Why are The Elders focusing on climate change? Which countries are showing real leadership on the issue? And how can young people mobilise fellow citizens and push their leaders to take stronger action? Jimmy Carter and Hina Jilani discussed these questions and more with students and climate activists on Tuesday.
As activists begin mobilising for a major climate conference in Paris in December 2015, The Elders travelled to the French capital on Tuesday for a town hall-style debate on climate leadership.
Jimmy Carter and Hina Jilani joined an audience of several hundred students, climate activists and young entrepreneurs at Sciences Po University in Paris, while many more participated in the discussion on Twitter via the hashtag #ScPoElders.
Taking a climate justice approach
Mary Robinson, who joined the debate by phone from Ireland, urged young people to push for transformative leadership on climate change, with a strong focus on the climate justice approach.
She also emphasised that the world is currently not on target to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 – a goal that The Elders have called for. You can read more on the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice website.
Responding to a question about why climate change is on The Elders’ agenda, Hina Jilani talked about the importance of looking at the issue through a human rights lens. Focusing on the people most affected by the negative impacts of climate change, she argued, can raise public awareness of the scale of the problem and persuade governments that they need to take bold action to address it.
Jimmy Carter gave more context about Nelson Mandela’s reasons for founding The Elders, describing how Mandela charged the group with promoting peace and human rights worldwide. Carter argued that climate change threatens stability and food security and increases the likelihood of conflict over natural resources – with the poorest and most vulnerable inevitably suffering the most.
Carter: If we don't address global warming, we're going to see rapidly increasing conflict around the world. #ScPoElders— Sophie Yeo (@rtcc_sophie) April 22, 2014
A short video produced by The Elders demonstrated some of the ways that climate change is already affecting young people across the world, from Chad to the Philippines:
Calling for climate leadership
Earlier in the day, the Elders had met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who will chair the negotiations at the 2015 climate conference. Climate change was one of several topics of discussion.
During the debate at Sciences Po, Jimmy Carter also urged China and the US – the world’s two biggest polluters – to cooperate and show global leadership in tackling climate change.
Moving to renewable energy: the economic opportunities
In response to a question from Johann Kalchman at One Young World on how we can encourage the business sector to be more responsible for its environmental impact, the Elders emphasised the economic opportunities of innovating solutions.
Jimmy Carter also recommended financial measures to incentivise businesses to switch to renewable energy, starting with a simple carbon tax.
Solidarity and citizen power
Leslie from Avaaz asked the Elders how we can mobilise citizens to push their governments to show leadership on climate change.
Hina Jilani described climate change as an opportunity to build solidarity between people of all nations – from the rich countries most responsible for carbon emissions, to the poor countries whose inhabitants are worst affected. “Speak in one voice,” she urged.
"All citizens have responsibility to use their advocacy power. We also need to build solidarity btw nations" says Hina Jilani #ScPoElders— Celia Gautier (@CeliaGautier) April 22, 2014
After one student described himself as “sad and angry” at the failure of past climate negotiations, the Elders also encouraged young people to take the long view and recognise the progress that has already been made. “Look back at the first Rio summit,” said Hina Jilani. “It’s not fair to say that nothing has changed. Now there is a greater level of awareness.” Above all, she said, “Never stop being outraged by oppression or injustice. If we do this, we lose ability to be change-makers.”
Hina Jilani on life "we should never stop being outraged", "we cannot afford the luxury of cynicism" #ScPoElders— Anne (@anne_shanghai) April 22, 2014
Concluding the discussion, Jimmy Carter said:
“Young people want to live a life of adventure; excitement; unpredictability; challenge; gratification. I can’t think of any subject more applicable to these ambitions than climate change. To study this subject more deeply, to understand the impact of climate change. What could be more important as a subject for study? And then, the complexity of the issue: how do we use our own influence within a limited environment to change the course of history, through our elected leaders? That’s another exciting challenge.
“If anyone wants to adopt an issue that will stretch your hearts and minds and capabilities to the utmost, this is it! And my hope and prayer is that all of you, the people you influence, and the people watching this, will adopt this issue – and let’s change the world for the better.”
Find out more
Want to learn more? Check out Sciences Po’s Storify of the debate – and watch this short video, which includes short interviews with Jimmy Carter and Hina Jilani after the event: