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Paris Climate Talks: The 21st Time Must Be the Charm

By Cristián Samper

The polar bear, the wildlife symbol of the impacts of climate change, is not alone. Hundreds of species are feeling the impact of climate change, including animals, plants and people. All life is affected by a changing climate now; it is not just a prediction about the future.

As the world confronts a warming planet, as sea levels rise, as oceans acidify, as rain patterns shift, and as weather becomes more extreme, the world must take concerted, creative action to develop a low-carbon economy. The Conference of Parties, COP21, gathering in Paris is clearly highlighting the pivotal role the United States must play as a world leader to ensure that responsible action is taken to deal with this global issue. Leaders from the private sector, civil society, and local communities are taking steps to reduce and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Graphic by Joseph Inglis ©WCS.
Graphic by Joseph Inglis ©WCS.

And it is not just about cars, planes, and coal-powered plants. Every time a tree is cut it releases CO2. Tropical forest deforestation represents around 15 percent of global emissions — more than all the cars, trucks, and airplanes in the world combined. Intact forests mop up carbon dioxide through continued growth, partially counteracting emissions from other sources.

While we innovate new carbon-reducing ways to keep our world running, we also need an agenda for an internationally recognized and adequately funded pay-for-performance model that rewards forest-dependent communities for keeping forests standing. Protecting our large intact forests also provides habitat for myriad species that will need to adjust ranges and find new resources that will help them adapt to the impacts of climate change.

This climate conference marks the 21st time that governments have gathered to address climate change. The 21st time must be the charm. As France’s President Hollande has said: ‘We are duty-bound to succeed.’

We are issuing the Polar Bear Is Not Alone graphic today in support of efforts at COP21. Our graphic depicts how the polar bear, long the symbol warning us about climate change, is not alone. Joining the bear is a farmer in California, communities in Papua New Guinea, the migrating bar-tailed godwit, the quiver tree of Southern Africa, and other forms of life across the globe.

Not only must we curtail carbon emissions to slow the rate of climate change; we need to help both wildlife and humans adapt to the impacts of change by ensuring the protection of functioning ecosystems and the services they provide that support all life on our planet. We must be emissions smart and adaptation sharp.

Share the attached graphic on your social media channels. Tag your messages with #COP21 and #StandforWildlife. Tell your friends we must take action as more of us join the polar bear on a melting sheet of ice.

While our governments converge in Paris, let’s converge on the world through the power of social media.

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Dr. Cristián Samper is President and CEO of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). You can follow Cristián on Twitter at: @CristianSamper