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'We Should Be Angry'

BC junior Joseph Manning attended the UN conference on climate change for the fourth time; he says the lack of progress is frustrating, but he's hopeful

12/13/12
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Joseph Manning (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Michael Maloney | Chronicle Staff

Published: Dec. 13, 2012

Joseph Manning ’14 attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 18th annual Conference of the Parties held recently in Doha, Qatar. It was the fourth time Manning had represented the Sierra Club at the event, and he discussed the experience with Michael Maloney of the Chronicle.

Why is climate change so important to you?

I’ve been interested in climate change since I was in middle school and I believe this interest stems from my experience as child in Nova Scotia, Canada. My family owns a home there, in a small fishing village and the front door is no more than 50 feet from the high-tide mark. I spent every summer as a child at this house, and the people in the community are my friends and family.

I distinctly remember listening to a family friend talk about how, when he was a kid, the harbor used to freeze during the winter, but that it had been over 30 years since the last time this had happened. The concern is in his voice was palpable.

The more I learned, the more convinced I became that I needed to work to solve climate change because the people I love are on the front lines. If sea levels continue to rise, my community will be displaced. I want to ensure that my children and grandchildren will be able to play on the beach and spend their summers in that community.

On a more abstract level, climate change is important to me because there are real tangible impacts for my generation, impacts that we are already beginning to see. The real face of climate change is the farmer from Iowa who lost her crop because of drought, and the young boy from Staten Island whose home was flooded in a November hurricane. Let’s face it, people have trouble with long-term planning; after all, most of us don’t know what we’re going to have for dinner let alone what we need to do to avoid problems 50 years down the road.

You were quoted as saying that this year’s “Conference of the Parties will serve as a major stepping stone to achieving a binding international agreement that will include all nations that are considered major greenhouse gas emitters.”  Can you further explain these goals and touch on how this progress is going?

Last year in Durban, South Africa, the COP decided that by 2015 they would create a new treaty that would replace the Kyoto Protocol and require all of the world’s major emitters to make binding cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions. So Doha should have provided the opportunity for negotiators to begin that process.

It was the hope of many, including myself, that in light of a year of record heat and extreme weather events, we would be able to create a solid framework in Doha that would allow us to build towards that 2015 deadline. Unfortunately, this did not happen. What was needed was for countries to increase their emission reduction pledges, develop a mechanism for ensuring increased finances for developing countries to develop sustainably and adapt to climate change that is already occurring, and establish common practices for counting carbon across different carbon markets. None of these goals were achieved, leaving us only marginally closer to solving climate change than we were two weeks ago.

I would just like to stress that despite the lackluster result of the conference, I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that the fault rests with the negotiation process itself. Climate change is a global phenomenon and will require a global response and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change provides the best opportunity for us to do this. However, if we’re going to succeed we will need to create the political will to address climate change domestically.

What was the most memorable experience from this year’s conference?

I had the privilege of meeting Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and a UN Elder. She was speaking to a group of representatives from youth environmental NGOs and in the course of the discussion she stated that she wished young people were so angered by the inaction on climate change that they were “throwing shoes at the television.” I had the opportunity to speak with her after the briefing and completely agree with President Robinson’s sentiment. We should be angry. It is our future that is being negotiated.

The other event experience is something that I will carry with me for a very long time. It is not very often that a senior diplomat cries in public, but that is exactly what happened during a pact plenary on the Kyoto Protocol. I was sitting in the back of the plenary hall, when the lead negotiator from the Philippines, Naderev M. Saño, took the floor. He began to speak about typhoon Bopha, which had hit the Philippines the day before.

As he spoke he fought back tears. Mr. Saño’s distress was so tangible as he concluded with a heartfelt appeal to world leaders: “I am making an urgent appeal, not as a negotiator, not as a leader of my delegation, but as a Filipino. I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face...Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when?  And if not here, then where?”

Are you involved with anything similar here at BC?

Yes, I work with Ecopledge as the external affairs coordinator. I’m also the chief of staff for the UGBC Senate’s Policy Steering Committee, which handles all UGBC policy including issues of on-campus sustainability.

This is the time where we as college students can make the most impact. After all, climate change is our fight, just as other generations had civil liberties and the Vietnam War. For millennials, it’s climate change, because how we choose to address — or not address — it during this decade will determine the shape of our future. It will be hard, but allow me to assure you it is doable.