Let us talk about the future
And so the endgame is in sight. For me though, somehow it feels a bit of an anticlimax. The headline dramas of the deal are all obvious to any journalistic observer. Admittedly, taking a look at the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) things look a little different. Their emotional involvement is intense, there is no distance – the strain of supporting their causes through this melée of game-playing is taking its toll. When the COP Presidency presented the first draft on Wednesday they seemed pretty self-confident about it – yet the response was a little glacial. Observe this one typical reaction:
Raju Pandit Chhetri, delegate from Nepal (part of the LDC Group (Least Developed Countries)) made this clear in our Kaput interview: “You have to see this from the political perspective.” This is playing safe, a gesture to the French presidency that everyone is digging their work – with hints that compromises will be needed to advance the deal.
And of course it’s all about playing to the audience back home, a few media-friendly soundbites to reassure the voters. The different drafts are just the different acts of this play, before we reach the dramatic conclusion – and only then will the characters true motivations be made clear upon the stage. For Chetri, it’s hard to see much room for flexibility between the major players like US, EU, G77 and China.
I ask Chhetri if he is not frustrated during these negotiations as the necessary information seems to be right there on the table. He agrees: “They all know what the problem is – but they also know what the solution is. Everybody is holding on until the very end, which is very sad. (…) We for example have the melting glaciers, then the islands which are about to be submerged under water. If this is the case… first it is all about the survival issues. People have to survive. Next level: politics. But we could do that later. But unfortunately what drives us here are political and economic interests.”
Somehow, Chhetri hasn’t lost all his optimism though – for me, I leave COP21 under a cloud of disappointment.
While heading on the bus to Stalingrad station, I listen to the latest Function mix in the Berghain series and take some photographs of Paris by night. I can’t deny, after ten days in Paris and in the epicenter of climate politics, I really crave to be somewhere else.
A new draft agreement is published. No-one seems that thrilled by it. From the distance of my hotel room it feels like a neglected child: unintended, the product of a loveless one-nighter perhaps…
Groundhog day – and we’re once again waiting for another draft to drop. Nothing happens for a while until the COP presidency announces that the deadline for this draft will be extended to tomorrow morning. There’s just too much left to agree.
While the delegates keep talking, I go straight to the one place where one is able to find some contentment: the meditation room. This alone is an environment in harmony with itself.
It works wonders and I start to recall the positive encounters of the last few days. Take my meeting with Tajiel Urioh, a young blogger from Tansania, who is in Paris on invitation by Brot für die Welt. This guy is an environmental scientist with one infectious optimism – he makes a bright change from the large number of the numbed and blank who populate these conferences.
Tajiel explains the Tanzanian perspective, the difficulty of rallying a population mainly still living from agriculture to global changes when they’re still struggling to meet the day to day needs. It’s the thorny question of how we who have exploited every natural resource and made ourselves rich into the bargain could possibly lecture those with so little on not doing the same. There’s a battle line for you.
In another note from the global village, at the end of our little talk Tajiel plays some homecountry hiphop, and it could not sound more American.
So as I’m surrounded by things that aren’t happening, for once we have an early finish. As I’m leaving I see someone getting the black sheep award: “Fossil of the day”, an ongoing kinda comedy stoning the audience seems to love at this COP:
As a nice de-stresser I drop by the Rex club, where the Berlin based DJ and producer Nick Höppner is playing. Techno washed down with a gin and tonic, always a good combination.
The early wake-up call was an anti-climax. There is no new draft at 9am. By 11.30 Francoise Hollande turns up as booster-in-chief for the new draft. It is time to get this thing sorted.
While the plenary is finally getting heated up again, outside the physical deconstruction of the COP is pretty much done. While two days ago this was the most hectic environment one could imagine, now it’s just ghostly.
As a commentator you’re always an outsider, reading signs in hurriedly passing faces. I’d sort of imagined the final lap of COP would be a bit more dramatic, lots of excitable gossip and Sorkin-esque walk-and-talk. Instead everybody just seems destroyed by tiredness.
