PARIS — France, the host of the COP21, has in its hands the most vital mission it has ever been entrusted with: spare humanity the irreversible disaster that would come from a two-degree rise of the globe's average temperature by this century's end, compared to the pre-industrial era.
There will be no second chance. We can always try to reassure ourselves with the thought that the human species will somehow manage to adapt to global warming — it's probably true, but it would come at the expense of millions of deaths, of unprecedented displacements of population and of huge land masses rendered uninhabitable because of rising waters or droughts.
This apocalyptic world no longer falls under the category of prediction, but expectation. It's no longer reserved to the southern hemisphere. It no longer threatens distant generations, exotic tribes or voiceless populations. We know the victims of climate terror: They are our children.
Our common home is burning, and among the 196 joint homeowners who have arrived in Paris for the COP21 United Nations summit, some are still looking elsewhere. Saudi Arabia, sitting on its deathly oil slicks. India, which sees in the calls for a de-carbonized economy a new form of Western imperialism. Russia, eyeing the huge energy reserves of the Arctic soon to be liberated by the melting of the ice caps.
Finding a consensus on a legally-bound agreement despite these opposing interests, establishing the need to raise, as early as 2020 and for five years (not 10 — we no longer have the time), the contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and thus avoid a deadly three-degree warming path: This is the weighty responsibility that French President François Hollande has undertaken by hosting the COP21 in Paris.
Given its past diplomatic failings, whether in relation to Russia or the handling of the Syrian conflict, there are reasons to worry about France's capacity to produce a result that would measure up to expectations.
This time, however, there is room for hope. First because Paris, learning lessons from the Copenhagen failure in 2009, has had the good idea of gathering the heads of state and of government at the very start of the conference, in order to provide the political momentum necessary to put the pressure on their respective delegations.
Secondly because France is not alone. It has natural allies: Germany, but also the United States and China, the world's two main polluters, are on our side — as long as their obligations are reasonable. Finally, the global world of finance is becoming a driving force: Hundreds of billions of euros of assets are about to be completely de-carbonized.
What if, in the end, it was cold hard cash that saved the planet?