#COPtimism: Dawn of a New Era

Something unprecedented happened in Paris on Saturday 12th December 2015. Governments from all over the world agreed to limit global warming and address the effects of climate change.

A Bold Commitment

The moment when COP21 President Laurent Fabius announced a deal my spirits, and hundreds of thousands of others, soared in relief and amazement. In fact, I’ve coined a new verb – COPtimism – to celebrate. 

This remarkable feat of political diplomacy inspired the entire global community to unite for the greater good, was crafted and led by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and many bold political leaders, and orchestrated by civic society on a grand scale. Businesses and corporations, faith and community groups, philanthropists and NGOs peppered the negotiations before and during with activities, promises and pledges. 

I was there with Julie’s Bicycle, running a symposium for 150 arts and music professionals from all over the world celebrating creative responses to sustainability and to COP21. The resulting Paris Accord contains, crucially, a commitment to peak greenhouse gas emissions at below 2 degrees with a 1.5 degree goal, widely held to be a safe limit. It also agrees to provide $100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020 for developing countries and – also critical – to review progress every five years.

Artists as Negotiators

In the run up I convened a letter, presented to Christiana Figueres (the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and a formidable achiever), with over 400 signatories from across the international creative community. The number, range and especially the star dust of the lobby took me by surprise. Musicians from across the globe representing a wide diversity of style pitched in and supported the letter, including superstars such as David Bowie (who will be deeply missed and whose support for this lobby was instrumental), Bjork, Yoko Ono, David Gilmour, Coldplay, alongside internationally acclaimed musicians such as Blick Bassy, Bon Iver, Angelique Kidjo, Bonnie Raitt, Pilani Bubu, Bez Idakula, Jonathon Dove and Sir Antonio Pappano.

Relying on a small number of friends and colleagues (including the editor of Songlines magazine where this article is published originally) they were gathered over a really short space of time (eight weeks) without much fuss at all – obviously this issue meant a lot and not just to us: the UNFCCC team and the French government were clear that these names are negotiating assets. We accompanied the letter with some quotes, two of which are worth repeating in full. 

Aruna Sairam, the superb Indian vocalist was witnessing the devastating flooding of her home town. She wrote:  

Thank you for thinking about me to support Julie's Bicycle and its campaign against climate change.  It would be an honor to support this cause while it is being presented at the UN in Paris later this month. In Chennai we are directly impacted by the harsh side of climate change - Mother Nature's rainfall torrents and cyclones. The entire city is completely submerged in water inside homes and people wading through the city; rescue teams are traveling in boats through the streets to rescue people. So yes, please do add my name as a supporter for this cause.

And a passionate call to action from Anguun, the Indonesian singer, herself a powerful activist with a huge global following who implored:

"Our world is in great danger. Our planet is headed for irreversible climate change, but options exist to limit its effects. You have the power to make a change and give a future for next generations. If we do not act boldly and aggressively by enacting massive cuts in carbon emissions, the planet that we are going to be leaving to our children may very well be uninhabitable. As institutional and political leaders, you must take bold actions on climate change... now!"

I am pretty sure that the testimonies of artists and cultural leaders from all over the globe helped the Paris Agreement. The contribution of creative people – our ability to capture attention, amplify concerns and encourage bold leadership – makes a difference. So we need to keep up the public pressure but also match it with actions ourselves. 

We can do many things to reduce our own impacts – our touring, recording, buildings, festivals, productions and all the bits in between. My company, Julie’s Bicycle, was founded by the UK music industry to do just this and we have, over the last eight years, developed a comprehensive set of practical resources and tools to help music professionals become more sustainable, so if you want some ideas have a thorough browse of this website. 

Action is critical now the talks are over. 

Major flooding in the UK, India and the USA, droughts in East and South Africa, Brazil and California, extreme heat in Australia and the warmest temperatures on record globally provided the back drop for COP21, a fitting reality check and reminder to get cracking. And the most effective movements of change need critical mass and the will to act together. 

Julie’s Bicycle is building a partnership of creative companies committing to three core principles: be sustainable ourselves; collaborate together to find, and celebrate solutions; and use our unmatched capacity to amplify and inspire positive change with audiences and arts lovers all over the world. Building environmental sustainability into the fabric of the international music industry will not only help COP21 deliver, but will support an ethical and stronger community. 

We have already come together as a bunch of committed COPtimists. Now the work really starts. 


Sustaining Creativity