Monday 30 November 2015

Notes from Paris - Day Two at the climate summit

Keeping my head warm in Paris.
Well, the United Nations climate summit known as COP21 is under way here in Paris, with world leaders speaking first to kick off the negotiations.

Eleven governments today, Monday, pledged nearly 250 million U.S. dollars towards support for vulnerable communities to adapt to climate change, and the ACT Alliance - for whom I am acting as an ambassador - said in a statement today that this signals hope for an ambitious agreement that will secure the planet’s future.

But let's first start from where I left off yesterday. I was interviewed by the OurVoices campaign, which is dedicated to "bringing faith to the climate talks". Sean Watkins, who interviewed me, is a delightful person so full of energy and hope and it was most encouraging to talk to him and get his sense of the issues and his enthusiasm for caring for people and planet. You can hear the interview on our SoundCloud channel, 7 minutes and 12 seconds into their daily podcast show.
With Al Jazeera.

Earlier, I had lunch together with the Moderator of the ACT Alliance, Sushant Agarwal, and the General Secretary, John Nduna, in a Chinese restaurant - of which there are a number around our hotel, so I have been eating good Chinese meals. At 3pm we got into an Uber to go to the conference centre, where John had a 4pm appointment and I had a commitment to an Al Jazeera interview. Unlike in Cape Town, where the Uber drivers all seem to know where to go, this one got a bit lost. But we got there on time, only to find that without a name and contact number for the journalists I was to meet, it would be difficult to find them among the 1,500 registered media people.

But by God's grace, a kind lady linked us up for the live interview at 4.20pm, and the Al Jazeera journalist challenged me by asking what I as a religious leader was bringing to the talks that was unique. I replied by listing values - of equity, justice, solidarity, accountability, transparency, compassion and care, versus greed and a a zero sum game approach.

We then moved to the main plenary hall, where we took observers' seats and listened to speeches, including impassioned appeals for a protocol to be reached at this session of the talks. The outgoing and incoming leaders of the talks all regretted the failures of the Copenhagen summit of 2009, and indicated that they were feeling the pressure of the Durban talks of 2011, stating that they had to fulfill the Durban mandate.

All the inputs were positive, pleading that the delegates should get on with negotiating a text over the next two weeks which would deliver an agreement. Then the chair presided over the preliminaries, setting out the agenda and procedures. Except for Venezuela and one other country raising questions, there were no major discussions and the agenda was adopted.

I had an "Oops" moment when I did not instantly recognize the South African ambassador while registering for transport! She was very warm and kind and asked whether I was "our South African Catholic bishop?" Somebody behind her yelled that they had seen me on the channel TV5 Monde, and I quickly corrected the ambassador and thanked her for spotting me, but had to rush off without being able to continue the conversation.

Today I said morning prayer alone in my hotel room. When I travel I miss saying the offices with the Bishopscourt community, as I often do when I am around at home. We are staying at an Ibis budget hotel and breakfast is croissants and fruit salad every day. Last night I bought bananas, skipped breakfast in favour of getting something at the conference centre kiosk in mid-morning.

The official opening was at 10am and, as I mentioned earlier, the heads of states made their speeches, indicating where their countries stood on the issue of a climate agreement. As many of you know, the challenge at climate talks is to prevent the earth's average surface temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above the level it was at before the industrial revolution began in the 19th century.

Many say that already the earth is 1 degree hotter than in the pre-industrial era, and today the Least Developed Country group, representing 48 countries most of which are in Central, East and West Africa, said it was not enough to aim for less than a 2-degree increase: we should be aiming at a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees, they said. 
President Obama in Paris.

Among those I listened to today were President Barack Obama, who said the world needed to take urgent action because, in his words, "the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other."

President Xi Jinping of China, the world's No 1 emitter, also spoke the right language, and I pray that will be followed up by the right action.

As the detailed discussion by the delegates of the nations of the world now begin, tomorrow will be my last day here. I am looking forward to coming home - it is real winter here, dark, the street lights are still on and I still can't see the sky until quite late in the morning.

God bless

†Thabo Cape Town 

Some more photos from Paris:

At right, Deborah Ikaroot, a member from the cycling caravan from Mozambique.

King Letsie III of Lesotho, second from left in the bottom row, was one of many heads of state who attended the talks.

And finally, below, the dance I wrote of yesterday, after I had handed a petition with 1.8 million signatures to Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:

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