PARIS – Leaders from all over the world gathered today in the suburb of Le Bourget for the opening of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21). From the very inauguration of the event, one thing was made clear; that the key to saving this planet is the same for everyday people as it is for the 150 heads of state and government attending: everyone must set aside their differences, and work together for the good of all.
The conference has taken on a dutifully somber atmosphere in the wake of the recent tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, and the discussions have certainly been affected by what happened. But if the tone of the talks so far are any indication, the response – both on the part of world leaders and the French people – has been one of resilience and perseverance, and especially of solidarity.
The first speaker, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Minister of Environment of Peru, cut right to the heart of the matter and remarked, “The world is facing two very big threats: climate change and terrorism. We can work together against both. The principals of the climate conference have always been openness and transparency. Now, we take on new principals, as well: solidarity and friendship.”
Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, took the podium next, and said that the need for leaders to come together is made imperative by the small time frame in which they have to do so. “It is time to come up with a concerted solution,” he said. “We have just 11 short days in which to achieve this, and we are obliged to succeed. The eyes of the world are upon us, waiting for us to be able to say to them, ‘Mission accomplished.’ “
“Paris is the City of Light,” said Christiana Figueras, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. After the attacks, she explained, “that is a title that has taken on new meaning. It is now a beacon of hope for the world, lighting the way for the betterment of humanity. Paris must be where the world unites, reaching an agreement that delivers support and catalyzes action. We must chart an unequivocal path forward.”
Charles, Prince of Wales, made it clear in his own words that COP 21’s theme of harmony and cooperation would help to prevent future generations from inheriting our environmental burden. The decision made at this conference, he said, “will decide the fates of generations not yet born, and of those without a voice, for whom hope is the rarest of sensations. None of us has the right to assume that for our today, they should have to give up their tomorrow. In damaging our climate, we become the architects of our own destruction. We know what needs to be done, and it can be done; we lack only the will and the framework.”
The convention’s preliminary introduction then segued into the opening ceremony of the leaders event, which will feature 150 heads of state from around the world. Among those speakers will be President Obama, who will be working with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and 20 other countries to create a new Clean Energy Initiative, which will establish technologies that provide affordable clean energy, especially for developing countries. Here again, it is shown that working together is the only viable solution.
Inaugurating the leaders phase of the conference was French president Francois Hollande. Addressing the audience with a solemn cadence, he said, “Two weeks ago, fanatics brought death to the streets of Paris. Tragic events like this represent an affliction, but also an obligation, forcing us to focus on what is important. I’m not choosing between the fight against terrorism and global warming. Climate change will bring conflict just like clouds bring storms. Famine, mass exodus, and clashes for resources” are all conducive to this type of violence. “We must respond to this challenge with solidarity. Not one of us should be left alone.”
“Back in 2009,” said the Prince of Wales, “just before COP 15, I tried to point out that we had less than 100 months to change our behavior in order to avert the tipping point. Well, 80 of those 100 months have now passed. If the planet were a patient, we would have treated her long ago. But now, at least, we have the chance to put her on life support.”
Photo: Francois Hollande speaks at COP 21. | Blake Deppe/PW