by Christine Hou T’15
In a surprise change, Al Gore became a guest speaker at one of the plenary events on Tuesday in Paris. Nell, Patrick, and I were lucky enough to get in right before he started his speech to a packed house in Plenary La Loire.
His message was clear and appealed to the hearts and minds of the audience. In a series of charts that detailed the earth’s rising temperatures and historical weather events, Gore left little to the imagination of what our future would hold if global leaders continued with business as usual. He then began to illustrate the devastating impact on humanity that climate change brings. Stories of floods and droughts in both the developing and developed world filled the screen, with increasing frequency in recent years. To close, he implored the audience to commit more, and he stressed the momentum that COP21 would bring to the cause.
At first I wondered why he delivered the presentation he did at COP21, to an audience that no doubt already knew all he was reiterating, having flown from all corners of the world to do their part in ensuring a successful Paris negotiation.
But Al Gore’s speech was a breath of fresh air in a week that is bogged down in details. The panels I attended focused on fossil fuel subsidies, “common but differentiated responsibilities” and technical assistance, and on Europe’s nuclear energy future, China’s cap-and-trade system and Africa’s food security. Understanding the disparate pieces helps understand why Paris COP21 is, as Ban Ki-moon said, “the most complicated and difficult” negotiation. Al Gore’s speech, on the other hand, was a sharp reminder of the overarching reason why everyone convened in the first place. And it came at a time when nations refused to cross the red lines they’d drawn, only a few days before UNFCC had to push back the deadline to Saturday due to the inability for all parties to agree. It was a bold but perhaps well-timed reminder that, in light of the situation’s gravity, there may be no better time than Paris COP21 for negotiators to set aside national interests in favor of a global and binding deal.