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Action at grass-roots level vital to success of COP21

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On Dec. 12, the representatives of 195 countries adopted a historic agreement designed to meet the challenge of global climate change at COP21, the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. Propelled by the urgency of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, participants overcame numerous difficulties to achieve consensus on a post-2020 framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The consequences of global warming are not limited to such effects as glacial retreat and loss of biodiversity, but include an increased likelihood of intense rainfall, heat waves and other extreme weather events, which may in turn impact agricultural production and provoke crises in the food supply.

The vulnerable in our societies will be the most severely affected, with the impact on children being particularly serious. UNICEF warns that the number of children directly affected by climate change-related disasters could reach 200 million in the coming decade.

We should heed the words of Aristotle: “What is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he himself is concerned as an individual.” If such attitudes continue to shape our responses to the challenge of the global environment, humanity’s prospects will indeed be bleak.

Climate change is already a crisis in progress, causing suffering to countless people around the world. The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu had just been struck by Cyclone Pam when the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction opened in March in Sendai. Amid a sense of shared pain at the reports of devastation, the conference adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which clearly defined climate change as “one of the drivers of disaster risk.”

At the Paris conference, leaders of Pacific island nations issued impassioned calls for action to meet the existential threat they face in the form of rising sea levels. In the end, a long-term global goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels was concluded.

Since the greenhouse gas reduction targets adopted in the Paris agreement are not legally binding, with the measures to be taken left to individual nations, the path to significant cuts may be difficult. But I am convinced that shared concern and empathetic openness to the suffering of others holds the key to building genuine international cooperation focused on the common interest of humanity.

Analysis shows that the targets for greenhouse gas emission cuts established under the Kyoto Protocol have already been surpassed by a considerable degree. All stakeholders must now come together to build on this achievement in order to effectively combat global warming.

In this regard, I am reminded of the words of my late friend, the Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai: “I have always believed that solutions to most of our problems must come from us.” I concur with her — we have the innate ability to work together to fight against threats and to collectively create the future that we want.

If the capacity to contain threats is something that needs to be developed on the national and governmental level, civil society can contribute by unleashing people’s energy and empowering them to build the best possible future together. This is the indispensable foundation for not only the task of combating global warming but, beyond that, the challenge of creating a sustainable global society.

Inspiring people at the grass-roots level has been the central focus of the efforts of the Soka Gakkai International in support of the U.N.’s Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) initiatives. The touring exhibitions on environmental issues we jointly produced with Earth Charter International were titled “Seeds of Change” and “Seeds of Hope” to emphasize the transformative potential of action taken by individuals in their immediate surroundings.

At the COP21 conference, Dec. 3 was designated Young and Future Generations Day. Ahmad Alhendawi, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, pointed out that the majority of recent climate change rallies around the world were organized by young people, stressing: “It’s the task of our generation to get it done. Everybody has a share.”

Last year, the U.N. adopted a Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development. One of the five priority action areas it identifies is empowering and mobilizing youth, expanding their engagement with ESD. This highlights the increasing importance of involving the young people who will shape the next generation.

Indeed, I believe that empowerment of young people is indispensable to our efforts to halt or even reverse global warming, an effort that starts with COP21 and will continue far into the future.

Daisaku Ikeda is president of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist association and founder of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research.