Tuesday, December 8, 2015

COP21 - Mayors, Governors, Sheiks and Scientists

What's it like to be at COP21?

There's a lot going on and a common complaint is that it is not possible to participate in everything of interest.  The negotiations are being covered by the media.  People continue to be optimistic about a deal in Paris, but there remain issues to negotiate, including enforcement, when and how to update national climate plans, financing for mitigation, adaptation and renewables, and several others.  We got word today that the final agreement may take place a day or two after the final scheduled conference day of December 11.

It's not just negotiations, it's more like the "olympics" of climate change, with many things happening simultaneously and all of it at the highest levels.  The negotiations over the COP21 agreement are just one of many activities.

Here are some examples of perhaps 20 events I've attended in the past few days.

California Governor Jerry Brown seems to be everywhere and appears to have the stamina of a marathon runner.

At an event with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Saudia Arabia Oil Minister, Ali Al-Naimi and others, Brown recited facts and figures about California and world climate issues, including the estimate that there is about 20 years worth of fossil fuels left to burn at current rates before we exhaust the amount that can be burned and avoid cataclysmic climate change.  Brown and jump easily from facts to philosophy.  He said that countries working together on climate will make it possible to address many non-climate issues: "learning to solve this (the climate) problem can teach the world about solving other problems."

Calif Governor Jerry Brown and Saudi Oil Minister 12/8/15

At another event with over 500 local officials, he said states, provinces and localities have a responsibility to push and inspire our nations.  He also went into detail about how we need to "change our carbon intensive way of life" and suggested that friendship, beauty and art need to take the place of the commoditization of our lifestyles.

Mayors are a major presence and are pushing hard for national action by their governments.  Over 400 Mayors are in attendance, including California Mayors from Oakland, Chula Vista, Santa Monica, Richmond and elsewhere.

Mayor Frank Cownie of Des Moines said, "Our region used to be coal country, and now is powered by forty percent wid.  That's the future tat cities and states are creating."

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie 12/8/15

Leaders of countries large and small are in attendance and actively participating.  I saw Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands describe how his country is already being ravaged by extreme weather and rising seas.  He lamented that it is hard to convey a message that his country is facing life or death.  "We are very, very fragile," he said and are being impacted by pollution his people did not cause.  Other Pacific island nations are looking for funds to relocate their populations as seas rise.

Cook Island Prime Minister Henry Puna 12/7/15

At an event about climate science, one of the leading world scientists looking at climate change, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, lamented that it is challenging to convey the gravity of the issues in ways that are understood by policymakers.  "Scientists are not poets" she said.

Scientist Valerie Masson-Delmotte 12/7/15.

The paparazzi would have a field day around COP21.  Rock stars, movie stars, world leaders and seemingly just about everyone his here.  Fitting two categories is former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who has been quite blunt about the need for bold action on climate.

What's it like Inside COP21?

It is really several events in one.  There is a secure "blue zone" where the negotiations take place, the media congregates, organizations and countries display their materials, and many gatherings and events take place.  The adjacent "green zone" is open to the public and also has many events and and displays from organizations and governments.

There are a limited number of groups who could get accredited to be in the blue zone.  In total, according to COP Executive Secretary of COP21, there are over 20,000 accredited government representatives and 10,000 accredited non-government representatives.  In additon there are several thousand media, businesses and others with access to the Blue Zone.

COP21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres

At any given time, there may be a dozen or more events in the Green Zone and several dozen or more in the Blue Zone.  These events are in addition to the actual negotiations and side meetings.  As an example, today there events such as Toward a low CO2 Steel Industry in Europe, Human Rights and Climate Change, Climate Smart Agriculture, and many more.

To get into either venue, you have to pass through airport-style security.  There are plenty of lanes, so the wait to get in is minimal.  The presence of armed security is notable everywhere and there is limited vehicle access.  Most participants arrive by the local train or subway and are met by dedicated buses to the facility.  Photo badges are regularly checked inside the Blue Zone.  The badges are also color coded to indicate country representative, media, observer or several other categories.

Example of Security Badge

The COP21 site isn't the only venue for climate activity in Paris.  There are quite a few related events happening elsewhere, including a gathering of local officials from around the world, a landscapes forum and others.  I attending a briefing at UNESCO headquarters from the leaders of the scientific group looking into climate issues (the IPCC).  I'll be attending another off-site meeting later in the week at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

My waste and recycling friends will be glad to know that this is a zero-waste event.  There is a 1 Euro (about a dollar) deposit on coffee and drink cups that are to be reused or recycled.

I've also been tweeting @climatedispatch.

(all photos by Michael Paparian)


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