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The November skies were overcast and the mood in Paris subdued as organizers scurried to make final preparations on November 29 for the start of COP21  

A Little Bit of Upstate New York at COP21 in Paris

November 30, 2015

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The November skies were overcast and the mood in Paris subdued as organizers scurried to make final preparations on November 29 for the start of COP21 at the Le Bourget exposition center, north of Paris. Security was tight at Le Bourget because of the recent terrorist attacks in the city, and only accredited delegates and observers are being allowed access to the UN space. There were closures of major roads from the airport to Paris for the start of the COP. Streets in Paris felt more deserted than usual, French flags were visible everywhere, and church bells were ringing across the city for the victims of the attacks.

Allison ChatrchyanChatrchyan is a member of Cornell's COP21 delegation (watch her COP21 video)

But the French president vowed that COP21 would be held. The COP21 logo can be seen everywhere in the city, and the French government has put forth an impressive effort to prepare for this event. The metro and RER are running free for all Parisians on November 29 and 30 in order to maintain transportation with the road closures, and there is a large police presence throughout the city.

The huge conference center at Le Bourget is like a small city with three distinct areas, all of which are still being brought to life today: the conference center itself, which is only open to accredited UN delegates, where negotiations and official exhibits and side events will take place; the Climate Generations areas open to civil society and the public; and the gallery, offering climate change solutions from business. Within the conference center, there are two huge plenary rooms, where negotiations among all participating countries will take place; 32 negotiating rooms to fine-tune the text of the international agreement; a press center that can accommodate 3,000 journalists from around the world; and large exhibit halls for country and NGO exhibits.

Cornell Exhibit at COP21Cornell Exhibit (full size)

As one of the two Cornell delegates accredited during the first week of the COP, I set up our Cornell University exhibit today in Salle 4, where many other universities and NGOs are setting up displays. The Cornell exhibit will feature videos from our researchers and climate smart farming program, materials on soil health and carbon sequestration, and links to additional materials and contacts from the Atkinson Center, Cornell Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture, and Cornell Climate Change. The UN put a major emphasis on a sustainable conference, discouraging large amounts of paper at the conference and distributing reusable water bottles for delegates. Cornell is also organizing a side event with IFPRI, IRD, and UNDP in the Africa pavilion on December 3, focusing on “Climate Change, Agroecology, Nutrition, and Food Security: Critical Lessons from Project Interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

US Center Exhibit at COP21US Center Exhibit (full size)

The preparations today felt like the lead-up to the “climate change Olympics,” complete with an Olympic village, as the huge conference space is equipped with restaurants, a post office, business support, and an area for each of the major countries, including the United States, to showcase their climate leadership. It is my hope that the intense preparation, cost, and build-up to this event will be borne out with adoption of a new universal and legally binding international agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.