Failure is not an option in Paris

An address to the climate change conference in Bangkok by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President of Timor-Leste José Ramos-Horta, on July 3, 2015

I am not a scientist. Scientists have long shared with us incontrovertible evidence pointing to the extremely serious degradation of our common home as a result of human activities. So I will not rehash what has been said and written by others with more authority.

Peoples of the developing world, in particular those of the Small Island Developing Countries, have benefited the least from the last centuries’ industrial revolution. They are largely blameless for the barbaric damage done to Planet Earth.

Yet they are the most vulnerable to climate change, paying a disproportionate price for what I would call the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries’ trans-boundary environmental crimes, which include dumping of nuclear, chemical and industrial wastes in the seas in the East African coast, over fishing by fleets from far away richer countries leading to depletion of fish stocks and impoverishment of tens of millions of peoples whose livelihood depend on the seas; uncontrolled logging in Asia and Africa contributing to desertification.

Human beings were and are responsible for climate change and human beings must find the solutions. The men and women of science have done their part in sharing with us the data they have meticulously collected over many decades; they are showing the way forward to reversing the environmental degradation of our common home.

Now it is up to politicians to show statesmanship on a global scale. Diplomats and politicians will be held responsible for any failure in Paris. Failure should not be an option.


While we are confronting increasingly dramatic environmental challenges, our world is facing unprecedented threats to regional and world peace and security.

As the Chair of the High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations my colleagues and I delivered to the Secretary-General our comprehensive and detailed analysis of the security challenges the world is facing. We provided recommendations on how we can better equip our common organization to do better in preventing and resolving conflicts when they have erupted.

As with climate change, we will only succeed in resolving the  devastating wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Mali, DR Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ukraine, or the violent extremism that challenges the very existence of states, through collective will.

The humanitarian crisis ensuing from these conflicts have no parallel in recent history; and they are setting back decades of positive economic and social indicators in the affected Middle Eastern countries. They are causing colossal environmental damage,

These are all interrelated challenges. Besides killing people and destroying property, wars inflict a heavy toll on the environment and set back efforts towards sustainable and equitable development which are sine quo non conditions for peace.

There seems to be no end to the bad news. The ongoing economic and financial crisis which erupted in the US in late 2008 continue to reverberate around the world. As a consequence, most of the developed Western countries, with the admirable exception of the UK, have drastically reduced their Overseas Development Assistance budgets.


The UNDP has described and proposed four main areas for resources focus; I subscribe to this view:

  • Mainstreaming climate risk management into development planning
  • Empowering communities to identify solutions and scale up local innovations
  • Strengthen countries’ own capacity to work towards a zero poverty – zero emissions future.
  • Support countries to stimulate entrepreneurship.

Everyone wants a Paris agreement. Everyone agrees there is a need for an agreed outcome with legal force.  Everyone agrees that some differentiation among countries is needed in terms of who should carry the burden of climate change actions.

The principle that everyone should do what they can is at the base of this, but how are we to agree on how much each country should participate? This can only be solved with solidarity and with genuine willingness to contribute to global common good.


Much of the discussion around climate change is about mitigation of its effects in the future. As we are seeing, that climate change is happening right now, not in some distant future. Adaptation measures are crucial for many countries now, not later.

This has a special meaning for my country, Timor-Leste, and for many other Small Island Developing Countries. Our people are in a particularly vulnerable position, with the potential to affect both security and sustainable development:

▪ Small Island Developing Countries are more vulnerable from the start due to narrowly based economies. Climate change will multiply the risks, increasing competition of scarce resources, potentially leading to conflict.
▪ Sustainable development, including progress to achieve development goals, will remain elusive so long as natural disasters continue to undermine progress. This is certainly the case for thhe Small Island Developing Countries, where natural hazards such as hurricanes/cyclones and tsunamis, which are magnified by climate change, have already caused widespread and significant losses.

The discussion is ongoing as to what extent adaptation plans may be financed from the Green Climate Fund. This is of crucial importance for the countries already affected, and I hope agreement can be reached to give this sufficient priority. 


China, whose economy experienced the most dramatic progress in history, catapulting it to the status of a global emerging power, has done much to assist other developing countries in their national efforts to lift their peoples out of extreme poverty.

Chinese leaders are acutely aware that their own country’s well-being is intrinsically linked to the well-being of the region and of the world as a whole. Rapid industrialization and modernization has had enormous impact on the environment. This is acknowledged by Chinese leaders and they have taken innovative measures to address these challenges.

India too, another giant Asian emerging power, has adopted policies and taken steps to redress the environmental degradation caused by demographic pressures and industrialization.

The challenge for the two Asian giants is how to reconcile their natural and legitimate right to continue their industrialization and modernization drive with the imperative need to meet their own national goals on mitigation and adaptation. I believe they are doing their very best to reconcile these seemingly contradictory goals.

The rest of us whose combined CO2 emissions is minute compared with those of the developed economies and the other emerging economies of the South, do have also responsibilities towards our own people, our future generations.

We must face up to the corroding impact of corruption, waste and mismanagement, exclusionary economic policies, deficits in social and political dialogue, politics of exclusion instead of inclusion, and acknowledge these are the causes of much of the on-going devastating conflicts in parts of the world, in particular in the African Continent.


We all understand the economic and political difficulties faced by our friends in the US, Europe and Japan. At the same time, the rest of the world cannot remain hostage of the selfish conflicting interests of a few.

It is in this context that new partnerships must be built between industrialized countries and emerging economies with a strategy that realistically addresses the multi-dimensional challenges we face.

Major powers must behave like truly major powers, displaying leadership and statesmanship in bridging their differences and exploring innovative ideas and strategies that ultimately will benefit all.

Although we still face many challenges to get all conditions in order to reaching December 2015 goal, significant steps forward have taken place and there is reason to be optimistic about COP21: all the parties acknowledged the urgency to act and take further steps;

Leaders of the G7 economies have committed themselves, at least in eloquent words, to total decarbonation of the world economy in this Century, led by 2 major objectives: 40 to 70% cuts in carbon emission, and the energy sector transformation by 2050, as well as their agreement in favor of a legally binding framework.