Optimism and Urgency at the Paris Climate Talks

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The sense of energy and optimism coursing through the Paris climate talks is extraordinary. Everywhere I go, people are buzzing about new announcements that will result in real progress in the fight against climate change. Whether it's mayors like Paris' Anne Hidalgo or executives like Alibaba's Jack Ma or U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, leaders from across society are committing to bold climate action.

We've never seen anything like this before. The activism of individuals, the warnings of scientists and the breakthroughs of technological innovators have brought the world together in the shared purpose of tackling climate change. Now, before it's too late.

We must seize this historic opportunity, because the other prevailing feeling here in Paris is urgency.

On Sunday, NRDC hosted an event at UNESCO with NRDC Trustee Robert Redford and several indigenous leaders about the power of storytelling to inspire global action. The stories they shared reveal in vivid detail that people are already suffering from climate impacts and the hazards will only increase unless we act.

Marshall Islands poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner spoke about the rising tides that threaten her Pacific Island community. A 2-degree rise in temperatures, she said, means "my island is underwater." Jetnil-Kijiner read a poem she wrote last summer when her little daughter had a fever. "What a difference a few degrees can make," she began. The difference between health and sickness, life and death.

Mundiya Kepanga also spoke. He is a great chief of the Huli people who live in the rainforests of Papau New-Guinea. These dense forests--which absorb carbon dioxide and prevent it from going into the atmosphere--are being plundered by reckless loggers and hardwood poachers. He told the crowd, "My forest is not just mine, it is yours as well. If we vanish, we vanish together."

Stories from around the world and decades of scientific research lead us to the same conclusion: we must act now to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Fortunately many heads of state have reached the same conclusion.

Heading into the Paris climate talks, the U.S., China, India and more than 160 countries submitted national plans to reduce carbon pollution. Taken together these pledges will limit global temperature rise to about 2.7 degrees Celsius. That is important progress, but it's not enough. Scientists say that we need to keep the warming as low as possible.

Many leaders have come to Paris committed to preventing that fate. Many conversations in Paris have shifted to be about ensuring that we keep our world below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. What will be critical is to make sure that countries strengthen their carbon reduction goals at least every five years to ensure ongoing progress and increasing ambition. The U.S. and EU are leading the call to start this process of "ratcheting" or strengthening greenhouse gas emission reductions sooner rather than later.

This cleaner, more stable future is well within reach. We are already seeing it emerge in the U.S., where renewable power and energy efficiency are cleaning up the air, creating jobs and saving people money. The same process is unfolding around the world, as witnessed by countless announcements here in Paris, from the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) announced last Friday to India's commitment to install 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2022.

The world is moving toward a low-carbon future, but we must accelerate progress if we want to leave a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren. As we move into the final days of the Paris climate talks, we have an historic opportunity to take a giant step forward. This is our moment to lead.

Please join us in sending a message to global leaders to take bold climate action in Paris.