Robert Redford Joins Stars to Expand Climate Debate at UN

  • Little is settled midway through two-week meeting in Paris
  • More than 50 high-profile people gathering to spur action

Robert Redford and Sean Penn are among the celebrities gathered in Paris to bring momentum to the United Nations global warming talks, making personal pleas for the biggest polluters to slash fossil-fuel emissions.

“I experienced smog, bad air, and I experienced traffic overload that wasn’t there when I was little,” Redford said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Paris. “I discovered the value of nature, and the fact is if you leave nature alone, there’s something quite good about it.”

Robert Redford

Photographer: Isa Harsin/Sipa via AP Images

He’s one of more than 50 high-profile personalities brought together by the UN and lobbying groups to spur ambition from the 195 nations at the meeting. After the terrorist attacks in the French capital last month, most of the demonstrations and marches planned were canceled, limiting the bulk of what’s dubbed Action Day to the area behind security barricades where envoys are negotiating. Even so, their appearance was an integral fixture in maintaining pressure for a deal.

“The celebrities elevate the issues to a different audience,” said Jake Schmidt, who follows climate issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. advocacy group. “Their role is to pull the conversation out of the details and to make the public aware of what’s going on.”

Halfway through the two-week summit, some progress has been made to narrow the differences between rich nations and poor ones. Negotiators on Saturday agreed to a draft text of the deal to be forwarded to ministers, who are to conclude the agreement next week.

“We have come a long way, and we have a text to take forward,” Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, who speaks for the G77 group of about 130 developing nations and China, told delegates in Paris. The Swiss envoy Franz Perrez said the text gives ministers “a strong basis for our negotiations.”

UN Agenda

The envoys are attempting to agree to the first-ever limits on greenhouse gases that would apply worldwide. That would expand the fight against global warming beyond the industrial countries that imposed curbs under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

At the sidelines are celebrities, environmental groups and business executives, each pressing for an accord that would satisfy their followers. Even oil companies have taken an interest, calling for certainty on the taxes and regulations they expect as concern mounts about rising temperatures.

“There’s a realization that this is one of the most challenging issues for our generation, and it will impact business,” Helge Lund, chief executive officer of the British natural gas producer BG Group Plc, said in an interview in Paris. “It’s no longer a side issue.”

Penn’s Appearance

Penn is scheduled to speak Saturday about protecting forests, according to a schedule of the Action Day event released by the UN. French President Francois Hollande speaks at the event along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and a handful of national energy ministers.

Sean Penn

Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Executives including Michel Lies, CEO of the insurer Swiss Re, and Jack Ma of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. also will appear.

Negotiators finish their first week of talks with a meeting to assess progress and set out the issues for senior ministers to decide next week. Those observing the discussions say they’re on a better track for a deal than in 2009, when the UN’s last big push for a climate deal crashed without agreement in Copenhagen.

Progress Made

“Important elements of the agreement are still in play,” said Martin Kaiser, climate policy director for the environmental group Greenpeace, said in an interview in Paris. “But the big players have moved away from their original positions to get an acceptable package.”

There’s still unease among many of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change -- more ferocious storms and rising sea levels that stand to swamp island nations. They blame the richest nations for causing the problem and want to see deeper commitments to act.

Industrialized nations “have a historical debt they have to pay,” said Malaysian envoy Gurdial Singh Nijar, who speaks for the block of more than 20 so-called Like-Minded Developing Countries. “There are consequences if they do not fulfill that, for the climate and the people of the world.”

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