Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Leonardo DiCaprio, the Oscars and climate change

Leonardo DiCaprio packs energy into his acting. Remember him as he runs to catch the Titanic, or as the ambitious young stockbroker Jordan Belfort in The wolf of Wall Street. When DiCaprio spoke after receiving his Oscar award on his sixth nomination on February 28, he infused his energy into the cause of preventing climate change.

“Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big corporations or big polluters but who speak for all of humanity,” urged DiCaprio.

By talking about climate change at a globally watched platform, DiCaprio re-energised the discussion
(Pic: S. Gopikrishna Warrier)
Interestingly, DiCaprio spoke at a time when world attention on climate change is flagging. It is ironically so, especially so soon after a climate agreement was carved out by world leaders at Paris in December.

DiCaprio is not the first celebrity to take climate change to international platforms. Former US Vice President Al Gore took his concerns on climate change to the world stage with his film An inconvenient truth, and shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for this effort with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Robert Redford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jessica Alba are among other names that have supported the movement to protect the world climate.

By talking about climate change during his Oscar acceptance speech, DiCaprio ensured maximum resonance from a global platform. With a reported 440,000 tweets per minute, it was the most tweeted Oscar event ever.

DiCaprio’s acceptance speech was also the first time that a celebrity was bringing international attention on climate change after the Paris Agreement was announced in early December 2015. At Paris the international community drew up an agreement that had been elusive for years. The closest that the world came to an agreement was at Copenhagen Conference of Parties in December 2009.
Copenhagen failed to deliver an agreement. However, what it ensured was that everybody talked about climate change and worked to disentangle vexatious issues. Paris delivered an agreement that was in the nature of a common minimum programme, where all countries – rich or poor, developed or developing – went back with a sense of having achieved something. Unfortunately, the Agreement was so common and so minimum that it was hardly a programme.

With emission reduction targets volunteered through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and no internationally-mandated targets, the Paris Agreement left behind a clutch of mishmash ambitions, which at best could help hold the global temperature increase to 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 from the start of the Industrial Revolution. Ironically, in its preamble the Paris Agreement had raised the bar for the global aspiration for 1.5° C from the 2° C that was set at Copenhagen.

Further, by involving every country to meet its INDC targets, the Paris Agreement effectively took away the differentiation between the developed and developing countries. Benin, Gabon and Bhutan are as bound by their INDC as the US, EU, China and India to meet emission reduction ambitions. This effectively emasculated the concept of common but differentiated responsibility for countries to meet the targets for global greenhouse gas emission reduction, which was the guiding principle for the Climate Change Convention since 1992.

"Let us not take this planet for granted."
What the Paris Agreement effectively did was that it found some space to echo the most important sound bite from every country. Thus, India was satisfied that there was mention of “sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production.” This happiness amongst the countries about the Paris Agreement has generated a complacency, which in turn has resulted in a silence on climate change discussions since December.

Leonardo DiCaprio broke this silence at the Oscars, even though at 34.3 million viewers the 2016 event had the third lowest viewership since the time Nielsen started its rating in the mid-1970s. But then this year it was not him alone who had used the platform to make an activist appeal, and DiCapiro’s statement is being played over and over again after the event.

It is a time when the US is going through pre-election process that is bringing the climate deniers out of the closet. The availability of cheap oil prices and discovery of alternate fossil fuel finds have strengthened the sense of complacency. And with an agreement in Paris, there is a feeling that it is comfortable to forget about climate change for the moment. 

DiCaprio broke this reverie with the words, “Let us not take this planet for granted, I do not take tonight for granted.” That was an appropriate reminder for the cause of protecting the world.


  1. I totally agree and those final sentences capped it for me as well! Powerfully put and will have had the desired impact.

  2. Donald Trump may well have him tried for treason!

  3. Our celebrities should also talk like this, then may be politicians agree

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