Nnimmo Bassey

Nnimmo Bassey, one of the seasoned civil society delegates heading to Paris in a few weeks for the 2015 gathering, is underwhelmed already. “Paris will be a COP of intentions and not actions,” he says.

But budgets must be hashed out to put into costs dispersed around the globe. Global temperature projections must be put into an actuarial value. On paper, COPs are intended to result in collective, legal acts that establish rights and obligations between the negotiating parties. Yet binding agreements remain elusive. Questions of finance stay on the table like yesterday’s breakfast hash.

On the subject of climate change, I’m sure I must sound like a tourist. Concerning the wellbeing of our home, it is cognitively impossible to take in the biological, geological, planetary webs that rest in the balance.

It may be hard for Bassey to conceive of this position — trying to keep up, but he is patient. An architect by profession, Bassey has stood against environmental harm and sought justice for several decades around the conflagrations of natural gas in the Niger Delta.

The oil-rich Delta represents a fulcrum of international controversy over criminal environmental violations. Natural gas extracted in oil wells in the Delta is burned/flared into the air at a rate of approximately 70 million m³per day. An increase in the global temperature in this scenario is gasoline to fire.

Anything more than a 1.5°C temperature increase is simply sentencing Africa to unimaginable suffering, says Bassey.

Mitigation and adaptations need a budget. This is a raison d’ etre for the COP in the first place. Back in the day, an early climate change summit was held, called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Then in 1995 at the inaugural Convention of Parties in Berlin, delegates carved out a few more stone tablets; eventually at the third COP, produced the auspicious Kyoto Protocol. All signs of more progress to come. Or so it seemed.

After those early sprints in leadership, subsequent COP summits seemed lackluster. By the ninth year, at COP15, attendees memorialized the cuisine for its distinction of serving hot dogs injected with mayonnaise. Other than that, COP15 established a $100 billion-per-year commitment, starting in 2020 from developed countries to help developing countries.

In 2006, countries touted their proposals to slow down the climate change juggernaut. Morocco, which already offered to host COP22, committed to sourcing more than half of its energy from renewables by the year 2020. Costa Rica proposes to be carbon neutral by 2021.

Yet as of July 2015, there was hardly $5bn in the kitty of the Global Climate Fund— a major shortfall from $100 billion. As if mistaking mitigation climate collapse for a divorce settlement, nations quibble over the numbers. What happened to all that talk about “Common But Differentiated Responsibility”?Who really is going to pick up the check, for real though?

Voices of the people from oil-rich, cash-poor nations will have different words about climate change than more highly industrialized nations. The African nations may have more skin in the game in terms of the human cost. A 2009 U.S. National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) article determined that more wars will occur in Africa if global temperatures continue to rise.

When delegates from African nations show up to represent these facts, they have been met not only on some occasions with physical barriers but a complete lack of recognition from nations facing vastly different climate change-related risks.

Ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping from Sudan was so strong on the African position, when he saw there was no concession from the rich countries, he broke down in tears,” recalls Bassey from the 2015 Copenhagen summit where he met friend Evo Morales, Bolivia’s President. “Those were days when you could really see emotions, passion. Everything was on the table.”

Six years later, it looks like that passion has deserted the negotiations. Climate diplomacy, as with diplomacy writ large, is now moving at a glacial pace. And while Arctic glaciers are dissolving in front of us, this is not good. “The negotiation pace is too slow, far too slow,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon last summer. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“The signals coming from the formal negotiations are not encouraging,” Bassey adds. “We see the justice aspect of climate negotiations receding and moving out of focus every day.”

Perhaps, then, COP’s hidden gift is the confluence of people gathered on the streets of Paris, giving rise to the World Social Forum. When the justice aspect of the movement in the streets and a COP climate treaty intersect, we can begin transforming our economies to be— if not proofed— then at least 21st century-prepped.

Nnimmo Bassey is one of the figures in the documentary about climate change and COP21 called Not Without Us by Kontent Films. (Here’s the trailer)

Writes about people working on resilience, hopes to start a one-woman band with a singing Husky.

Writes about people working on resilience, hopes to start a one-woman band with a singing Husky.