The Hunt for Accountability, From Rio to Doha

Before I started my graduate studies in August, I was campaigning incessantly with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to drive the Rio+20 Earth Summit process towards real actions and accountability. I am carrying on the same mission to the UN Climate Conference in Doha with fellow students from Yale, but with a new tool at hand – a smartphone and web app called DecisionMakr – to crowdsource accountability.

Why am I obsessed with accountability? 
We have had exactly 20 years of negotiations since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992, out of which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was officially born. We have had a plethora of summits, conferences, intersesssionals, “informal informals”, and have spent billions of dollars flying around the world. Negotiators have revoked definitions, principles, and commitments previously agreed to and struggled long to agree again. Most countries’ greenhouse gas emissions go uncurbed despite what they have committed. Governments are trying to get away by committing to new lofty goals, or by deploying their best diplomatic skills, without actually doing anything. Being accountable is what responsible entities do to deliver their obligations – especially the ones they say they will take.

From a climate youth activist to a professional campaigner, it took me from Copenhagen to Rio+20 to fully appreciate the power of social media. As part of the first-ever China Youth Delegation to a COP meeting, I was required to use Weibo – the Chinese counterpart to Twitter – to communicate what went on in the Bella Center. I learned that having an audience in mind actually helped me focus on the key lessons from the often monotonous and uninspiring statements from the negotiators. It was also a sense of responsibility to capture heroes and laggards, hopes and frustrations, and let a wider audience hear us in China and globally. At NRDC with my Race to Rio team, I was busy tracking country preparations and ambitions towards Rio+20, coordinating the #endfossilfuelsubsidies Twitterstormamong activist groups, and aggregating commitments to actions from countries, companies and organizations on a social media friendly website. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr – you name it – became my best co-workers. My daily satisfaction depended on how many new followers I gained and interactions of @NRDCRio I had with other users.

How can DecisionMakr help to crowdsource accountability?
I like to think of crowdsourcing as people power enabled and connected by modern information technologies. During Rio+20, my colleagues and I started the term crowdsourcing sustainability. We are now seeing a new generation of environmental activists, younger and more diverse, converging from across the world (myself included) towards a common vision of a more sustainable and just future. Social media tools have fundamentally altered how modern day campaigns are run and empowered especially the young and tech-savvy souls to join forces to exert their impacts exponentially.

The crowdsourcing function of DecisionMakr is multifold. No matter whether you are engaging in the negotiation in person or remotely, you can give feedback to each negotiator or collective negotiating groups’ statements and activities. Or you can see what goes on in the rooms you cannot follow because all the tweets are organized chronologically. “I wanted to see if we can generate the same type of data and accountability for negotiators — in a similar way to how user feedback ratings influence how we shop on retail sites like,” wrote Angel Hsu, a Yale PhD student who first developed the idea. Finally, and my favorite, the app covers and documents real-time the shifting positions and proposals of negotiators. You can read some highlights and who are at the top of the leaderboard here from the first 2 days of negotiations.

But, as I have said, people power means you. “With each drop of water we will penetrate the rock.” If you tweet anyway about your praises, shouts and critiques, tweet from DecisionMakr. The tweet will show up in your own feed and can be seen by more people aggregated by DecisionMakr. Go on you computer or smartphone browser, or download the app from iTunes App Store for your iPhone and iPad.

Give a star today and make your feedback count!

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  1. Pingback: Sage Magazine – Dealings from Doha: What’s Going on at COP18?

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