President Higgins: COP21 ‘turning point’ in climate crisis

President discusses climate deal, migrant crisis and global conflict in Áras address

Reflecting on recent conflicts during an address at Áras an Uachtaráin, Mr Higgins warned of the need to avoid letting fear dictate policy on the developing refugee situation. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Reflecting on recent conflicts during an address at Áras an Uachtaráin, Mr Higgins warned of the need to avoid letting fear dictate policy on the developing refugee situation. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

President Michael D Higgins has hailed the recent COP21 climate change conference as a victory in light of past failures on global warming.

Not long after the historic Paris agreement on carbon reduction, Mr Higgins described it as a turning point in the crisis and an “irreversible movement” gone global.

“We now have near full agreement as to the facts, the urgency of our position and, of course, our immense responsibility towards future generations,” he said.

The President was addressing the diplomatic corps at the New Year’s Greetings Ceremony 2016 in Áras an Uachtaráin on Wednesday.

In a speech that addressed numerous matters of global importance for the coming year, as well as reflecting on those of 2015, he highlighted key concerns and achievements in the area of environmental reform, international development, global conflict and resultant refugee crises.

Although praising the achievement at Paris, he said the question remained as to whether it was possible to reconcile the fight against climate change and the right to development claimed by emerging countries.

“The universal, legally-binding agreement that was adopted last month by the representatives of 196 countries at the COP21 in Paris gives us hope in the ability of multilateral diplomacy to tackle such fundamental questions,” he said.

The deal had left a number of issues unresolved. He said there remained some uncertainty as to the details around the annual $100 billion financial “mobilisation” in favour of poorer countries.

Strings attached

While developed and emerging countries committed to mobilising $100 billion per year by 2020 to help poorer countries cut their emissions and adapt to climate change, sceptics suspect the definition of this mobilisation is deliberately vague so as to include loans or grants with strings attached, he said.

It also remained unclear as to how the 1.5 degree Celsius target, outlined in the agreement, would be met.

Reflecting on recent conflicts, Mr Higgins warned of the need to avoid letting “fear” dictate policy on the developing refugee situation.

“I am thinking in particular of our response to the great migration crisis that defines the contemporary moment,” he said.

“To give protection, food and shelter to those who are fleeing war, oppression or starvation is a matter of fundamental, universal human solidarity.

“The refusal to do so goes beyond that remarkable phrase coined by Pope Francis - ‘the globalisation of indifference’, as indifference is slowly turning into mistrust and hostility.”

He noted the efforts of Ireland in relocating asylum seekers and of its Naval Service in humanitarian missions that led to the rescue of about 8,500 people in the Mediterranean.

“The risk is not just that this refugee crisis has the potential to undermine Schengen and the principle of free circulation within the European Union. It also has the potential to undermine the values at the basis of that humanistic spirit to which Europeans recommitted themselves after the devastation of World War two.”

In retrospect, he said, 2015 was a good year for diplomacy, “a triumph” for multilateralism.

“As we begin 2016, we are faced with challenges that are now interacting: population expansion, migration, changing trade conditions and commodity depreciation, and the current economic downturn which is impacting particularly hard on emerging countries and may mitigate their ability to deliver on their international commitments - these are all issues that create a chaotic context for the year ahead,” he said.