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Skoll Climate Change Panel Discusses Successes and Failures of Copenhagen

Top-down political accords versus bottom-up action—a discussion of climate change at Skoll World Forum.

When you’re in a room and Larry Brilliant, Nick Moon and Mark Fulton are asking questions of the panelists, you know you’ve struck gold. This was one of two sessions explicitly on Climate Change at the Skoll World Forum, and it was focused on the post-Copenhagen world and the debate over top-down political accords versus bottom-up action.

The group’s conclusion on Copenhagen is not newsworthy but their opinions on where to go from here are interesting. They all felt that we had too much hope in Copenhagen from the beginning. It was a mistake to put so much pressure on a short event and impossible to expect immediate consensus around such a complex global issue. However, Seema Paul, a panelist from Indian-based Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, said that the commitments that India made at Copenhagen have been very influential in getting the country moving towards a common goal. She truly feels a shift in the attitude towards climate change in India. Paul Hawken also said that we should be pleased with the fact that the haphazard global meeting was at least a platform for numerous civil society organizations to connect and collaborate. Overall, however, they concluded that while we can’t completely give up on political accords, the importance of on-the-ground action, the sphere of the social entrepreneurship community, seems to hold more hope.

One barrier that was raised, however, is financing for the immense changes that must be made. Mindy Lubber of Ceres and Mark Fulton, Deutsche Bank’s Global Head of Climate Change agreed that the problem is not a lack of capital but it is a lack of incentives for funding projects to decarbonize the developed economies and get developing economies on a low-carbon growth trajectory. We need to re-orient the vast amounts of capital that already shifts around the world every day. According to Fulton, whether it is markets with a guaranteed floor price for carbon or other risk-reducing mechanisms, the financial world and the business community need more predictability and confidence in this arena, and perhaps this is where there is a role for political action – creating smart mechanisms, not just targets.

When these adjustments are made, according to Lubber, “the internet revolution will look very small in comparison to the clean-tech revolution.”  However, we need to look before we leap and take a critical look at some of the technologies that are under the guise and rhetoric of innovations for climate change and energy security as Paul Hawken pointed out with the un-recyclable cadmium glass used in some PV solar cells and Lubber mentioned through her shock at Shell’s huge investment in filthy and destructive Canadian tar sands.

To leave this on a more positive note, Mattias Wackernagel of the Global Footprint Network reminded us that we need a language shift away from shaming and blaming nations, companies, and individuals and towards a race for success and an inspirational movement for change. Finger pointing does not motivate, and frankly, nor does trying to reach consensus in a sea of varied parties that need varying solutions. So let’s celebrate the competition among nations such as the Maldives, New Zealand, and Costa Rica to be carbon-neutral, the investments of companies such as Deutsche Bank  and Climate Change Capital towards solutions and the achievements of individuals such as this year’s Skoll Foundation award recipients who are working on climate change issues, including Michael Jenkins, Adalberto Veríssimo & Carlos Souza, Jr. and Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto & Silverius Oscar Unggul.

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