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Short overview of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 21 Paris

It is long past the time for the phenomenon of global warming to be merely a subject of scientific research or an abstract notion in the minds of the general public. For a number of years we have been witnessing serious climate changes caused by this phenomenon, which have adversely influenced the lives of an increasing number of inhabitants. Almost daily reports on worrisome climate occurrences from different parts of world have silenced even the greatest of skeptics on the connection of human activities and climate disruption. It seems that the global level of awareness has finally reached critical level - it is high time to pass a global agreement strengthened by detailed measures that are legally binding for all the countries.

A series of UN conferences dedicated to addressing climate change since 1995 and initially from the city of Berlin was set back by difficult negotiations that, year after year, were unable to produce tangible result. Finally at the COP 21 conference held in Paris from November 30 - December 12 2015, an agreement was reached on the reduction of CO2 emissions and capping temperature rise below 2C between almost 200 nations. The conference will be remembered for its complexity, the sheer number of negotiators and the diplomatic skills of organizers who have successfully brought it to fruition. In addition to the official negotiation taking place in the so-called "Blue zone", an unofficial part called "Climate Generation Area" was open to the public and numerous non-government organizations.

This agreement differentiates from the previous ones in that the traditional model of international agreement was abandoned along with its fixed insistence on obligations. That approach yielded no results from previous conferences. Instead, this agreement rests on nations who will decide for themselves the targets on greenhouse gases reduction, periodical revisions to targets and evaluating decisions to meet even more ambitious reductions. The agreement also successfully resolved the complex dispute between richer and poorer countries by finding solutions to finance the necessary changes. Many agree that it is a historic agreement, seeing it as the key document to end the era of fossil fuels. Hopes for its success lies in the fact that investment in clean energy resources is rising globally despite significant falls in oil prices, which is a clear sign to the business community that they should move away from fossil-based economy. The turning point was the perception that measures taken to limit climate change are no longer a loss, but an opportunity. The conference was on the whole marked by the tangible enthusiasm of participants, especially so in its unofficial part dedicated to the public and non-government organizations where visitors had opportunity to explore and take part in more than 120 booths, 20 interactive educational exhibitions, 340 panels and 600 film screenings.

Even this very short conference depiction highlighted the seriousness of global warming and the huge problem faced by us. It is a global crisis that demands more than administrative measures. Although the Paris conference primarily dealt with strategies to alleviate symptoms of this crisis, it is necessary to explore its deeper causes if we want the agreement to be effective longterm. The nature of these causes is not only economic, but also moral and spiritual. For a number of years many Buddhist leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Nanh and Master Sheng Yen took part in raising awareness on the seriousness of ecological crisis - both among the general public, as well as among the political elite that has the power to bring about necessary decisions. Their contribution to understanding this crisis is in response to the burning question of our age. Buddhism is religion that directly deals with cessation of illusion and suffering coming from it - both on an individual as well as collective level. It contributes to shed some light on the roots of this crisis, which is then an important element in finding the solution. In other words, it does not suffice to rely solely on technology and science to find solutions; it is wise to use all resources that we have on our disposal, and Buddhism definitely has something to offer.

Buddhism understands that fundamental human illusion, and therefore fundamental cause of human suffering, is deeply rooted in the view of separate existence. When we believe to we exist separately and apart from everything else, we experience everything that is not "I" as being opposed to ourselves, as being other, different, foreign and often threatening. Such a view becomes constant source of disharmony, conflict and tension. We call this experience of self and world egocentric. It is narrow, painful and it fails to comprehend the whole. Within Buddhism this experience is associated with ignorance, greed and hatred. When the three forces prevail, our vision is obscured and limited, and we could see neither the whole nor the relations within it. This view causes not only discord and conflicts that we experience on the personal level, but also on the collective social level. It also manifests itself in our relation towards nature and is best described as anthropocentric, meaning a relation where people see themselves as superior to other beings and to nature, all of which are to be at our disposal. Ecological crisis is a consequence of such a worldview and the activities arising from it.

Buddhism, on the other hand, emphasizes its teaching on interrelatedness and interconnectedness that presents human being and its relation to nature in radically different terms. It is a wake-up call, not from an ordinary dream but rather from a nightmare, from a way of life that is violent, painful, unsustainable, unreasonable and that has brought us to the brink of destruction. Understanding that our existence is inseparable from the totality of life on this planet, whose fragile climate balance makes life possible, points towards a very different relationship marked by responsibility, gratitude, respect for all that that we come into contact with. It is a perspective where polluting environment equates to poisoning our own body, exploiting others for one's own profit equates to self-exploitation. From this perspective there is neither “I” nor "other", there is no boundary between the environment and us.

In the Chan tradition we cultivate our minds; being deeply aware that our personal situation in life, degree of harmony in society as well as conditions in our environment are a reflection of our own mental state. Therefore it is important to simplify one's life, to discern real needs from desires and to see the futility of consumerism. To see that inner feeling of lack and insecurity cannot be alleviated by money, fame, power. Simplicity is also manifested through abiding within the reality of the present moment, with anything that presents itself before us. It liberates us from self-preoccupation and opens up a much deeper understanding of the nature of relationship with others and with our environment. This leads to a deep feeling of connectedness and interpenetration with everything around us. Responsibility, gratitude and respect are but a natural outcome of this changed view of ourselves and the world, a view that is liberated from the illusion of separate existence.

At the Paris conference I was a member of DDMBA delegation together with Guo Chan Fashi, Chang Ji Fashi and Chang Zao Fashi. With thanks to Dena Merriam, founder of GPIW, for inviting our small delegation, we were also part of their delegation which included various religious representatives. We took part in two panel discussions called "The Role of Ethics and Awareness in Climate Change Solutions" at the official conference and "The Inner Dimensions of Climate Change" at the unofficial one. Although limited by time, it was an opportunity to point towards the ethical and spiritual aspects of the crisis, points that would hardly have been spoken of otherwise. I see my participation at this, and a range of other conferences, as a small contribution towards the efforts of my teacher, Master Sheng Yen to share the principles of Buddhadharma wherever it can be of some help and for common good.

written by Žarko Andričević

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