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2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) — Final Day

Universal agreement gives reason for hope — and for action

By Mardi Tindal

My final day at COP21 has ended with a jubilant acceptance of a deal. After two decades of meetings, negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed on to a legal agreement to limit global warming below 2C and keep temperatures at 1.5C — above pre-industrial levels. What’s more, governments are now held to account for reaching those same goals.

I now pack for tomorrow's journey home — confident that this is better than anything we’ve had before and optimistic that the momentum we’ve experienced here will be unstoppable. Meanwhile, my thoughts turn to the past two weeks and the people who have encouraged, challenged and inspired me.

David Miller, President of WWF-Canada, lives one street over from me in Toronto. I rarely see him there, but there he was in Paris, introducing me to a friend who’s just moved into our neighbourhood. The friend told me that he attended Windermere United Church, my home congregation last Sunday, when my name was being upheld in prayer. It’s just another “small world” story, but it brings home to me the nature of the COP community. We’re something like what you might imagine the whole global community would look like on the scale of a city.

Christine Boyle, a member of our United Church of Canada delegation, has written powerfully about the engagement of faith communities she witnessed in Paris. She noted that there is “no fight for power and glory.”

“There is just a dedication to the task at hand, a willingness to do the difficult work and a trust that it will be of benefit to the common good . . . there are a myriad of ways that faith communities are contributing to these negotiations. But I think this combination of humility and dedication might be the most significant.” 

Indeed, the unprecedented level of cooperation across faith communities and civil society has felt like a great way to embody Advent. We’ll shift the global reality if our actions continue to be courageous locally, regionally and nationally.

During one of our daily briefings with Canada’s negotiators, a member of the Canadian Youth delegation touched our hearts with a striking reminder that today’s youth have never known a stable climate. “As youth, we’ve been waiting for countries to reach an agreement for our entire lifetime, and we are calling upon Canada to take a strong stance for a legally binding agreement,” she said. “I have been watching climate disaster after climate disaster for my whole life, and the time to wait is over. We know that power comes from the people.” 

Power certainly comes from the people, but only when people claim it and use it. Catherine Abreu, one of our Climate Action Network colleagues, also expressed the resolve of many of us here to ensure that the progress we’ve seen at these talks, however halting, will not falter in the weeks ahead. “I and my countless amazing colleagues here in Paris and back home are going to work our butts off to make sure that our home provinces, Canada and the rest of the world do all we need to do,” she said. “I know we will ensure a just transition to a 100 per cent renewable energy system by 2050. I know we will support vulnerable communities at home and abroad as they adapt to the impacts of climate change. And, I know we will evolve political culture that has human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples, at its heart.”

Finally, I remember another United Church delegate, Kii'iljus (Barbara J. Wilson), who voiced a simple but profound truth. Speaking to Canada's Deputy Chief Negotiator France Jacovella, she said: “We're all in the same canoe, and we need to paddle together.”

Early this afternoon, as we read the final text of the agreement in an intimate circle of global faith colleagues, I heard them saying: “This is good. This is good. This is better." Well, it appears that in the ongoing struggle between courage and compromise, the world's leaders have tilted this time toward courage — with our encouragement, challenge and advice.

In 2009, I left the Copenhagen COP with a feeling close to despair. The enormity of the task and the indifference of the world was overwhelming. In 2011, our government’s continuing deceit and obstructiveness at the Durban COP was infuriating and disgusting. Others were beginning to engage; we were not.

Undoubtedly, Paris has been different, both for Canada and for the world. This agreement not only gives reason for hope, but for action.

Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.

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