Simon Hillier: COP two one week one: musings from the outside

Part one of COP21 is over. I am only accredited to enter the conference starting tomorrow, but even on the outside it has been a hectic week. Today (Sunday) brings a brief pause in the negotiations, so it was nice to have some space to breathe and collect my thoughts.

Fellow delegate Lottie and I took to the streets of Paris to find cake. We weren't entirely successfulbut we did find Notre Dame and a 'Cities for Climate' expo in a public square. It appears that even on your day off, you can't hide from climate change. On display was interesting range of technological metropolitan energy and pollution solutions.

Solar sunflower: the future is here.

Cities for Climate is a parallel event run by nearly 1000 mayors from five continents. Although our attendance was incidental, it nicely showcased a theme that I have noticed again and again in the last week, which is (prepare yourself): what is going on around Paris is just as important, if not more important, than inside the conference.

I have two potential explanations for this bold claim.

Explanation 1: Momentum

There has been an air of uneasy optimism throughout the week. Why?

Well, yes, the leaders event was overflowing with ambitious political rhetoric from everyone who matters. And for once, the ADP negotiators are keeping up with their pre-arranged timeline. With a semi-coherent draft agreement now in the hands of the COP, the president confidently proclaimed that we'll be signed sealed and celebrating by 6pm Friday.

But surely there is more to it than that?

In fact, it almost seems that people are nervously optimistic in spite of the negotiations, rather than because of them.

Earlier in the week, a Climate Action Network press briefing noted that Paris had three things that the ill-fated 2009 Copenhagen talks lacked: political leadership, a permissive population,  and a solid activist base. Political rhetoric is what it is, but those second two points stuck with me. I have seen them everywhere this week.

Going back to our Cities for Climate example: Paris agreement or no Paris agreement, a coalition of mayors can have considerable influence on climate mitigation and adaptation. They can make ordinances, investments, and engage with local movements. Half the world live in cities; a number which will only increase. National governments - our negotiators - clearly aren't the only parties worth watching here.

There has been huge number events running parallel to COP21, both inside and outside the conference center. Inside COP, the Lima Paris Action Agenda has brought a host of new intergovernmental and private sector announcements regarding renewable energy investments and land use strategies. There has been a strong push from the public sector to remove fossil fuel subsidies, and from the private sector for clear carbon pricing. Meanwhile, carbon emissions and economic growth have decoupled in the last two years, and the divestment movement continues to grow.

785,000 people marches across the globe in the days before COP21 began, despite the main event being cancelled following November's terrorist attacks in Paris. There were other creative protests; including a human chain and tens of thousands of shoes left Some of my fellow delegates managed to get themselves slightly tear-gassed when French activists decided to march anyway. 


Lottie and I took the riot-police free option with the London march.

During the week we attended the 'Fast for the Climate' closing feast, an organization which has brought together thousands of interfaith activists together. I found fasting a powerful - and very different - way of connecting to the movement (although it is pretty tricky in Paris of all cities, and I did accidentally eat a lemon macaroon but I digress).

And so on. On Friday, protestors hit the international media by crashing a 'COP21 corporate solutions event' to accuse them of green-washing. On Saturday, we went to the 'People's Court' where climate movement rockstars and Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein put Exxonmobil on trial for actively suppressing climate science as early as the late 1970s.

"We don't call this a mock trial because it's a joke. We call it that because we believe it will be happening in real courts very soon." - Naomi Klein

Naomi may just be right. Another event we attended was the 'Inaugural Climate Law and Governance Day' at Sorbonne University. This event packed climate change lawyers and experts in one place to discuss effective climate policy, novel angles for litigation, and how to hold governments to account. There were lots of clever people in attendance, such as Roger Cox the mastermind behind the Urgenda case. As an undergraduate I did a lot of smiling and nodding. Links were drawn between climate law and many other areas, both the grandiose (2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals, Human Rights) and the nitty gritty ("intersections between metropolitan governance for low-carbon food security, waste, biodiversity, population displacement, and green technology"). Lottie and I were 'volunteered' to rapporteur some of these sessions, so had no choice but to learn quickly. Once again, the general theme for the day was momentum external to the negotiations. A quote I enjoyed was "ultimately, a good Climate agreement will be a co-benefit of the sustainable development movement."

It's not just events, its surround sound. We have been living at a backpackers temporarily known as 'Place to B', which hosts artists, musicians, poets, activists, academics, media and even negotiators who are in Paris for COP21. Everyone I have talked to here - people from all over the world - have communicated this same message, in the same way. This global movement which is currently rearing its head in Paris is gaining serious traction. Driving it are positive, constructive people with a desire for a greater good. And you certainly don't need to be inside the conference centre to feel that optimism.


Well, that's one explanation anyway. Also worth considering:

Explanation 2 - FOMO

Admittedly it's pretty frustrating being limited to the Green Zone and the UNFCCC's arbitrarily incomplete web streaming services when the rest of my delegation are getting tear-gassed, rampaging through the core conference center, personally engaging with to the NZ negotiating team, helping with official civil society lobbying processes, and being hailed as heroes by the international media. So there is a good chance the majority of this blog post represents some "me too" mental gymnastics. It's hard to say.

But I suppose I will find out tomorrow.










Posted on December 6, 2015 .