I arrived in Paris on Sunday morning, the day before the UNFCCC COP21 was scheduled to begin. After dropping off my luggage at my hotel, I hopped back on the RER B train to Le Bourget, where COP21 is being held. This being my first time to attend a COP, I wanted to get a lay of the land before the conference began in earnest. As the shuttle pulled up to the conference site, I was greeted by an impressive display of tall pillars representing the national flags of all of the many different countries attending COP21.
After collecting my badge and entering the central site of the Conference I began navigating through the various buildings and walkways and corridors that comprise COP21, and was continually struck by both the impressive size of the conference as well as the incredibly diverse representation of countries, organizations, groups, and collaborations. Since the official activities had not yet begun, the atmosphere was still relatively quiet; attendees trickled in throughout the afternoon, preparing the exhibits, booths, and meeting rooms, which would stage the deliberation and negotiation of the proposed Paris Agreement.
Monday, November 30th, 2015 was the official opening of COP21, which included the election of Laurent Fabius, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, as the President of COP21. The event was kicked off with speeches from Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, President of COP20, Minister Fabius, Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, and the Prince of Wales. This opening event was followed by restricted access sessions in which live-broadcast speeches were given by Francois Hollande, President of the French Republic, Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, as well as the 150 Heads of State and Government who were present at the conference to kick off negotiations, which are now in full swing.
During the speech delivered by Minister Fabius he emphasized what he termed as the four words that the French COP presidency would be based on: listening, transparency, ambition, and compromise. He finished on a relatively optimistic note saying, “Success is not yet ensured, but it is within our grasp.” Within the speeches, something that stood out to me overall was that both Minister Pulgar-Vidal as well as the Prince of Wales mentioned the importance of considering oceans when discussing climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. This recognition, while relatively far from the negotiation texts themselves, at least gives some hope of there being a growing awareness of the inextricable relationship between the oceans and climate. Another statement that was made that felt like acknowledgement of the role of scientific research while also posing an excellent question to those involved in the climate negotiations was from the Prince of Wales who said that for these kinds of decisions “…all of our actions must be based on good science. We have the science. Why then, with climate change, is that no longer applicable?"