Cutting emissions from the UNFCCC process

I felt a real shit flying to Montreal the other week to attend the COP there for three days. Here are 10,000 people flying from Japan, New Zealand, Vanuatu and the Vatican to figure out how to get people to fly less. Obviously absurd, easy to mock, and so probably should not be mocked. But let’s figure out a better way sooner rather than later.

The UNFCCC lists a number of parties and registered observers which might be able to help us cut emissions from the next COP in one way or another:

How about the Norwegian Shipowners Association? Put on a ship with broadband, show it uses less fuel per head than an airplane, and I will buy a ticket. I will pick up the boat at Rijeka Croatia. Cross the mediterranean, breaking out of the European winter, feeling the warmth of a south wind on my cheeks as I stand on the deck, then idle down the Suez canal past camels and things, and before I know it we will be in Kenya. Better than a tight seat and a sore neck on Lufthansa.

Or couldn’t the Max Planck Institute devise something even cleverer …

The Japanese Electrical Manufacturers’ Association: bring your low energy light bulbs with you for the all-night negotiating sessions.

The Institute for Solid Waste Research and Ecological Balance can ensure that the waste from the conference gets used properly.

And last but not least, Franciscans International or the World Council of Churches. It’s definitely time to pray just in case God has not given up on us. Who could blame him?

Here is another way of cutting emissions from the COP. The nasty countries can just stay at home. United States. Saudi Arabia. The tiddlers which just vote because of what their friends tell them to do. All the bureaucratic obfuscaceous ones, too. Leave it to a few nice countries with common sense and a business-like manner and no oil. Cutting the number of countries attending from 180+ to 40 would significantly reduce the emissions of the event as well as enhance the quality of debate and efficiency of decision-making.

But there are two underlying problems which should be addressed. First: “I don’t want to miss out”. Second: “How does my not going have any impact?”.

The first problem is: “I don’t want to miss out”. There are various sides to this. There’s: “I don’t want to miss out … on the fun.” There’s: “I don’t want to miss out … on the action.” There’s: “I don’t want to miss out on the opportunities my competitors are uncovering.” And there’s: “I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to influence events.”

We can’t dismiss the fun out of hand. After all, who could resist a trip to Buenos Aires, for example? But the solution is simple. In future, COPs should only be arranged in cities like Birmingham, Lille, Lodz, or Miskolc. Robust, working cities, built for the people who live there and not for the tourists. Fewer will turn up for the jolly.

What about missing out on the action? What action? That can’t be serious.

The opportunities my competitors are uncovering? Well, as we see below, there might be a solution for this.

So it comes down to the worry about missing the opportunity to influence events. Like: “If my voice is not heard, then the outcome will be different.” Hmmm…. Well, we either believe that our behaviour does impact outcomes or not … so read on.

“How does my not going to the COP have any impact?” is a really important problem which is getting more serious as the communities in which we are active become bigger and bigger. It is a question which says: “My individual behaviour has only an infinitesimally small impact, so whether or not I go has practically no impact, so I may as well go and cause those two or three tonnes of emissions.”

If we live in small communities and are only involved in the decisions of that community, then our participation counts big-time. In a group of seven people, every vote is critical to the outcome. The rest of the group cannot afford to carry you on their shoulders and your behaviour materially influences the well-being of the group as a whole. If that group grows to a hundred people or so, then already your vote is already seriously diluted, and your behaviour can easily go unnoticed. So when you participate in a global community of 6,000,000,000+ people, it is no wonder that there is a sense that you cannot influence the rest of the community, so why bother? Why bother to vote? Why bother to walk? Why bother to turn the lights off? Why bother to give up a trip to Nairobi?

With all this excitement about globalisation, international trade etc. we have undermined our own confidence in our ability to make a difference. By playing a global game instead of a very local game, we have each made ourselves into ants, and, with this, democracy has become ineffective, our vote useless, and personal responsibility an irrelevance. Nor are we accountable to anyone any longer: the borderless community of the globe is so big it cannot hope to keep track on us, and it has none of the moral authority which a much smaller community has.

The point is: if we want people to feel that their behaviour does make a difference, they need to belong to a much much smaller community than the absurdly and insidiously-named global village. Not only does belonging to a smaller community increase the impact of an individual’s behaviour, but at the same time as part of a smaller community you feel a stronger sense of mutual obligation so as to be motivated to change your behaviour. Partly because you know the other members of the community, partly because there is greater accountability.

So to overcome the destruction of personal responsibility which globalisation causes, we have to recreate mini-communities where we hold ourselves accountable to each other. The mini-communities perhaps do not have to be geographically contiguous but they need to consist of a small number of people. They could consist of friends, or even rivals. This is where COP12 can make a difference.

Let’s set up a range of bilateral, public, pacts between individuals and companies, friends and rivals, on the grounds that bilateral pacts, being ultra-small communities, are best suited for accountability. And the fact that they are public merely reinforces the effect of accountability.

There’s nothing new in pacts between friends. If my business partner gives up alcohol for a week it’s easier for me to. There’s nothing new in pacts between competitors. It’s a common practice in a chamber of deputies for rival voters to pair up and agree not to attend a sitting of parliament. It stops you worrying about missing out on something your competitor gets.

So in the case of the COP, Natsource says to CO2.e: “We will only send one person to Nairobi if you do.” This might save several tonnes of emissions (as well a few airfares). If Icecap says the same to CCC, and the UK cuts the size of its delegation by as much as the French, we start having an impact. And so on. Not everyone, not every company or organisation, but enough to cut emissions by, say, 20%. It’s a jolly good start.

So let’s pair up and make commitments to cut our emissions. From COP 12. From Christmas. Or even every day. Any takers?

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1 Response to Cutting emissions from the UNFCCC process

  1. Ines Manzano says:

    Dear James:
    I like to idea, but please do not insist in “Leave it to a few nice countries with common sense and a business-like manner and no oil.” because ECUADOR have oil, and we wanna go to the COPs. And you miss an important part, countries as mine have few delegates, and we do subsidie to the developed countries with thier large delegations, so it has to be a mechanism, not CDM, that pay to us all this year of subsidies to the big ones. What do you think?

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