The draft is dropped and I somehow get into a meeting of NGO’s being explained the content of the new contract.
So, the facts:
- The 2 degree celsius goal is fixed, but not with a concrete date and also not with a 100% decarbonization. In other words: an okay result, but not an intoxicating one.
- But there will be a standardized control system, running every five years.
- There are huge steps regarding Loss and Damage as the draft presents a lot of concrete measures to help acting against past climate damages and work against future ones: from early warning systems to climate risk insurances. Also climate-related migration is recognised – but with exclusion of payment request an basis of damage suits again rich countries.
From there I walk to the meeting of the Climate Action Networks (CAN), a NGO-group, dedicated to more deep analysis of the draft. Again the picture is clear, no one feels comfortable looking alone on this, this is a joint venture.
Leaving aside the disappointment at the behaviour of countries like Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Nigeria, who remain unwilling to acknowledge their role in climate change or take on new roles, everyone is quite happy with the new status quo and expects the end is in sight.
Are we really there?
Yes, we are!
Next agenda item: sleep!
Finally it’s the first real big day of the climate convention. The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (or ADP for short) presents its draft of the thing, the basis for the work of the ministers over the next few days. The details are complex, and reactions around me vary. Some are happy on the direction towards a strong agreement, others are very much worried about the behaviour of states like Malaysia and India who are not willing to shift. There’s also talk that the Americans are circulating a paper in which they ask certain states to not come up with future requirements on matters those do not even know about yet (I know… even in the music industry, one not known for its high standards of professional morality this would be out of order. Well, it’s only a “rumour”…)
I meet Swiss journalist Christian Mihatsch who writes for publications like Badische Zeitung, Taz and Klimaretter.info. He’s an expert in the field of agreement negotiations, diplomatic skullduggery and all those dark arts being practised here in Paris. Here are some basic lessons from our chat:
- A minister is only able to take two or three options, not 25 in consideration.
- The negotiation language is not English, it is broken English.
- The most important part of the draft is Article 3, Paragraph 1. That’s where the longterm goal, the limitation on 2 degree celsius (or even 1.5) and the questions of implementation are considered: 100% renewable energies, decarbonisation of the world economy and fixation of a certain year when this dream comes true in full effect. Well, more realistically there will be a long-term low emissions transformation of some sort given the competing ambitions here.
- The COP presidency sends always two ministers as a couple in the field to check the mood; after that the negotiations are done between groups and not single states: The European Union talks to the African Group, the LDC (Least Developed Countries), the LMDC (Like-minded Group of Developing Countries)…
- Most people are optimistic there will be an agreement. The question is: how good this one will be. If we fail to come to such an agreement, then cause of the differences between the countries fixed in 1992 climate conventions Annex, in which the industrial countries are listed – all others are seen as developing countries and by that free of potential financial involvements. The LMDC, the Like Minded Group of Developing Countries (for example India and Saudi Arabia and Malaysia) insist on that status.
- Also on the critical line: the recognition of climate-affected refugees. This is the so-called Loss and Damage file.
- A lot of those topics will be revisited and revisited and revisited in the so called “endgame”, a battle which will take place Saturday to Sunday (and Sunday to Monday if things come worst.)
- There is a popular paper by thinktank author Liz Gallagher, coming up with three potential scenarios: Le Zombie; Comme ci, Comme ça?; Va Va Voom – spreading from super weak to a solid agreement with implementation schedule.
- At the end of the endgame, there will be negotiations day and night – until the consensus comes by exhaustion. Quite a way to organize the future of the planet, isnt it?
An aside, in case as a German you wish to speak Swiss German:
By now the hallway of the COP21 is emptied out. The world must wait till its rescue until after the weekend.
Normally the Saturday night of the first COP week is the one with the wild NGO party, an occasion for the negotiators, journalists, NGOs and lobbyists to get stupidly drunk together and dissolve some barriers for some hours. But thanks to the ongoing terrorist threat, the party is a small, shrivelled affair, and happens only for the NGOs this year. Some insiders let their hair down at an official bash in a huge discotheque in the centre of Paris, while others take to the city’s other evening options.
