It may not so much be the world leaders who are to blame for climate change inaction as the people they represent.

First published in December 2019.

Hardly a day goes without news of a climate-related development or some kerfuffle over how to respond to it.

In days past, it’s the climate conference in Madrid that has made headlines. Particularly, Greta Thunberg’s slow activism — the Swedish schoolgirl took four weeks to sail the seas and get to Madrid, disdaining air travel for its carbon footprint.


Paris Agreement COP21

On 12 December 2015, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future ... (The) aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
// Source: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

And yet, one of the saddest commentaries on the state of the climate change debate came from Ms Thunberg the weekend before the Madrid conference started. Ms Thunberg, writing with other climate change activists — Luisa Neubauer, Angela Valenzuela — pointed to the grimmest truth of them all. Activism has grown in the past year and climate change has acquired its own fervent vocabulary, but nothing concrete has actually been done about it.

Consider the following paragraph in the piece:

“We have watched a string of United Nations climate conferences unfold. Countless negotiations have produced much-hyped but ultimately empty commitments from the world’s governments — the same governments that allow fossil-fuel companies to drill for ever-more oil and gas, and burn away our futures for their profit.”

They acknowledge that their “efforts have helped to shift the wider conversation on climate change”, with the subject increasingly a topic of discussion and opinion polls confirming the change in perceptions. “One recent survey,” the activists write, “showed that, in seven of the eight countries included, climate breakdown is considered to be the most important issue facing the world. Another confirmed that schoolchildren have led the way in raising awareness.”

And yet, they say, world leaders do nothing.

This is true. Other than promises, I haven’t actually heard or seen anything I can hold on to in the context of reducing consumption and countries’ carbon footprint. The Madrid conference ended on Sunday, December 15, with profoundly disappointing news — a partial agreement to talk some more, some time.

“I am disappointed with the results of COP25. The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

— Antonio Guterres, UN secretary general.

In fact, countries will be asked to come up with more ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the terms of the 2015 Paris accord. So there’s no agreement on what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

Which brings me to an uncomfortable point: Perhaps we don’t really want to change our way of life and so we neither vote in a way, nor push our elected representatives in a way that advances climate change goals.

I would argue that it’s not the leaders who are as much to blame as the people they represent. All of us.🔷

Greta Thunberg’s speech at UN climate change conference. / YouTube - UN Climate Change

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[This piece was originally published on Medium and re-published in PMP Magazine on 18 December 2019, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Screenshot of Greta Thunberg’s speech at UN climate change conference. | 11 Dec 2019.)