Paris in December 2015 was a lightning bolt of anxiety and expectation. Two weeks before the COP21 Climate Conference started, the deadly slaughter of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks throughout the city had killed 130 people, wounding 350 more.
The town was on edge, and then came delegations from at least 197 countries, journalists, activists, business leaders, and scientists. All gathered to consider a global framework to address climate change at a national and international level.
As horrific as the attacks were, the determination to proceed with the climate talks blended with a brief sense of international unity in the face of the wanton killing.
Indeed for those two weeks in early December, Paris felt like a place unafraid to host the world and be the place where our future on this planet would be judged.
The result was the Paris Climate Accord. It mandated no specific targets, allowing individual nations to determine their own climate targets. Many claimed that as such, the agreement was mostly a toothless gesture. Little more than aspiration and rhetoric of “ratcheting up” commitments over time.
Maybe so. But my understanding of history and human behavior, limited as it may be, suggests to me that no worthwhile endeavor is ever realized without first aspiring to achieve it. Certainly an international response to climate change is no exception. That 197 countries in this troubled, suspicious, short-sighted, often violent world agreed to a common aspiration to address climate change was itself momentous.
The devil is always in the details, as subsequent years have proven. Nonetheless, the framework developed remains viable, given we are willing - both as individual countries and as an international community - to do what it takes.
Three countries failed to adopt the Paris Agreement in December 2015: Nicaragua, Syria, and North Korea. Nicaragua boycotting Paris in protest of the aforementioned “toothless” and unenforceable nature of the agreement. Syria because it was (and is) a failed state whose cities and towns lay in ruins from six years of civil war. North Korea because Kim Jung Un’s train couldn’t get to Paris.
All three countries have since signed on.
There you have it. All nations pledging their own national leadership in concert with an international effort to curb climate change. A glimmer of hope that the political will, so sorely lacking, was stirring. That leaders were willing to lead on a complex and difficult issue with impacts reaching into all sectors of society.
There’s always one, though, isn’t there? The party-pooper, the anti-leader, the fool. In the enormity of foolish actions Donald Trump has taken in his presidency, withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement ranks at the top. He imprints an entire nation with his delusion, ignorance, and presidential negligence.
We become a leader of none.
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