Copenhagen Day 3: World Wide Views on Global Warming
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’m not posting a blog for today because I just participated in a debate with World Wide Views for Global Warming on the role of citizen engagement in public policy. I got a little carried away when they told me I had to prepare a 5 minute opening statement. I was the only panel member who did. As a result, a number of people asked me for a copy of my presentation notes. I promised them they could read it on the Canada’s World blog – so here it is…
I think that the theme of today’s debate is particularly relevant to our situation in Copenhagen. Since I’ve arrived I’ve been struck by two observations:
1) There is a stunning array of initiatives calling attention to the crisis of climate change – the likes of which I’ve never seen.
2) These initiatives seem wholly unrelated to the negotiations underway at the Bella Centre (the official location of the COP 15 meetings).
Why is it that thousands of citizens have come to Copenhagen to express their hopes, fears, frustrations and solutions to global warming? I think it is because there is a revolution emerging in the way we think about state-centred international institutions and their capacity to deliver public goods for their citizens.
This revolution did not begin in Copenhagen. It’s been building for years and finds its expression in municipalities taking independent action to introduce eco-city initiatives, in women starting the green belt movement in Africa, in capital markets including environmental risks in their valuations of businesses or in social entrepreneurs finding alternative investment vehicles to support clean technology development.
The harsh reality of our 21st century is that the power of the state is eroding and stepping into fill the gap is a multiplicity of non-state actors who will not be silenced or acquiesce to governments’ impotency to address the key challenges of our time. I suggest that this is a harsh reality not because I favour big government or centralized control – but because without a state that recognizes its responsibilities to its citizens and to the global community, our democracies are in peril.
I wholeheartedly want to believe that sense will prevail and that our leaders will leave Copenhagen with a fair and globally binding agreement that will have meaningful impact on reducing green house gas emissions – but I’m not naive. I think the chances are very, very remote despite
– The 10 million plus signatures delivered by tck,tck,tck
– The daily flash mobs of youth activists or,
– The hundreds of desperate please emerging across the world
I was involved almost 20 years ago in the Canadian delegation for the UN Conference on Environment and Development and although many of us at the time believed we were entering the dawn of a new era where real action on environment and development was possible, the reality was quite different. We have fallen behind on almost every goal we set for ourselves in Rio. For example:
– We have increased global inequity
– We have overfished our ocean stocks
– Hundreds of species are at risk of extinction
– And many countries have not met their commitments to reduce their carbon footprints (my country being among the worst in increasing its overall per capital GHG emissions)
I’m not generally a cup-half-empty kind of person, but I think we need to confront the complex and difficult-to-admit reality of our situation. The traditional democratic levers for social change are failing us.
Let me use my own country as an example – We know from our work with Canada’s World, World Wide Views and the polling of various companies that Canadian citizens want a globally binding, fair and effective agreement to reduce green house gas emissions. Yet, we have a Prime Minister who represents a minority government who refuses to take any concrete action before the US sets their targets. And because we don’t have an effective opposition, he will likely get away with undermining these negotiations.
So where does that leave the citizens of Canada in Copenhagen?
– Without an effective political voice inside the Bella Centre
– Or let me restate this – with a voice that is actually undermining the very results citizens aspire to for their country.
So to counteract this we come in droves to Copenhagen – old and young, business leaders and activists to communicate a different message. But therein lies the travesty of our situation – our voices aren’t penetrating the real negotiations at Bella Centre. Some people like Naomi Klein might argue that the real change will be instigated by the voices outside the room, not inside the room and to some extent I agree – but not entirely.
My view of democracy still involves the state acting in the interests of citizens. I have no interest in contributing to a situation where our governments are treated with such disdain that citizens stop voting – instead opting to bypass the state to “create the change they want to see in the world”.
It’s a vicious cycle fed by government failing to act, fuelled by citizens abandoning formal political processes for change. And while citizens acting independently will deliver positive results – it isn’t enough. We need the instruments of regulation and redistribution to deliver as well.
Which brings me to World Wide Views – I don’t want to suggest that citizen deliberative dialogues are by any measure a panacea – they are not. But what they do deliver is a political literacy because they force citizens to move beyond sloganeering, partisanship and oppositional politics to grapple with substantive policy issues. They focus on engaging the unconverted citizen and this is no easy feat. It takes a great deal of effort to move a uniformed citizen through the arc of awareness to education, then on to judgement, advocacy and ultimately to action.
One of the few ways to do this is by engaging citizens in the debate – by enabling them to formulate their own views based on informed dialogue with other citizens.
Our democracies are sick and while I’ve never been so inspired with the independent actions of our civil society, our green businesses and our philanthropic communities to address climate change, I sincerely hope that these actions do not displace the role and responsibility of our governments to act.We need more processes that engage citizens in understanding policy. We must hold our governments to account while at the same time creating and demonstrating alternatives for action.