Lucky me, Detroit scenester Kyle Hall is playing some records at the legendary Rex club, just around the corner of the NGO spot. Again things are weirdly super normal there: no heavy controls at the door, a super enthusiastic party crowd of young people ready for losing it.
Hangover day for the NGOs. For all others a good day to visit the magnificent museums of Paris. Or randomly walk through the city. Suprisingly there are no signs around of the ongoing election – maybe as the French are already ashamed of the push to the right and in the arms of the Front National of Marine Le Pen they are willing to make.
Once more I experience a Paris unconcerned and happy – until I arrive by accident at the Rue du Faulbourg du Temple and Rue de la Fontaine au Roi just as a mess of local politicians and press are scrumming down for a photo op by the reopened Café Bonne-Bière. Suddenly it’s back – the deep sadness which the city has managed to hide from me for almost ten days. From the Place-de-la-République I hear an orchestra playing something in a minor key.
The second, pivotal week is kicking off in Paris. Now the ministers are in charge of the game. The time for agitation might be over, but still the whole COP area is full of people. Well, how should a person working on this agenda for years and on 18 hours a day contract suddenly stop and wait silently, right? Maybe the impact is not for the moment anymore, but there will be follow up meetings sooner than later for installment of all those (hopefully) agreements. The show goes on. Politicians are happily taking briefings from the NGO and think tank wonks.
The non-climate-change professionals fair, the sort of parallel part of the conference has weirded me out from the start. The hangers-on? The opportunity-spotters? Who are they?
But then there are so many people doing something here, and the vast majority certainly aren’t climate change negotiators – only a few bear those passes. Everybody else takes what intelligence they can hustle in on.
Oh look, Arnold Schwarzenegger is giving an energetic speech! Alec Baldwin and Edward Norton are hosting a gala and announcing the winners of an environmental award… and of course U2 are also in town and bring the Eagles of Death Metal on stage for two songs. Don’t wish to sound overly cynical… but why is it always U2 playing the global good guys?!
So I was happy enough to get one of these access ticket to the plenary (from some secret hookup). The atmosphere inside is hardly that explose – what do you expect when the average speaker is only allowed three minutes from which he needs one to two for the diplomatic standards of thanking France for their hospitality and so on. Still watching these “world events” I felt some tingle of excitement, don’t ask me why, it’s a little embarrassing.
The day ends with one of those long discussion session on the street in front of the hotel and in the bar next door. There are rumours, again and again, some parties are glowing, some are glowering. China is said to push Malaysia towards a dramatic change of position and stop claiming they are still a developing country. It that true? And what does it mean for the position of India? And is it also true that the Americans are willing to accept Loss and Damage and just wait to drop that card at the right moment in the endgame?
So many open questions, to be answered in the long nights to come…
Arriving in Paris turns out not be as awkward as I’d anticipated. Yes, the military are reviewing passports at the train station, and yes, police and soldiers are very much present in the city, but the general vibe in the city is quite relaxed. Maybe it’s just me, but where the French are normally grumpy and a tad incommunicative, they seem to act much more friendly and talkative these days.
Even in the precarious square of Saint Denis, one of the most explosive sites during the IS attacks, the tension feels like it’s balanced out this Saturday. During the service of remembrance at the Basilique de Saint Denis the atmosphere is reflective, but out on the streets daily life is back in order. People are doing their weekend shopping, stopping to chat here and there, dallying in little coffee shops and bakeries.
The opening ceremony of the climate conference (we’ll use the official term ‘COP21’ from here) was scheduled for Monday. I’m already getting into the swing of big global conference style as there’s been a hastily arranged move of other sessions to late Sunday afternoon – supposedly to allow more efficient working. The more seasoned conference-going hacks and NGOs (non-Governmental Organisations) here say this is a classic bureaucrat manoeuvre as they’re paranoid the Heads of State will steal the show big time at the opening ceremony.
