This Epic World Leader "Family Photo" Is What Global Power Really Looks Like
Have you ever been to a family picnic? If so, you're probably familiar with the tradition of the family photo, standing cheek to cheek, crouching in front or tiptoeing in the back to get everyone in the shot. Well, that's pretty much what happened this morning at the U.N. climate summit in Paris — even though I'm guessing there won't be as much potato salad or jello salad served. About 150 world leaders squeezed in for one giant group picture — the most important leaders in the world in one frame. Panoramic in proportion and importance, the photo represents the recognition of the fight against climate change as one of the most important international policy issues today in the world.
The meeting is being sold as the last chance to save the climate. Some would argue it's a long shot. The Kyoto protocol expired in 2012, and its extension will in 2020. At the last big push for a comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen, little headway was made. But, despite the difficulty of past negotiations — the United States never even signed the Kyoto protocol — there is hope that headway can be made in Paris. Some of the biggest players at the conference include President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi will all play big roles given their countries' large shares of emissions.
The issue on the table is 2 degrees Celsius. It may not sound like a lot, but climate scientists say that's the mark at which the planet will really start to see an increase in adverse affects like forest fires, more powerful hurricanes, underperforming crops, and the extinction of species. And we're just about halfway there already. Temperatures in October were almost one degree warmer than average.
French President François Hollande put it rather bluntly when welcoming fellow heads of state to the summit: "The hope of all humanity rests on your shoulders," he said. The gathering of leaders is the largest diplomatic gathering in France since 1948, and their presence at the beginning of the summit may spell success for a binding agreement. In Copenhagen, many negotiators didn't start working until their bosses showed up later in the week. That led to a lot of late nights and last-minute rushing to try and reach a deal, which ultimately never happened.
This time around, the talks by senior negotiators began early — they bumped up first round talks a day earlier than planned to Sunday in an attempt to resolve some of the more contentious issues. A blueprint was also agreed to back in February. Other positive signs include the United States' deal last year with China to bring down emissions. Presidents Obama and Xi met before the talks began Monday to reassert their cooperation on the issue.
Whether the record-breaking number group leaders can come together and write an agreement on greenhouse gas emissions and fend off disastrous effects for the planet remain to be seen. But, given the large turnout and the photo to prove it, history will hold these 150 leaders accountable.