Despair, lack of progress in climate talks, but hope is blooming

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — It’s a desert, where little grows. It is a climate conference where water is scarce inside and outside buildings, queues are long, tempers are low, meetings are slow and above all progress comes in trickles.

However, hope springs up in the strangest of places.

Not in the naive new face, but in the hearts and minds of veteran activists and officials, who have been through this frustrating, sleep-depriving exercise, not once or twice, but many times.

And it flourishes in a curious metal “tree” sculpture in a central square here at the United Nations climate summit in Egypt. People write their hopes on sheets of green paper.

“Hope is the only meaning (sic) that makes us ALIVE!” Mohamed Ageez, an Egyptian youth activist wrote.

Former US Vice President Al Gore has been looking at climate change efforts for more than 30 years and sees hope in progress and change. United Nations Environment Program Director Inger Andersen and The Nature Conservancy’s Chief Scientist Katharine Hayhoe see it in all the people in the hard-working halls.

And Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate secretary who helped forge the 2015 Paris accord and then started a nonprofit called Climate Optimism, sees hope not as a noun, but as an action verb.

“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up,” Figueres told The Associated Press, quoting poet David Orr. “I think hope and optimism are very active and are actually the very reason why we roll up our sleeves.”

Asked how he doesn’t despair after seeing heat-trapping emissions rise year after year, Gore told The Associated Press: “Despair is a big word. You know, they used to say that denial is not just a river in Egypt. Here we are in Egypt and despair is not just a tire on the trunk. It’s a real factor. But we also have grounds for hope.”

He noted several political victories this year.

“In August, the US passed the largest climate legislation in historyGore said. “In September, the people of Australia made a historic change and agreed to become part of the world’s leadership in renewable energy. And then, in October, a few days ago, the people of Brazil made the decision to stop destroying the Amazon and start fighting the climate crisis.”

“When people feel vulnerable to climate despair, I urge them to look at the real progress being made.”

Whenever UN Environment chief Andersen feels frustrated at these meetings, she notes what’s going on around her in booths and offices: “In these rooms, you’ll see people jostling for networking solutions, saying ‘Here’s what we did. Maybe you can do this.’

Climate scientist Hayhoe finds hope in the same place.

“So when people say it was a complete failure and there’s no hope, I say, just look around at every face here,” Hayhoe said. “There are tens of thousands of faces here and every one of them wants to change the world.”

That tree of hope?

Lost.

It has been moved away from the negotiations into the “green zone”, far away from the negotiators.

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Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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