Sunday Travels: Methane in Marrakech

Roger Durling, Contributing Writer

“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.” – Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

There’s about as much room in the winding streets of the Souk (pronounced s-uh-k, known in English as a huge outdoor market) in Marrakech, Morocco as a New York City subway car during rush hour. And yet, a woman in a burqa zooms past me on a moped. Unafraid of an absent-minded American (me) in the way, looking around at the market older than his country, and more organic than any shopping mall on my native side of the Atlantic. Vendors continue to yell at me in a mixture of Moroccan-Arabic, French, and English as I walk by their stalls, which have grown to encompass about 80% of street-space.

After I find what I’m looking for, a duffel bag made of camel leather, with intricate Berber designs, and successfully haggle the price down from 800 Dirham (~$75) to 250 Dirham (~$20) I start heading back to my Riad. During my walk home, I wonder if the people who own the stalls realize that, in some way, they’re shaping the future of climate policy globally. Marrakech, after all, wasn’t just a fun vacation spot (though I’d recommend it), but the city was also hosting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties 22 (UNFCCC COP22).

This was the conference that, last year in Paris, France, came up with the largest global climate-change-fighting agreement in history, which, at time of writing, 116 countries had signed on to. This treaty creates a system for every country that supports it to outline the steps they plan on taking to combat climate change, lay out clear goals, and their plans for implementation. It allows for bottom-up climate policy, with each country declaring what it can do to combat climate change, rather than failed treaties like the Kyoto Protocol that dictate to countries what they must do. In this, it takes pressure off of nations like Liberia that contribute minuscule amounts to global climate change, and instead puts impetus on larger, more developed nations to spearhead the changes needed. The goal? To prevent global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C, peak global emissions as soon as possible, and undertake rapid reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses to literally save the world as we know it.

But that was last year, and in the words of Diane Holdorf, the Chief Sustainability Officer for a little-cereal-brand-out-of-Michigan-that-picked-a-fight-with-neo-nazis, “Agreements are so last year. It’s all about doing something now.” So here we all were, global corporate leaders, diplomats, scientists, activists, and a few people from the best university in the World, discussing how to make the changes we want to see. How to implement these lofty, but achievable, goals as outlined in the Paris agreement broadly, and by each country specifically. Especially in wake of the second largest emitter in the world electing a man who doesn’t believe climate change is real to be President.

But, regardless of his opinion, climate change is real. And every one of the 25,000 people there knew it. So, the mantra of the conference was “When they go high, we go low.” While other countries will continue to pursue national goals – Sweden being notable for its goal to be completely clean-energy powered by 2020 – the United States would focus instead on aspects of the policy world that still had faith in climate science: local governments, state governments, business, and activist groups.

States like California, which by itself represents the seventh largest national economy in the world, and has a climate czar (who was at the conference), represent the next fight in the American environmental saga. Even traditionally conservative states like Texas are prime territory for the Green-energy revolution. Cities are also declaring war on climate change, with organizations like the C40 forming to combat climate change from an urban standpoint. Businesses like Kellogg’s and Google have made strong promises in environmentalism, even corporate-Beelzebubs like Walmart have made their operations significantly greener in the last decades. And if this conference taught me anything, it’s them that must continue the fight.

That’s a far cry from the date seller (the fruit, not an escort service provider) on the streets of Marrakech, or the witch-doctor – yes witch-doctor – that heard me sniffle as I passed his shop and shoved a mysterious substance up my nose and told me to snort. (I did, it worked, and haven’t been congested since.) They don’t have the luxury of fighting climate change, because for the band of global poor known as “first and worst” (first hit, worst hit by climate effects), fighting is for daily survival. Fighting to sell enough dates, or leather bags, or magical nose-powder to feed their families and provide them with the ever-more-scarce water supply in the Sahara Desert.

It is in the halls of power that were set up in temporary tents for two weeks on the outskirts of the city, and exist every day in capital cities and boardrooms and city halls around the world, that planning action in the field of climate change can occur. Fear is a luxury that those blessed with positions of grandeur cannot afford. Debilitating fear of action by those with the ability to shape climate policy and to make measurable differences in the future of the planet – in any capacity – will undoubtedly lead to the suffering, and death, of untold date sellers, of untold witch-doctors, of untold leather salespersons.

To exemplify this concept, look no further than the delegate to the conference from Fiji who spoke at a loss and damages session, “The sea levels have already forced us to move some of our villages to higher ground. We do not have much more higher ground to move to. Climate change is real, and is costing us our lives. I do not know what we’ll do after this.”

Roger Durling is currently a senior at “That School Up North.” Roger’s interests center on international politics and the American legal system. Politically, he is more of a democrat than you are. When not guest writing for the Finest Bagels Blog, Roger enjoys plunging pins into his Ohio State voodoo doll, taking practice LSATs, and filling out applications to law schools.

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