DELEGATES from around the world met in Bonn, Germany, this week to discuss, in the spirit of the Pacific islands, their efforts to tackle climate change.
For the first time, representatives met in the Talanoa Dialogue, a special part of the UN negotiations named after the island tradition of storytelling (News, 24 November 2017). National delegations did not exchange legal arguments or defend carefully prepared political positions. Instead, campaigners, researchers, and business leaders sat alongside government representatives from rich and poor countries, and described how climate change had affected them, and how the world should address it.
During the day-long session, at which kava, the Fijian alternative to coffee, was drunk, three questions were discussed: Where are we? Where do we need to go? How do we get there? The departure in style seemed to foster a more positive atmosphere and allowed delegates to engage on a more human level.
Juan Pablo Osornio, of Greenpeace, said that his favourite story was from a Samoan representative who talked about the way in which cyclones were affecting her small island nation, but also how the people used humour to overcome their fears for the future. “She made it very organic, very personal, and I really appreciated that,” Mr Osornio said.
Others told positive stories progress that was already being made. Emmanuelle Pinault, from the city coalition group C40, heard the story of an entrepreneur from the Marshall Islands who had helped to create jobs while also improving energy efficiency on the islands.
“We brought a message of hope and collaboration,” Ms Pinault said. “The transformation that we are working towards is very ambitious, but it is possible.”
Experts warned, however, that it was vital that the process of truth-telling be built on, and lead to concrete action. The international climate lead for Christian Aid, Mohamed Adow, said: “For any issue of injustice, it’s important to know the history of how we have got to this point. People who have suffered need to be able to share their stories of how climate change has affected them.
“But we must not simply talk. If it doesn’t lead to proper collective engagement, then it is in danger of being nothing more than a talking-shop.
“Like the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it needs to have truth; but without the reconciliation part it will be a missed opportunity.
“That’s why it’s vital that this leads to countries’ accelerating their plans to reduce emissions so that we can keep global warming to less than 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”