A Script for a New Future

“We shall write a script for a new future” stated UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the Opening Ceremony of the Leaders Day on 30 November. Just before, he had commemorated the victims of terror with a minute of silence.

An agreement will be concluded – this was the united message of all speakers. The presence of observers was strictly limited. Only 100 precious “Greencards” were issued as a supplement to the ordinary COP badges for admission to the Heads of States segment. Because of security concerns, NGOs were instructed that spontaneous action in that special segment would not be welcomed.

ICLEI’s Secretary General Gino van Begin and Yunus Arikan, Head of Global Policy and Advocacy, attended the unprecedented gathering of heads of state. Never before in the history of the UN have 150 heads of states come together for one session, bringing all their transformative power to bear. It may shape the contours of our century, as Barack Obama put it.

The session contained a huge share of global leaders. Just to give an impression: Ban Ki-Moon, Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel and Wladimir Putin within just 90 minutes! The organizers had split the long list of speakers into two parallel plenary sessions and had rigidly limited the speaking times for each head of state.

This will be a COP of no surprises, Christiana Figueres had signaled in a previous briefing to NGO representatives. The heads of state expressed their desire to conclude an agreement, along with the need for ambition, transparency and joint action. They also emphasized their understanding of the special situation and the needs of developing countries, which require the financial support of developed countries and strategies to cope with the risks generated by climate damage and climate poverty. “Cooperation before conflict” was the motto.

It was US President Barack Obama who made it clear that COP21 would define the contours of our century. The first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last to be able to do something about it should not give room to cynism, but should root hope in collective action, Obama stated. Both Barack Obama and Russia’s Wladimir Putin highlighted that a low-emissions future can be consistent with prosperous economies. Putin also set a focus on forest conservation.

China’s Xi Jinping added that an agreement should encourage both broad participation and the transfer of technologies to developing countries. He spoke of a community for the shared future of mankind. Jinping announced that China has placed $20 billion into a South-South Fund, and has developed 100 new projects as well as 1,000 training opportunities with developing countries. He explicitly mentioned that he would pursue the agenda of no-carbon and smart cities.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the ambition of the conference in action should be visible in its result. She highlighted ambitious, binding, inclusive and fair as the four cornerstones of the agreement. While existing INDCs would not limit global warming to two degrees, the Paris Summit should demonstrate the credibility of the goal to decarbonize economies during the twenty-first century and to act in solidarity with the least developed and most vulnerable nations by keeping the $100 billion promise of Copenhagen. A binding agreement would require a framework, regular review and transparent methodology.

The list of speakers was long and impressive. And all of them where signaling their readiness to conclude an agreement.

Now it is up to the delegations to follow the lead of the heads of state. No surprises are expected…but hopefully an ambitious, binding, fair and inclusive agreement at the end of next week.