Reflecting on Eight Years of the U.S. Center Showcasing Climate Action at the United Nations Climate Conferences
By: Ashley Allen, the U.S. Department of State’s Master of Ceremonies of the U.S. Center.
During the last two weeks, the 22nd United Nations climate conference (COP 22) was held in Marrakech. The closing of the conference marks the eighth year of the U.S. Center — a space at the COP dedicated to showcasing public and private climate actions as well as some of the best climate change-focused initiatives of groups in the United States. Throughout these years, there have been many long nights at conference centers, spanning several different time zones, and resulting in many great events.
The impact of the U.S. Center has been apparent through the growing engagement of U.S. stakeholder communities (businesses, cities, faith groups and others) that have hosted events there, the increasing popularity of U.S. Center events — the seats are almost always full — and the transition of the focus of events from intention to action. Over the years, the U.S. Center has successfully brought together U.S. business leaders, local officials, and national experts who have shared, with international public, the evolving story of the real on-the-ground climate actions they are spearheading in the United States.
Here are some highlights from some of the most memorable moments at the U.S. Centers:
2009: COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark
During COP15 in Copenhagen, we launched the very first U.S. Center, which included a jam-packed schedule of seven events per day. It brought some of the best and brightest minds from the United States to the international stage — climate scientists, geologists, clean energy engineers, and no less than six cabinet officials — to tell the world what the United States was doing to tackle this global threat. Lisa Jackson, then new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), received a standing ovation for officially announcing the EPA finding that greenhouse gases are a danger to human health, paving the way for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
2010: COP16 in Cancun, Mexico
2011: COP17 in Durban, South Africa
During COP17 the story was one of cooperation and partnership — Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation-plus (REDD+) programs were a central focus, and the most inspiring climate scientist I have ever had the great fortune to meet, NASA astronaut Piers Sellers, wowed crowds of students, NGOs and diplomats as he took them on a journey of images of the Earth from space, patterns of wind and ocean currents that showed in no uncertain terms that Earth, our Earth, was changing.
2012: COP18 in Doha, Qatar
In Doha, an especially popular event (still the most watched video on the U.S. Center You Tube channel) featured women leaders in climate action, including Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland; Kit Batten, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Climate Change Coordinator; Jennifer Morgan, International Climate Program Director at the World Resources Institute; and Lisa Jacobson, President of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy discussing the crucial role that women play all over the world to tackle climate change.
2013: COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland
2014: COP20 in Lima, Peru
During COP20, anticipation was high. Everyone was gearing up for the launch of perhaps the most important year in history for combatting climate change — the year preceding the effort to forge a global agreement on climate change. Our champion, Secretary of State John Kerry, delivered remarks at that conference, motivating a packed crowd of climate action advocates to keep moving head, find common ground, and keep our eyes firmly on the goal of a truly inclusive international agreement. The health and sustainability of the entire world was at stake.
2015: COP 21 in Paris, France
No one can deny the significance of the outcome at COP 21 in Paris, France. An estimated 40,000 people descended on the conference, including 150 heads of state! Surprising for many, it seemed that the spirit of the negotiations was one of coming together, doing one’s part, each country putting in what they could, and ultimately making it work — a global agreement must be reached. The world would judge us by what we accomplished in Paris — and the deal got done.
Fast forward to COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco
With the U.S. election occurring during COP 22 and many participants awaiting news of its outcome, several at the conference felt a sense of uncertainty. However over the course of the two weeks, it became clear to me, as I greeted the motivated, packed crowds, and introduced the intrepid and committed climate champions from U.S. government, business, and civil society communities, that the progress we have made — this momentum that had carried us through a successful outcome in Paris and through an initial year of ratification and implementation — would carry on in actions at all levels.
There are few issues as complex, long-term, and ominous as climate change — something that serves as the backdrop to doomsday films in Hollywood. People have asked me throughout my years as the Master of Ceremonies of the U.S. Center how I got into this field and what motivated me to work on this issue day after day. In the last six months, my answer has become sharply clearer and in focus. Six months ago, I had my first child, a bubbly tow-headed baby boy. Now everything I do, every thought, action, and dream centers around making his life comfortable, safe, promising, and bright. The beauty and innocence of children — our future — can have that effect on us. Secretary Kerry inspired people around the world with the image of his two year old granddaughter sitting on his lap as he signed the Paris Agreement on climate change for the United States in March, 2016.
As we move forward in these perhaps uncertain times, one thing is certain, there is much more work to be done on this issue. The road ahead will take inspiration from committed climate leaders, such as Secretary Kerry, Todd Stern, Jonathan Pershing, Piers Sellers and the many leaders and country delegates around the world who came together and helped the international community move the needle on climate action at COP21 in Paris. Throughout the years, these leaders have continued to find the passion and drive, empowering them to remain dedicated and propel forward on this issue, with eloquence and ability, and make use of whatever platform was available. As they have demonstrated, we all have a part to play in finding a solution to climate change. I, for one, will continue to #ActOnClimate and be a part of the solution.
This story also appears on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State’s Official Blog.