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

SHARM EL-SHEIH, Egypt (AP) — It’s a desert, where little grows. It is a climate conference, where indoor and outdoor water is scarce, lines are long, tempers are short, meetings are delayed and, above all, progress comes in trickles.

Yet hope springs up in the strangest places.

Not in the naive new face, but in the hearts and minds of veteran activists and officials, who have undergone this frustrating sleep deprivation exercise, not once or twice, but several times.

And it flourishes in a strange metal “tree” sculpture in a center plaza here at the United Nations Climate Summit in Egypt. People write their hopes on green paper leaves.

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

Former US Vice President Al Gore looks at more than 30 years of climate change efforts and sees hope in progress and change. United Nations Environment Program Director Inger Andersen and Nature Conservancy chief scientist Katharine Hayhoe see it in all the people in the hallways hard at work.

And Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate secretary who helped bring about the 2015 Paris Agreement and went on to found a non-profit organization called Climate Optimism, sees hope not as a noun but as an action verb.

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

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

He pointed to several political victories this year.

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

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

When United Nations Environment Chief Andersen feels dejected during these meetings, she takes note of what is happening all around her in the pavilions and offices: “In these halls, you see people huddling about solutions over networks and saying, ‘This is what we did. Maybe you can do that’.

Climate scientist Hayhoe finds hope in the same place.

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

That tree of hope?

Away.

It has been moved from negotiations to the ‘green zone’, away from negotiators.

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

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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