We said we would make history at this year’s UN COP21 climate conference. We never said it would be easy.
I’ve been in Paris this week to meet with government leaders, negotiators and civil society activists from all over the world taking part in talks on a global agreement to address the climate crisis. Five days on, so much is still in the balance, but three things are clear.
First, this is no ordinary COP meeting. The level of energy and intensity around these negotiations is extraordinary. Regardless of where people have come from, they’ve come with a tremendous sense of purpose and it shows in the focused discussions happening at every level. Tremendous credit is due to French President Francois Hollande, Foreign Minister and COP President Laurent Fabius, the city of Paris and the French team here as a whole for their tact and expert diplomacy in reaching this point and keeping discussions moving forward between parties with very different agendas, especially with these talks coming so quickly on the heels of the Nov. 13 tragedy. Still, so many options are on the table and so much is at stake—and everyone involved knows it.
Today, I had the pleasure of meeting President @FHollande at the @ClimateReality headquarters at #COP21. https://t.co/iRlP5CjqkX— Kenneth Berlin (@Kenneth Berlin)1449003665.0
Second, there are great reasons for hope. It’s hard to imagine a better opening for COP21 than the speeches we saw on Leaders Day from the likes of President Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which ensured talks began with positive momentum. In particular, the statement from the U.S. that reviews of country commitments should be binding will likely keep important options on the table that would not have been without it.
Plus, big announcements like the African Union’s plan to develop at least 10 GW of renewable energy before the end of the decade and India inaugurating a grand alliance of 120 countries working together to expand solar around the globe have kept the momentum building. At the same time, we’ve already seen that some issues are simply too contentious to resolve in only a week of negotiations. It’ll be up to the major government ministers arriving next week to take some brave steps to keep things moving forward.
Third, questions of the different responsibilities of developed and developing nations and who will help pay for low-carbon initiatives in emerging economies remain the major obstacles to a global agreement. The goal is for negotiators to produce a draft agreement by this afternoon that can be finalized for government ministers by Saturday evening. But with such limited time and key issues still to be resolved in order to bridge different country’s positions, there is significant work still to be done.
Even with these obstacles in front of us, the discussions I’ve had with ministers in private and the determination I’ve seen from negotiators in public gives me hope that a breakthrough is coming. The urgency of our task and where we need to go are not in question. What’s left is to resolve how we’ll get there. And this week, I believe we will.
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Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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