The world’s first “summit of conscience” for the climate was held Tuesday in Paris, gathering UN officials, religious leaders and prominent global figures to urge action on climate change ahead of the COP21 meeting in December.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was among those in attendance. The former California governor and actor spoke of the real threats posed by climate change.
“I’ve starred in a lot of science fiction movies and, let me tell you something, climate change is not science fiction, this is a battle in the real world - it is impacting us right now,” he said. “I believe the science is in. The debate is over and the time for action is now. This is bigger than any movie, this is the challenge of our time. And it is our responsibility to leave this world a better place than we found it, but right now we are failing future generations.”
“This year alone, we will dump 40bn tons of carbon emissions into our atmosphere. The World Health Organization says that air pollution causes over 7 million premature deaths every year, and all over the world we can see flooding, monster storms, droughts and wild-fires that are completely out of control.”
Religious leaders emphasized the moral component of climate change action. Climate is a common good, emphasized Cardinal Peter Turkson, Ghanaian president of the Vatican’s Pontifical council for justice and peace, who helped Pope Francis write his encyclical on the environment last month.
“It is a global common meant for all, but the costs are being borne by those who have least contributed to it. At stake now is the wellbeing of the earth - our common hope. What we need is care.”
Other religious leaders spoke of the greed impeding solutions and the opportunity for renewal in taking action.
“Climate change takes place where there is unbridled avarice, said David Rosen, director of inter-religious affairs at the American Jewish Committee. “It is a symptom of the disease and cry for us to respond. It is the opportunity for humans to rediscover the higher values than materialism and indulgence.”
Hindu leader Nandita Krishna, spoke of the selfishness gripping humans and the need to change our relationship with nature. “We cannot replicate the environment or create it. Unless we see the divine in creation we will not understand our role and duty as humans,” she said.
While Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, said that while technology can help us achieve zero carbon emissions, he lamented the inertia of the powers that be. “Technology today is in the hands of the money makers and the war-makers. They are not directing it to solve the problems of the world.”
Calls for a substantive climate deal at the highly anticipated COP21 meeting in December are emerging from all areas of society, with everyone from business leaders to subnational governments to boybands attempting to engage world leaders and the public on the need for bold climate action.
At the summit, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan summed up the enormity of the challenge before society. Echoing a phrase attributed to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev talking about nuclear war in 1979, he said, “Climate change would leave the living envying the dead."
“If action is not taken immediately, my grandson will live in a world suffering heat waves, severe droughts and floods. Cities like New York and Venice will drown. We are on the brink of catastrophe but the solution to the climate crisis cannot be left to governments alone ... People are taking the lead and demanding change. We must not fail them,” Annan said.