“Don’t make the best the enemy of the good.” - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Climate Week has launched in New York City with contradictory calls to be optimistic about UN climate negotiations culminating in Copenhagen in December, but to keep our expectations low about the strength of any ultimate deal.
The actual “festivities” are all married to what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called “the largest climate change summit in history.” One hundred world leaders are scheduled to gather at the United Nations tomorrow, not likely to further any negotiating positions, but to add their weight to the appearance of a global consensus that climate action - overdue - is on the way.
In honor of this meeting, there are 1,000 Climate Week events booked around the world, 70 in New York City alone. It;s hard to get past a mid-town street corner without bumping into someone mid-pitch on some kind of climate change related issue.
The official kick-off even occurred at noon at the New York City Library - a sea-level repository of 50 million documents that Library President Paul LeClerc pointed out is vulnerable to climate change-related sea-level rise. Organizers began with some razzle-dazzle - an appearance by Hugh Jackman (inset) that Ban Ki-Moon said later was helpful because of the “mobilizing power of celebrities.” Jackman was also one of the few presenters (on a long list) who actually spoke to the toll of human misery that is possible and, in places like Ethiopia, already occurring.
But former British Prime Minister Tony Blair set the tone - for good and ill. Praising Jackman for calling to mind the “moral imperative behind action,” Blair began on an up note, saying, “In my view, the will is there (among international negotiators and world leaders). The questions is, can we find the way to match the will?”
He began well, setting out likely conditions (short and medium term goals, deals on tech transfer and financial aid to developing countries, the need to mobilize private as well as public sector collaborators). But he seemed to be making a pointed effort to cool off the enthusiasm when he asked the large crowd not to get too excited - not to let “the best be the enemy of the good.”
One speaker after another picked up the theme. United Nations Foundation president and Senator Tim Wirth said that negotiations were “not about settling on a fixed percentage.” Danish Climate Change Minister Connie Hedegaard said “we really need a deadline. The world has been waiting and talking long enough.” But she later added, “we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” a sentiment and a phrasing that was echoed by India’s Minister of State for the Environment Jairam Ramesh.
Only TckTck Tk campaign chair Kumi Naidoo tried to warm the temperature on this bucket of cold water. He said, “too many of our leaders seem to be sleepwalking into a crisis.” He said (not very convincingly) that he accepted that the perfect should not be held as enemy to the good, but then he demanded an agreement that was “FAB” - “fair, ambitious and binding.” It is, he said, the kind of deal that “the people on this planet deserve.”
The upshot of all this is both inspiring and disappointing. It’s fabulous to see this many people rising up, in New York and around the world, to join the conversation. It’s fabulous that the denier community is limited to the Heartland Institute, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the Fraser Institute and half a dozen cranky commenters on this site. But when someone like Tony Blair starts talking about “clean coal” as part of a climate change solution, you begin to wonder who’s koolaid he’s been drinking.
To give Blair the last word, though, he made the point, late in his short presentation, that “a global accord will bring down the cost of action.” He has a point, even if he seemed to assume that the first accord will be a lame starter plan that will need a great deal more work.
Still, he ended by saying that we have a responsibility to leave to our children “a world that we hope is better, but at least is not worse.”
That’s not the path we’re on now. Let’s hope this is the beginning of the change.