Today was the opening of COP21. I knew beforehand that this was a significant moment in time, but nothing prepared me for what I experienced today. Despite the terrorist attacks, France has held strong and the convention has continued in the hope of creating a better and more sustainable future for all. It is incredible to be surrounded by countless strangers all longing and working towards similar ends as you. Beyond that, there is nothing like sitting in an enormous room full of heads of state and listening to the representatives give their remarks as to why we must come together to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Granted, I did not have the ability to hear the statements of all the world leaders who were present. It is impossible to split yourself in half in order to be in the two plenary rooms these high-level delegates were in. I did however, pick up on a few recurring themes:
- We must act now: Some see this as the last chance we have to make a difference, or that if we miss this, we will be past the point of no return. Others view it as a fresh start, or as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, "You are here to write the script of a new future."
- The COP21 Agreement must be legally binding and fair: There are more things on the list of criterion for a successful agreement, but legally binding and fair were by far the most common principles. We must hold each other accountable, be inclusive, have transparency, and allow for flexibility in an ever-changing world.
- Acting on climate change is a moral obligation: We know the science behind climate change: how it works, why it is happening, what can (and likely will) happen, and what we can do. It is the standard and highly credible argument for mitigation and adaptation. What is not argued as often or taken as seriously is the ethical argument. Here we had many world leaders calling climate action a moral obligation. We owe it to ourselves, the people surrounding us, and our fellow human beings around the world to save this planet. We owe it to our friends and families. We owe it to future generations.
It occurs to me that an awful lot of time and energy is wasted over not being able to get over our differences. The President of Senegal asked an important question, "Are we prepared to get over our national egos?" Every nation may not agree exactly on how to approach climate change, but it is clear to me that despite those differences, we have core values that are quite similar. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate how we view this problem. Instead, perhaps it is time that we see it as an opportunity.
Tears were brought to my eyes as the world leaders made their remarks. They informed us of their nations efforts against climate change, shared expectations they hold for the world as a whole, and acted as inspiration for a new future. What impacted me most was the stories of how climate change directly affects their nations. It struck me that nearly every world leader was present and making a case for humanity to come together in a time of need. It cannot be denied that this is real. It cannot be denied that this is global. It is crucial for us to act now.