A Once in a Planet Opportunity Climate Change in Colours: Special Report on the Talanoa Dialogue

(Read to the end it gets super inspiring!)

Climate change: a worry, a wonder, a worst-case scenario? Or, in fact, only the buzz-word title of a far greater, more complex climate and pollution-based problem that is already the defining crisis of this Global era. I say global with comfort and ease for, although no two regions or communities will be affected at the same time, equally or in the same way, there is no inside and outside, no them and us, no curtain, no border, no sanction, no sea, mountain range, reef, storm or no-entry sign that will keep the process and consequences in one part of the world, a tragic calamity akin to a localised extinction or disease that we could fix by buying the right kind of charity Christmas card.

Last Thursday evening, 29th November, I went to an event designed to show that this very inescapability, this “it’s coming for you wherever you live”, feature to climate change, that has so many people trying to dismiss it as something that has no place in mainstream life or conversation, spitefully condemn as something you have to be rich and pretentious to worry about, or simply bury their cares in more fixable problems, like jobs and family; is in fact the very factor that will save us.

Sentence length there was almost worthy of Virgina Woolf, to whom the full-stop I think must have been a nearly superfluous grammatical tool, so I’ll see if I can put this in a shorter one:

The next time you see someone ignore a recycling bin or hear them laugh at a vegan, remember that they are killing themselves and you through this negligence and lack of imagination. Then remember, that if we are all going to be victims, then we are all in this together and that there is a world of possibility as to what can be done.

That is what so much of the Talanoa Dialogue is about, sharing stories of what is happening and what could happen, both in terms of disaster and solution, to connect us across the ocean, the pollution and the storms.

I had not heard of it before, so this is what it is…

The UN has something called the annual Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Or COP. One country every year takes on the Presidency, selects a particular theme and leads, for that year, this part of the UN’s effort in the Climate Struggle. As I write, we are at the end of a COP year, COP23, of which Fiji took the Presidency. It was under the Fijian leadership that the Talanoa Dialogue idea was born. Events take the form of bringing speakers together from around the world as part of the manifestation of the COP23 principle which was to provide “a place for the concerned public worldwide to begin – or continue – their engagement in the effort to combat global warming and the human activity that causes it.”

Last Thursday a Talanoa Dialogue event was held in the Royal Institution in London. The very place in which Faraday once demonstrated electricity, lending its own legacy and principles to the demands for innovation and invention that we now face. The evening was hosted by Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama.

After environmental journalist Lucy Siegle had introduced the evening, and Ralph Fiennes had read two poems, Bainimarama spoke.

He explained that the whole intention of Talanoa is to help us make decisions based on the interchange of ideas, but also to provide a tool for accelerating our ambition in the climate struggle. This was one of the most important take-away messages that can be transferred outside of the Talanoa space. We can ask for local recycling plants, we can ask for climate-awareness to be taught in schools, but this is also a moment in History when we can ask for so much more. Work for so much more ourselves. Bainimarama believes that saving the world will take the ingenuity of all global citizens, but also that this is as empowering as it is serious. For, as he said, “You too can be a Climate Warrior, an agent for change”.

This is a fight that needs invention, genius, revolution, yes, but also fundraising, demand and a positive, receptive populace. So here is what I took from Bainimarama’s words: maybe you can help invent methods for renewable fuel to be globally accessible, maybe you can see the changes that need to be made to electric vehicles to make them affordable and practical for everyday use. Yet, even if you can’t, even if you, like me, are shut out of certain methods of helping because you don’t have a degree in engineering or physics, there is still no reason you can’t be a Climate Warrior too. You can help raise the money, the awareness and the demand. You can help to make it clear that you want the world to live, not least so that you can live in it.

We have all been betrayed, as Bainimarama himself suggested. Very few of us now are guilty of anything worse than taking the world as we found it. In fact, those least to blame, the citizens of the least polluting countries in the world are regularly the most vulnerable now. However, and here I’m speaking again to the instinct in all of us that says “I can’t face this, there’s nothing I can do”; there is actually so much already being done. So that in becoming a Climate Warrior you are by no means going out on a limb, but rather joining an established and growing community that could really use your help.

This was another part of the evening that I found so inspiring, because I discovered work being done in the world already that I had not known about.

We heard from Nick Bridge, the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change – a post I did not even know existed! He described the means by which the UK has become the world’s biggest producer of off-shore wind power – another fact I didn’t know. It was expensive at first, but having committed to it, it’s now cheaper to produced than new gas, nuclear or coal. He told this story as a source of hope that while “whole society transformation” is still required it will be cost-effective and wealth-creating.

The Director General of the World Health Organization sent a recorded message in which he explained that the costs of lowering our shared carbon footprint, would pay for themselves in the reduced health costs alone.