Fair play, it doesn’t matter how much gravitas your role in climate science, in PR terms you’re not going to top a President on a skateboard are you?
Well, there are still a few hours left to wander through Paris and get used to the beat of town. At my late brunch I ignore the fact that my high-school French is nothing more than a series of broken memories, and order with great aplomb what I am convinced will be an egg-based breakfast. Back to reality: a black pudding with stewed pears and caviar is served a few minutes later. Ah France.
Still, it was really tasty, and in addition it kicked off a great conversation with my table neighbours. A life-long Parisian guy who dreams of life in America; and an American woman who came to town a few months ago and is still struggling to find an affordable flat. That crazy-prices conversation that does the rounds in Paris, London, NYC and San Francisco. Her companion urges her to speak only French otherwise she will never make it as a true Parisienne.
These two happened to be closed by in La Rotonde club the other night, where Düsseldorf based DJ and producer Jan Schulte played records under his imprints Wolf Müller and Bufiman. Their report from the dancefloor was unequivocal: no sign of changed attitudes from the audience, everyone out and about – and it mirrored what I’ve instinctively thought: the only thing you can show terror is your steadfast belief in everything you’ve done and loved.
After the black-pudding adventure I resume walking through the city. Over the Place du Colonel-Fabien (the nickname of communist and member of the French
Résistance Pierre Georges, who participated in the liberation of Paris in 1944 and who was killed later on in a mine explosion) my route leads me to Belleville, this charming melting pot of Chinatown and a classic Bohemian slacker square. Again, no quiet chill here, these streets are full of life.
After a final Cortado at Café Cream, a caffeine stop tip from french DJ and producer Jennifer Cardini, I hit the road to the fairground in Paris Le Bourget.
Again, the stress seems to have dropped. The police presence is nothing more than at your regular soccer game, in fact even at COP21 itself one does not feel like we’ve hit the excesses of high-security. The only weirdness is the preponderance of regional American dialects you hear coming from the mouths of the United Nations special security detail. Anyway we live in an era when it already takes an aeon to go through airport security or even to gain entrance to a pop festival. It’s a patient period…
The music convention comparison is an apt one and there are similarities between COP21 and SXSW, CMJ or, for those with longer memories Popkomm.. The terrain is highly familiar – in one hall the NGOs have their stands, in two other halls you’ll find the 194 national pavilions. And somehow alongside are the commercial exhibitors with products that are presumably going to save the planet somehow.
And of course like all trade shows, beyond the staged events there are halls and rooms and corners for gossip, rumour, and plots. Despite COP21’s pitch as the last chance to save the world, after 48 hours here I can tell you what’s most evident is hard-working people, head down, trying to get something, anything done.
At every step it all feels familiar. To get into the opening ceremony in La Loire Hall, where the French Foreign Minister and COP21 President are speaking, one has to be flirty with the doorman. Ha, I knew my Berghain routine would play out one day. I smile and in I am – but only for five minutes as the press call is soon over; even at festival showcases you get three songs, don’t ya? As ever, it’s all happening somewhere else, but not to worry as it’ll be on TV later.
The first real day of negotiations starts with real star power. The attendance of Obama, Merkel and Co. sends tremors through proceedings. To get in people start queueing from 6am, tapping their smartphone’s every app to try to get guestlist.
For those who miss the headliners, by now the staccato of internal meetings, press conferences and dizzying array of negotiations are in full swing too.
I’m at the press conference held by German minister for the Environment Barbara Anne Hendricks, who’s heading up the German delegation at COP21. Today the science is political – game-faces on and diplomatic deftness are shaping events. Hendricks is asked if she wrote Merkel’s speech. When she refuses to answer I feel electrified, surely that means “yes”? The cut and thrust of the mega-scale political conference is truly underway.
I learn that Germany and Colombia are super close buddies when it comes to supporting forests. Interesting, who knew? The same one could say about the women photographing each other while asking questions to the minister. Really? That’s how you roll in here? Is nowhere safe from the need for social media content?
