How do we turn climate dialogue into action?

Tuesday, 8 May 2018 13:15 GMT

Politicians and policymakers pose for a family photo during COP23 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

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Both storytelling and political will are needed to deliver on climate goals.

When the Paris climate agreement was signed, the reason many celebrated with such acclaim was not the national commitments to cut emissions – added together those only limited global warming to between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius.

What made the Paris deal worth celebrating for many groups was the fact that it had within it a mechanism that would see these insufficient pledges be improved upon over time so that they closed the gap and would see temperatures rise no higher than 2 degrees – and hopefully be kept below 1.5.

This ‘review and ratchet’ mechanism now has a name: the Talanoa Dialogue, named after the Pacific tradition of storytelling and sharing experiences.  Countries had their first Talanoa meeting in Bonn, Germany, this week, which featured 210 national representatives as well as 105 other stakeholders from business and civil society. They addressed three questions: Where are we? Where do we want to go? And how do we get there?

Sharing stories can be a powerful and transformative act. Like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which helped to bring resolution to post-apartheid South Africa, the Talanoa Dialogue has the potential to do the same for our climate. 

For any issue of injustice it is important to examine how we got where we are, to allow the victims to talk about their suffering. Climate change is the ultimate injustice, the poorest people who are suffering most from the effects of a changed climate have done the least to cause it.  

But without concrete steps to turn this dialogue into action it is nothing more than a patronising talking shop that risks to undermine the very thing that won the Paris Agreement praise. Without a moment that allows these powerful stories to be turned into practical action then we won’t bend curve towards a 1.5-degree world fast enough.

We’re currently not on track. Last year we saw unprecedented flooding in South Asia as well as hurricanes across the Caribbean and Texas, heatwaves in Europe and wildfires in California. And yet at talks in Bonn there is a lack of urgency to increase our ambition through the Talanoa Dialogue.

In October, the scientists of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release their special report into how we achieve this 1.5 degree goal. For a world already past 1 degree of warming since the industrial revolution, it is likely to make stark reading. That’s why 2018 is a crucial year if we are to deliver the Paris agreement. Talanoa Dialogue needs to be a focal point upping both emissions cuts and helping poor countries to do the same.

It’s worth applying the questions of the Talanoa Dialogue to this current impasse. Where are we? We’re sharing stories, which is hopefully building trust between countries. Where do we want to go? We need to see these testimonies turned into renewed national emission reduction plans before 2020 when the Paris deal comes into force. How do we get there? The key is to have a significant political moment that will see heads of state put these plans on the table.

Without this injection of political will the world’s efforts to tackle climate change will come too slowly to help the people stung most painfully by the injustice of climate change. 

In Bonn this week we have started to hear the truth about our climate crisis, it’s now up to developed countries to ensure reconciliation takes places and that these stories become more than just hot air. 

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