COP21 security measures


I arrived to find Paris—contrary to all my expectations, no doubt shaped by U.S. cable news—utterly calm. No questions at customs. No police. No signs of emergency.  

A Humanist Reports from COP21

December 7, 2015

COP21 security measures


I arrived to find Paris—contrary to all my expectations, no doubt shaped by U.S. cable news—utterly calm. No questions at customs. No police. No signs of emergency. My taxi driver gave an extraordinarily precise account of the current political situation in the wake of the attacks here; of Syria, of the power void in Libya (his home country) after the takedown of Gaddafi; of the rise of Daesh and even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But when I told him I was here for the COP, he made a rather vague remark about saving the environment. I tried to explain, without being too professorial, what makes climate change (I used the singular, but now I think I actually prefer the double plural changements des climats) different from pollution. He didn't seem especially responsive. I asked if he'd heard about the terrible flooding in India, for instance. He hadn't.

Karen PinkusPinkus, a professor of Romance Studies and Comparative Literature, is a member of Cornell's COP21 delegation (watch her COP21 video)

The whole business of "communication" is more problematic than ever. Who is communicating what and to whom? And why? Shouldn't my cab driver know about carbon budgets, GWP100, INDCs, net zero, and so on? Shouldn't there be a basic climate literacy? I know I'll return to Cornell more committed than ever to our university-wide climate change minor.

Day One at COP21:

I only saw one booth in the exhibition hall dedicated to carbon capture and sequestration and none that had anything to do with geoengineering. This is an issue that I'm really interested in. A young woman was staffing the European Network of Excellence on Geological Storage of CO2 booth. An older gentleman was practically yelling at her: "TREES! TREES! TREES!" Yeah, okay, trees. Trees are wonderful. Everyone's favorite carbon sink, but how many and when and where we plant them matters. Meanwhile this group has already drilled its first experimental hole in the sandstone of Nottingham to bury carbon deep below the surface. Others are doing it in various parts of the globe. I'll go to an event on CCS tomorrow and hope to have more to report.

Nearby a group of Pan-African activists were donning suits with signs on their backs declaring COP21 a failure and asking that warming be kept below 1.5° C. And right across from them was a very optimistic display on transport policy with images of car sharing and another with wind turbines flanking a jetway calling for a "more coherent international approach." I couldn't help but think of the students in my Humans and Climate Change class. We'd given them futuristic scenarios to write about, and one of them proposed that air travel goes on unabated past mid-century. I wonder what they'd think about the contradictions of these two booths.


Others with much more experience have written about the negotiations. But since this was my first time, I thought I'd put down a few impressions. I chose—totally unscientifically—to observe a meeting of delegates on the topic of capacity-building. The official United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change definition of this term sounds something like "aid." ("Capacity-building is about enhancing the ability of individuals, organizations, and institutions in developing countries and in countries with economies in transition to identify, plan, and implement ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change.")

I was surprised and also quite heartened by the youth of many of the delegates. The negotiating language is English, so it was amazing to hear representatives from all over the globe debating whether they had been tasked with forming a committee or a work programme (and what the difference would be) and then, whether this group should work until 2020 and then form a new group, or go beyond 2020. So much depended on subtle phrasing and verb tenses. Since I am missing a Department of Romance Studies meeting to be here at COP21, I thought about how my colleagues might perform in such a setting. I was impressed by the sober and respectful politicking that went on between the facilitators and certain especially vocal delegates called on by their country names. Indonesia called capacity-building a "moral function." Australia suggested "drilling down further into this committee." Swaziland argued for forming the committee first and then deciding what it would do, with the precedent of the adaptation committee, whereas Japan wanted established goals first. Finally, the lead facilitator suggested a smaller group form around China to discuss the matter and report back to the plenary. "You may want to get a coffee or a sandwich and go to the toilet," he suggested.