The United Nations climate talks started today in Paris. Heads of state of almost one hundred fifty countries started the talks with brief statements. But while the words of Barack Obama, Francois Hollande and Ban Ki Moon stole the headlines with messages of solidarity and optimism, what were the leaders of the rest of the world, including many countries on the front line of the climate crisis, saying? Here’s a few sentiments that really should have made it into the headlines today.
Evo Morales, Bolivia’s leader, didn’t hold back when he warned that if we carry on down our current path we are doomed to disappear. Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti, said developed countries must set an example by drastically reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Growth and economic wealth will be worth nothing in the face of climate change.
Mr. Baron D. Waqa of Nauru insisted that small island states will be among the first to pay the price of climate change, but reminded us that everyone will pay sooner or later. He concluded quite poetically by noting ‘We have come to Paris in solidarity with the people of France. Let us leave in solidarity with each other.’ President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, acknowledged that Fiji has offered to accommodate the people of Kiribati if climate change renders their home uninhabitable!
Tuvalu called for an urgent transformation to a fossil free world economy. Bulgaria echoed this by saying that the Paris agreement should catalyze the transformation of the global economy
Niger, with a sobering perspective on the scale of the problem, said that the 2 degree global temperature rise we’re almost certainly heading for, actually means a 3.5 degrees rise across Africa and a stunning 5 degrees in Niger.
Canada’s new Prime Minister was quick to grab the spotlight. He said what many wanted to hear: He plans to work with indigenous people who know how to care for the planet.
But let’s come full circle. President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of getting the vulnerable countries the support they need. From what we’ve read above, this sounds like countries need ambition to keep down temperature, both financial and technological help to prepare for possible disasters, and ready assistance if disaster does strike. But Obama wasn’t done. He went on to say that targets for emissions reduction should not “be set for each of us but by each of us”. Seems harmless? Between these words is one of the most dangerous trends of these talks – that countries, especially rich ones, should not be required to do anything by an international treaty, but instead should be able to suggest whatever action suits them. A treaty without real commitments is not a treaty.