I left Paris struck by the power of the story.
The news prior to COP21 indicated that the inclusion of language referencing a 2° temperature cap would be considered a victory. Upon arrival at Le Bourget on November 30, 2015, the small island states started telling their stories. They painted a personal picture of a 2° world. Over and over throughout the first week, they repeatedly stated that a 2° temperature rise from pre Industrial Revolution times was not an option. With a 2° rise in global average temperatures, their homes would be swamped by the ocean, ancestral burial spots would disappear, the land that makes up their nations would be inundated by the ocean. The associated rise in sea levels and extreme weather events of a 2° world would literally wipe the small islanders’ homes from the face of the earth.
The islanders were united by their stories, and their voices were strong. They made it clear to the rest of the world that 2° would create a climate crisis that was unacceptable. Their voices were passionate and their emotions were raw. Their presence was thoughtful, loud, and pervasive. They repeated their stories of potential and existing loss eloquently throughout the first week.
By the start of the second week, a 1.5° maximum temperature rise had entered the discussion for possible inclusion in the final Agreement. On Saturday, the final text included the following words:
“…holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre- industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre- industrial levels,”
Their stories had been heard. The power of the story is real. The personal side of climate change is real. We all have a story and it is critical that we tell it. This is the message that I brought to my students upon my return on Monday morning. Each of my students has a voice, they each have a story. We need to hear each other’s stories. COP21 proves that a story can change the course of history. What other stories do we need to hear in order to make the world a more peaceful and just home?