I spent a few days traversing the streets of Paris with friends prior to engaging in the labyrinth that is the UNFCCC negotiations. Between the Monet masterpieces and the scenes of the Seine, the streets, metro, and attractions are signs advocating solidarity and progress in the coming conference. Atop the Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower are exhibits ushering global cooperation. Ben & Jerry have even left their mark in this public collection amidst the Parisian commuters and tourists. The city of Paris seems ready for COP21.
What about the citizens though? How have they engaged with climate movements so far? The recent terror events cast an unnerving shadow over how the non-elites can show their engagement. An estimated 200,000 people planned to convene and call for action. I spoke with some of my European friends who participated in Climate-KIC with me last fall to gauge what people who do not spend hours each week investigating climate concerns might think about the negotiations, and the results were not nearly as reaffirming as I had hoped. More than two decades have been spent trying to raise awareness for climate change and provoke multilateral cooperation, but while the opportunity gets closer for negotiators, the general public seems to have lost some of its faith.
Despite the lack of a legal Paris march, I am excited for this COP. More than half a million people activated for progress. The Pope even donated his shoes to a demonstration. Countries are identifying their opportunities for emissions reductions through their INDCs and the atmosphere is breaming with excitement. Over the next two weeks we will see countries haggle over semantics that could result in one of the greatest international agreements in history. Or, alternatively, we will see a mediocre text that leaves the world’s vulnerable peoples even more exposed. At this point in the conference, however, it is anyone’s guess. I remain hopeful that the steps taken leading up to the conference, regardless of the outcome, will lead to greater sustainable development moving forward.