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Optimism and the Summit: Reflections on COP25 UN Climate Change Summit

Optimism and the Summit: Reflections on COP25 UN Climate Change Summit

By: Dale Colleen Hamilton

As a first-time delegate, I had no expectations or preconceptions about COP25. My  original plan was to perform street theatre (as part of my Masters final project) at The
People’s Summit, a parallel event to COP25 in Santiago Chile, so I’m very grateful to RINGO  (Research & Independent Non-Governmental Organizations), specifically Dr. Dawn Bazely and  Dr. Idil Boran for having included me at the last minute as a RINGO delegate.

The author, Dr. Idil Boran (head of York U delegation) & Dr. Christina Hoicka (York U prof)
The author, Dr. Idil Boran (head of York U delegation) & Dr. Christina Hoicka (York U prof)

What follows is an overview of my reflections on COP25, excerpted from a 20-page report  I’ve written. The most impactful elements/moments for me were as follows:

Greta Thunberg gives over her time on stage at a media conference to Indigenous youth  rapper Micah “Big Wind” Carpenter-Lott of Sustain US (US Youth for Justice & Sustainability).

Greta Thunberg Greta Thunberg

 

Australia, Brazil and the US are sarcastically awarded “Fossil of the Day” by the Climate Action  Network (CAN), an international NGO that stages award ceremonies to “honour the best of the worst.” On the flipside, CAN also awards “Ray of the Year” (as in ray of hope) to Indigenous People and The Youth.

Australia accepts Fossil of the Day “award” 
Australia accepts Fossil of the Day “award”

Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin in North Yukon speaks with such eloquence  and passion about their work with Indigenous youth that I feel happy to have lived long
enough to see this new generation of committed Indigenous youth assuming leadership
positions.

Eco-Anxiety Workshop, co-led by Dr. Courtney Howard, a medical doctor specializing in
emergency medicine, and environmental engineer William Gagnon (self-described as eco- anxious), both from Yellowknife.

Eco-Anxiety Workshop, co-led by Dr. Courtney Howard Eco-Anxiety Workshop, co-led by Dr. Courtney Howard

Elizabeth May gives two young Coast Salish women her time at the podium at a reception at  the Canadian Embassy, and they speak passionately about their efforts to stop resource
extraction on Indigenous land.

Elizabeth May

I get to speak with a hero of mine, Dr. Bertrand Picard, a Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist and  the initiator and co-pilot of Solar Impulse, the first round-the-world solar-powered flight and  the subject of a film called “Point of No Return.”

Dr. Bertrand Picard

Other Highlights:

  • Al Gore speaks to a packed plenary hall, entreating us all to remember that “the will

to survive and the will to act are themselves renewable resources.”

  • Nancy Pelosi calls climate change “the existential threat of our time” and introduces

a delegation of Democrats drawn from both the House and the Senate. The Trump
administration’s presence is felt through their absence.

  • Alden Meyer, from Union of Concerned Scientists and part of the “We Are Still
    In” Coalition – a group of governors, mayors and business leaders – speaks about

“working to meet the U.S. commitments under Paris, despite Trump’s irresponsible
decision to withdraw from the Agreement.”

  • Demonstrating with half a million people in the climate change march in Madrid dulls
    the sharp edge of eco-anxiety.

The author with her Gaia street theatre puppet, Climate Change march, December 6, Madrid 
The author with her Gaia street theatre puppet, Climate Change march, December 6, Madrid

I am aware, of course, that many pundits have concluded that COP25 was a failure; and  indeed, it did fail to meet the myriad of mandates and expectations. But, having attended
every day throughout the entire two weeks of the summit, I would not condemn it as a failure.  Progress was made. For example, the EU unveiled their Green Deal aimed at carbon neutrality  by 2050, and 73 nations agreed to submit an enhanced climate action plan by November’s  COP26 in Glasgow that goes beyond their Paris commitments. The negotiators also reached
agreement on capacity building, gender equity and technical assistance to vulnerable  countries. In her closing statement, COP25 President Carolina Schmitt congratulated the
countries that had displayed “flexibility like never before”.

COP25 President Carolina Schmitt

Even more encouraging, in my mind, is a global trend towards regional and local governments making a commitment to stay on track with carbon reductions, even when their  federal governments aren’t on board. This includes 14 regions, 398 cities, 786 businesses and  16 investors who are aiming for net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Granted, agreement could
not be reached on Article 6, specifically financial commitments from developed countries (which create 80% of carbon emissions) for loss, damage and adaptation in developing
countries. Costa Rica’s Minister for Energy and Environment specifically blamed the United States, Brazil, and Australia for blocking progress “by insisting on language unacceptable to
most countries.” And I heard this echoed many times in the hallways and on the streets – that  it was this extreme right-wing trio of countries who were thwarting consensus.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I was walking around COP25 with my head stuck in the sand (tar sand?) I fluctuated between thinking “we can do this”, to wanting to run,  dispirited, to the nearest bar to drown the sorrow of what can sometimes appears to be an inevitable climate change catastrophe. But I choose optimism because persistent pessimism can breed apathy, inaction and depression. I’m holding onto the thought that there will be cause for some serious Scottish-style celebrations at COP26 in Glasgow, as a new decade of
action and activism unfolds.

Youth delegates from around the world stage a sit-in on the main plenary hall stage.
Youth delegates from around the world stage a sit-in on the main plenary hall stage.