LIVE FROM MADRID: WHERE ARE THE AMERICANS?
COP25 spreads across a series of massive halls, 10 in all, jammed with side rooms, negotiating auditoriums, press venues, cafes, meeting spaces, and large action hubs. Two of the halls hold the country pavilions. These are impressive venues hosting multiple daily programs put on by each country. Among the elaborate ones are China, Spain, and India. Bagladesh and Sir Lanka have such venues. Even the smaller countries, like Kuwait and the Marshall Islands, have at least a small space or kiosk to greet COP attendees. There are dozens of these colorful informative pavilions, each with a long scrolling internet board showcasing their events, and a huge slogan of how they are leading the world on stopping climate change. With one notable exception. There is no U.S. pavilion.
When I first arrived to COP the other day, I couldn't find the U.S. pavilion on endless maps of each hall. I asked directions, and was told the U.S. had had a pavilion every year except the last two, when America pulled out of the the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 2.0C above pre-industrial levels, a necessity to sustain life on earth as we know it. America, having reached the industrial age before other countries, is historically the world's biggest carbon emitter. So the fact we are unwilling, on a federal level, to now be part of the solution, is to me, incomprehensible.
Stories unfolded that in years past, America had had the flagship pavilion, hosting the biggest and best events, with the best lecturers. In the past, America's pavilion was the center hub of the the yearly COP.
Walking the 87,000 square meters of COP space over the last few days, I have seen people of all nationalities. There appears to be a huge presence from the countries of Africa, Latin America, and Asia in particular. Reportedly, there are 26,706 participants, which include 8,200 party delegates from 200 countries (because each country can send more than one). I goggled whether America had sent anyone at all--they had. The Ivory Coast sent 348; the Democratic Republic of Congo sent 293. Even Brazil sent 168. The U.S. sent 78.
Thankfully, the same year that our federal administration announced its' intention to pull us out of the Paris Agreement, a group of America's businesses, states, and cities started "America's Pledge: We Are Still In," and opened their own space. While it is not an official country pavilion (recall, we don't have one of those), it is called the US Climate Action Center, and it is indeed an action hub.
So far this week, I hadn't been strutting around COP bragging of my American passport-we may be the international favorite in the Olympics, but not so much right now when it comes to climate conferences. But today at COP was different: today, Micheal Bloomberg and Harrison Ford flew into Madrid, with the intention of making it clear to the world that America is, indeed, still in the game when it comes to fighting climate change.
The atmosphere outside the U.S. Climate Action Center was frenzied. There are 3,076 media at COP, and it felt like all of them were there, trying to shove their way into the small space. It reminded me how important it is that America lead. The world waits for us to lead. The world expects us to lead. The world wants us to lead. And the reporters wanted to hear about it.
The line for the event stretched out Hall 6 and all the way back to the main entrance. Security at COP has been intense, but today it was over the top. Thankfully, my age got me in (ordinarily, my age tends to keep me out of places I'd like to go, but at COP, being the youngest has had its advantages).
I was seated right behind Bloomberg and Ford (again, my age--maybe they figured I was "safe" and not likely to be a crowd haggler).
And a moment after they began, I was able to sit up a little straighter in my seat-no longer
COP's black sheep.
Ford said: "Let's listen to the young people who will inherit what we have wrought. Their future has already been diminished by our past. We need to get out of the way and let them lead."
Bloomberg promised: "You can count on the U.S." He signed off on a new report of U.S. entities' plans to cut carbon emissions.
So I left COP tonight, a little bit hopeful. Anytime in world history, when the United States has lent it's hand to accomplish something, it's gotten done. Where the world stands now has been undeniably established by the best science in the world. But the path forward is isn't rocket science. The solutions are here, they are affordable, and they will make our lives better. It's up to us to get the U.S. all the way back in, at not just a state level, but at a federal level as well. We are a government where ultimate power rests with the people. Use it.
Together, we are youth calling for immediate action to stop climate change. One by the people. Of the people. For the planet. Because there is no planet B. Stand with us. We've all just got to do something.
Will Charouhis, Founder of Forces of Nature