonn Climate Change Conference/COP 21 - What Is Missing

by Laughlin Artz

I am a relative newcomer to the climate change situation, especially the policy process.  I am, however, a veteran of over thirty years in both the public and private sectors (often involving multi-cultural participation) in the disciplines of strategic planning, project management and transformational leadership, i.e the science of achieving outcomes that are from the current perspective, not possible.

What got me into this initiative was the realization, through colleagues who are deeply engaged in the matter of climate change, that the predictable future of this situation was not one of a sustainable future for our world.  I then went about the clumsy business of immersing myself in the world of climate change.  That path, which I began approximately 18 months ago, has brought me here, to the Bonn Climate Change Conference. 

First, let me say that I have the utmost respect and admiration for the people who have worked tirelessly in the matter of solving this tremendously difficult, massive and complex problem.  I offer my observations, not in any way to criticize or negate any of the enormous contributions made to date on this issue, but rather as what I propose as missing in the matter of the actions that will mitigate this crisis in the requisite time-frame.

In this conference, my perspective is a unique one.  I am focused less on the technical aspects of the conversations, i.e. the graphs, charts, studies, etc.(which is appropriate given that I am far from an expert in such matters), and more on the nature of the language in which the conference itself is happening.  The language creates the environment, and the environment determines what can and cannot be accomplished. Which brings us to what I invite you to consider as the heart of the matter.  

This conference is not the environment of having the unpredictable happen.

This, I assert, is the fundamental dilemma, given that what is clearly being called for is something distinct from the tried and true, or as it is termed in the language of the conference, “business as usual.”  So I find myself immersed in a global convening of the finest experts in the field, with much talk of how much we need something other than business as usual, and at the same time those same people propagating that exact environment.  Something other than business as usual simply cannot be accomplished in a business as usual environment. 

There are three points on which the majority of parties here are clearly in agreement .  One, that what is needed for us as a species is for us to keep the global temperature increase to a maximum of 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.  Second, that our current rate of progress is insufficient to accomplish this.  And third, that an agreement that includes a commitment to achieving that result will not happen at COP 21.  That is the current state of affairs.

So what is the environment of the Bonn Climate Change Conference?

The environment of the Bonn conference is one of study, data, debate and negotiation, and not one of action, specifically not one of bold action, the kind of action called for in this situation.  And there is a design to that.  The bulk of people here are scientists, scholars, diplomats and politicianians.  These are fields in which action and what it takes to make something happen, especially something unpredictable, is simply not part of the skill set.  And I am not saying it should be, only to illuminate that people, whatever their profession, are trained in particular competencies that are a match for what has been determined is most necessary to be effective in that field.

Scientists are designed to study and assess, and you hear it consistently in the closing remarks (next steps) of these meetings that the next step is to conduct another study, to compile more data, to do more or deeper research.  All of which has its place in the world, absolutely a vital place, and an extremely vital place in the matter of climate change; it's just not the appropriate realm of endeavor when you are out to make something happen.  Information makes something understandable, makes something clear, but does nothing to generate action. 

Politicians and diplomats are well versed in the matters of compromise, negotiation, and building cases for their own constituencies’ interests, all of which are essential in many of the situations in which they find themselves.  However, none of that expertise is what is needed when unpredictable actions are required to accomplish unpredictable outcomes.

We have a situation where what is needed is not in the current capacities of the accountable parties.  There is nothing wrong about that, merely the current state of where we are in the matter.

What is missing?

For us to generate a global commitment at COP 21 in Paris in December to take the actions necessary to ensure a future of sustainability for us all will require a shift in the context in which the work is being conducted.  This is June 4, COP 21 concludes December 11, so we have about 6 months to make that happen.

The charge for us, for you and me, I would suggest, is to bring the work of producing unpredictable outcomes, for interrupting the predictable future, to this process. As a global citizen, as a member of civil society, this is the charge i have given myself.  This is why I am here.  

Fundamentally what is missing is working from a future rather than the past.  The current condition is one that calls for seeing the future from what is known and attempting to project into the future from there.  This will only give us some version of what has been, some prediction, and even if what we get is a better version of what and where we have been, it will still be insufficient.  It is a function of seeing the future in this past-based framework that has the delegates saying that what we need to accomplish in Paris will not happen.  And they are accurate.  The future we want will not come from the past.

What is missing in this conference isn't data, it isn't consensus, it isn't even more time;  what is missing is an environment generated by a stand, an existential promise for a future unforeseen.  An environment born of a stand of something being possible, rather than predictable.  This is counter-intuitive to the mindset of many of the conference participants who have been highly trained in the disciplines of assessing, studying, proving and validating.  

You cannot get to a stand from what is known or proven.  In fact, that negates the whole point of a stand.  A stand comes from the stand itself.  The design of a stand is to bring into existence a whole new environment, and with that, new ways of thinking, acting and being that are necessary to fulfill the stand.  We are at a critical crossroads as a species.  We don’t need different actions in the same environment; we need a completely new environment in which to act. That is the power of a stand.

My stand is that a global agreement to take the actions necessary to ensure a sustainable future is possible, an agreement that includes something of the order of "full decarbonization by 2050", and that it is possible to achieve this by the completion of COP21 on December 11.  That stand is what brought me to Bonn. 

The charge now, my charge, your charge, civil society's charge is to infuse our stand for COP 21 success into the policy process, and to invite others to take that stand, and in so doing, to empower these incredibly dedicated people to see that what they want is actually possible and that they and others can actually have that.  

It will not come easy.  It will take on all of our parts the risk of taking that stand.   This stand and its corresponding new ways of thinking and acting will not come cheaply.  It will cost us what we know to be true, all that is there in the current environment that tells us what is and isn't possible.  It will require us to be who we haven't been before, to reinvent ourselves as what is wanted and needed for the realization of that stand. 

What does that look like?  I don't know.  You can't predict it, you can only discover it for yourself. For me, it looks like being at the Bonn Climate Change Conference.  For you, it will be your unique expression.  That is part of the adventure that it is to step beyond the current reality into the unknown.

This is an exciting time, this is an extraordinary opportunity for us all to join in the process of working toward and ensuring the success of COP 21 this December.  It is possible!

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