WASHINGTON — Gérard Araud has a lot on his plate as France’s top emissary to the U.S.
The French ambassador played a key role in winning congressional support for the nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S., France and four other world powers. He organized a vigil across from the White House after this month’s horrific attacks in Paris. He regularly hosts top French officials for major events and informal gatherings to learn from D.C.’s elite.
But perhaps nothing has been as consistently important during his yearlong posting here than talking up a landmark event that begins in Paris this weekend: the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties, which many call the most important climate change conference the world has ever seen.
COP 21, as the event is colloquially known, commences Nov. 30. By Dec. 11, the hope is that the almost 200 countries attending — the parties to the Kyoto Protocol, plus the European Union — can sign on to a plan to limit the increase in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above their pre-industrial level.
Araud has spent significant time talking to American power players about the catastrophe that unchecked climate change could wreak on the U.S. and the global economy. What has he learned? Most were ready to deal with the problem — except Congress.
“When you see climate deniers, to be frank and with all due respect, it’s a phenomenon which is limited in a sense to the U.S. and in a sense to the U.S. Congress,” Araud told The Huffington Post earlier this month. “I should say, even though it’s not very diplomatic, it’s one more example of where the people, the civil society, is ahead of the politicians.”
Congressional Republicans seem determined to ignore the challenge. The 2016 GOP presidential field is no better — most candidates maintain that there is still scientific debate about whether climate change is occurring, a claim that has been repeatedly debunked for years. Republican leaders on the Hill recently indicated that they are ready to undercut the Obama administration’s participation in the historic climate talks by blocking funding that the administration needs to sign on to any COP 21 plan. (The conference is committed to raising $100 billion to help poorer countries in the Global South prepare for climate-related disasters; the White House hopes to donate $3 billion to that fund.)
Securing that funding is a priority for the French and the United Nations, who are co-hosting the conference. Araud described it as one of the greatest challenges in the run-up to the talks. He praised the Obama administration for prioritizing the achievement of a deal in Paris, which some say is now more likely than ever due to global solidarity with the French.
The ambassador said corporations, mayors and technology firms across the U.S. seemed keen to help fight climate change — striking a clear contrast to Hill Republicans like Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who in February brought a snowball to the Senate floor to demonstrate his belief that global warming is a lie.
“I have met an incredible mobilization,” the outspoken ambassador said. “When you cross the Beltway, you have the impression as usual of having a creative country moving forward, and I’ve hardly heard any reference to climate change denial there.”
2015 is set to be the hottest year on record.
This story is part of the second installment in The Huffington Post’s “Diplochats” series, which interviews prominent diplomats on important global issues. (Note: The series was previously known as “Ambassadors Unplugged.” Past stories in the series can be found here.)
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