As world leaders work to negotiate a global climate treaty at the United Nations COP21 summit in Paris this week, they do so in the midst of a city grieving from recent terrorist attacks. From the flower-lined public memorials to the security dogs and vest-wearing police officers at the conference, we are reminded that this historic conference takes place at a crucial moment for the global community. The Paris attacks force us to see the convergence of our two biggest global challenges — security and climate change — and has awakened leaders to the importance of integrating peace, security, sustainability and climate solutions.
Along with some 45,000 delegates from 196 nations, we are among the dozens of Minnesotans at COP21 in Paris, a multigenerational mix from colleges and universities, government bodies, and business. This is a unique opportunity for the global community, and for us as Minnesotans, to collaborate on shared solutions.
The decision to continue COP21 in the wake of terrorist attacks demonstrated solidarity in the face of events that threaten to divide the global community. Now more than ever, politicians must formally acknowledge the inextricable link between climate change and global peace and stability. Both delegates to the United Nations as well as our local Minnesota leaders should design policy that incorporates these dual objectives within a unified framework. At both the local and global level, it starts with being a good neighbor, caring for the place you call home, and engaging those who live around you.
French President François Hollande set the stage at the opening of COP21 earlier this week with his powerful statement: “What is at stake at this climate conference is peace.” President Barack Obama called the decision to continue the negotiations in Paris an “act of defiance.” He asked, “What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it?” When Jordan’s King Abdullah II shared the podium, he reminded the world that his country receives the most Syrian refugees, and stated that conflict and climate change are the dual wars of our generation. All of the 150 leaders assembled in Paris shared a single sentiment: that climate solutions at the Paris conference must simultaneously secure a peaceful, sustainable, and equitable future for humanity.
Professor Jack Dewaard, a University of Minnesota expert on population and migration and one of our delegates to COP21, said that increasing evidence demonstrates a link between climate change and human migration patterns. Whether they are “shocks” — destructive, rapid-onset events — or processes that emerge gradually over time, climate change cannot be separated from other causes (economic, political, sociocultural, etc.) of migration. National migration policies often fail to recognize these complex dynamics.
Our state leaders get this, and take responsibility for our role as global citizens. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Under2MOU, joining 6 other states and 64 different jurisdictions from 20 countries and 5 continents, collectively representing the largest economy in the world, in a pledge to limit emissions to a level necessary to keeps warming to under 2 degrees C. Minnesota also has a history of welcoming refugees fleeing hardship and seeking opportunity. When 22 governors announced last month they would turn away migrants fleeing Syrian violence, Dayton announced a contrary stance. “The terrorists would have us walking around our streets eyeing people who don’t look like us, who have different color, different nationality, different religion, different language, and feeling like everyone is a threat to us,” Dayton said. “That’s ultimately the greatest threat to our civilization.”
If COP21 is successful at finally getting the nations of the world to agree on the imperative of shifting to clean and renewable energy, it will not end there. Whatever is decided in Paris will only take effect if cities, states, regions, and individuals take action. We call on Minnesotans to protect their families, communities, and quality of life by taking on this challenge. We also expect that Minnesotans will do the right thing when it comes to supporting people around the world who want the same things we do: stability, safety, and opportunity for their families and communities. As the world is trying to come together despite our differences, so must each of us in our own communities.
Minnesota has been a leader in embracing refugee communities and ushering in renewable energy and successful climate solutions. Here in Minnesota, let’s strive to be the best neighbors possible, both as stewards of our planet and as welcoming and inclusive community members.
Ellen Anderson is the executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab, a former state senator and a former chair of the Public Utilities Commission. Laura Humes and Kayla Walsh are seniors at Macalester College.
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