In fact in general people at COP21 love to photograph. You’ll find them in front of the fake Eiffel Tower, stood in between the halls. A certain sentimentality is all over the place. One hears so many stories from the days of green grassland and bluer skies. Most of it stark plot points from the negotiating process and the sheer stress of it all. Keywords today: “Bush 1”, “36 hours without sleep” and the cocktails of Lima.
But let’s step back into the daily life of Paris. Demonstrations are suspended in the city right now and as a result a huge demo planned for Saturday has been called off. Yet on Sunday some climate protection activists do assemble at Place de la République, causing the police to get confrontational and throw teargas canisters around. At the end over 100 people were arrested. A question from this I put to Minister Hendriks: do you need the street pressure to retain the urgency of debate at COP21? Her answer: “We don’t need this pressure. We totally understand our responsibilities here.”
Barack Obama and Angela Merkel’s speeches hit this theme hard. The time is now, etc. But one hoped for a little more enthusiasm from the tongues of our leaders. It was kind of weird to see a charismatic and powerful orator like Obama come out sounding so lacklustre. If everything they say is true, shouldn’t we feel a little more power in their words right now?
A few days ago a friend of mine who lives in Brussels emailed to say he was spending the weekend in Paris as it was way more relaxed than his hometown at that moment. Even if recent events still hung heavy in the air, people still needed to go out, to gather, to celebrate in Paris in contrast to the lockdown zombie apocalypse of Brussels. Events like these throw up such strange contrasts of circumstance and faced with massive issues they can’t personally control human beings seem to react in surprising ways.
In April during a long journey across Japan I was reading „The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East” by Robert Fisk. In this fitful commentary and overview of the 20th and 21st century conflicts in the Middle East, Fisk draws the complex but clear lines that connect Afghanistan and Algeria, their violence and revolutions to the fatal entanglement of Western nations like the UK, USA, France and former Soviet Union.
I guess I was reading it as history, new light on old events, and I had no idea that eight months later I’d find myself in Paris, just as it became the latest location to star in this history of conflict. Weirder still that I should arrive accredited for the UN-Climate Conference – a meeting convened to try to get the nations of the world to work in concert on a big global challenge while the host city should find itself a victim of another mass global challenge: terrorism.
I signed on to cover the Climate Conference in Paris following an interview I did with Sabine Minninger of Brot für die Welt for Kaput. Our conversation was marked by my huge respect for the energy people working in climate politics seem to unflaggingly possess day in, day out. The ever-present question:
how to stay motivated when progress is so glacially slow?
How to stay enthused as you go from one frustrating conference panel to the next? Especially as the topic here is the very future of our planet.
As an adult you pass a certain observational milestone where you just accept that 99% of human behaviour is egotistical, narrowly aimed at personal advantage, even if people know it’s not doing anyone else any good.
And these days the alarm bells are ringing pretty loudly. No-one believes that the sluggish pace of climate change policy will just affect generations yet unborn, “apres moi la deluge”… No, the deluge is already happening, causing mass migrations, crop failures, refugees as reliably as the Beijing smog warnings that appear on Chinese mobile phone screens every morning.
So the question is, where do those other 1% get the energy and enthusiasm to hold out for progress, for solutions?
This is the question I, as an outsider looking in will try to answer during my time in Paris.
I have no real idea what to expect from the two weeks to come in Paris but I’m expecting dramatic statements of danger, large meetings of scientists and policy-makers, activists and journalists, nations with diverging agendas, all with a massive sword of Damocles swaying in the air above.
I’m not an expert in climate science but I’m a pretty experienced evaluator of people and their plans. And I am curious to see how everyone in Paris will express their responsibility and how they see the future playing out. I’m going to share these thoughts, the issues, and the experience with you here on Kaput over the next two weeks – and hopefully I’ll hear back from you. As we battle this most complex issue communication is the key, right?
Translated with help of Alexander “The Old Magician” Mayor.