Tuesday, 15 December 2015


For long-time reporters of environmental issues, it was something of a surprise to see the massive mobilisation of artists, and people from all sectors of society, at COP 21 – the United Nations Climate Change Conference that took place in Paris, France, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12.

Sean Paul at COP 21. (Photo: UNFCCC)
Artists from a host of countries participated in discussions on the sidelines of the official talks, giving support to civil society groups and to national delegations. Jamaican rapper-singer and songwriter Sean Paul was there, for instance, as was Aaron Silk who belted out at the Caribbean Pavilion that we need “1.5 to stay alive”.

This figure refers to the appeal from small island states to limit the rise of average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius or below. Previous to COP 21, the goal had been 2 degrees Celsius, but faced with the inexorable rise in sea levels and the increase in extreme weather conditions, island nations have pushed for the lower target.

The 196 state parties in Paris finally agreed on the aim of keeping the average global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Throughout the conference, which was extended an extra day, artists sang and took part in debates. One evening, at a meeting of delegations from islands around the world – Palau to Curaçao – Silk joined two guitarists from Oceania to perform Bob Marley hits including “Redemption Song”. As everyone crooned along, a delegate from Curaçao remarked that we have more that links us than divides us, and that we all need to be in the fight together.

Jamaican singer Aaron Silk (centre) performs at an
"island" event at COP 21. (Photo: McKenzie)
Sean Paul arrived at the climate conference on Dec. 10, the day before it was scheduled to end, dressed mostly in black and wearing dark glasses.

Flanked by UN representatives and environmental activists, he took part in a press conference, telling journalists and fans that governments need to take greater action on combating climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“In Jamaica, we are known for our athletes, but they need clean air when they’re training,” he said. “I’m a singer, and I have asthma, so I need clean air for my lungs.”

Paul said he was concerned about the burning of a huge garbage dump (called Riverton) in Kingston this year, which covered large parts of the city with choking smoke, and he urged action on getting man-made disasters such as this under control.

He told listeners that he was in Paris to learn more about environmental issues and that apart from using his music to raise awareness, he was trying to set an example by his own behaviour: using solar panels to provide electricity in a house he’s building, for example.

Sean Paul discusses climate change. (Photo: McKenzie)
Later, at a packed UN event to recognize developers of innovative solutions for climate change, Paul performed “Love Song to the Earth”, alongside the recorded images of fellow artists Paul McCartney, Leona Lewis and others.

Available for download from iTunes and Apple Music, the track, which Sean co-wrote, will help to raise funds for environmental group Friends of the Earth US and the UN Foundation, officials said.

Paul was probably the most high-profile Caribbean artist at COP 21, but the conference also heard the voices of singers, writers and actors from other regions, with personalities such as Angelique Kidjo, Alec Baldwin and Robert Redford giving their support to indigenous peoples, small island states and other vulnerable communities.

“Success for this conference will be action,” said Benin-born singer Kidjo, who participated in a symposium titled Earth to Paris that comprised participants and coalitions from all over the world. (See previous article.)

It’s anyone’s guess how much of an effect artist-activists had on the final Paris Agreement, and there’s always a measure of cynicism among the public when “stars” get involved in certain issues. But, as Paul said, “celebrities have influence, and they can use their influence to raise awareness.” – A.M. (Follow us on Twitter @mckenzie_ale)

Paris' Eiffel Tower sends a message at the end of the climate change talks. (Photo: McKenzie)