Erik Orsenna, is a writer, economist and member of the Académie française. Erik’s passion for water provided the start for his commitment to sustainable development – he wrote a book entitled ‘L’avenir de l’eau’ (The future of water – published by Fayard press in 2008). During his professional travels across the world, Erik analyses the economic and social impact arising from the exploitation of natural resources and the protection of the environment. His objective of playing an active role in sustainable development and its financing by the private sector led to his association with BNP Paribas Asset Management in this initiative.
In this article Erik Orsenna writes about the challenges and opportunities for the COP 21 summit in Paris this year.
More than two months before the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties in Paris in December, COP 21 is already a success. Unlike the uncertainty that prevailed before the last conference in Copenhagen, this time awareness of the issues is widespread and the sceptics have been silenced. Yes, our planet now has to face up to the reality of climatic degeneration. Yes, climate worsening is already serious. Yes, mankind is partly responsible for this, even if our precise impact cannot be quantified.
And at all levels, the inhabitants of this, our threatened planet, are intent upon action. Let’s not forget, by the way, the reality. It is not the planet which is ‘threatened’. It is us, the human race. With or without us, the Earth will continue to exist until the sun burns out.
People, first of all, are mobilising, each in their own way. And it begins with children. In schools throughout the world, children are being better taught about the fragility of Nature, the reasons for this fragility and what needs to be done to protect this communal treasure.
Associations and others non-governmental organisations are intensifying their primary mission – to inform and draw people’s attention to this issue. Companies are in the front line. The general public, and therefore their customers, will no longer forgive them for further harm to the environment. Better still, companies are convinced that to fight against pollution of all kinds is a business in itself, one that responds to urgent and growing needs, and that can and will pay well. Those who can come up with ‘clean’ technologies sell them at a premium price.
And then it’s the cities and regions. It is at this ‘decentralised’ level where we see the real and daily consequences of a dysfunctional climate: serial heat waves and floods, rising sea levels… Last July in Lyon, I took part in a COP regional event. I was both excited and reassured by the commitment of the elected representatives from five continents and by the concrete measures they are implementing in areas, for example, such as public transport and property renovation.
At the highest level, that of nation states, I hope with all my strength that solutions will be found to help the poorest countries start making the necessary changes. And to convince the richest countries that their growth models are no longer ‘sustainable’. I am delighted with the most recent decisions of certain leaders, among them the President of the USA.
A real success of the Conference would be a list of well-defined commitments, as well as timetables and financing. Certain requirements should also be recognised and agreed by all, as that will finally provide a price, I mean a cost, for carbon emissions. Will we manage that in Paris? It’s by no means certain.
But we are moving forward, albeit slowly, far too slowly, in the right direction. Everybody on the planet should know, its destiny is in their hands.
One thing is for sure: the global economy has to go through a metamorphosis, and nothing is more expensive than change. So investors – in particular long-term investors – get to work! You have never been so badly needed.