Both French President Francois Hollande and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made extremely fervent opening speeches in support for the COP21. The two speeches stressed the leaders’ high expectations from the representatives of the more than 150 nations gathered in Paris. A new and surprising objective was suggested by Hollande: to bring the maximum temperature increase by the end of the century limit down to 1.5ºC from the 2ºC central to this conference. This extremely ambitious objective, an audacious bet in fact, has been echoed by the developing countries. In the developed world, only environmentalists were mentioning that low number, prior to this meeting. What that would mean in terms of emissions is not entirely clear except what is known from model results. A complete elimination of fossil fuels usage would bring the temperature to 1.3º by the end of the century. So a 1.5ºC objective would correspond to a dramatic reduction of emissions (more than 90%) very soon, essentially now.
Francois Hollande started his presentation by stating that it was in the name of Climate Justice that he was talking. Climate Justice is a new word for a head of state in the developed world. Prior to this meeting it was heard in the mouth of either civil society representatives or by representatives of the developing countries.
President Hollande listed three main objectives for this COP21. Among them he mentioned the design of a credible trajectory to achieve the 2ºC and even 1.5ºC, with a regular evaluation of progress every five years. He emphasized the need to come up with a universal agreement that offers a response that will bring nations together, even as there is differentiation of actions among countries according to their means. He insisted that no territory should be left alone to face climate change and presented himself as a spokesperson for the nations that are at risk of disappearing, like small island nations. It is clear that everyone must play a role. The developed countries must assume their responsibility, the emerging countries must accelerate their energy transition and the developing countries must be accompanied in their adaptation to climate change. And very importantly, resources must be freed and assurance given on the origin and accessibility of these funding sources.
Hollande enjoined all societies to start acting now. In the last few years, the situation has changed he said and this is the key for success of the present climate challenge. Many actors are ready to modify their behavior. It is possible, now, to progressively introduce a price for carbon and start a discussion on the damages inflicted to the planet. But to solve the climate crisis good intentions are not enough. It is a profound mutation that is needed. We can no longer consider nature as an inexhaustible reservoir of resources. This transformation is not only a moral imperative; it is also a worldwide opportunity.
Hollande ended his speech with: “What is at stake here is peace”.
Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon started his speech by making it clear that this is a special political moment and a moment that may not come again. He sees four criteria for success:
1) The durability of the agreement: durability is important as it would send a clear signal to markets that the low-emissions transformation of the global economy is inevitable, beneficial and already under way.
2) The dynamics of the agreement: The agreement must be able to accommodate changes in the global economy and not have to be continually renegotiated. Differentiation can and should be applied in a varied manner across the many elements of the agreement, in a way that does not undermine the integrity of the collective effort. The agreement must strike a balance between the leadership role of developed countries and the increasing responsibility of developing countries, in line with their capabilities and respective levels of development.
3) The solidarity the agreement embodies with the poor and most vulnerable. It must ensure sufficient and balanced adaptation and mitigation support for developing countries.
4) The credibility: Currently submitted intended emission limitations must be the floor, not the ceiling, for future efforts.
Talking to the delegates he also stated: “this is a pivotal moment for the future of your countries, your people and our common home. You can no longer delay. The transition has begun. Enlightened investors and innovative businesses are striving to create a climate-friendly economy. But they need your help in accelerating this essential shift.”
Ban Ki-Moon also recognized the influence of the civil society noting that the peoples of the world are also on the move. They have taken to the streets, in cities and towns across the world, in a mass mobilization for change.
These two speeches gave a tone of urgency and responsibility to all parties to these negotiations. Let’s hope that the negotiators will follow such strong suggestions by these two leaders and that these are not only words people want to hear.