The Meaning of Paris: Hope

December 18, 2015 | 6:54 am
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

Wow, the Paris Agreement! By now, you’ve read the headlines and, perhaps, many of the analyses deconstructing the details of the Paris Agreement. This post is not about all that. I’m going to share what Paris means to me, from the heart (mostly), not the head.

Why the Paris Agreement gives me hope

Last Saturday evening, as we saw the gavel come down on the adoption of the Paris Agreement, I found myself moved to tears. Tears of joy, relief, exhaustion… coupled with a huge smile. Later, there was lots of hugging and happy high-fives.

This is what hope looks like at a time when we have waited too long, when climate impacts are already unfolding in scary ways, when the world seems so politically fractured—and yet, almost by some kind of miracle, finally, we have a global agreement that promises to get us all moving in the same direction.

It’s not perfect. But we have a solid foundation to build on. Businesses and investors know that we are now oriented toward a low-carbon economy, and that we will come back again and again to this international forum to make sure countries are doing all they can to get us on that path. Meanwhile, the great news is that the costs of wind and solar energy are falling dramatically, so countries will be able to commit to going further quicker every time they reconvene.

Peoples Climate March, NY City, September 2014. Credit: Robert van Waarden

Peoples Climate March, New York City, September 2014. Photo: Robert van Waarden/Flickr

We’ll have to make sure that climate justice is integral to progress on climate change. Wealthier countries will need to marshal money and resources to help developing countries get on a low carbon pathway and cope with serious climate impacts.

But finally we have exorcised the ghosts of Copenhagen. We have shown that 195 countries can come together and put aside their narrow interests in service of the global good.

And we made this happen! “We”—a very diverse coalition of environmental, business, faith, scientific, justice, labor, political (and many many more) groups around the world—did it. Our political leaders committed in Paris because they know they are ultimately answerable to us and our undeniable demand for climate action.

COP President, Laurent Fabius, gavels the Paris Agreement, Dec. 12, 2015

COP21 President, Laurent Fabius, gavels the Paris Agreement, Dec. 12, 2015

There is lots of work ahead to make this agreement real, to actually bring all that clean energy on line, to help eradicate poverty and close the energy gap, to help the most vulnerable people cope with climate impacts.

But to everyone who helped make the Paris Agreement happen, I want to say:  let’s take moment to savor this victory. It’s going to be a long fight to get everything we need and want. We need to bask a bit in the emotional lift of moments like this to build back stronger, to keep our heads clear, to set our sights far.

What inspired me in Paris

There were lots of lofty words and inspirational speeches made in Paris. Here are two pieces that have stayed with me.

The words of eighteen year-old Selina Leem, from the island of Majuro in the Marshall Islands, so powerfully delivered in a steady voice at the final plenary:

“This agreement is for those of us whose identity, whose culture, whose ancestors, whose whole being, is bound to their lands.

I have only spoken about myself and my islands but the same story will play out everywhere in the world. If this is a story about our islands, it is a story for the whole world.

Sometimes when you want to make a change, then it is necessary to turn the world upside down. Because it is not for the better, but it is simply for the best.

This Agreement should be the turning point in our story; a turning point for all of us.”

And a quote from Nelson Mandela, delivered as part of the remarks of the Environment Minister from South Africa at the closing plenary:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

We have many more hills to climb in our quest for climate action and climate justice. But let’s take a moment to rest first, to rest with a feeling of hope.

100 percent future

A 100% renewable energy future. Photo: Yann Caradec/Flickr