The “Time for Action” is Now

The theme for COP25 is “Time for Action.”

You see the words scrawled everywhere around the convention—from the logo to the hashtags on the walls behind speakers. Inside the Blue Zone, where the negotiations and official side events take place, you every now and then hear protest chants of, “What do we want? ACTION! When do we want it? NOW!” coming from somewhere outside the building. Inside the Green Zone, which is open to the public, the fervor is palpable.

But against this urgent backdrop of calls for action, there are repeated notes from panelists and participants about a concern regarding lack of action and the disconnect between the conference session-like side events and the negotiations. Just this morning, youth took over the main plenary stage to demand action of country officials.

And it’s not just youth who are carrying this message (though I presume this results from the tone set by youth and frontline communities over the last year especially, as well as what feels like a much stronger youth, indigenous, and civil society presence this year). In the side events, on multiple occasions now, I’ve heard high-level panelists comment or ask rhetorical questions about how to get the conversations we’re having in the room to actually get factored into the negotiations, or implemented back home.

In a roundtable discussion yesterday, one speaker described the challenge through a game that was understood around the room in a way to connect with people in a personal and unexpected way: rock, paper, scissors. After having every person hold up their hands to show how they make each option, he said “the game of rock, paper, scissors—like the COP—is competitive … [but] we can change the rules of the game … move from competitive to cooperative.”

When I attended COP22 in Marrakech, one year after the Paris Agreement, the atmosphere felt significantly more cooperative. After the 2016 election of Donald Trump, who had made campaign pledges to pull out of the Paris Agreement, there was a certain banding together of countries—a “we got this” of sorts.

This time, especially in light of the Emissions Gap Report, it feels different. As we begin to round out week two of COP25, the tone seems to have shifted to pleas for action—for countries to not negotiate for loop holes or ways to reduce ambition, but to take this opportunity to significantly increase their ambitions and work together, from a place of empathy for people suffering climate impacts already and for generations to come, to appropriately respond to the climate emergency.

The time for action is, and must be, now.

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