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Lima to Paris


The Lima UN climate conference has set the stage for governments to deliver a new universal climate change agreement in Paris, at the end of 2015. The new agreement is aimed at putting the world on track to a low-carbon, sustainable future while keeping a global temperature rise under 2 degrees C.

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The conference Our Common Future Under Climate Change took place in Paris last week and closed on Friday. Here is the speech delivered by Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, President of COP21, at the closing session of the UNESCO scientific conference.


IPCC Chair,
Co-Chairs of the ADP Group,
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

COP21 is to take place in less than 150 days here in Paris, or to be more precise – since I am speaking to an audience of scientists, I must be precise – in Le Bourget, a few kilometres from here.

Having left the Iranian nuclear negotiations in Austria this afternoon and before returning there this evening, I wanted very much to be here for the conclusion of your proceedings. Because, on the road taking us to COP21, your meeting is a stage that is doubly important. Firstly, in scientific terms: your meeting, the largest gathering of the scientific community before the Paris event, has enabled us to deepen our knowledge of global warming, its effects and the solutions we can bring to it. It is also important politically: you are sending out a further call to action to the world’s leaders. The expression “a booster shot” has been used: I am pleased to have you as allies in this, because this is a field in which several injections are considerably more effective than just one. 

This conference is therefore a remarkable initiative and I congratulate its organizers, including Mr Jouzel and Mr Le Treut. Both have been kind enough to agree to attend the meetings I chair each month for the preparation of COP21 – what we have called the “steering committee” – and their informed opinions have been of great use for us. 

I wish to salute all the scientists present here, coming from over 100 countries and representing every scientific discipline. Your mobilization has generated extensive exchanges of views, especially due to the presence of many representatives of the countries of the South. I salute all the other participants: elected representatives, managers of companies and NGOs, and private citizens, in addition to the media, acting as a highly useful channel for communication of our discussions. Your presence demonstrates that action for our planet is everybody’s business.  

Ladies and gentlemen, 

In the fight against global warming, one of the great causes for our generation –even the greatest perhaps given that it predetermines many others – the role of scientists has been and continues to be fundamental. 

Firstly, in terms of establishment of the facts. It is to scientists, to you, that the world owes its entry into what Jean Jouzel has called the “time of certainties”. 

Indeed, the time when the reality of climate change and its human origins were denied, including in France, is finished. The merit for this goes to the whole of the scientific community, and first and foremost to the IPCC, which has done exceptional work since being set up in 1988. Its reports have struck a useful blow against climate denial. Its diagnostic conclusions are now unchallenged. Through their quality and their integrity you have ensured that they have become unchallengeable. Rarely has the positive effect of the scientific spirit and research work been as sharply defined. You have made climate denial indefensible, climate fatalism irresponsible and, this is my hope, climate action unavoidable. 

But before that, you were obliged to confront doubts, criticisms, accusations – not all of which were guided solely by a concern for scientific truth. The rigorous character of your work has won the day. Today, in negotiations, the reality of climate change and its human origins are no longer seriously called into doubt: they have become an established truth. That victory, ladies and gentlemen, is your victory. 

Looking beyond the establishment of the facts, the scientific community has played and is still playing a key warning role. The IPCC’s reports are no longer content to analyse the causes of warming and to offer a diagnostic analysis of the situation; they are a call for a global awakening in that they define the three sides of the basic triangle of climate knowledge: the first side – the consequences of inaction would be irreversible and devastating; the second side – it is still possible to take action; the third side – action is urgent. 

Indeed, it is thanks to science that we know that warming by 3°, 4° or even 5°C – which corresponds to the inaction scenario – would result in a planet full of danger. It is thanks to science that we know that the effects of climate change would be more violent for certain regions of the world, but that no region would be spared. It is thanks to science that we know that the cost of an absence of decision would be exorbitant, especially for the poorest among us. 

And finally, I wish to emphasize the crucial role of scientists, your role in the solutions. Science has enabled us to move beyond the “Should we act?” debate; it provides the keys to answer “How should we act?”

It is scientists who indicate for us the path to be followed to keep warming below 1.5° or 2°C. Specifically, we know that meeting that target requires us to ensure that global emissions peak during the present decade, to reduce them by between 40% and 70% over the period 2010 to 2050, and to arrive at “carbon neutrality” in the second half of the century. 

It is also scientists who involve themselves in designing and subsequently evaluating concrete solutions for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to the effects of climate change. During this conference, you have, across all your fields, demonstrated that the science that warns us about the climate is also increasingly the science that provides solutions for the planet.

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Knowledge, yes, but knowledge for action. It is imperative that COP21 arrives at an agreement in December – and an agreement commensurate with the challenge of the climate. Our goal is to arrive at a “Paris Alliance” comprising four objectives, four pillars. I would like, as President of this COP, to tell you in a few words where we are today on this. 

1. The first pillar must be the agreement itself, one that is universal and legally binding. That agreement must be fair, by which I mean that it must provide for efforts that are differentiated according to country, go hand in hand with financial and technological solidarity for the poorest countries, and take greater account of the effects of climate change. The agreement must be sustainable, and must neither ignore the period up to 2020 nor stop suddenly in 2030; it must include immediate action and be open to extension because it is not possible for us to renegotiate the common rules and principles every ten years. It will need therefore to include a “review mechanism” that regularly invites States to assess the initial commitments and upgrade them. Indeed, a sustainable agreement is a necessary condition for an ambitious agreement: COP21 must be more than simply an achievement; it must also and above all be a point of departure for a further period and a renewed effort. 

