Only once before have I attended the UN Climate Summit as a community delegate. It was at COP15 (Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Copenhagen in 2009. I met courageous people from across the world, all clearly committed to doing whatever it takes to tackle climate change for the sake of future generations, many with far fewer resources than I.
I came home inspired by community will-power, and convinced that we had been let down by governments, not by people. I formed a view that climate solutions are led by inspired individuals and by engaged communities; eventually governments will join in by necessity. Clearly I am hoping that COP21 in Paris will be that watershed moment when all levels of government, industry and community begin collaborating to achieve meaningful action on climate.
In Copenhagen, I gained a profound insight into my own country’s dilemma when, after queuing in minus 5oC, I sat in Copenhagen Cathedral to hear Bishop Desmond Tutu. Three symbols of climate change were carried down the aisle by faith leaders from different countries – bleached coral from Tuvalu, a dried up cob of maize from Africa and three glacier stones from Greenland…
On that Sunday as the bells rang out for climate change across the world, I pondered what would be the symbol for Australia? Suddenly it struck me like a bolt of lightning!
A lump of charcoal! It simultaneously symbolises our vulnerability to the burning bush and our addiction to fossil fuels. Australia remains caught on the horns of a dilemma: unable to move forward on climate solutions while beholden to vested interests and unwilling to wholeheartedly embrace the full potential of renewable alternatives until we let go of our addiction.
The two Sundays before leaving for the Paris climate talks, my family hosted Community Firesafe Meetings for our immediate neighbours in the Adelaide Foothills. Ably led by the Country Fire Service Community Engagement Officer Jackie Horton, our small group discussed fire plans, learnt what to put in Emergency Kits for the back door and for the car, and faced the reality of just how far and fast embers can spread under Severe, Extreme and Catastrophic conditions.
It was good solid information that we could all immediately put into practice. A controlled burn on the far side of Mont Lofty only sharpened our focus. How sobering to leave for the Paris Climate talks a few days later with tragic news of the loss of life, homes, crops, livestock and wildlife in the uncontrollable fires from Roseworthy to Tanunda in South Australia.
Australia has such a lot to gain from ambitious action towards a renewable low carbon economy and so much to lose from inaction and business as usual. Let us hope the fortnight ahead strengthens resolve for genuine climate action at home and abroad!
For video and story updates on the COP21 Climate Conference in Paris, visit newint.org/live/paris – the New Internationalist media hub #NICOP21.
See also the New Internationalist magazine special issue on COP21. It discusses what a good outcome would be on the major issues under discussion.