National Conference on Science and the Environment

Speech by Ambassador of France, Gérard Araud

Washington, January 29, 2015

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I am delighted to be here and honored to be able to speak to you today. Thank you for organizing such a great conference, year after year, and for choosing to dedicate it this year to climate.

France will host the Cop 21 from November 30 to December 12, 2015. We are fully committed to making this conference a success. The aim is to establish a course of action and a legal framework to limit average global warming to less than 2°C.

As President Obama said in his State of the Union Address, we don’t need to be rocket scientists to see that climate change is happening and that we need to take action. We must take action now to preserve both our quality of life and that of generations to come.
This will not be easy but there are many reasons to remain optimistic.

The mobilization I see today is one of them. This conference brings together an impressive number of high-level scientists, NGOs, think tanks, government officials and businesses who are all committed to finding solutions.

We need initiatives like this one to remind public officials how important the fight against climate disruption is for civil society and to encourage them to maintain and take constructive actions.

In short, we need to work together to confront reality before it’s too late!
Let me address the context and challenges


Over the past few months, there have been many positive signs leading us to believe that the conference in Paris will be a success

1. The UN climate summit in New York in September, which succeeded in engaging world leaders in a global conversation about climate disruption, and illustrated the involvement of non-state actors.

2. EU leaders agreed in October on a target to reduce their domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to 1990 by 2030. They also set a goal of at least 27% for renewable energy and energy savings by 2030. France pushed the EU to set these challenging objectives thanks to its ambitious energy transition bill.

3. The agreement between China and the US announced in November is historic since China committed for the first time to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, with emissions peaking around 2030 and the US committed to doubling the pace of its carbon pollution reduction by 2020. We saw this announcement as a possible turning point.

4. The objective of mobilizing USD 10 billion for the Green Climate Fund has been met. I would like to stress here that France will play a crucial role as it will contribute up to USD 1 billion.

5. We are demonstrating through the work being done on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that if we are determined enough we can take action to reduce our emissions.

6. The mobilization of all stakeholders and their collective efforts on climate action ensured the success of COP20 in Lima. The negotiations have been difficult and this should not come as a surprise given what is at stake. But still, COP20 was a success for three reasons:

a. we kept all States on board b. the Lima conference on climate change laid the groundwork for Paris, and I would like to thank the Peruvian Government for its commitment and its involvement, and c. COP20 defined the process of determining and evaluating the intended Nationally Determined Contributions (iNDCs).

France’s role

On this basis, France wants to act as the international community’s honest broker in the future negotiations.

Everyone needs to step up and engage in the negotiations, including the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, as well as civil society in every country.

We are already witnessing the increasing involvement of the so-called big players as we saw recently with China. Last week, President Obama also held interesting talks in India. France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius will also be in New Delhi next week. Climate will be one of the topics that will be discussed. The example of India illustrates the fact that we should not pit the fight against poverty, particularly energy poverty, against sustainable development. The fight against climate change should never be an obstacle to development, but by the same token there can be no sustainable development without a sea change in our economic models and patterns of consumption. The two challenges must be faced together. The Paris agreement must be reached in conjunction with the adoption (at the UN) of the Sustainable Development Goals.
In a sense, a Paris agreement should be also read as the implementation of SDG; an agreement for growth.

In addition, climate should be among the issues discussed within the G7 and G20.
But this is not only about governments. We will only be able to succeed if all stakeholders are involved. That is why we decided to create in Paris, in the immediate vicinity of the negotiation center, an open and inclusive space dedicated to civil society: NGOs, academics, local governments and businesses will be welcomed there.

In addition to the COP 21 conference, France has been taking significant steps to fulfill its pledge to carry out an ecological transition by 2050. In October, the French National Assembly passed a bill which will soon come before the French Senate and which sets ambitious goals regarding our use of energy and the protection of our environment.
In terms of greenhouse gases, we aim to reduce our emissions by 40% by 2030, and by up to 75% by 2050, compared to the 1990 levels. Next, we aim to reduce our fossil fuel consumption by 30% and increase the proportion of renewable energies to a third of our energy mix by 2030. Finally, we pledge to cut our energy consumption by half by 2050.

French Embassy actions in the US


We have launched the French-Ameri-Can Climate Talks (the so-called FACTS), a series of conversations between French and North American scientists, journalists, policy makers and entrepreneurs, in order to raise awareness among a large audience about climate change issues. We will continue our efforts this year with a range of conferences all over the country focusing on topics such as climate and health, water resources, the Arctic etc., on the road to Paris!

