What defines us? A COP21 Story.

Nov 27, 2015

A COP21 perspective. Photo credit: Cop21/UN

An important question to regularly ask ourselves is: What defines us? By slicing open this question, it reveals many layers. But, at the core sits our ability to make decisions. To support ideas, to take action, to have a voice.  At the cusp of COP21 our decision to make global change will be challenged. The outcome will define us.  

Before looking at the COP21 journey, let’s look a little closer at the concept. COP21 – the 21st Conference of the Parties; otherwise known as the Paris climate change conference, is the latest in a series of global conferences tackling climate change. The Paris conference will (hopefully) result in a new global agreement on climate change and will kick-start a long-term and global approach to addressing this challenge.

Given the importance of decisions on our future, COP21 takes on a whole new level of importance. For months, people have been lobbying for a reconstruction of our knowledge system which will enable us to overcome the greatest issue facing our generation: climate change. 

COP21 has been argued as one of our last chances to tackle this issue with global cohesion. If we don’t change our course, sea level rise, cyclones and droughts will continue to compound and cause more devastation. Therefore, the decisions we make, what defines our global plan to address this issue, is critical.

While COP21 is argued as our last post, conversely it is also our starting point. We still have time and countless opportunities to restructure our knowledge systems; change our decisions to direct them towards a brighter and cleaner future. It is not too late. 

UNDP has been constantly working towards bettering this world through clear decisions and directions but the organisation cannot overcome this issue on their own. We must, as global citizens, ensure that our voices are also heard as part of the negotiations. World leaders need to understand the gravity of their task. A way to understand this voice and project it to these world leaders is through the UNDP partnership with Pole to Paris. Pole to Paris is a climate change awareness raising NGO, that is made up of two journeys’; one from the Southern Polar Region via cycle and one from the Northern Polar Region via foot. The organisation is raising awareness of the importance of COP21 as well as the impacts of climate change around the globe. Pole to Paris is telling the story in a new manner through engaging people with the journeys and emphasising the positive aspects that are also current within climate change. Pole to Paris are also bringing the voices of those most affected by climate change around the globe to Paris in order to emphasise to our leaders that the decisions they make have a direct impact on people’s futures. Such voices become very apparent during the recent Small Grants Programme (SGP) Climate Change Conference in Apia, Samoa. The participants of the conference came from four different countries: Tokelau, Niue, Samoa and the Cook Islands. They shared their views not only during the conference but also through a video. The video portrays the importance of combatting climate change, not only to protect these countries, but their culture and future generations. The strength of their words must not be lost. 

However, while this is the case for these inspiring individuals, for many the magnitude of the situation can be missed. 

“I think that we often can forget the gravity of the situation where we live,” highlights Catherine Jones who is the Partnerships Developer for Pole to Paris, “it is not always that we are able to comprehend the magnitude of the issues that we face and we commonly turn defeatist in the face of such growing concerns.” 

However, “we can make a difference and we can stand for something greater than we can necessarily comprehend.” 

Catherine has been one of the key implementers behind the project and cannot over-emphasise the importance of generating positive actions at COP21: “Sometimes it may seem that our decisions do not matter in the grand scheme of things. But when it comes down to it, we can actually achieve much more than we think. The Pole to Paris project has more than exceeded expectations; it has reached millions of people and engaged them with the climate change story from Nigeria to Tokelau. It has inspired and encouraged individuals from different paths, who daily have different decisions to make.” 

Such work must continue, both up to and post COP21. COP21 is the start of the marathon to mitigate climate change, but voices and decisions to make positive climate actions must continue. 

But for now, Catherine argues: “it is important that the leaders of our world do not become side-tracked during this time. There are many issues that need attention, but right now climate change is the key issue and something that must not only be taken in complete seriousness by our leaders but also by us, the everyday citizen.” 

Our decisions matter. There are many organisations such as Pole to Paris who, with the support of key agencies such as UNDP, are raising awareness and attempting to change mind-sets and attitudes. These organisations are run by people making a decision, such as Catherine, to make a positive difference. We all have this ability and now is our chance to utilise it. 

Let us ensure, together, that COP21 is remembered as the conference that changed the direction of our world and ensured its future against climate change. 


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