COP21 is not just another international gathering, it is a collective opportunity to take action to limit the threats of climate change while we can. As French President François Hollande said in his Manila call to action on climate change, “We hope to make history together in Paris in December and not simply watch history unfold.”
In a way, history is already being written here in France. COP21 is the biggest diplomatic event that the country has ever hosted, with 150 heads of state present the day it opened, followed by a hundred government ministers from all over the world and an estimated 40,000 participants throughout the two weeks. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres even announced that the opening day of COP21 was the “largest gathering of heads of state ever under one roof in one day.”
So far, the COP21 French Presidency, led by Laurent Fabius, who is also the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, has received much praise, such as from former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who declared to journalists: “Monsieur Fabius est incroyable [is incredible]. All the delegations are saying that the French Presidency is spectacular. None of these meetings has been as well organized. We’ll know more at the conclusion, but everyone is impressed.”
At this stage, all eyes are on the French Presidency team, which has been exceptionally good at keeping everything and everyone on schedule and on pace. Midway through COP21, the French Presidency was handed, as planned, a draft text that is now being negotiated by government ministers. Expressing his determination to show personal leadership, Fabius said in a plenary speech this weekend: “We’re talking about life itself. I intend to muster the experience of my entire life to the service of success for next Friday.”
Another major piece of the puzzle is to engage business and civil society to build sufficient momentum outside of the “Blue Zone”—the official negotiations arena—so that the confidence inside diplomatic circles is high enough to play in favor of a unanimous adoption of the text.
The concrete actions to honor all these commitments take the form of four complementary pillars developed by the French Presidency, which are at the basis of a Paris Agreement. Here is the status, mid-COP:
- A new legal agreement on climate: The French Presidency announced that “the objective is to have, by Wednesday, a first overview of the final agreement,” and to do so, has created a “Comité de Paris” (Paris Committee) composed of climate “musketeers” (in Fabius’ words). The groups are made up of ministers charged with conducting informal consultations to tackle thorny issues, ensuring progress on the agreement text and facilitating compromise when needed.
- INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) from every single country sharing its commitment on climate: As tracked by the NGO Carbon Brief, to date, 186 out of the 196 UNFCCC parties have submitted national climate action plans, representing 98.5 percent of territorial emissions. Only 10 parties, representing 1.5 percent of territorial emissions, have yet to submit.
- A finance package to support the efforts of developing countries: Many donor countries have announced climate finance to support low-carbon development during COP, including US$10.6 billion from Japan for one year, and 2.65 billion Canadian dollars from Canada over five years. They are joined by a pledge from China of US$60 billion in finance for development (not just climate) in Africa over three years. France previously increased its climate finance pledge to € 5 billion per year by 2020. These are unlikely to be the last pledges made during COP. More importantly, a strong Paris deal will itself be a finance package, stimulating the real economy by signaling the inevitability of a low-carbon future to businesses and investors, who will then mobilize trillions of dollars to build a thriving, clean economy.
- The “Agenda of Solutions,” or the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, demonstrating the commitment of non-state actors: The December 5 “Action Day” was the high point of the eight-day cycle of COP21 events. Last Saturday, the private sector called for more action for a low-carbon economy, and Fabius invited companies to “commit to mitigation or adaptation actions or sign up to a ‘transformational initiative’ organized by several major organizations and coalitions.”
As overheard earlier this year in the corridors of the Bonn UNFCCC session in June, the political, economic, and moral momentum for a strong climate agreement have never been this strong.
The private sector has been building momentum with many announcements proving the economic case for business action. For example, the We Mean Business “Take Action” program has engaged more than 500 companies and investors to make a commitment on one or more of 11 initiatives.
Earlier this year, the G7 Summit Leaders Declaration, announcing engagement on the “decarbonization of the economy,” and, in November, G20 leaders calling for “effective, strong, and collective action,” showed the unprecedented international political will to act.
On the religious side, leaders have also taken positions: Pope Francis recognized “manmade climate change” and called for action in his Encyclical, Muslim leaders published the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, and Jewish religious leaders a rabbinic letter on the climate crisis.
The COP21 French Presidency merits strong support, notably from business leaders who can advocate for a strong Paris Agreement through their own channels. After all, they will be key implementation partners of the text that comes out of Paris.
There is reason, today, to be optimistic that the French will be successful in spurring a 2015 Paris treaty. After the hardships that Paris has been through, this is the opportunity for France to show the world how strong and resilient it is, dedicated to the betterment of our common future. Let’s hope that the agreement will resonate throughout history like another Paris treaty that, in the aftermath of World War II, established lasting diplomatic stability and economic prosperity in Western Europe.