This article is written by Elizabeth Buchan.
The Twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP21) opened today at Le Bourget in Paris, France. An international spotlight is shining on the talks, especially today as the event opened with speeches from world leaders.
There were some key themes cutting across many of the messages from world leaders:
Solidarity with the French
All of the leaders expressed their condolences to the French government and citizens following the terrorist attacks in the last few weeks. Barack Obama reinforced the need for the Paris agreement to be a success because ‘what better way to reject terror than to work together to save the planet they intend to tear apart’? These collective sentiments emphasised the need for the Paris Agreement to be a success that is more than ink on the paper, but an agreement that is meaningful and applicable to all countries.
The great majority of countries emphasised the need for governments to ensure the Paris Agreement protects the planet for the next generation. There was acknowledgement that world leaders are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, but the last that can change the course of history to prevent its worst effects. President Ante Tong from Kiribati, a nation particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, called for an agreement that means that children and grandchildren from every country, have hope to live safely in their homes. It is crystal clear that leaders have their children and grandchildren in their minds when thinking about the significance of the Paris moment and a deserved nod to the tireless work of the youth to raise the profile of intergenerational equity.
COP21 is a one step of the journey
Many leaders noted that COP21 is a significant milestone on the journey to resolve climate change but not the ‘last chance’ to address it. There were metaphors ranging from a ‘milestone’ to a ‘cliff-edge’ to describe the Paris moment. It is clear that leaders want the Paris Agreement to be more than an international treaty- but a strong signal to businesses and civil society that the transition to a decarbonised world has begun and should be accelerated by the outcomes in Paris.
There were also the expected calls for a legally binding agreement based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, that mobilises more climate finance, that unlocks access to technology for all countries and enables developing countries to achieve their right to realise the benefits of development without increasing emissions.
Overall there is a sense from these statements that there is unparalleled political will reflecting the world wide support for a high quality and universally applicable climate agreement. As President Peter Loeak of the Marshall Islands said ‘this is the time to be the leaders we were elected to be, let’s get it done’.
About the author: Elizabeth Buchan has a Bachelor of Science (Environmental Policy) and Bachelor of Arts (International Relations and French), from the National Australian University. She currently works in the Australian Government’s Clean Energy Regulator.