Paris Climate Conference

In light of the recent terror attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13, the Paris Climate Conference (also known as COP21) is an opportunity for world leaders to demonstrate strength and unity by ratifying an international climate agreement. In response to the attacks, President Barack Obama said, “This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”[i]

One could argue that, like terrorism, climate change is an international security threat that pervades all borders. Climate change is not just an attack on the people of Maldives or Bangladesh – both countries are likely to be inundated in the imminent future by rising sea levels –, but climate change poses a threat to all of humanity and the universal values we share. For the Maldives Ambassador, unless the COP21 produces a legally binding agreement, many will view the conference as a “major failure.” No one hopes that “Paris will almost certainly fail” as some have predicted, nor does anyone want to anticipate the aftermath “if Paris is seen as a failure.”[ii]

The COP21 is of critical importance to the environmental community because of its potential to establish a legally-binding international agreement committing its participants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to author and foreign affairs specialist Robert D. Kaplan, the environment is more than just a scientific claim or partisan issue. “It is time to understand ‘the environment’ for what it is: the national security issue of the early twenty-first century,” said Kaplan.[iii] The Paris Climate Conference is climatologists’ answered prayer to establish an international consensus on addressing climate change. In early December of 2015, this two-day conference will, “for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.”[iv] Yet for policymakers, citizens following worldwide, and even millennials, who may not believe in anthropogenic climate change, there are still valid reasons to think seriously about this climate conference:

1. The Paris Climate Conference is an opportunity for the United States to regain ground as a global leader and redeem itself for not joining the Kyoto Protocol.

2. In light of the recent Paris attacks, the COP21 is an opportunity for the international community to unite against terror and over the joint fight against climate change.

By committing a reduction in carbon emissions, the United States has the potential to set the standard at the Paris Climate Conference for economically developed countries, and thus redeem themselves for their lack of participation in past environmental initiatives. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore Jr. brought climate change to the minds of many Americans through his Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. “We have everything we need to get started,” Gore said, “with the possible exception of the will to act.”[v] One of the major ways the United States can act is by committing to a legally-binding agreement at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, unless the Kyoto Protocol of two decades ago repeats itself. After “intense negotiations,” a handful of countries did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol treaty, including the United States.[vi] At the time, leaders in the U.S. Senate condemned the Kyoto Protocol as a “flawed treaty,” and President George W. Bush called the treaty “ineffective, inadequate, and unfair to America.”[vii] Bush argued that the treaty would severely damage the U.S. economy; by not ratifying the treaty, the U.S. could grow the economy and, at the same time, improve the environment through technology.[viii]

Looking back at Kyoto, the United States looked self-interested and cowardly by not ratifying the treaty; our country has become more passionate about addressing climate change since Kyoto, and the COP21 is our nation’s opportunity for redemption. According to the Pew Research Center, a global median of 67 percent of participants say that in order to reduce the effects of climate change, people will have to make major changes in their lives. A median of just 22 percent believe technology can solve this problem without requiring major changes,[ix] which contrasts to Bush’s comments in the early 2000s. Even in the U.S., a country known for its technological innovations, 66 percent of participants believe people will need to significantly alter their lifestyles.[x] Thus, citizens in the U.S. are aware that it will take individual participation to partake in a global environmental initiative; if the U.S. commits to reducing its carbon emissions at the COP21, it seems that according to this Pew Research poll, more Americans than anticipated will be ready to join.

In a statement on November 11, 2015, Secretary-General Ki-moon said, “Helping people in need should not be a zero-sum game.”[xi] The hope is that the United States’ representatives at the COP21 do not view a climate change agreement in terms of economic gains or losses, but as, first, a moral duty to preserve the future our nation and aid our fellow countries who are suffering from the effects of climate change and, second, an act of respect to the city of Paris and our allies in this time of terror. Just as concerned citizens from around the world have expressed their support of Paris during this difficult time – via profile pictures, social media campaigns, candlelit vigils, and more – we can also support the beautiful city by voicing support for the Paris Climate Conference. If millennials write to their respective members of Congress, use social media to inform their friends and follow the COP21, and participate in the Fast for the Climate on December 1, then we can mobilize national support for the United States and President Obama to set the tone for an international climate agreement.

Featured Image: Allies Day, May 1917 by Childe Hassam, National Gallery of Art

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

[i] Melanie Garunay, “President Obama Offers a Statement on the Attacks in Paris,” WhiteHouse.gov, November 13, 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/13/watch-president-obamas-statement-attacks-paris.

[ii] Jennifer Jacquet and Dale Jamieson, “Here’s What to Hope for From the Paris Climate Talks,” Grist, October 13, 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, http://grist.org/climate-energy/heres-what-to-hope-for-from-the-paris-climate-talks/.

[iii] Dan Caldwell and Robert E. Williams Jr., Seeking Security in an Insecure World, (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), 227.

[iv] “COP – What’s it all about?” Sustainable Information Forum 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.cop21paris.org/about/cop21.

[v] Mark A. Boyer, Natalie F. Hudson, and Michael J. Butler, Global Politics: Engaging a Complex World (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013), 470.

[vi] Boyer, Hudson, and Butler, Global Politics, 477-478.

[vii] Ibid, 478.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Bruce Stokes, Richard Wike, and Jill Carle, “Global Concern about Climate Change, Broad Support for Limiting Emissions,” Pew Research Center, November 5, 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/11/05/global-concern-about-climate-change-broad-support-for-limiting-emissions/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=climate_us.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Proposed Reductions in Development Aid,” UN.org, November, 11 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=9239.

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