In this respect, the discussions are making progress but, as I had occasion to say recently at the United Nations in New York, they must be speeded up. That is why, in addition to the important work done by the ADP, I will be organizing several meetings of the ministers of forty or so countries representative of the parties as a whole in order to identify compromises on the five or six topics that can be resolved only at the political level. I shall be chairing the first of these meetings on 20-21 July next in Paris. 

2. The second objective is the presentation by all countries, before the COP even takes place, of their “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs. For the first time in the history of climate negotiations, all States have undertaken to give commitments on the reduction of their greenhouse gas emissions. Over forty countries have already submitted their contributions, including, recently, China, which made its commitments public here in fact in Paris last week. More than half of global emissions are now covered. The process of publishing national contributions has led to a few disappointments but also to some pleasant surprises. 

I invite you to take the opportunity provided by INDC preparation and publication to make your influence felt in national debates, for example by evaluating the feasibility of targets, by foreseeing the consequences of the policies announced, by assessing the fit between adaptive policies and expected impacts for individual countries, and by presenting alternative scenarios. Your scientific expertise is invaluable for the work being done – in many cases for the first time – by governments. 

Publication of contributions is still far from complete but many – particularly among you – already fear that the sum of those commitments will not allow us to keep the warming of the planet under 2°C. In the lead-up to COP21 we will continue to ensuring that the goal is as ambitious as possible, but if that fear proves well founded, would that make the Conference pointless? Absolutely not! Quite the contrary. It is precisely my wish, as I have said, that in December we should adopt a sustainable and dynamic agreement that will enable us to get back in stages, based on many actions, on a trajectory compatible with what science recommends. 

3. The third pillar is formed by those actions that require financial and technological resources. On Monday next I shall be in Addis Ababa to discuss development financing. Where the climate is concerned – the two domains are not unconnected – we need to guarantee fulfilment of the commitment given in Copenhagen in 2009 to raise every year over the period to 2020, as a priority for the benefit of the poorest and most vulnerable countries, 100 billion dollars in public and private finance – part of which will be channelled through the Green Climate Fund. More generally, we must put in place the rules and incentives for a radical redirection of public and private financial flows towards a low-carbon economy. Positive signs do exist but once again they need to be amplified further. At a time when rating agencies are beginning to take the financial aspects of “climate risk” into consideration, when major investment funds are deciding to divest from coal, when increasing numbers of leaders are considering practical ways to ensure more funding for innovation, when certain groups in the oil industry are themselves asking for a carbon price to be set, when more and more countries are reducing their subsidies to fossil fuels, this means that things are moving positively in that direction. 

4. The fourth and last pillar – and this is a novelty in climate negotiations – is the mobilization of non-State actors: local government, private enterprise, non-profit associations, civil society. What we have termed the “Agenda of Solutions”. Since the New York Summit held in September 2014 by the United Nations Secretary General, more and more actors are developing “exemplary” climate initiatives. COP20 in Lima last December put forward a “Lima-Paris Action Agenda”. Today, in conjunction with Peru, the United Nations Secretary General and the secretariat of the Climate Convention, we are encouraging all these actors to go further, to structure their approaches and to enhance their reach by using what is called the NAZCA Portal. Such commitments are essential for effective action. They do not replace action taken by States; they reinforce it. And it is the sum total of all these individual actions that will enable us to achieve the objective.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You have chosen “Our common future under climate change” as the title for your Conference. And that is exactly what is at stake here – our common future. Our future is menaced by a global threat. Global in its scale, because no region of the world would escape the consequences of inaction. Global in its effects, because climate disruption would have dreadful consequences for the environment and for biodiversity, as well as for public health, poverty, development, security and peace. 

It is a threat you have announced and documented. You have warned the world’s leaders, you have called on them to take action, and swiftly. Today, your message is being heard everywhere, probably more than at any time in recent decades. I want to thank you for your work, to congratulate you on your mobilization, to assure you that we will do everything possible to avoid disappointing you in Paris in December, and to encourage you to continue your efforts. 

Because the tribute I wish to make to you, one that finds a totally legitimate expression here in UNESCO, is a tribute I offer to all science, all sciences. The fight against climate change needs all sciences: climatologists, glaciologists, ecologists, biologists, oceanographers, statisticians, economists, town planners, geographers, physicists, specialists in space science, agronomists, doctors, geostrategists, political scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, historians and philosophers, because both human sciences and hard sciences – which are not inhuman – and every – or almost every – science, and every researcher has to provide input to arrive at diagnostic conclusions, establish prognoses and put forward solutions.

What is a responsible leader? A responsible leader is someone who must provide answers. Political leaders must provide answers based on your expertise. Your mission will continue to be essential in the years to come because it will be your task to continue contributing to the solutions: the construction of tomorrow’s new, decarbonized world is dependent in large part on you. You have shown in the work you have done for many years and in recent days, including the final declaration you have just adopted, that you are determined to work towards that goal. 

We will therefore meet again in Paris at COP21. I will ensure that science has a place of honour at that Conference. Its place will be central because that is the place it deserves.

Thank you.


You can read the speech in French on the conference website.

Photo credits: Parti Socialiste, Flickr

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