As individuals we should be leading the change and not blindly trusting our politicians to solve environmental problems for us, writes Maxime Renaudin, founder and director of Tree-Nation.
The COP25 Madrid Climate Change Conference is coming to an end after attracting more than 4,000 participants over a two-week period, including delegates and activists.
The last days of the meeting also include the heads of government of the participating countries, which makes the international impact enormous. But what are the real results after each COP? Are the agreements and political promises made during the event effectively fulfilled?
The name of the summit itself implies the lack of real action after each edition. This Madrid edition will be the COP25, following 24 previous editions which have failed to address the serious environmental problems that our generation faces. This year’s edition is especially important, as it constitutes the last meeting to activate the Paris Agreement, conceived after COP21 as the largest binding global pact in defence of the planet’s climate, which must be fully in force by January 2020.
However, despite the four subsequent editions, there have been no substantial new commitments from the heads of government. What can we expect from this new edition? Is it really intended for politicians or for citizens? Does it not create the false idea that change has already begun, when it is actually yet to happen?
Year after year our political representatives come to the summit to offer speeches, while what is really needed are concrete plans and actions. A few years ago, agreements could not be reached if only one of the participating countries voted against the proposed measures.
The system is now more flexible, more versatile and better designed. But the main issue continues to be one of ‘Agreement or Non-agreement?’ A bit like Brexit, in fact. Voting is easy, implementing it is another issue. Achieving agreement before the end of the COP means that it has been a success; or at least that is the way it is presented.
But, reaching an agreement is just the starting point. It is only a promise, the difficult part is putting it into practice. It is easy to have public cheering on an agreement. Asking citizens and companies to try and change their habits, their way of living, eating, moving and consuming once the COP is over is another matter.
That said, the conference provides the opportunity to talk continuously for almost two weeks about the environmental problems that our planet is facing, which is very positive as it raises awareness. However, over the past 24 years we have seen how limited the capacity of our political representatives is to drive real and necessary change.
The absence of President Trump at the Madrid conference, the United States being one of the countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, is another symptom of the relative scope of these summits. There is a certain danger in thinking that our politicians are going to solve this matter for us. The danger is our own lack of action. We leave the problem in the hands of our politicians, instead of being active agents of change ourselves. That, for me, is the great risk of the conference: it removes our responsibility to act as individual citizens.
I have no doubt that we should continue to hold climate summits that raise awareness of current environmental challenges and those that are yet to come. However, I believe that a change of mentality is vital and that it should be driven by us, the citizens. We must take the situation into our own hands and not wait for change to happen by placing our faith in politicians.
Together, we should look for a more efficient way to carry out these conferences, starting with ending the political promises that create the illusion that change is already underway. We should encourage countries to share the good environmental practices they have already carried out during the year and, thus, inspire other countries to be more environmentally sustainable.
We should not discuss figures for 2050, but rather ways to implement measures NOW, although these may not be very popular when the time comes to apply them as they require effort and sacrifice. I think the time has come to begin a battle for climate change. A battle requires effort, a new form of world patriotism in which everyone is willing to change their lifestyle for a more sustainable one. Our grandparents fought for freedom and today we owe them that. It is our turn to fight for our planet, for the sake of future generations.
Maxime Renaudin is the Founder and Director of Tree-Nation, the online reforestation platform with the largest number of planting projects and 5 million trees planted on 4 continents. Before founding Tree-Nation in 2006, Maxime was involved in several European start-ups related to the world of the Internet. Born in France, he studied Business, Engineering and Interior Architecture.