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Let’s save our world together

By Stéphane Gompertz

France is set to host the most inclusive climate conferences ever organised

We’re all under threat. Today we know that, because of our activities, the climate is out of kilter. The planet is warming, species are disappearing, sea levels are rising, and men and women are being driven out of their homes because they have no more food, drinking water, or arable land.  Pope Francis himself recently called attention to the ways in which environmental destruction threatens human health and well-being. There is strong evidence of interconnection between the issues of the environment, poverty, global development, and peace.

And yet tangible solutions exist, bringing with them opportunities, jobs, more sharing, and more hope for the future. Combating climate change is an unprecedented opportunity to advance health, equitable development, and sustainability.  Our generation is both the first to measure the extent of climate change and the last that can do something to tackle them.

It is in this context that, from November 30 to December 11, France will be hosting and chairing the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, otherwise known as COP 21. It will bring together around 40,000 participants in total – delegates representing each country, observers and civil society members. It is one of the largest most inclusive climate conferences ever organised.  COP 21 will be a crucial conference, as it needs to achieve a new international legally binding agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of checking global warming below 2°C.

This is crucial especially for Africa, one of the most vulnerable parts of the world yet it is the least contributor to it. In addition to political will, financial resources will be necessary: US$100 billion per year by developed countries, from public and private sources, from 2020. This commitment should enable developing countries to combat climate change whilst promoting fair and sustainable development. Some of these funds will go through the Green Climate Fund, which has received initial capital of US$10 billion, including almost US$1 billion from France. More generally, COP21 needs to guide economic and financial stakeholders towards redirecting their investments in order to launch the transition to low-carbon economies.

An unprecedented alignment

As political leaders of the world prepare to decide and to take action together, an unprecedented alignment of key official voices – religious, scientific and non-governmental – has now changed the conversation on climate change.  As a build-up to the main event, Paris hosted on July 21 the first Summit of Conscience which attracted about 300 guests. On this occasion, prestigious speakers, including faith leaders, Nobel Prize Laureates and personalities involved in humanitarian action shared their wisdom and personal reflections on the Climate and the Environment. Bishop Nathan Kyamanywa was one of them. The audience included climate and environment experts, ambassadors from the countries of the COP delegates, influential representatives from a diverse range of faith and secular communities and youth ambassadors. Each speaker and guest was encouraged to pause and reflect on their commitment to the planet by answering a simple question – ‘Why do I care’?

Indeed, the challenge is not to be tackled through diplomatic action only. The debate on climate change has been reframed so as to encourage citizens to take an active part in identifying and implementing solutions. Many initiatives are thus currently being developed by a range of non-governmental stakeholders: cities, regions, businesses, associations, etc. This is known as the Agenda of Solutions: concrete actions, exchange of best practices and knowledge transfer, supplementing states’ commitment, raising awareness, and strengthening individual ambitions.

France and Uganda at the forefront

Everyone has to play their role, but France and Uganda both have a particular responsibility in reaching this goal. France is playing a leading international role to ensure points of view converge, before and during the conference, but also by providing support to developing countries in preparing their national contributions. Therefore France has put in place a technical assistance program of 3.5 million EUR and implemented through Agence française de développement (AFD, French Development Agency) and Expertise France in 23 countries, in close cooperation with other donors. Our bilateral relationship, growing stronger by the day, now has to produce one of the greatest outcomes in diplomatic history.

This is an uphill battle, but it is possible to take resolute, effective action. Each country will be called on to explain what it is doing on its territory to help the world reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In the current negotiations, such commitments are called “intended nationally determined contributions” or INDC. They are the “vehicle” through which the Parties intend to submit their commitments for the post-2020 period. Their submission, scheduled ahead of COP21, will be a key component of the negotiations to achieve the Paris Agreement.

The importance of comprehensive, thorough and forward-planning INDCs is critical, to ensure developing countries’ access to funding facilities in the years to come.  Uganda is one of the countries that are greatly vulnerable to climate change impacts, in respect of climate variability including increasing temperatures, increased frequency and intensity of rainfall, heat waves, droughts, floods and storms. The economy and the wellbeing of the people of Uganda are tightly bound to climate, especially because the vast majority of the population is rural and depends on rain fed agriculture that is prone to impacts of climate variability”.   In Uganda, in the core sectors of renewable energy, water and sanitation, climate change and environment, France is providing critical support to prevent and respond to these challenges mainly through its development agency AFD and its small grants projects, the social development Fund (FSD). AFD, the French Global Environment Facility and the technical assistance agency Expertise France are also partnering with government and the private sector to support low-carbon and climate resilient development strategies in the country. Environmentally friendly projects initiated by civil society are benefiting from the Social Development Fund. “There is no plan B, for there is no planet B” Such examples underline that the fight against climate change has to be undertaken at every level possible, with the mobilisation of each and every one.

The facts are here, and they are appalling. The solutions are there and they are great, because they drive us to tackle a new challenge. This challenge is a chance to re-think our development model, to bring well-being to people throughout the entire planet and give them the opportunity to regain control of their destiny. Additional funding for adaptation and mitigation projects provided through the Green Climate Fund gives an opportunity for Uganda as few donors, like AFD, the French Development Agency already received accreditation early July 2015. At the Paris Summit, we, collectively, don’t have another choice but to succeed. As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon eloquently put it, “there is no plan B, for there is no planet B”.  Let’s all rise to the occasion, together for climate.


Stéphane Gompertz is the French Ambassador for Climate in Africa and the Middle East.

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