There’s a lot of potential on a bus.
Choosing to sit alone when you first board the shuttle bus that takes those accredited can be a little scary. At first, you’re sitting, still kind of asleep, half-hoping that no one will sit next to you because really, the best thing would be to get to shut your eyes and ride out the bumper-to-bumper traffic in a dreamy haze.
But then, opportunities would fall to the wayside.
On the morning of December 10th, a lovely woman named Verona sat next to me. She works with UN Women, located in New York. The 10th was the day after Gender Day at the COP, so sitting next to her and getting to talk to her was a wonderful opportunity in and of itself. However, as we inched closer and closer to the bus during our stop-and-sometimes-go bus ride, she turned to me and asked, “what will you do when you get there this morning?”
Thinking about it for a moment, I said, “probably try to get into the overflow room so we can watch the Presidential Plenary.”
The Plenary, for those that don’t know, is a general “opening ceremonies” that is held at the COP every morning. The President of the COP always hosts it, and different guests and officials speak every day. At the Presidential Plenary, the president of Peru, Chile, and Columbia would be speaking. Because of this, it was considered a high-level event, and the only way to get in to the actual room would be with a ticket. However, with our ‘observer pass’ status, none of us could get tickets the day we had tried.
But Verona smiled at me. “I’ve got an extra ticket, if you’d like to go.” She paused, considering the time. “We’ll probably arrive just in time.”
Sure enough, with a bit of hurrying through security, we were just in time for the Plenary to begin.
The first to speak, after being properly introduced by the COP 20 President, was Ollanta Humala, the president of Peru. He touched on some of the many actions being taken here in Peru to fight climate change now. For example, he announced proudly that Peru would be donating $6 million dollars to the Green Climate Fund this was an announcement that was met with an uproarious applause from the audience. After passing the $10 billion mark already in the Green Climate Fund, the fact that we are surpassing that check point is beyond inspirational.
After him, president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, spoke. Chile has commited to reducing their emissions by 20% by 2020 (based off of 2007 emissions). They have also enacted a National Adaptation Plan, which not only includes 100+ actions to improve sustainability in their country, but also builds new avenues for generating information about environmental studies.
The third president to speak was the president of Columbia, Juan Manuel Santos. One of the biggest actions currently happening in Columbia is that they have committed to a zero net deforestation rate by 2020. Considering that most of the deforestation that currently happens in Columbia is illegal, this is an extremely complex issue beyond simply stopping deforestation. He also made a remark about how he was going to announce Columbia’s commitment of $4 million to the Green Climate Fund… but since Peru had already set the bar, he decided right then to up the ante to match the $6 million that Peru would be donating.
Once again, the crowd went wild.
Following the presidents, the ever-inspirational Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon took the floor. If you ever have the chance to hear this man speak, you must. He, and the three presidents, all had very inspirational and moving speeches – all four of these high-level officials saying many of the same thing about COP 20 and about where we must go if we hope to save our planet; if we hope to save lives.
All of these officials proclaimed that the negotiations (ending today) must have strong, decisive language that outlines clear goals. These goals must be legally-binding, and must align not just every nation, but everyone. It must align academia, the private sector, governments, working class and the rural poor; it must work towards every single person’s best interest, and it must work to save lives. It must set a solid foundation of a signed draft, so when COP 21 in Paris, France comes along, we will have something that is legally-binding, something that will make countries lower their greenhouse gas emissions, invest in the low-carbon economy, promote green innovation, and improve public health.
This legally-binding negotiation must create a world-wide alliance, the biggest in all of human history. Every single person can be brought together in our fight against the common enemy: climate change. This is imperative.
These three presidents and Mr. Secretary-General made it very clear. We must commit to action. We know one thing; time is not on our side. We cannot afford to put off a decision like this farther than Paris; in fact, all of them made it very clear that it is up to us—the people—to take action now. To urge our countries to act globally, to change the way we live in order to do what we can.
We can only hope that their actions match their big words.
Think about it. It may seem like as individuals, we are powerless – but climate change is directly affecting individuals. Which is why every single individual action against climate change, from now to 2015 and beyond, is important.