COP21: Conference of Hope

PARIS – The biggest climate conference officially begins on November 29 in France with more than 40,000 individuals including negotiators from countries and civil society groups expected to attend. The Conference of Parties (COP) 21 is happening six years after the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen to have a legally binding agreement in place when the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2020.

The importance of having a legally binding agreement that would ensure all countries take climate action cannot be more stressed. The world has changed a lot in the last six years. We have seen extreme weather events such as typhoon Haiyan and typhoon Patricia. We have seen extreme droughts. We have seen extreme heat waves. We have seen displacement and migration because of sinking islands. And if there’s one thing that we can no longer deny, it is that climate change is here and the time to act is now.

Yes, we have heard this before and somehow the sense of urgency has become banal. But when we talk about thousands of lives lost because of climate change impacts; when we see dead bodies, floating houses, dry lands; when we start to fear the rain and the sea — then there is no such thing as banal. The issue of survival is not cliché.

Year after year for the past two decades, countries have kept on talking without acting. Many have become critical of the COP because while high-level officials debate over the use of “should” or “shall” in a sentence, people are simply trying to survive in other parts of the world. Notably, the COP19 in Warsaw happened at the same time typhoon Haiyan made its landfall in the Philippines. But Warsaw disappointed, with civil society groups walking out in the middle of the conference.

With negotiators who seem to live inside a bubble, many have called the conference hypocritical and a farce. But Paris seems to give us hope. We have not seen as much momentum in countries wanting to come up with a legally binding agreement as we see today. China and US, two of the biggest polluters, came up with a joint climate statement in September emphasizing their individual commitments to a successful climate agreement in Paris. In June, the G7 countries agree to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century. Most recently, the UK became the first major economy to put a date on the phaseout of coal power.

We know words are not enough to measure the sincerity of countries in committing to solve the climate crisis. We also know that current country pledges are not enough to keep us below 2 degrees of warming. Developing countries still have much to fight for. There is still much work to be done in the next two weeks. And we know that whatever countries agree to in these negotiations will just be the beginning of a more difficult road ahead after Paris.

But today is not the day we lose hope. Today is the day we put our trust once again in the process, hoping that in the next two weeks, leaders will come out of the conference with a strong signed agreement. There will be difficult battles ahead but the fight for a climate agreement is the fight for all impacted people, for all those who have suffered and are suffering because of climate change, for women, for indigenous peoples, for children, for every single person now living in a world of uncertainty.

Today we will hold leaders accountable and we say to them: we are here and we are watching. Do not fail us. Do not fail humanity.


Article originally published at Interaksyon.