We at Les Sublimes had the pleasure to interview Manon Delachenal, expert in climate change, who came straight from the high mountains of Switzerland to participate in this monumental global event. Manon graciously shares with us her personal experiences attending the COP21 and why she leaves Paris an optimist.
Le Bourget is the main site of the COP21. It is divided into two zones: one for the official climate change agreement negotiations and the other for the civil society. What was your first impression observing all of this?
My first impression was actually my commute to the COP21. The suburban train line, the RER B that connects Paris and Le Bourget, drives through some very deprived Parisian suburbs, including cities like Saint-Denis, La Courneuve and or Aubervilliers. These places are not known for their peacefulness or their beauty. I took my route through these neighbourhoods as a reminder of how the most disadvantaged are often also the most affected by climate change. On a side note, taking the RER B is probably the last thing one would care to experience, but for the COP21, huge efforts had been made to facilitate the commute: brand new signage to direct your way, friendly and polite staff guiding visitors, continuous buses. How about keeping these services after the COP21 as well?
How did the official negotiations take place?
We have seen the Presidents and Ministers parade around on TV, but in reality they are not the actual negotiators. In short, the Secretary prepared a draft for the agreement to come, with many negotiable subjects that would be up for debate. At the beginning of the COP21 there were some 2000 subjects to be reviewed, in the now becoming iconic “brackets”. The most sensitive ones were left until the last hours of the COP21, creating much suspense. For instance, the US was objecting the word “should” in a sentence, preferring “shall” – just a few minutes before the final agreement was to be adopted!
A word about its complexity.
COP stands for “Conference of the parties”, but what parties does this refer to? Of course there are the 195 countries represented by national delegations, plus the European Union, but there are also coalitions, such as the European Union, the Umbrella Group (non-EU developed countries), the EIG (non-EU non-Umbrella countries), the “G77+ China,” within which other smaller groups can also be found, such as AOSIS, ALBA, BASIC, etc. Are you still following me? All in all the negotiations remain complex for the average stakeholder to follow. But the main struggle points of the negotiation remain how much money to put on the table and what temperature objective to reach (1.5°C or 2°C).
Besides the negotiations, what else was happening at Le Bourget?
Once on site, the civil society has been very active, and that is where most additional events surrounding the COP21 also took place - conferences, forums, discussions, demonstrations, talk shows, photo exhibitions, traditional and indigenous dances, press announcements and more. Everywhere and at every moment something would be going on. You wouldn’t know where to focus your attention! Sometimes during a conference, you would suddenly feel like you had just landed in the middle of a riot protesting the very climate justice that is taking place on the opposite side of the exhibition place. Seeing this mobilization from people all over the world makes me feel optimistic about containing climate change! Yes we are late, yes there are still obstacles, but we are all gathered here to make a change, and this is already a good sign.
What other things could a simple citizen do during the COP21 in Paris?
There were countless events happening in Paris during those two weeks: exhibitions on street corners, endless conferences by pretty much every private and public organization. The whole city of Paris was just seething with life. The energy was remarkable.
The Grand Palais was the place to be for those who didn’t or couldn’t go to Le Bourget. I spent two days at the booth of GERES, a climate change NGO. The atmosphere was slightly different from Le Bourget, as there were students, seniors, and families with young children coming to take part in the many activities set up for them there. For instance, the children loved the Compost Box, a learning tool dedicated to teaching children how to make a compost, with a magnifying glass to observe the small worms working through the waste. I am glad the young generation will grow up in a society that is so much more aware of environmental stewardship. I believe this will make a huge difference.
Are you happy about the COP21?
Is the COP half full or half empty? ;-)
We have seen that NGOs, cities, associations, and citizen movements are not waiting for an agreement to act against climate change. The dynamic is already there! The COP gave this issue a real focus around the world, so that already is important.
The final agreement is not perfect, but I guess that’s the best universal compromise we could get. And fortunately, it was not a second Copenhagen! So I’m glad that all the countries involved could finally agree on an ambitious goal. We are on our way. Now every party involved needs to really make a great effort to transform these commitments in actions!
But I am confident that this COP 21 momentum will continue to drive the movement for change globally. So yes, I believe that we can be optimistic about our future!
A huge THANK YOU to Manon for contributing this special piece for Les Sublimes, giving us all a real insider perspective into the COP21.
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