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Ambitious Climate Pact Seems Remote (+ Leonardo Di Caprio)

France was wise to organize the attendance of world leaders at the beginning of the Climate Conference. At the climate top 6 years ago in Copenhagen, the leaders came at the very end. In anticipation of their arrival, the negotiators seemed frozen, hardly daring to make any agreements, with insufficient time left to make a serious deal afterwards. World leaders in Paris opened the Conference with bold and urgent words about the climate. Unfortunately, the political momentum created by those speeches seems to have barely found its way to the negotiating tables. Old reflexes, mainly between rich and poor countries, have flared up and little progress has been made.

A concept text was created in the first week, but practically every sentence has passages [between brackets]. Those are the parts over which the countries are not in agreement. While some of those passages are about details, (whether goals are reached “collectively” or “cooperatively” ) disagreements are often about fundamental questions, such as if 2° of warming acceptable is, or is 1.5° a better goal. The concept text that will serve as the basis for the talks between the Ministers in the final week is about 40 pages long; while about 25 pages is deemed by many as the maximum manageable length.

Those opposed to a strong agreement can grasp every little detail to create an endless debate. A group called the “Like Minded Developing Countries” (Venezuela and Bolivia to name two) seems especially good at this. They see climate change as a product of capitalistic excesses that should be solved by the West.  The adaptation needed due to climate change and the costs associated with this are felt by some to be the biggest hurdle to a strong agreement. Mitigation (the reduction of greenhouse gases) is gradually becoming part of the strategy of businesses – with or without a climate change agreement. That is not the case for the adaptation needed in the face of a changing climate. Developing countries want to get money from the rich countries. While the wealthier countries a willing to pay, they are counting on the business world to help with the costs. Poor countries have little faith in this happening.

Christiana Figueres, chairman of the UN Climate Office is starting to become very concerned. She has stressed that we are not at the end of the first week of negotiations, but in the last weeks of 4 years of negotiations. The fact that an agreement must be made this year was determined in Durban in 2011. Thus far, the negotiations are moving much too slowly. While there is still time and opportunity to change that, it is hard to be confident that the change needed will occur.

The beautiful Paris City Hall was the venue of a climate meeting on Friday, December 4th hosted by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and former NY Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. In attendance were 400 Mayors and Governors from cities and states around the world, plus local officials. Somewhere along the way, the most urgent and inspiring voices in some of the most important issues of our times have switched from being politicians and policy makers to singers and actors. Robert Redford and Leonardo Di Caprio were among the speakers, and I found Di Caprio’s speech spot on:

  • “Climate change is the most fundamental and existential threat we face. It has the potential to make our planet unlivable.  (...)  I challenge all of you to please do more. Whether you are an elected public official, a business leader, a mother, a father, a student – you must commit today to making your communities and companies more resilient and more sustainable. Regardless of the scope of this agreement and what is reached here in Paris, the real work lies ahead. It lies in this room. You are the catalysts of that. At a moment where our differences push us all apart, we can find common cause together: our shared interest in a sustainable future. We are now in a race to better ourselves, to better our planet. Please do not let fear and doubt slow all of you down. Be bold! Be courageous! Do everything in your power to change our current course. After all, the entire world is watching you.”

For those of us not in Paris but in our own seemingly small lives, the Climate Challenge is also ours to meet and influence. Stay involved and do your best!


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