COP 21 Learning

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Maryknoll Sr. Marvie Misolas was an official observer at the Paris Climate Summit (COP21) representing the Maryknoll Sisters. The following is her reflection, published in the January-February 2016 issue of NewsNotes, written on the last day of the talks, before the release of the final agreement.

Two weeks went by quickly at the Paris Climate Summit. This was the first time I attended a UN climate conference, though I have attended UN conferences on other topics. My official status was observer.

To my surprise, I did not have access to many discussions and meetings, which were limited to negotiators representing 195 countries. This was different from the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, which was more inclusive of observers.

My time was spent learning and listening at multiple side events that clarified many confluences in the draft documents being negotiated. Keywords such as adaptation, capacity-building, climate finance, compliance, loss and damage, mitigation, monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV), national reporting, Paris Outcome, REDD/REDD+, technology mechanism, technology transfer, transparency, and human rights, were tossed back and forth by negotiators, and the subjects of side events, informal discussions, and press conferences, as parties and advocates brought issues out into the open.

Climate change is a catalyst, a groaning of the planet and of us all. We cannot separate ourselves from Mother Earth; our existence is dependent on her ecosystems’ health. Humans have crossed the threshold of her planetary boundaries.

I think the majority of us who attended the Paris Climate Summit understood this, but, as French President Francois Hollande said in his speech during the opening ceremony, “This challenge is the sum of our selfishness, our perceptions, our resignation. This challenge is built on indifference and powerlessness but it is not insurmountable.”

These words were operative until the final hours of negotiations, when powerful nations like China and India demanded weakening the goal of restricting global temperature rise.

Negotiators representing vulnerable countries like the Marshall Islands and those who support their right to survival are committed to keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level.

Whatever the final outcome of the Paris agreement, we cannot go back to a “business as usual” lifestyle. All of us on the planet must live a life respectful of planetary boundaries and of the needs of future generations.

I left Paris and returned to Manila with renewed hope, strength, knowledge and inspiration, to change myself and my relationship with the Earth. I join Filipinos and millions others who are facing climate disasters and the need to adapt and change, to live a life respectful of the planet.