PARIS, Nov. 30–If there is strength in numbers, then the COP21 UN Climate Talks in Paris are a show of force. Indeed, at the security briefing on Sunday, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres noted that this COP was breaking “every record,” from number of attendees (over 40,000 from civil society alone) to heads of state (150).
Those heads of state and their delegations are speaking today to the COP21 audience and the world, detailing their perspectives on how to approach the new agreement. Obviously, there are differences. However, common themes ran throughout the talks:
- The need for climate justice and equality. Wealthier, developed nations have long contributed carbon to the atmosphere as populations prospered and consumption increased. Developing nations ask, why must they stop burning fossil fuels as they too seek to achieve prosperity? And, given that poorer nations have historically contributed less to greenhouse gas emissions but bear more of the ill effects of climate change, how will the developed nations help them financially to adopt mitigation and adaptation strategies? How will the common but differentiated responsibilities be structured and financed?
- Transparency and inclusiveness in the negotiation process. COP21 President Laurent Favier emphasized that these talks made special effort to bring civil society into the discussions, and the delegations wanted to hear “all the voices.”
- A special sense of urgency. Presidents Hollande, Obama, Merkel, Putin, Jinping, and many others each remarked to the effect that accelerating climate change was putting the very existence of human survival in question. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “This is a pivotal moment for our planet. You [the delegations] can no longer delay. The fate of the Paris agreement, the future of people and the future of planet is in your hands. We cannot afford indecision, or gradual approaches. The goal must be transformation.”
- And finally, that transformation seemed to be, from the remarks decarbonization and a movement away of economies based on fossil fuels. Indeed, mitigation strategies were mentioned often, as the benchmark warming of 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 was invoked as a goal.
However, even limiting to 2 degrees would require vast global transformations that are lasting and legally binding. And, as President Obama noted, the benefits might not be seen in hard dollar amounts by those who must change. Rather than looking for immediate gratification, “we need to think of progress in terms of suffering averted, and the planet preserved,” he said.
And these themes must be addressed in a short time: less than two weeks. With a deadline of 6 p.m. on Dec. 11, the delegations have much work ahead of them. What will the outcome be? The world is watching Paris.