Leadership, but not as we know it

“We’re all in the same canoe.” Paul Allen reports from the climate change talks in Bonn.

Thanks to the affordable and reliable European rail network I have now arrived in Bonn, and have delivered my first presentation at the UN climate conference, COP23. I am one of around 25,000 active citizens, industry representatives, experts and delegates from across the globe gathering in Bonn to pressure governments to increase ambition so they can deliver on the historic Paris Climate Agreement.

Fijian tribal people at the ceremonial opening – ©BMUB/Sascha Hilgers

As I watched the Fijian tribal people ceremonially opening the official negotiations, thanking Germany for their help in enabling their country to be the president of this event, they made it very clear that the world needs leadership. Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who is heading up COP23, rightly said that we must use the next two weeks to make the Paris Agreement deliver in limiting warming to 1.50C – and “we will be surprised what benefits arise when humanity’s ingenuity is unleashed”. When it comes to climate change, he has explained, “we are all in the same canoe.”

But what a year it has been for our canoe! Wild fires, droughts, hurricanes, floods – all regions have experienced the more frequent extreme weather events that are on the rise as a result of climate change. If we don’t increase our ambition things are only going to get worse. Extreme weather could become the new normal.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama addresses delegates in the opening ceremony – ©BMUB/Dominik Ketz

But how are different countries demonstrating leadership towards this 1.5oC goal? No mechanism yet exists to secure this – so tracking progress is vital. To find out more, I attended Climate Action Tracker’s presentation of its newly updated analysis. They have rated 30 countries against six key categories, based on wide range of studies. Only Morocco and the Gambia have plans that are 1.5oC compliant. Costa Rica, India, Ethiopia and the Philippines are 2oC compliant. At the other end of the scale, those scoring ‘critically insufficient’ were Chile, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine and USA, with the rest of the countries falling somewhere in between.

It is now crystal clear that the most vulnerable are already suffering terrible consequences so if humanity does not show clear leadership our Earth Canoe looks certain to run aground.

Paul (right) presents ZCB as part of the ENERGIES 2050 event

Collectively we must realise we do have the power to ensure smooth sailing ahead. We are not waiting for more efficient wind turbines or cheaper solar panels, what is lacking is visionary leadership. This is why I was so pleased to be asked to present CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) work at the ENERGIES 2050 pavilion.

ENERGIES 2050 was created by bringing together citizens and experts from many nations. They have organised an impartial ‘knowledge space’ on key issues associated with sustainability and aim to make it accessible to as many people as possible – to enable a new kind of leadership to emerge from across global society.

Society can offer the leadership needed, but it is rooted in a profound shift in mindset. Enabling this requires understanding where we are now, visualising where we need to be, and showing how we can make it happen – all of which is accessible from the ZCB research. So alongside Golo Pilz, who developed the “India One” Solar Power Plant, I presented the work of Zero Carbon Britain.

The Paris Agreement sparked real hope that governments were serious about ambitious and collaborative leadership towards a world where warming would be limited to 1.5oC. COP 23 must lay the groundwork for a collective adventure in search of a better life together, transforming this vision into real-life action on the ground.

Paul will be blogging from COP23 over the next two weeks. Like us on facebook or follow us on twitter to keep up to date with the latest news from the summit.