UN Climate Speech / 10 Dec, 2018
Patricia Espinosa: More Voices Needed to Sound the Alarm About Climate Change

At the "Joint Symposium for Climate Change", in the margins of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa addressed members of science and faith communities.

During the event titled "Safeguarding Our Climate, Advancing Our Society" Ms. Espinosa said: "We need you to help spread the word. To help humanity understand the importance of the choice between action and inaction—and the consequences." Read her full address here:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It’s a pleasure to join you this morning.

It is not often that I get to meet with both eminent scientists and members of the faith community at the same time.

For many people, when they think about science and religion, there is often an assumption that the two don’t mix well.

I disagree.

When it comes to climate change and its impacts, we’re faced with a physical, moral, and even a philosophical crisis.

More than ever before we need your voices to help sound the alarm.

Perhaps world-famous primatologist Jane Goodall summed up the nature of the crisis most succinctly when she asked the simple question:

“How is it that the most clever species to ever walk the earth is destroying its only home?".

That sums up the climate challenge we face.

The fact is that climate change is the defining struggle of our time.

And we can choose whether to address it, or not.

It’s that simple. And that complicated.

If we choose no, we know what’s coming.

It means more hunger, more poverty, and more misery – especially for the world’s most disadvantaged.

It means more extremes. More fires and droughts. More hurricanes and flooding.

It means air that is harder to breathe and waters that no longer can sustain us.

Saying no means destabilizing the global economy and making humanity’s other challenges that much worse.

We just heard the message from the pilgrims [including survivors of Typhoon Haiyan] who came to Katowice walking from the Vatican. Theirs is a message of those who are directly suffering the effects of climate change.

I had a few words with them and I was struck by their message. This is really no joke. This [climate change] is about loosing your family and loosing every hope and every opportunity in your life. 

Patricia Espinosa meets a group Climate Pilgrims at COP24
Patricia Espinosa meets Joanna Sustento from the Philippines, whose family perished during 2013 Typhoon Haiyan

That’s what will happen if we say no.

But if we say yes…if we choose to address climate change, we can change everything.

We can build a world that is cleaner, greener and more prosperous.

We can build new economies, create new jobs and live in healthier cities and communities.

If we say yes, we can pass the torch of progress on to our children—a torch that is truly worthy of passing.

That is where you come in. Science and religious leaders alike.

We need you to help spread the word. To help humanity understand the importance of the choice between action and inaction—and the consequences.

As for the faith community, you have the capacity to reach so many people through your congregations and your communities.

When Pope Francis recently called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to join the fight against climate change, you could almost hear climate scientists cheering him on.

The same cheering that can receive Patriarch Bartholomew when he addresses his community on this issue.

Because this perspective is echoed by most of the world’s religions.

And while climate change knows no religious affiliations, we desperately need your voices to help bring people together to help address the crisis.

As for the scientists in the room, we need your help too. Not just with your science expertise, but with your communication skills as well.

Climate literacy is crucial.

If science information is to truly make a difference—if it is to truly spur action—people must do more than simply understand it, they must be able to relate to it. In a language they can follow.

For example, when we talk about the importance of keeping global temperatures under 2-degrees Celsius, what does that really mean to people? Do they know if we fail to reach our targets:

  • That it means the end of tropical coral reefs?
  • That it means significant failure of important crops?
  • That it means a world where the air is harder to breathe,

Regrettably, not enough people are getting the message about those impacts.

Unfortunately, many only seem to “get it” when they are personally impacted by some climate crisis—a circumstance that unfortunately is happening with more frequency these days.

But that is clearly not the preferred way for them to get their climate information!

When I talk about getting out the message, I’m talking about using language that is scientifically accurate, but honest, clear and unequivocal.

This is where we need your help translating scientific language into words that everybody—at all ages and regardless of their education level—can understand.

We must present the facts, state the urgency, and provide clear evidence about why change is necessary at all levels, by all people.

Of course, none of this is easy. Communicating with people fearful for their livelihoods, or worse, with those who remain indifferent—is never easy.

Along with the truth, they need to hear words of reassurance.

They must know that we are not going to get rid of fossil fuels overnight. It is just not possible, economically, socially, or morally. If nothing else, we are talking about peoples’ way of life—and in many cases the cultural identity of whole communities.

This industry provides jobs for people, and energy to power our homes and factories.

However, the products they help produce increase greenhouse gas emissions in one form or another.

For all their benefits, fossil fuels come with a heavy price tag, in personal and global health terms.

I recognize the fear of those who work in these industries throughout the world. They are understandably fearful that it is they who will bear the brunt of climate change solutions.

The truth is all nations need to make the transition away from fossil fuel extraction. The transition must happen. But it needs to be fair—and be seen to be fair.

And yes, it’s challenging. On the one hand, the transition can’t be done overnight. On the other, in light of the most recent scientific findings, it must be done urgently.

I know with this audience I am talking to the converted. The bottom line is that we need you to inform others of the seriousness of the climate change challenge and—most importantly—get them to act.

And that work can begin here at COP24 by influencing your national representatives to finalize the Paris Agreement Work Program. This will unleash the power of the Paris Agreement, the global vehicle to address climate change.

Doing this sends a signal that nations are serious about addressing climate change. That they recognize the urgency.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Like so many of you, I’m an optimist.

I’m optimistic that we will come together and solve this, the greatest challenge of our time.

I’m optimistic that addressing climate change represents an opportunity to bring people of all faiths and all walks of life together in common cause.

And I’m optimistic that this will help us build a world that is not only something to leave our children, but a world that is better for all of us today.

A future that is clean, green and prosperous for all. Thank you.