Cities and metropolitan regions:

Among the non-state actors [– and I’ll come back to this here below – ], Cities and metropolitan regions are major players in the efforts to address global warming. Metropolitan regions are often among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change yet are also vital laboratories for testing and applying innovative technologies and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote resilience.

[Metropolitan regions are at the core of innovation, close to the citizens and therefore able to break down the traditional silos and to quickly implement the necessary policies.]
Exchanging initiatives at the metropolitan level will boost the fight against change while developing jobs and the economy.

This is why this embassy is organizing a Forum of Communities for Urban Sustainability, called FOCUS 2015, open to those with knowledge, desire and experience at the metropolitan level regarding the issue of climate change. Two days of work on March 5 and 6 (see details on our website!) are aimed at paving the way toward Paris for US cities. I invite you to share this information with your local authorities and invite them to attend.

To set an example:
At an even more local level, the embassy has been strongly committed to pursuing greening efforts. We received the DC Greening Embassies Forum award from the mayor of the District of Columbia last June!


Yet we all know nothing great can be accomplished without a clear method.
On the road to Paris, the French Foreign Ministry is committed to respecting three main principles:

First, we want to listen to each of our partners and to understand their concerns, to be able to take them into account when we negotiate the final agreement.
We are not out for everything or nothing. We know that one size doesn’t fit all. Our motto will be “realism and pragmatism”.

This leads to the second principle; we want to promote the spirit of compromise and take into account national circumstances in order to reach a fair agreement. France will make a special effort to provide technical assistance to the most vulnerable countries in the implementation of their national contributions.

And thirdly we will need a strong mobilization. This is the only way we will be able to seize this last chance to reach an agreement for COP21 before too long. And this will require the involvement of each of you; every stakeholder must be mobilized to help us, not only our heads of states and diplomats, but also all of civil society, which means locals and authorities, NGOs and the business community. The message the COP21 should send to the latter should be:

We are serious about low carbon economy,
The technology is there or will be here very soon, sooner than you think,
There is money to make. Go for it!

The next Conference of the Parties is based on 4 pillars
France has identified 4 objectives to make this conference a success:

The first one is to reach an international agreement based on common objectives and to establish a legal framework for the post-2020 period, in which each of the 196 parties will commit to taking action in order to keep the increase in temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius. This goal was set in 2011 in Durban and this is a rendez-vous the world cannot miss. As Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “there is no plan B because there is no planet B”.
This agreement could be differentiated and reviewable.

The second objective is to gather the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions of all parties, particularly in terms of emission reductions. These national contributions will tell us whether the path we are on is headed in the right direction. And I can only thank the US government for its leadership on this issue, both nationally and internationally.
The third objective is to set up a financial and technological package, which will mobilize public funds and channel private investment for low-carbon transition and climate-resilience projects. The goal is to reach 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 and we will specifically target vulnerable countries.

Finally, we would like to urge non-state actors to take actions and commitments with respect to mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology in order to contribute to “the alliance for climate”: We need businesses, public and private investors, cities and regions, and civil society to get involved.

Conclusions: Next steps

There are still many challenges ahead and we need everyone to step in, stay confident and make the necessary efforts to tackle them

1) The next step will be to conduct informal negotiations before the end of the year on the following topics: differentiation, the legal nature of the agreement and climate finance. These will undoubtedly be challenging but it is our common commitment to make them come to fruition.
Although we collected 10 billion USD between 2015 and 2018 for the Green Climate Fund, we are a long way from the yearly 100 billion we pledged to achieve by 2020 to develop a low-carbon economy. There is a strong need now to unlock private investment for new technology such as electric vehicles, energy storage, CCS, etc. We need to integrate climate risk into investment decisions, to create incentives for the market and businesses. But, again, I’m optimistic.

2) Finally, the French government is committed to listening to all civil society groups. This will be absolutely critical to our success.
As many of you are scientists, I would like to mention the international scientific conference “Our Common Future Under Climate” that will be held in mid-July in Paris. Indeed, we need a strong scientific basis to convince people to act, but we also need science to boost innovation and solutions both to mitigate climate change and to adapt to it. Your role is key if we want to design a sustainable, low carbon, business-friendly future.

In conclusion, let me quote the French writer Antoine de St-Exupery : “We do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children” (nous n’héritons pas de la terre de nos parents, nous l’empruntons à nos enfants)
In that spirit, today, until, and beyond the Paris conference, I urge each and every one of you to be on board and to help us to address the enormous challenges that our planet is facing.

Thank you very much.

Last modified on 30/01/2015

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