This point was extended by one of the best speakers of the night, the brilliant Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health and Environment at the World Health Organization. She told us the words that are most importantly left out of Climate Change discussions, such as “asthma”, “lung cancer” and “IQ”. There are more than 7million deaths every year that are directly caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution. While children growing up in heavily polluted countries and cities have a measurably reduced average IQ. The two words she wants us all the remember most, however, are “pink” and “grey”. “Pink” for the colour that healthy lungs ought to be. “Grey” for the colour of lungs diseased by pollution. Her prescription: to make fossil fuels a fossil, a relic of a past version of the world more at home in a museum. They must become a “fossil idea”.

We heard about the role of responsible technology from Martha Lane Fox, we watched a specially recorded message on the importance of collaboration from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. We heard from Ellie Goulding of the emotional impact her journeys as an environmental activist, for which she has become a UN Goodwill Ambassador. She spoke of the acute awareness she has that for all her young fans, this is their future. We heard from Dr. Saleemul Huq – academic and Director of the Centre for Climate Change & Development – about the generational divide and how ready young people are to embrace new methods of living. Kate Hampton, CEO of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation gave a rousing speech on the obstacles that often seem to stand in our way in contrast with the importance of surmounting any challenges for the sake of clean air and a future. She gave the example of when, as a schoolgirl, she had been told that the school could not have a recycling policy for waste paper as this would be a fire hazard. This was an obstacle but, like many of the obstacles Climate Warriors face, was based on untruth and disinterest. What is certainly true, as Hampton went on to discuss, is the fact that it is no longer healthy or advisable to breath the air in London. She advocates that we all take up the clean air cause and work to fix it, each starting with our own street. She herself is involved in launching very promising initiatives to analyse and address the problem in London and I recommend anyone look up the work being done at the Children’s Investment Fund on this topic.

Another stand-out speech for me, came from Samantha Smith, Director of the Just Transition Centre. Have you ever heard someone say, but what about the oil and gas workers? What about the people still working in coal mines? If we go for eco-friendly, they’ll all be out of jobs. I have. Have you ever heard anyone try to win popular support by protecting jobs in toxic industries? (Hint: he lives in a white house in America and has questionable twitter habits…) Well, if you haven’t heard of it before, as I hadn’t, now you know about Just Transition. It is a methodology of communicating with the global union movement to ensure that the very jobs that will be lost, will transition into new, good, cleaner jobs for the same people and in the same regions. All sectors and jobs will have to change for the sake of the world, and with a touch of foresight and coordination Just Transition can be used for the sake of the people.

New Zealand has already proven a great example. When phasing out offshore oil and gas production, the heads of the companies were not at all keen, but the workers supported it because the government committed to supporting them. Planning and funding provision, meant that the new, green industries would provide new livelihoods in the regions previously dependent on oil and gas jobs, with the added luxury that these were now jobs in non-polluting sectors that are part of healing the world. In this way, Just Transition is a theory of change that can make Climate Change, not just a destructive force, but also an opportunity that will bring better lives and work to the world’s people. Germany, Spain, Scotland, Canada and parts of Australia are also already engaged in the Just Transition process. Also, this week Poland is taking over from Fiji at the UN conference (where you may have seen David Attenborough giving a speech). Their theme for the year of COP24: is Just Transition.

Last to speak was Sony Kapoor, macro-economist, entrepreneur and Managing Director at Re-Define. He gave us the image that while fossil fuels are a “sunset industry” renewables are a “sunrise industry”. He also reminded us that, in all the myriad and competing interests, pressures and concerns of modern life, Climate Change is the one that brings everything together and gives us a single, connected conclusion.

I suggest you do this thought experiment yourself: Write down all the important things in your life. You might include your education, your job, your family, your home, the countryside you love, the food you like to eat, your children, your religion, culture, heritage or hobbies and ambitions as yet unachieved. And then ask yourself, which of this would not be benefitted by solving Climate Change? Which of these would not be directly harmed if we don’t. I dare you to find one!

Kapoor finished by inviting all those sitting in the semi-circular, raked seating of that prestigious, wood-panelled room, that after all, what we have here is not just a threat but a “once in a planet opportunity” and, if we are alone in the universe, maybe even a “once in a universe opportunity”.

So, the next time you need to inspire yourself or convince someone else that this is all worth doing, just remember these things:

- 9/10 people in the world are breathing unsafe air

- By attending the Talanoa Dialogue in London, we were all part of that 9

- We all need pink lungs

- Renewable energy proves cheaper for governments in the medium term

- The Just Transition model can guarantee future employment for all those currently dependent on toxic industries for their work – we only have to use it

- The whole shift to new industries will pay for itself with interest from the reduced health costs when we all stop breathing bad air

- This is also an opportunity – just think of the possibilities!

- Be ambitious

- You too can be a Climate Warrior!

Emilyrose Scott

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