Tianjin talks and a ‘global work party’ by Richard Black

11/10/2010 BBC 10/10/10, if you care to write dates that way - is set for what’s probably the biggest mass event ever in pursuit of curbing climate change.At the heart of things is, which is calling the event a “global work party”:

“It’s been a tough year: in North America, oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico; in Asia some of the highest temperatures ever recorded; in the Arctic, the fastest melting of sea ice ever seen; in Latin America, record rainfalls washing away whole mountainsides.

“So we’re having a party.”

At the time of writing, there are 7,014 events registered  in 188 countries.

One question you’re probably asking is: what sort of events are these? Another might be: what difference will it all make?

Earlier this week The Guardian chose a sample it felt particularly worthy of mention; the 10:10 campaign group (which is also behind the day of action, having found itself in the critical firing line over its recent “splattergate” video) has also dipped into the barrel.

From the former list, I’m sorry I won’t be in Tokyo to witness, in the flesh, sumo wrestlers cycling to practice.’s site lets users search for events near them. One near me is a family which intends to install solar photovoltaic panels on its house: clearly something with carbon-cutting potential, but not exactly on the far side of radical.

A lot of cycling initiatives are planned; a lot of recycling initatives too.

Energy saving, energy diversifying; tree-planting in Afghanistan, education on “vampire” electronics in the US; building a solar-powered fish farm in Mexico, demonstrating “eco-charcoal” in Cote d’Ivoire.

Will this all make a dent in global greenhouse gas emissions?

Hardly; rather like the mass switch-offs that WWF and other environmental groups have mounted in recent years, it’s intended to be as much about awareness as about a concrete effect.

Common in the rhetoric surrounding these events is the idea that politicians are fiddling while Rome (or somewhere more tropical) burns; so those who want something done should do it themselves.

Participants aim to persuade political leaders that the public does want movement on this issue, to encourage them to go further than they have as yet.

The context for it all is to be found in Tianjin in China, where the latest round of UN climate talks appears to be proceeding along familiar lines.

The US is holding to the position I mentioned earlier in the week - that it will increasingly look to other fora, outside the UN process.

China turned its rhetorical guns on the US, saying it was quite prepared for the world to have nothing substantial in place by 2012 when the existing carbon reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol expire.

That would almost certainly scupper any prospect of a global carbon market, and would remove any degree of international oversight from national emissions pledges.

Even the lead negotiator for the habitually supportive EU, Artur Runge-Metzger, suggested the UN process could be near the end of its road unless countries substantially narrow their differences by the end of December’s UN summit in Cancun, Mexico:

“If Cancun does not produce a solid outcome that takes the fight against climate change forward, then I think [the UN process] risks becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the world.

“We meet in these wonderful places, travel miles to come here. If this process is not effective, then people will say, ‘If you can’t come to agreement, then why should we bother supporting you?’”

The last sentence could be interpreted as a criticism of the entire process - or as criticism of developing nations, whose participation in the talks is funded, through the UN system, by rich countries.

Opinion poll after opinion poll finds substantial numbers of people (whether it amounts to a global majority is another matter) in many countries in favour of strong action to curb emissions.

Doubtful of this action coming through international political channels, this weekend’s “work party”-goers suggest rolling up the communal sleeves; the latest manifestation of the well-worn mantra “think globally, act locally”.

Enough to cut carbon as much as mainstream climate science says is necessary? No. An example of citizen action in the face of political inertia? Definitely.
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