Adam Currie: COP-ing out of responsibility?

COP24 is about to start- seemingly just yet another multilateral conference to attempt solving the problems of the world - perhaps the 24 in the title doesn’t assist in this regard. Lucky enough to have the opportunity of attending the conference - the privileges inherent in activism is another story altogether - I embark on the cheapest and lowest emissions method of getting to the conference in Poland - with no lack of pointed remarks from whānau about the carbon emissions I’m using to get there - and thus this morning find myself cycling through Copenhagen during a ten hour layover.


Shortly into my journey I come across a blockade, and along with numerous other confused cyclists, disembark and listen to the instructions of the Danish Polish, or ‘Politi’. The rather overdressed policemen requests of us in no uncertain terms to turn around and clear the area, as a couple of busloads of refugees had ‘escaped’ (interesting choice of terminology) from the local Refugee Camp - ‘Sjælsmark’ - and were demonstrating outside ‘Folketing’, the Danish Parliament and Royal Palace. Never one to obey authority, bidding farewell to my bicycle I climb over the comically low police barrier, to discover a crowd of hundreds, consisting both of refugees, others who had found other ways in, and noticeably over a hundred loud and angry ‘grandmas supporting refugee children’. Virtually no media were there - the world had clearly ‘heard it all before’. Hours upon hours drew by as hundreds of Sjælsmark refugees told their stories. Few spoke in English, but the languages of desperation, terror, and unabating determination are universal. There were many stories of homes being lost to storms, floods or inundation, but also numerous testimonies of failing crops putting immense pressure on refugees home state's, leading to war and repression. Their plea to world leaders focused not only on better food, education and heating in Sjælsmark and in refugee camps across the globe, but more fundamentally begged for an end to the ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ approach. They desperately implored their respective Governments to make hard and fast emissions reductions, now, to prevent their story become the story of millions more. Just as one tearful Syrian woman was lamenting the failure of world leaders to address climate change, the Politi arrived in large numbers, the protest was shut down, and the refugees were forced onto buses heading back to Sjælsmark, whose windows leeched desperation as we ran after the ever-receding vehicles.


It’s incredibly easy for us in Aotearoa to watch these protests, ridicule the Danish Government and loudly lecture the Politici that ‘Democracy in action isn’t scary’ (which I admit was hard to resist) but doing so from our privileged and isolated position simply perpetuates our ignorant self-righteousness and ignores our own role in the refugee crisis. We continue to effectively condone the conditions of Nairu, Australia’s refugee detainment centre with even worse conditions than Sjælsmark, take only a tiny, hand-picked number of refugees, and continue to fail to implement ambitious, or even effective, climate policy. But perhaps more fundamentally, we totally isolate ourselves to the rest of the world, whether we acknowledge it or not. We don’t have refugees arriving on our on our doorsteps, the threat of invasion, or mass climate migration. (with the notable exception of Tokelau and the Cook Islands). Because of this, we have become a nation that sits back, relies on the United States of America to provide our foreign policy, despite the fact that our foreign policy is more closely aligned to China than the US - remember that ‘Nuclear-Free’ thing?


This COP, NZ will spend its time bragging about our Government ‘ending oil exploration’ (bar endless exceptions), the Zero Carbon Act (which hasn’t even been tabled yet), our ‘visionary’ leadership on ending fossil fuel subsidies (yup you read that right) and perhaps most contradictorily, our ‘equitable’ agricultural policy plan though a series of ‘Ac!ion Agriculture’ side events (including Fonterra’s ‘bold’ plan to install no new coal boilers by...2030?!?). What we won’t be mentioning is our failure to adopt a meaningful emissions regulation framework (neither a tuned-up ETS nor a carbon tax), our lack of inclusion of indigenous voices in the climate kōrero, a history of dragging our feet on climate negotiations, or our lack of support for Pacific nations.


Aotearoa New Zealand is a part of the world, and until we begin to drop the subconscious barriers that are sadly so fundamental to our kiwi psyche, we will continue to fail to take meaningful climate action and will instead reside in a false state of separatism, watching the rest of the world crumble, until one day we realise, too late, that ‘that place over there’ was actually ‘this place over here’ all along.


All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own perspectives, opinions and experiences.

Posted on November 29, 2018 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2018.