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November 30 marked a momentous occasion in France, as the French government and United Nations successfully and safely hosted the opening day of one of the largest diplomatic conferences ever organized, aside from the United Nations General Assembly sessions in New York 

World’s Leaders Came to Open COP21

December 1, 2015

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November 30 marked a momentous occasion in France, as the French government and United Nations successfully and safely hosted the opening day of one of the largest diplomatic conferences ever organized, aside from the United Nations General Assembly sessions in New York. Nearly 150 heads of state were in attendance at the UN climate change conference outside Paris today. Helicopters flew overhead, police and police dogs were omnipresent, and the halls of the exhibition space were packed with delegates and observers.

Allison ChatrchyanChatrchyan is a member of Cornell's COP21 delegation (watch her COP21 video)

Cornell University’s delegation was granted one of the few observer passes to participate in the COP’s opening ceremony, getting to see and hear firsthand the speeches delivered in support of climate change action offered by world leaders, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, French President François Hollande, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and their counterparts from around the world.

Each leader provided a different rationale for action in their remarks, with the Hungarian president asking countries to act for their children and grandchildren; Lithuania’s president drawing important connections between increasing climate change, including drought, as a primary cause of conflict and migration, refugees, and terrorism; and President Obama noting that nations have the responsibility to act, in particular to help small island nations, whose very existence is threatened by rising sea levels. The UN Secretary-General called for the strongest possible action, noting to delegates, "The future of our planet is in your hands."

The French government also made a strategic decision, bringing world leaders to Paris to launch the conference with enthusiasm and building momentum, rather than inviting them to close it out (with possible disappointment), as was the case at the 2009 COP in Copenhagen. This high-level government participation is a strong indication that the environment­—and particularly climate change—has entered the realm of “high politics,” garnering as much focus as other traditional political issues seen as vital to governments, such as trade or security. And perhaps we are finally witnessing a turning point, where strong global and national action on climate change has become almost inevitable, as countries are drawing important connections between climate change and international security, and world leaders are reaching out to local governments, business leaders, and capital investors to pitch in to solutions to the challenge of climate change.