MANILA: From the typhoon-ravaged Philippines to the Arizona desert, thousands of people began gathering Saturday in small groups in 79 countries for what was touted as the biggest public debate on climate change
Results of the day-long consultations will be submitted to climate change negotiators ahead of a year-end United Nations summit in Paris, where world leaders will gather to forge a new treaty aimed at curbing global warming.
"I hope that decision makers will find this initiative an important echo chamber of citizens' concerns, hopes and aspirations for the kind of world they want for themselves and their children," said Christiana Figueres, executive director of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, one of the organisers of the event.
"It is also an important contribution to galvanising public understanding of what can often seem a highly complex topic, but one that goes to the heart of everyone’s lives."
There are about 100 participants from a cross-section of society in each of the day-long discussions, according to the organisers.
They were to be asked how concerned they were about climate change, if climate negotiators should seek an ambitious accord, and if the Paris agreement should be legally binding for all countries.
Every participant would be required to vote on the issues.
Organisers will present the results to climate change negotiators who are meeting in Bonn, Germany, next week, and in other meetings leading to the Paris summit.
- 'voices of poor and vulnerable' -
One of the first debates was in the Philippines, a Southeast Asian nation particularly vulnerable to climate change and already hit by an average of 20 major storms or typhoons a year.
In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with the strongest winds ever recorded on land, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.
The Philippine meeting gathered "ordinary people", including farmers, minibus drivers, housewives, street vendors and professionals, discussion moderator Editha Pimentel told AFP.
One of the participants in Manila, high school teacher Jocelyn Pedernal, said she believed the forum could be a way for world powers to hear the voices of the poor and vulnerable.
"Even a small speck of dust can get caught in the eye and have an effect," she told AFP.
"The big countries are the ones who should show the way and apply the measures to stem climate change. They are the ones who emit the most carbon."
Another participant, tricycle driver Bartolome Pidar, 35, said he wanted to tell leaders of rich nations about his suffering.
"The poor are the ones who feel the effects of the heat and rain. The rich have houses and air conditioning," said Pidar, a father of three.
"They are rich because of us so they should listen to us."
The consultations are co-organised by the French National Commission for Public Debate, French consulting firm Missions Publiques and the Danish Board of Technology Foundation.
The goal of the planned Paris pact, which must enter into force by 2020, is to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
Scientists warn that on current trends, Earth is on track for double that or more -- a recipe for catastrophic droughts, fiercer storms like Haiyan and other extreme weather events. - AFP