COP21 in Paris: Impressions from the Inside – my opinion

Earlier this week, police and climate demonstrators clashed in front of the memorial to the victims of last month’s terror attack. The influence of these tragic events has been evident throughout COP21. During the first few days, with many world leaders in attendance, military snipers staked out the rooftops and low hills surrounding Le Bourget, the site of the negotiations and meetings. Metal detectors, bag searches, and mounted police abound. There’s no doubt the event is changed: it’s smaller, with higher security, and fewer high profile public events.

COP21 Attendees share a moment of silence.

Despite—or perhaps even in part due to—these pressures, at the beginning of the second week, with an on-time delivery of preliminary draft outcomes, there are positive indications that COP21 may still produce the international treaty the world needs and demands. Despite the recent tragedy and the oft-discussed existential despair of climate scientists, the air here is hopeful. Delegates, scientists, concerned observers, students, and many other visitors to the vibrant Climate Generations Area are full of energy and optimism. There’s a lot to do and see here; and while outside we know the impacts of climate change continue unchecked, inside hope pervades.

Indigenous people call for action at COP21.

The Climate Generations area is constantly abuzz with people, activity, and events. Multiple exhibit areas showcase the climate action work of businesses and organizations from around the world. Conference sessions offer presentations and panel discussions that span topics from oceans, forests, and agriculture to youth and education, highlighting the many ways in which people are getting involved and taking action. Throughout the day, impromptu music, parades, and people in eye-catching costumes relay topical climate messages.

Sustainability is both talked and walked here. The buildings are made of natural materials and 100% electric cars and hybrid busses in combination with public transportation get people to and from the meeting space. Food areas are lined with recycling and composting bins, and tables are stocked with water carafes and drinking fountains to cut down on the use of water bottles. Pedal-powered charging stations for laptops, phones, and other devices let you cycle as you work…or power a blender to make some organic juice!

Electric cars provide transport to delegates attending COP21 in Paris, France. Photo: Emily Powell, DOI landscape Conservation Cooperatives

Electric cars transport COP21 delegates.

Here at the beginning of week two, it is clear the spirit of COP21 remains hopeful. During a somber time in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, we are reminded of what the COPs have set out to do since they first began – provide a space for the international community to come together to tackle climate change and limit its impacts, especially to the poorest and most marginalized. COP21 is about the environment, the economy, national security, our health, and our children’s future.

This blog was written with Emily Powell and Caleb Crow, and originally appeared on The Equation, a blog of the Union of Concerned Scientists.