Climate Action: In the Streets, If Not at the Negotiating Table (12/8)     Print Email

WalterNicklen2015By Walter Nicklin in Paris

Regardless of the content and shape of the final climate agreement negotiated here in Paris, the two-week conference called COP21 has brought together disparate individuals and groups from around the world with alternative visions of a future without fossils fuels and carbon emissions: a kind of global town hall.

Even ahead of the conference’s early December commencement, grassroots demonstrations were on display around the world: Protest marches in hundreds of cities from Amsterdam to Vancouver. Public awareness campaigns on social media, like “Pole to Paris” following a team of environmental scientists as they traveled – by bicycle and foot – from the polar regions to Paris.

Once the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change got underway early last week, long-planned, so-called “side events” sprung up all over Paris. At the Stade de France stadium, site of one of the Friday 13th terrorist attacks, the “Sustainable Innovation Forum” brought together participants from business, government, finance, the UN, NGO’s, and “civil society” to cross-fertilize ways to bring scale to the emerging green economy. Likewise, the “Global Landscapes Forum” at the Palais des Congrès de Paris focused on sustainable land use, especially capturing carbon, with participants and partners like the World Bank, World Resources Institute, Credit Suisse, and USAID.

Chunks of Greenland ice left to slowly melt on the cobblestones of the Place du Pantheon in Paris, as installation art by Olafur Eliasson, perhaps best known for building waterfalls in New York City in 2008. "I hope 'Ice Watch' can bridge the gap between the data, the scientists, the politicians, heads of state and how normal people feel," he said.  Photo by Mary Winston Nicklin.

More radically, reminiscent of the student protests here and in the United States during the 1960’s, a “People’s Climate Summit” was held this past weekend in Montreuil, a working-class town just east of Paris. Instead of governments just sitting around and coming up with nonbinding pledges to reduce carbon emissions, the organizers said, they put on a mock trial against ExxonMobil. The “prosecutors” were environmental writers and activists Bill McGibben and Naomi Klein. One of the prosecuting “witnesses” was a young woman from a Pacific island that will soon be erased by the sea.

France – by all accounts, the perfect climate conference host – has welcomed all these activities and more: A wind turbine on the Place de la Concorde. Chunks of Greenland ice melting in front of the Pantheon. Stationary, clean-energy bicycles that strollers are invited to pedal in order to power Christmas lights strung along the Champs-Elysees.

Meanwhile, back at Le Bourget conference center just north of Paris, Laurence Tubiana, France’s top climate envoy, and Christiana Figueres, her UN counterpart, were said to have shared a joke about how to navigate the process of building consensus among nearly 200 governments.

“Climate change is about ecosystems,” Ms. Tubiana reportedly said. “Climate change negotiations are about ego-systems.”

Walter Nicklin is Publisher of the Rappahannock News reporting for European Affairs from Paris