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    April 27, 2015 | 4:36 PM

    COP21 Climate Talks: High School on a Global Stage

    With 195 nations joining the UN climate talks in Paris later this year, why are we focusing on just eight – Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, the Philippines, South Africa, and the US – with our Road to Paris campaign? And why these eight?

    The answer is pretty straightforward: at some level, UN climate talks aren’t all that different from US high school cafeterias. Albeit with much higher stakes. (And much better food.)

    Now, we’re guessing that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon probably doesn’t see it quite this way, but hear us out. You know how every high school has its power players and its groups, from the football players to the junior socialites to the indie rockers to the bookworms and drama clubbers? Well, in its own way, so do climate negotiations, although alliances form more through shared stages of development and economic interest, rather than loves for Taylor Swift and Holden Caulfield.

    And you know how trends start with someone in one of these groups deciding that, well, acid-wash jeans are actually pretty cool? And if he or she has the guts, the walk, and the clout to pull them off, others in the group notice. Soon his or her friends try on a pair and then more and more kids are piling out of the bus wearing them (though the punks add rips and safety pins and the cheerleaders make sure to iron theirs. Well, again, climate negotiations . . .

    Enter the cafeteria. See the prominent table in the middle? The place of honor is reserved for three guys: our developed countries: Australia, Canada, and the US. While the rest of the developed world was lining up to sign the Kyoto Protocol, they weren’t ready to commit, or decided against it later on. Wanted to keep their options open.

    Think of these as guys the popular group with new, gas-guzzling cars in the parking lot and lacrosse sticks in the trunk. The US is the class president – he’s the rich kid a lot of others want to be like and is pretty influential in school. Historically, he’s been kind of a selfish jerk, but it’s senior year and he’s changing his tune, wearing acid-wash jeans for the first time anyone can remember and volunteering to clean up his act when it comes to emissions. If the school sees him wearing the same jeans day after day, the trend is officially on.

    Australia is like the most popular guy’s slightly goofy sidekick. He swears better than anyone and is in kind of a tricky spot. See, he’s 61-percent sure he should go along with the US, but he’s got this father – we’ll call him “Tony” – who's got a real thing for coal and could give a monkey’s about the school. And Tony can’t stand to see anyone in acid-wash anything. Least of all his son.

    Canada is the popular guy’s stubborn straight man who likes to make a mess developing tar sands and doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks he should wear. Kind of like Australia, he’s a little split. He’s not into trends for their own sake, but there’s part of him that really likes the look of denim, particularly in provinces like British Columbia and Ontario that are taking real steps to cut emissions. On the other, his dad – we’ll call him “Stephen” – is the kind of cheapskate who won’t spend $5 to prevent a $5,000 house repair and keeps saying, sure jeans are great – just as long as they don’t cost anything.

    If these guys cross their arms and shake their heads, it could block a successful agreement in Paris. They’ve already made some commitments, but say they could do more if the developing countries also agree to do something … you could say it’s a bit of a standoff.

    Speaking of developing countries, let’s wander over to the next table, nearest to the door. Here, we have the BASIC group: Brazil, South Africa, India, and China. These guys are the real overachievers of the school. They don’t live in fancy gated communities, but they’ve been surging to the head of the class and boosting the school’s rankings while some of the richer kids’ grades slump. And their success has got a whole lot of other kids watching and trying to follow their lead.

    They don’t think anyone should tell them what to wear, especially not the popular crowd that’s had its way for so long. They’re also not naturally inclined to do something just because it’s cool … but if everyone started wearing these jeans, you can bet they probably would reconsider. In fact, China’s been seen trying on a pair for size, and it’s got the rest thinking that maybe there’s a style that would fit them too, if the rich kids would just chip in a little.

    Which is all to say that the BASIC countries are complicated when it comes to attitudes on climate change. Some – most notably, China – have begun taking significant steps to reign in their emissions. But the group’s overall perspective is that the developing nations that have produced so much of the emissions driving climate change should make the deepest cuts to help solve it. The group also believes that if developed nations really want developing countries to cut emissions and take the low-carbon route to growth, they should provide the financial support and technology to help them do it.

    This isn’t just an academic debate. Because of the BASIC countries’ size and influence – by one measure, China is already the world’s largest economy and India is on track to become the third largest, while both have the emissions to match – how much they’re willing to do to tackle their rising emissions will play a big part in influencing what other countries – especially in Asia, Africa, and South America – will do too.

    So back to the cafeteria. At the corner table, we have the alternative kid who goes his own way, the Philippines. He hasn’t really bothered anybody historically, yet somehow everyone else’s garbage gets taken out on him in ways like devastating super typhoons and he’s getting angry. He thinks it’s high time everyone started dressing better, and in fact, he thinks some financial payback is in order for all the trouble he’s had to put up with. He’s down with everyone else wearing acid-wash jeans, but he’s not quite sure he’s ready to put them on himself. He’s awfully curious to find out what would happen if he did, though.

    So where does that all leave us for Paris, where, in an ideal world, all the delegates show up in those handsome acid-wash jeans? Ultimately, a lot comes down to leadership and influence from these countries. If the US can preserve key policies like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and keep heading in the same positive direction it is now, a strong deal is a real possibility. Meanwhile, we need Australia’s government to listen to the majority of citizens that supports climate action and not get in the way. We also need Canada’s national government to not block progress abroad and stop developing tar sands at home.

    Just as important, we need the BASIC group to come to the table with clear and realistic demands for developed countries – and be ready to do its part in cutting emissions and developing renewable energy. We also need the Philippines to keep speaking up as the planet’s climate conscience, but not block progress overall if measures like loss and damage funding prove impossible.

    Together, it’s a big ask, but if the rest of the world sees these eight countries each doing their own part and pulling on a pair of jeans, each fitting a little differently, it starts a trend that 187 others want to follow. Which any marketing professional in any industry – apparel or other – will tell you is smart business. And it’s why we’re out in these eight countries with a simple message: how about these jeans, people?

    Click here to join us as we move forward on the Road to Paris.

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