Monday, November 30, 2015

COP21 Day 1 – and oh what a day!

The Venue - Anticipation of What Was to Come

I spent the morning of Day 1 at COP21 sitting in a large plenary room where I got to hear short speeches from a long list of world leaders including Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General and Presidents (or King’s representative) of France, the United States, Paraguay, China, Morocco, Egypt, Djibouti, Russia, Lithuania… all before lunch. Never before have 150 heads of state been in the same place at the same time focusing on the same issue.

There were repeating themes in the messages:

1) There were many statements of solidarity with France, given the recent “barbaric attacks by cowards.” Several presidents noted that terrorism and climate change are two of the biggest global challenges, and that climate change has the potential to magnify conditions that lead to conflict (drought, poverty, displacement of people, loss of homeland, etc.).

2) The leaders stated that they were hearing the voices of the people from around the planet and needed to respond with strong action to show that they are listening. They spoke of the need for an ambitious, legally binding agreement to keep the warming of the planet from going above 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

3) Leaders from developed countries shared specific examples of what they are already doing to mitigate their emissions, develop new technologies, etc. Can you imagine a sustainability “arms race” to outdo one another with clean energy and technology for a low carbon economy? In contrast, leaders of developing countries called for assistance with technology transfer, adaptation to the impacts of climate change, and funds to help them not only deal with the negative consequences of climate change, but also to help them develop sustainably along a clean energy/low carbon path.

4) Most of the presidents commented on the importance of protecting the planet for future generations, and to address inequities of the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Of the leaders I heard, none was more passionate about this than His Excellency Mr. János Áder, President of Hungary who pondered the conversation he would have with his grandchildren in 2030.

5) All of the heads of state referred to this historic moment, not only because of the unprecedented gathering of world leaders, but because of this being such a pivotal moment to enact change. Many noted that this agreement has to come to fruition now, as it may very well be our last chance to prevent irreversible planetary damage that will impact all of humanity. I am not prone to hyperbole; those were their words.

I was struck by the commonalities in the words of these different world leaders. It seemed to be such a sharp contrast from what we hear in the news – the focus on differences and disagreements. I was also struck by the sharp contrast from the messages I am getting from home (friends and family back home worried about our safety in Paris) versus what I was hearing from the dignitaries in the room who were much more worried about the safety and security of future generations. These are the glimmers of hope – that maybe, just maybe, these individuals will truly use this moment to lead.

I leave you with a series of screen shots – literally! It certainly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (See if you recognize some of these world leaders - just a sampling of the 150 who made statements today.)


  1. The few articles I have read are also very similar in their points. They all mention that the various leaders are trying to not let the global temperature increase above the 2 degree Celsius mark. Unity and cooperation are also stressed, however, some of the leaders, like the President of Palestine, are using this conference in different ways. The President spoke about climate change, but also called out Israel as working against Palestine. I sincerely hope that this conference amounts to something other than just a spoken word, and that our global leaders can work together for a monumental global goal.

  2. This experience seems amazing. Just hearing all of these world leaders speak in one day is in itself an experience, but to watch them come together and focus on such an important issue is something that I would have never imagined. I wish that they would come together in this same unified way to address other major issues, but this topic is important enough to start with. You said "Can you imagine a sustainability “arms race” to outdo one another with clean energy and technology for a low carbon economy?" I never thought of it , but since you mentioned it I am now thinking about it and excited to see how the next few months unfold, as these leaders take action in accomplishing their shared goal of preventing the temperature of the earth from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius.

    -Alicia Shull

  3. It is an amazing experience in itself that you are all able to see these world leaders speak in the same morning. What is even more amazing is that they are all coming together to accomplish the shared goal of preventing the temperature of the earth from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. I wish they would come together like this more often to address other serious issues, but climate change is such an important topic, and I am ecstatic that action and initiative is being taken to reduce the effects it will have on the planet as well as the population. You asked "Can you imagine a sustainability “arms race” to outdo one another with clean energy and technology for a low carbon economy?" I had never thought of this before, but since you mentioned it I am anxious to see how the next few months unfold, and if major changes are incorporated around the world in order to achieve this common goal.

  4. Brielle, there are indeed many agendas here as different countries, with very differing circumstances (political, social, and economic), come to the table. In a way, that is what makes these conferences fascinating and educational, but also what makes them frustrating to scientists!