State of the World Forum Indefinitely Postponed: Letter from Jim Garrison

Dear Friends,

I want to inform you that we have decided to postpone indefinitely the Washington conference Feb. 28 – Mar. 3. There is simply not a critical mass of receptivity at this time for the kind of “Climate Summit” we have designed, which has emphasized an integral approach to climate change and the need for an “urgency coalition” to come together to take immediate and decisive action to resolve the climate crisis

As disappointed as we are that the conference will not take place, the considered opinion of all our conference partners has been that this is simply not the right time to convene a major conference of this kind in the nation’s capitol.  It would have virtually no impact on either the thinking or the agenda with which the U.S. Congress and the president are now engaged, such is the paralysis to which Washington has succumbed with regard to any action on global warming. In due course, this situation will no doubt change, probably induced by a sufficiently strong climate related catastrophe, but this is the stark reality we face at the moment. As a result, raising funds and registering sufficient numbers have been extremely challenging.

State of the World Forum will in time convene a Climate Summit in Washington but that time is not now. We need to put our energy elsewhere. While a single conference has been postponed, the over-all strategy of the 2020 Climate Leadership Campaign will continue to unfold. We believe that the process in which we engaged, the dialogue that transpired, and the contacts and partnerships that we developed around the event, will prove to be tremendously valuable as we move forward.

For those in the United States, it seems time to work, as Governor Schwarzenegger urges, at the sub national level as he has done so effectively in California. The fact that Washington seems incapable of action is actually an opportunity for traction locally in specific cities, states and regions.  This is where the 2020 Campaign in the U.S. will focus its energy – supporting local initiatives and strategies. There is very significant work being done which inexorably will turn the tide.

For example, we are supporting the Pachamama Alliance around their Four Years.Go campaign that is seeking to mobilize concerted action within the next four years; Lester Brown and his work through his Plan Be 4.0; Bill Becker and his effort to impact executive policy through the Presidential Climate Action Project; the Climate Prosperity Alliance in their efforts to build growth economies by taking up the challenge of global warming; Osprey Lake and her Women’s Leadership Caucus that is mobilizing women around the country; Carol and Tom Brayford who are doing extraordinary work in St. Louis to generate a city wide effort to green the city; and David Gershon and his Cool Community campaigns all over the country mobilizing city wide efforts at CO2 reduction.  All these efforts, and many more, are of critical importance in developing forward momentum.

More broadly, we must recognize that Washington is not alone in its inability take serious action with regard to global warming, especially in the aftermath of Copenhagen.  The net result of COP 15 was the collapse of the Kyoto Accords and the attempt to get the nations of the world to agree on common goals, fair financing, and a realistic timeframe. The only agreement to emerge seems to have been a vague commitment to share information, with each nation now basically on its own and free to set its own goals, timeframes, and standards.

It should also be noted that civil society in Copenhagen was essentially as disorganized and incoherent as our governments. There was no over-arching set of common demands, little coordination between groups, and no sense of what to do collectively in the aftermath of the inevitable failure of the negotiations.  The NGOs were in fact summarily excluded from the negotiations in the final week, with little drama and no public outcry. This indicates just how complicated and politicized climate discussions have become and how well organized the fossil fuel lobby and conservative elements are in national and international affairs in blocking any forward momentum.

An important learning from the postponement of the Washington conference is that the difficulty we had in crafting a single coherent marketing message and agreeing on the best possible audience, purpose and intended result is, in fact, a reflection of the complexity and the chaotic state of the climate change discussion in general.

We thus move into 2010 with the climate crisis intensifying but climate politics adrift and civil society as disorganized about what to do as our governments, and not only in the U.S. but worldwide, with precious few exceptions.  There is enormous work to be done both at the level of strategy and at the level of engaging in concrete actions that actually make a difference.

What is essential moving forward is to discern where the energy is and where climate leadership is emerging.  Looking internationally, the most dynamic leadership seems to be coming from Brazil where President Lula has just signed into law a bill passed by a strong majority of the Brazilian Congress to reduce CO2 emissions by just under 40% by 2020, which includes a commitment to reduce deforestation by 80% by 2020. It is always easy, of course, for politicians to make bold pronouncements and Brazil is no exception, but unlike most countries at least Brazil is making the bold pronouncements. Contrast this, for example, with the U.S. offer at Copenhagen to reduce CO2 by 4% and not even being able to get this passed by the Congress.

The Brazil 2020 Climate Leadership Campaign has been deeply involved in shaping climate leadership in Brazil. This was why State of the World Forum launched the 2020 Climate Leadership Campaign in Belo Horizonte last August. Recognizing Brazil as a climate leader allows us to work in the United States and elsewhere with a solid referent and a locus of vision and action.  It would be an extraordinary advance if we could mobilize countries around the world to join Brazil and commit to 40% reductions in CO2 by 2020. This is half way to our campaign goal of 80% by 2020, a very good start.

Of course many other nations besides Brazil are taking leadership. Costa Rica and Sweden have made dramatic commitments, and the EU is committed to making progress. China has become the world leader in clean technology and is on an aggressive march to develop renewable energy. Bolivian president Evo Morales is convening a post Copenhagen gathering in that country in April.  All these efforts, and many others, are deserving of support.  As possible, we should be convening 2020 Campaigns and events in countries developing dynamic progress and action.

One of our 2020 campaigners Susana Osiguera is working hard in Mexico as well, where COP 16 will take place this next December, probably on the same scale as Copenhagen.  Susana is putting together a Mexican Climate Leadership Initiative. Goodnews Cadogan is also active in South Africa along similar lines. Johannesburg will be the site of COP 17 in 2011.  We just learned that a number of groups have come together in Nigeria around the 2020 goals and want to collaborate. Peter Merry and Morel Fourman took the Meshworks to the next level of refinement in Copenhagen, building on what they pioneered in Belo Horizonte, and they are building the 2020 network in Europe. Richard Hames and Laurent Labormene are hard at work in Australia developing 2020 plans.

What is clear is that the 2020 Climate Leadership Campaign is gaining traction in many ways and in many areas of the world.  We are in this for the long haul – at least for the next ten years through 2020. Postponing the Washington event was a necessary tactical retreat in an area of the world where climate politics are especially fraught and counterproductive right now. The U.S. is simply no longer the center of gravity for the world and we must adjust accordingly. We must continue to expand where the situation is the most conducive and where climate leadership emerges, especially at the sub national level where so much dynamism is taking place, including in the U.S.

I will be in touch shortly with further updates and areas for collaboration.

Warm Regards,

Jim Garrison
State of the World Forum