According to our hosts in Paris, the streets of the city are significantly less crowded due to the obvious lingering concern over the terrible attacks that occurred nearly three weeks ago. Everywhere one looks throughout the city, a very heavy military and police presence stands vigilant, particularly here in Le Bourget where the entry to the Summit is carefully controlled by security screenings and credentials required in advance of arrival.
Le Bourget, a township approximately 20 minutes northeast of Paris, is the focal point of activity during COP21. The actual conference facility is only accessible by shuttle buses from train stations and other designated sights. Our credentials come via our affiliate organization Green Cross International and provide us with observer status to most of the events, plenaries, and exhibits.
Yesterday, President Obama joined 140 other heads of state at this location to announce each country’s environmental experts’ positions on climate change. It is clear that everyone in attendance recognizes the significant impact of current climate change and its aftermath years from now, if no reduction of global warming materializes. However, as the world news media has been reporting, a definite apprehension looms over the ability of the leaders attending COP21 being able to reach an agreement on the proper actions needed to stop global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial era temperatures, the acknowledged point at which we will see exponentially more extreme weather events like heat waves and floods, polar ice melts, rising sea levels and increased ocean acidity.
The failure of prior summits stretching back to COP3, the Kyoto Protocol Climate Conference, reflects the inability of leaders of nations to bind themselves to targets and decisions which are either unattainable or unpopular with governing bodies at home. American officials entered the Paris conference having already decided to agree to non-binding goals and targets with the other major climate change supporters, under the notion that our own congress in its current configuration is unlikely to agree with any binding agreements of other nations. This model, while perhaps more practical, provides no guarantees and instead operates on the good faith efforts of countries to curb their greenhouse gas emissions.
Complicating the ability to reach some type of consensus on climate change is the ever-present dichotomy between developed countries that have had the benefit brought by the Industrial Revolution of already having modernized their economies through the use of dangerous fossil fuels and are now financially stable enough to adapt clean air strategies without hindering economic development, unlike developing countries like India, where 35 percent of its population still does has no access to energy whatsoever.
China, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions today, holds a very large presence here at the conference, and for the first time has recognized not only the significant deficit it offers to a clean environment, but also finally understands the health issues facing its citizens in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai; an embarrassing mirror of Los Angeles decades ago with actual smog alert warnings, since dropped with the introduction of emission curbs, the requirement of catalytic converters, and the move toward renewable energy.
While the biggest contributors to climate change, China, the US, India and Russia in descending order, recognize and support the importance of every country to develop carbon reduction plans, those countries contributing the least to global warming (mainly Island nations) are seeing their countries literally shrinking in size with the rise of sea levels. In other words, larger developed and developing countries account for the vast majority of climate change impact, and as such play a critical role in the outcome of these discussions and meetings; while smaller countries who damage our ecosystem the least are, through no fault of their own, dependent upon the decisions and outcomes reached by those previously mentioned nations.
Whatever the outcomes of this Summit, experts predict they will be insufficient at this stage to stop the two degree Celsius temperature rise. As Bill McKibben was recently quoted in the Los Angeles Times, the result of COP21 under the United Nations stated concession of an acceptable increase of 3.7 degrees Celsius will continue to keep
" …Earth’s ecosystems unstable.” As Mr. McKibben continued, "Paris is a placeholder until something stronger replaces it.”
Nonetheless, one can still keep faith for the future in light of this congregation of concerned nations, NGOs, and scientists gathered for the next two weeks in the great metropolis of Paris, France. If nothing else, perhaps the plethora of news coverage will draw much needed attention to this matter around the world, so that as global citizens, we will begin to demand a greater response from our elected leaders as well as make more conscious choices in our investments and purchases, accounting for the significant role any business plays in contributing to climate change.
COP21 becomes another important step in the process of increasing awareness of what many of us consider to be the greatest challenge facing the planet today... something we at Global Green have recognized going back to our work ten years ago post Katrina, and seven years after that, post Sandy.
Green building and design to lessen our carbon impact, coupled with resilient building and resilience and renewable energy systems such as our recent Solar for Sandy initiative, puts Global Green on the front lines of response to climate change. Our resiliency and mitigation projects in New Orleans and the Northeast US demonstrate our capacity to respond to climate change events now and in the future, particularly in those communities that are the most vulnerable; while at the same time, our presence here and throughout the year as advocates for climate change mitigation place our organization in the company of other crucial and influential NGOs leading the fight against climate change and model responses at the front of this important battle.
The presence of over 150 countries, hundreds of green businesses, non-profit environmental groups, and government agencies all together no doubt will become a catalyst for important information sharing, innovation, and strategies to address climate change. I am proud that Global Green USA is a part of this process during the next ten days here in Paris.