This blog has been cross-posted from the Emory Globe, Emory University’s international affairs magazine.
On the evening of December 13, 2015, delegates gathered at an airport complex on the outskirts of Paris, France made history. With consensus from 195 countries, the world’s first-ever universal agreement on climate change became a reality. This Paris Agreement has been nearly six years in the making, though the goal of an agreement to combat climate change harks back even further to the Earth Summit of 1992. There, nations signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty to consider what to do about global warming. The first Conference of the Parties (COP 1) took place in Berlin, Germany in 1995. In 2009, COP15, in Copenhagen, Denmark, saw hopes for a universal agreement crushed as developing and developed nations clashed over their common but differentiated responsibilities to limit greenhouse gas emissions. While all nations have a common responsibility to protect the environment, developed nations possess both the financial and technological resources to more actively reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have played a much larger role in historic environmental degradation than developing nations. The developing world understandably feels like it’s being asked to develop and cut emissions at the same time, instead of being given the same chance developed nations had to pollute their way to economic prosperity. However, many developing nations are also more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and simply want those countries with means to share their wealth, resources, and technologies to help the rest of humanity cope with a problem they didn’t necessarily cause. Thus, the past six years have been spent attempting to build consensus between the developed and developing world necessary to successfully negotiate a universal agreement in Paris.
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“I’m a Minnesotan. I currently work at the University of Minnesota at the Institute on the Environment. I also serve as a citizen member of Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board which is an executive branch board of 9 state agency commissioners and 5 citizen members. I’m here at the COP as an eye-witness to a really historic moment in the world in terms of dealing with the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced and the biggest opportunity to show what is best about people. I’m also working on a dissertation about how we transition to sustainability and the different approaches and work that needs to be done to do that. I was actually in Copenhagen for COP15 and the feeling in Paris is different. There is more energy outside of and inside of the COP and I think the idea that everyone has something to contribute not everyone has something to take is a really powerful one and I that shift is something that I’m starting to feel in Paris.”
-Kate Knuth, PhD Candidate at the University of Minnesota and Former Representative in the Minnesota House (one of the youngest in it’s history)
At tonight’s Momentum for Change Awards hosted in the COP21 press conference room, Conservation International Executive Vice President and Senior Scientist Dr. M. Sanjayan presented a new short film series which attempts to bring the natural world to life. Several A-List actors lent their voices to various natural phenomena, including Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford, Kevin Spacey, Edward Norton, Penelope Cruz, Robert Redford, Ian Somerhalder, and Lupita Nyong’o. A particularly powerful personification of Mother Nature herself was voiced by Julia Roberts. Watch it here.
An additional short film project in a similar fashion titled Home was narrated by Reese Witherspoon. Watch it here.
Both of these films are powerful and remind us that we need nature to survive, but it does not need us. Conservation International is encouraging all of us to share why we need nature with #INeedNature to start a movement which recognizes the importance of our planet in the fight to end climate change and protect our natural resources and biodiversity.
You can watch the rest of the videos in the series at natureisspeaking.org.
In the morning on Wednesday, December 9, I was able to attend the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Briefing for Observer Organizations. It was an hour-long session meant to engage the civil society and other constituencies observing the negotiations, provide answers to our questions, and act as a bridge between us and the high-level officials.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres was joined by Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who is serving during COP21 as the President’s Special Envoy to Observers. Pulgar-Vidal previously served as the President of COP20 in Peru as that county’s Minister of State for Environment. Additionally, a youth representative moderated the lengthy Q&A session.
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“I’m here with Zambia. I’m here with Plant for the Planet Foundation delegation. We’re here at COP to support and encourage the negotiators. We’re the ones who are giving away the awesome chocolates if you had them. We make sure you stay motivated in the negotiations so that you fight for the future of young people. That’s why were here at COP21 to ensure that we get results and have a long term climate agreement and get on the path to save the world.”
-Jack Kafwanka, Eco-generation Regional Ambassador to Zambia
“What I really want to say to the youth around the world is that you are our hope for the future. We have messed up the planet and its not your responsibility to fix it, but if you don’t, with us helping, then your great grandchildren will have a pretty bad time. The main thing is to get involved, to realize most importantly that every single day you live you make an impact on this planet and its up to you to choose what sort of impact you want to make. Think about the consequences of what you buy, what you eat, what you wear, or where it came from, how it was made, and then make a wise choice. Billions of wise choices make a better world.”
-Dr. Jane Goodall, Anthropologist, world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and global environmental and humanitarian youth program Roots & Shoots
“I’m at the COP because I have three film projects that I am screening, two of them with Jane (Goodall). One is Stop the Burning, which is this 9-minute clip on the fact that deforestation is alive and well and we’ve got to stop it cold. The second is Time to Choose which is a 90-minute full feature film about climate change and solutions. The third is two of episodes of Years of Living Dangerously with Arnold Schwarzenegger and a lot of other people who are part of the series who are here to help bring awareness. The message to millennials is ‘its your generation, you cant ever tolerate the fact that the older generation is screwing up your planet and if the younger generation would rise up as loudly as they can tell their parents that they’re not gonna take it’ that’s the message.”
-Jeff Horowitz, Founding Partner of Avoided Deforestation Partners and Emmy-winning co-producer and story consultant for Showtime documentary series Years of Living Dangerously
On Monday, December 7, high-level officials opened the second week of the UNFCCC COP21
meeting in grand fashion. Delegates from over 190 countries gathered in plenary La Seine at 10:00am to hear from leaders which included United Nations
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, COP21 President and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change
Hoesung Lee, and UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft.
The COP21 negotiation space at the Le Bourget site
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On December 3rd, several Emory delegates and Dr. Eri Saikawa supported Mayor Kasim Reed at the Le Bourget La Galerie site as he spoke on behalf of Atlanta’s innovative sustainability initiatives to an international audience. The official “Buildings Day” panel highlighted the challenges and opportunities within the development sector on maximizing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially since 80% of greenhouse gas emissions are sourced from urban areas. Other panelists included Mayor Clover Moore of Sydney, Mayor Bima Arya of Bogor, Indonesia, Mayor Marcio Araujo de Lacerda, of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Councillor Johannes Van Der Merwe of Cape Town, South Africa, and Ms. Jennifer Layke of the World Resource Institute.
80% of emissions come from cities
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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term “sustainable” is defined as “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Thus, “sustainability” is commonly linked with the idea of leaving a better planet for future generations. However, in reality, defining “sustainability” is like nailing Jell-O to a wall- impossible and pretty pointless.
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