Thursday, 17 December 2015

Just Influencing Policy or Stirring the Pot...

Part of my current job sees me going to meetings, conferences, and workshops quite frequently. Most of them relate to things that I knew very little about, and as a result I just keep quite, jot some notes and pretty much just take it all in. This isn't to suggest that it's not interesting, it's just that I don't usually feel inclined to have my say on the topic at hand. It takes a lot for me to work up the courage to talk aloud - even when it happens to be something I'm somewhat familiar with. Some of you might recall a post from last year where I told you about a time when I spoke out in class and surprised myself in doing so.

Last week, I found myself in a roundtable discussion with various government representatives, academics, and Uganda's Climate Change Task Force with the purpose of discussing the draft of the new National Climate Change Policy. I was pretty excited about this one, because for once, I had a confident level of knowledge on the subject.

After 'unveiling' the draft, one of the sessions involved an open discussion about concerns, suggestions and any other feedback on the document. I immediately noticed two things: first, the definition of ‘climate change’ was incorrect, and secondly, there appeared to be more of a focus on mitigation, rather than adaptation, which, sure, but also, aren’t we passed that point now? As a result, I raised my hand, made my argument, and then sat back, hoping to get a meaningful discussion on the go. But it didn’t happen. Instead my comments were avoided. Then, when the session broke for tea, I was pulled aside by a member of government and basically told, that while my points were correct, the current Government doesn’t want to hear that.

One of the problems with this response – and there are many – is that the whole exercise is pointless. If the government actually cared about the issue at hand, if they really wanted to turn things around and work towards adapting to the impacts of climate change, then hearing the truth, while tough to swallow, would be the key ingredient. Otherwise, this is nothing more than an exercise of ticking the proverbial box of some international ‘power-that-be’ who realistically holds no country accountable, because it just doesn’t have the jurisdiction to do so.

So, what’s the point? Why waste so much money developing a climate change adaptation scheme if it isn’t even being undertaken seriously? I mean the authority of international organizations (*cough the UN*) is only present if all of the countries involved participate and agree to it… but this isn’t usually the case. Take Kyoto, for example, or even the newly agreed upon Paris resolution as part of the COP21 talks. Great – “we’ve” agreed to “tackle” climate change… But the goals are either unattainable – even if we wanted them to be – or when it comes to acting, nothing will be done, and there’s nothing the UN or any other non-authoritative body can do about it, because ultimately they don’t hold any power over the countries who sign onto these various agreements. Deep breathe.

These talks are important, however. Yes, it was extremely frustrating for me to be in a room with a group of people who seemed well educated and passionate about the plight of our planet, as a whole, and on their country, community and family. It’s frustrating because the majority of the people were nodding in agreement when I spoke out, and not because I’m the ‘token white person that has all the answers,’ but because they knew what I was saying was true. But, it’s good, because at least there are people who can identify the issues that will be of greatest concern in the years to come. There are people who can discuss and debate the right ways to tackle them – even if their hands are tied. I remember during my time in Ghana speaking to a high-level employee at the Environmental Protection Agency in Koforidua about climate change and environmental concerns in general. His response was to the effect of “The only way I can actually make a difference on the environmental front is if I leave this job and attempt to deal with the issues outside of government. But if I do that, I can’t feed my family, and it’s one less person on the inside trying to set things right.”

I don’t know what the answer is here. I’m not really even sure how to go about trying to find it. I don’t even know how I got onto this rant… All I know, is that we have to keep trying – no matter how frustrating, no matter how many times our words fall on ‘deaf ears.’ Someone recently told me to keep asking questions, even if they don’t get answered, because if you ask enough times, someone will start to listen – some one will start to answer. Maybe if we keep pressing the issue someone will listen, someone will answer, and someone will act.

-the Orange Canadian 

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