Climate Change: Who Will Lead?

With the latest warnings delivered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the past few weeks, no world leader will ever be able to claim that they were caught off-guard by climate change.

As former heads of state ourselves, we've experienced global crises from within the corridors of power. Some may take the world by surprise, but sometimes the warning signals are such that there is no excuse not to act. The IPCC report is such a signal.

The report of Working Group II of the IPCC is the most sobering assessment, to date, of the risks posed to humanity by climate change, describing a range of threats in a clear yet measured tone. Around the world, people's crops and homes are in danger already. This will only get worse if nothing is done. Economic shocks and worsening poverty, exacerbated by a warming planet, will also increase the risk of armed conflict. It is the world's poorest who are the most vulnerable. The report does not dictate exact scenarios but tells us, with unprecedented authority, what we must be ready for.

For this reason, it is a compelling call to action for governments. We hope it can trigger decisive action -- notably on greenhouse gas emission reduction and financing for climate adaptation -- on the road to December 2015, when world leaders will meet at a major conference in Paris to agree a new climate deal.

This week we are coming to Paris, as Elders, to help build momentum towards this deadline. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this process. Climate change ignores national borders. Multilateral negotiations remain the best approach for the world to reach a comprehensive solution. We are calling for a robust, fair, universal, and legally-binding agreement in Paris in 2015.

The IPCC report does not just describe risks, it identifies opportunities. Solutions exist. The world possesses the tools and technology needed to reduce carbon emissions, build a more sustainable economy and end our reliance on fossil fuels. Many governments, businesses and community leaders are already showing the way in promoting renewable energy and developing affordable solutions to adapt to the present impacts of climate change.

As Elders, we believe the world should become carbon-neutral by 2050 in order to keep the warming of the planet below 2°C, without jeopardizing the development opportunities of the poor. The expertise says this is feasible but requires visionary leadership and bold, concerted action. Ultimately, it is down to governments and their leaders to show the way and make sure the transition to carbon neutrality is fair.

But it would be too easy to wash one's hands and blame politicians for their failure to address climate change. Any failure would be collective. Responding to climate change is everyone's responsibility.

With Paris in December 2015 in our sights, we particularly want to stress the importance of youth movements to create the necessary anticipation and expectation that often acts as the first spark of momentum.

Furthermore, it is youth movements that determine the dedication and dynamism with which their own generations will confront these same threats when it is their turn to lead.

And with an increasingly young global population it is the youth who, by default, are the most vulnerable and directly concerned by the threats of climate change.

On all counts, the youth should mobilize now.

We will hold a discussion with some of these young leaders in Paris. We will also hear from the people on the frontline of climate change, from Chad to the Philippines, and learn about the solutions they are developing to cope with its most devastating effects.

We hope that by sharing some of our experience, and having a dialogue between generations, we can encourage current leaders to seize the opportunity of the process leading up to Paris in December 2015.

Young people will inherit our planet, our successes and our failures. As Elders, we urge them not to underestimate their power, influence and responsibility to address the biggest challenge of our time.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Elders, in partnership with the Huffington Post, to mark Earth Day (April 22, 2014) and call on young people to create momentum in the run-up to of a major climate conference in Paris in December 2015. The Elders are a group of independent global leaders working for peace, justice and human rights, brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007.

On April 22 Jimmy Carter, Hina Jilani and Mary Robinson, members of The Elders, will hold a debate on climate leadership and youth in Paris at 17:00 CEST. The event will be live-streamed by the Huffington Post and on You can tweet your questions using #ScPoElders. Join the conversation and follow @TheElders on Twitter.