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COP23: We Are All in the Same Canoe

Insights + Opinion
UNFCCC

The prime minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, is the official host of this year's UN Climate Summit, COP 23. But we're meeting in a cold, rainy small city in Germany, Bonn, not the sunny tropics of Fiji. Logistics dictates that. Fiji could not host, nor many countries afford, to fly there for the conference.

But it's also symbolic—small island nations like Fiji are at greatest risk for actual physical extinction from climate change and associated sea level rise, and Fiji has already had to move 40 communities away from the heat driven tides. Soon some of them will be forced to relocate—climate refugees may well be one of the most dramatic early warning signs if we fail to curb the rising thermometer—and the swollen oceans that thermometer inexorably entrains.


Bainimarama also sounds one of the key themes of this year's conference—at the host pavilion, Fiji displays an island outrigger and the president's theme is "We are all in the same canoe." An astonishing array of societies seem ready to embrace that reality—even the Saudi government pauses in the middle of its rather fraught current crisis to concur, affirming its support for the agreement. And the Syrians join Paris, clearly for the purpose of highlighting American isolation as now the only functioning society to reject the agreement. (Functioning of course is in the eyes of the beholder).

In withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, Trump famously announced that he, after all, represented Pittsburgh, not Paris. Pittsburgh, however, is in the canoe with Bainimarama, not sulking on the sands with Trump. Mayor Bill Peduto is here, following up on his sharp rebuke to Trump's claim to represent his city, which, after all, voted overwhelming for Hilary Clinton. Back in June Peduto's response to Trump denigration of Paris was to slam him for claiming to speak for Steel City, saying, "We will follow the Paris agreement."

Now Peduto is here with another pungent message for the President. "Time moves in one direction. If you wait for the mills to come back, or the mines to reopen, you are just going to wait. Pittsburgh is not waiting. In Alleghany County where the U.S. coal industry was born, near where the first oil well was drilled, and at the center of the natural gas fracking boom, we have more workers in the solar industry than coal, oil and natural gas combined."

Peduto isn't ceding anything to Trump—not even newly bulked up Twitter. Here's a sample of what he is sending home from Bonn:

I encounter Peduto at the U.S. Climate Action Center—the unofficially outsourced presence of America at this COP since the Trump administration refused to properly support the official federal government pavilion.

In response, the mobilization of cities, states, universities and businesses that flip back and forth between calling themselves "America's Pledge" and "We are still In" created a new thing—a space not for a country's government but for a society. It was so unusual that even the friendly UN had to make us locate ourselves outside of any official space—which simply meant anyone could come without a credential, and come they did. We had 45 minute waits to get into what turned out to be the largest single venue in Bonn, filled with hot and cold running U.S. Senators (all alas Democrats), coffee better than anywhere else, and a contrast that caused New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman to compare the physical scale of Donald Trump's "Great Again" (but not so big) America with the America's Pledge presence.

Here's Friedman's tweet of the official U.S. presence:

And here's, as she said, the entrance to the official U.S. Pavilion:


And just for contrast here is the alternate, Bloomberg-funded U.S. Pavilion. This is just the entrance.

The energy around this space prompted Friedman in a subsequent article to say:

"Informally led by Gov. Jerry Brown of California; Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington ... Perhaps no group has made a bigger splash on the world stage this year than the coalition of the United Sates governors, mayors and businesses who call themselves the We Are Still In coalition"

A lot of eloquence, and frustration, and caring has been expressed here. But maybe the sharp physical contrast between the Fijian canoe, the shuttered office that President Trump thinks expresses greatness, and the grit that has—and continues to—express Pittsburgh and the American people, says it best.

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