Lessons from COP23 - The Power Of Community

Last week, the world’s leading voices on climate change gathered in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Since last year’s conference in Marrakech, the political landscape surrounding climate change in the U.S. at the federal level has shifted dramatically, but in the absence of strong national leadership for climate change solutions, something remarkable has happened. All across the country, communities of active citizens are coming together at the local level to demand swift action in the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy, and the resolve and power of these communities was on full display at COP23.

Perhaps the most poignant example was the presence of the “We Are Still In” coalition, a collection of American states, counties, cities, tribes, businesses, educational institutions, faith organizations, and environmental advocacy groups, which combined, claim representation for about half of the entire US economy. This collective of stakeholder groups, who have all taken pledges to reduce their carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Climate Accord, boasted many official COP23 press conference panelists who re-assured world leaders that American communities are committed to a sustainable future. The group also hosted a separate series of speakers, from their U.S. Climate Action Center pavilion, to share success stories in curbing fossil fuel emissions from the state and municipal levels as well as the private sector.

From all this, we as climate communicators can take away a hopeful reminder about the effectiveness of community-based solutions. Our goal in communicating with our audiences about climate change is to empower people to take civic action, which requires a careful balancing act on our part to provide solutions examples that are large-scale enough to truly address the problem of global climate change, while also not being so large-scale that citizens can’t imagine how they might personally have influence. For this reason, our go-to solutions type for climate communications has long been community-level solutions. They’re right in the sweet-spot for scale, where people can both imagine having influence and seeing their influence make a real impact on the issue. And with COP23 having so perfectly illustrated the later point, we now have some new fuel for hopeful and productive solutions discussions.

For example, a small local group of citizens may not feel they have the power to effectively influence policy decisions in Washington, DC. However, this same group of citizens could very feasibly attend a city council meeting – or a leadership meeting at their business, church, university, etc. – and convince their local leaders to make a pledge to reduce emissions in accordance with the Paris Climate Accord, thereby adding the power of their community to a collective impact at a global scale. By sharing stories of the power wielded collectively by local communities at this year’s United Nations conference, we can help inspire our audiences to civic action and combat any pessimism that may stem from current short-comings on the federal level. The community is the key!

Check out some of the highlights of community representation at COP23 below: