Here I am at COP 21 in Paris! Even though the conference started last Monday, November 30th, I haven’t been able to come until last night, when I flew in from Madrid very late and got up early this morning to see and do as much as I possibly could. I am here for the last few days of the conference, and all fingers and toes are crossed that by the end of Friday, we will have a final draft of a ground-breaking and game-changing climate agreement.
We not only need quantitative goals on reducing emissions (the current goal is to keep global warming below 2 °C, although many, especially the voices of native islanders that are already partially underwater, are calling for 1.5 °C); we need an agreement that is binding and that specifies exactly how we will get there as a global community. Something that I’m very worried about is that even if an ambitious Paris agreement is produced, it may not even be ratified by the United States Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans right now. There is also the question about whether China will agree to the document. These are the two biggest carbon emitters in the world, and without their cooperation, we might as well all go home.
So in other words, these last few days are REALLY important.
I started my day at the UNESCO headquarters, catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower on my way there. I was there for the follow-up Master Class to the huge Earth to Paris event that happened yesterday. It was super intimate – there were several panels/speakers and a room of 30 journalists. All of us were up on stage and got to ask lots of questions, so the event was really a conversation.
The event opened with a phenomenal panel of women: Kathy Calvin, President of the UN Foundation, Irina Bokova, Director of UNESCO, Flavia Schlegel, Director-General of UNESCO, and Rachel Kyte, VP for Climate Change at the World Bank Group. I got to say a brief hello to Kathy before the event, and said hi to Rachel as she was leaving after the panel. I was especially excited to meet Rachel Kyte after hearing her in a webinar this summer and hearing her fantastic perspective on thinking forward and helping developed and developed countries work together. Here are two stand-out quotes from Rachel Kyte at this morning’s panel:
“The economics have become as firm and robust as the science.”
“There are coalitions strengthening here that I didn’t think I would see.”
I think there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about what’s happening here in Paris. Something’s different about COP 21. We can all feel it in the air – the sheer number of people, the various art installations dotting the city, the multi-disciplinary and forward-thinking conversations that are going on – and the romantic beauty of Paris also doesn’t hurt. People are finally having conversations about the relationship between the science and the human rights impacts of climate change, and businesses and cities are getting involved to drive innovative solutions in a warming world. Everyone is here.
Another impactful panel during the Earth to Paris Masterclass included Kanye West’s producer, Malik Yusef, and the actress that played the original role of Mimi on Broadway, Antonique Smith. “Music is like the soundtrack to your life,” Antonique said. When you hear a song that speaks to you, you will never, ever forget it. Like this rendition of Mercy, Mercy Me by Marvin Gaye that she performed for us:
There are very few popular songs about the environment, as I wrote about this past summer in my blog post about Music and the Environment. But until this starts to happen, issues like climate change won’t get pushed to the forefront of public consciousness. Climate change has been disconnected from culture, and much of the conversation surrounding it is full of scientific and economic jargon. “We have not made it fresh,” as Malik said.
Ultimately any movement is about people, and if people don’t feel personally connected to climate change, there’s only so much that the economics and policy can do. We need a culture shift, and music can help with that; by making climate change “cool”, but also to get people talking, to move them, and to help them understand their role in the process.
In the afternoon, I headed over to Le Bourget, where the actual conference is taking place. Although I don’t have accreditation to attend the actual negotiations (which is called the “Blue Zone”), they do have an amazing civil society space, called Climate Generations Areas, where there are lots of booths, talks, and a big TV screen showing the negotiations.
I spent the afternoon walking around, attending a few talks, and stopping by booths, but my favorite moment was interviewing Priscilla Achakpa, who was featured in this Vogue article. She talked a lot about how to find sustainable solutions that work for rural communities, and why it is so important that women have an equal voice in the climate negotiations. You can learn more about her in my first blog post for Conergy, which you can read here.
I have been passionate about environmental issues for a long time, and it’s easy to feel alone in this realm as there is still a large portion of the world population that doesn’t feel that this is an important, interesting, or critical issue. This was my first day at COP 21, and while I definitely felt overwhelmed with all the events that were going on and people that were here, I did not feel alone. Tens of thousands of people are here in Paris, right now, because they want to create something impactful, long lasting, and relevant to the needs of our planet. Let’s hope that it is what is released at the end of this week.