Guest columnist Clea Paz-Rivera: Addressing climate change from Poland to the Pioneer Valley

Earlier this month, I returned from the global Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. After two weeks of marathon negotiations, delegates agreed on a set of guidelines for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the landmark global agreement through which rich and poor nations commit to combat climate change, to keep global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The rules are needed for when the agreement enters into force by 2020.

Just before the meeting, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change) released a special report highlighting how we have only 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change and keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees. The report also mentions that far-reaching transitions in energy, land, cities and infrastructure (including transportation and buildings) and industrial systems are needed in order to transition to low-carbon economies and development; that we have the technologies and tools for this transition; and that the benefits of doing so far outweigh the consequences of following business-as-usual trajectories.

Negotiations in Katowice were, as expected, incredibly difficult, and there are big differences among countries in relation to equity, finance, technology transfer, capacity building and, above all, the urgent need to increase ambition in emission reduction targets by big emitters — indispensable if we are to reach the Paris Agreement goals. 

Nonetheless, parties managed to produce a compromise, starting with a 236-page text with more than 3,000 brackets (areas not agreed upon!) negotiated to a clean 136-page text agreed to by all parties. Is this outcome what the world needs to solve the climate crisis? Certainly not… ambition levels in emission reduction targets, technology transfer and financial pledges are still largely insufficient and not in line with the IPCC’s special report recommendations.

Still, for the multilateral system to produce an outcome amid the emergence of populist and authoritarian regimes, economic and political crises, and threats to leave the Paris Agreement by short-sighted leaders and the governments they control, Katowice can still be considered a success and a solid step on the right direction. 

But something else happened in Katowice, on the sidelines of the climate negotiations, as representatives of farmers, businesses, states and cities, NGOs and, notably, female indigenous and youth leaders voiced their willingness and commitment to step up climate action at all levels. From Francinara Baré, of the Brazilian Amazon, denouncing deforestation, mining and infrastructure threats to indigenous territories to the brave Greta Thunberg, the 15-year-old Swedish teenager who started the #climatestrike and #SchoolStrike4Climate movements, these leaders exemplified how bold individual actions can lead to collective change and can ultimately influence governments. Their voices gave me and many others inspiration and hope.

I am a Latina from Bolivia and recently relocated to Massachusetts for family reasons. Coming to this country in these turbulent times has been challenging to say the least. But old and new friends in the area, and the wonderful public-school system my daughter attends, have made it easier. I returned from Katowice committed to keep working on my small contributions to help address the climate crisis, both in my professional and personal life. 

As a Massachusetts resident and a newcomer to the area, however, I find it hard to find information on what we can do to reduce our climate footprint. Yes, of course, we try to buy locally and reduce consumption of unnecessary products. We have solar panels, insulate our home, bike as much as possible (though for me it is still hard in the winter!) and offset our flights. But is this enough? What are the areas of improvement for us, right here and right now? 

Climate change is a multidimensional problem, and therefore it is hard to prioritize and choose the most effective solutions. As with any other complex issue, the starting point should be understanding the root and direct causes. We should all know what the main sources of emissions are here in the Pioneer Valley and how to access data that allows us to assess if the available solutions in place are sufficient or not.

We may be doing great things at an individual level, but there are untapped opportunities to be accessed via local regulation and incentives. I hope as a community that we can have access to this critical information, and that we have spaces to discuss, debate and propose effective actions to combat climate change.

Clea Paz-Rivera, from Bolivia, is an international development practitioner, and an interdisciplinary ecologist. For the pasts two decades, she has worked on forest conservation, sustainable development and climate change around the world with emphasis in Latin America. She currently works as a home-based consultant for the United Nations Development Programme, and lives in Florence with her husband and daughter.

Author: Going Green

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