Saturday, December 12, 2015

COP21 - The Deal is Done

The COP21 climate deal is done and it provides a very strong foundation for addressing climate change.

I spent the past two weeks watching the proceedings.  Though not inside the negotiation huddles, I could sense the seriousness and dedication of many involved as I watched diplomats scurry to private sessions with a clear sense of purpose.  Many others provided support as needed, whether it be a nudge from Al Gore, a talking-to from Bianca Jagger or an autograph from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bianca Jagger
Arnold Schwarzenegger

I was very impressed by the youth in attendance.  They were articulate, passionate and effective.  I heard youth representatives engage with United Nations and country leaders as they pushed hard.  They know they are inheriting an earth with problems and they know they'll have to take over addressing them.  As Kentucky native Caroline Engle of the Sierra Club Student Coalition said, the "road doesn't end in Paris."

Caroline Engle of Sierra Club Student Coalition
In response to a question about youth access to decisionmaking COP21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres recognized that youth will very soon be the leaders at future COP sessions.  She said her home country of Costa Rica placed three youth within their official delegation to learn how the intricacies of international diplomacy works.  "This process is something you learn by doing .. not in books," she said.
Christiana Figueres receives canoe paddle from Indigenous
group from Panama asking that we all
"paddle in the same direction"

I attended many sessions on financial issues.  Effectively deploying funds, providing loans to low carbon companies and countries, and assuring that investment capital gravitates towards carbon solutions is drawing the attention of business leaders.  Heike Reichelt of the World Bank told one gathering that the next generation of portfolio managers will be looking at the impacts of their investments, not just the standard risk and return numbers.  As Mindy Lubber of CERES said, "this agreement is what business and investors were looking for, sending a strong signal that the low-carbon global economy has officially arrived."

Mindy Lubber of CERES

For most observers, the deal is about as good as you can expect from a diverse group of nearly 200 countries.  The deal acknowledges that we need to do better than limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees farenheit (2 degrees celsius) and addresses many of the issues environmental leaders pushed for.  It was bittersweet for island-naitons and other low-lowing areas because even aggressive implementation will lead to sea level rise that is likely to devastate large areas.

The deal represents a turning point.  The world has finally recognized what the scientist have been telling them for years ... the Earth is in trouble and humans have the power to limit the damage.

I heard scientists continue to raise alarms.  Melting permafrost may release enough methane to trigger accelerated temperature increases worldwide.  Greenland and parts of Antarctica may be approaching tipping points where ice melt is irreversible and sea level rise could be even higher than the three to six feet predicted for the next century.  Several scientists complained about the challenges of presenting information in a way that is understood by policymakers,  "Scientists are not poets," said Valerie Masson-Delmotte at a session on climate science hosted by UNESCO.

Valerie Masson-Delmotte:  "Scientists are not poets"

Getting the deal was just the beginning of addressing the problem.  Now countries large and small need to rapidly decarbonize their economies.  The cars of the future -- a fairly near future -- will not run on fossil fuels.  Natural gas will give way to electricity for heating homes and food.  Better planned cities will help us move more efficiently.  As Governor Jerry Brown told COP participants, we need to "change our carbon intensive way of life ... friendship, beauty, art may need to take the place of commoditization"

California Governor Jerry Brown at COP21

I'm still absorbing and pondering what I learned over the past few weeks and plan to write more about my observations.  For now, it's a good time to savor the success of Paris and get ready for the challenges ahead.

Kenyan and Maasai tribe member Mary Simat:  "Women are the keepers of mother earth"

All photos by Michael Paparian


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