Friday came and passed without a climate deal. Considering the scale of the challenge, the developments over the last few days, and slow progress over the past two weeks, this wasn’t particularly surprising. The Presidency has tentatively scheduled a release of the final agreement at 9am tomorrow morning—I’m still cautiously optimistic that this will go ahead and we’ll reach a reasonable result. Do I think it will be effective and robust as it stands? Probably not. As I’ve detailed in several blog posts throughout the conference, there remains a distinct lack of consistency, fairness and effort standardisation. I do believe, however, that a reasonable deal can provide a sufficient base to build upon in the coming years. An international deal is not the end result; it’s the beginning of a new journey.
Not only were today’s planned plenary sessions cancelled, but there has also been no feedback, information or updates from the UNFCCC or delegation parties. Those at home are in-the-know as much as those here. This lack of openness has, unsurprisingly, created an atmosphere of tension and restlessness in the COP21 community. Despite being eager to hear how the talks are progressing, I’d much rather the delegations spent their time resolving their issues than wasting precious time telling me about them.
Therefore in the absence of any major developments, I thought I’d briefly sum up my reflections on the COP21 experiences, and thank a couple of people who gave me such an opportunity. If someone had told me five years ago when I began my Bachelor’s degree, and again last year when I began my Master’s that I’d have the chance to attend the UN Climate Convention on Climate Change, I wouldn’t have believed them. For most involved in the climate change community, such events are aspirations. To be here at the age of 22—surrounded by distinguished leaders in the field—is an incredibly humbling experience. Not many get such a chance.
It’s a rare opportunity to be surrounded by others so obviously invested and committed to the climate change issue. It has been a unique environment to engage, learn, challenge and debate with representatives from almost every country on a complex challenge so close to my heart. The conference has offered an eclectic mix of representatives: policymakers, business representatives, engineers, economists, financiers, academics, activitists, NGOs. It has become apparent to me that I don’t distinctly fit into any of these groupings—this is probably been a result of my conscious efforts to develop as a generalist rather a specialist in any one area. Seeing the dynamics between each of the groups from a peripheral view made the experience all the more interesting. It also gave me more clusters to poke holes in and throw rocks at (this is the scientific method for challenging hypotheses after all).
Being in Paris, and checking in to news from beyond the walls of the conference centre has also been a valuable lesson. Possibly a stark warning to how easy it is to get sucked into the fields and circles we operate in. No matter how important the COP process is to people here (and many who aren’t), the reality is that it’s hardly a passing thought for a large percentage of those back home. This is not a criticism for those disconnected from the issue, but a wake-up call to those who have the illusion that this is the single most important issue to all. We have to take this away as a key lesson; ultimately if we’re serious about challenging climate change, it is our job to question why they’re not engaged and find effective ways of helping them to get involved. It’s not enough to come to these events, convince ourselves that we’re changing the world, and throw our hands up in despair that others aren’t joining the cause. Take on the responsibility of helping others to do so.
This brings me on to a couple of thanks to people who have helped me get here. I’ve attended the conference as a representative of the University of Edinburgh. To them, I am grateful not only for the opportunity to attend, but also for a stimulating education there as a student (and a teaching job at the end of it!). More specifically, I have to pay a special thank-you to Dave Reay, my former lecturer/supervisor and current boss. His lectures, books and Carbon Management MSc programme have provided me with an invaluable education in the multidisciplinary aspects of climate change. What he was unable to teach in the classroom, he has given me the unique opportunity to experience here in practice. Finally, I owe a thanks for the Department of Sustainability and Social Responsibility (SRS) at the university for their financial support in attending. The deal was that I would do some blogging in return—I suspect that trade-off was as fair as this deal could turn out to be (I’m the free-rider in this case, if anyone was wondering!).
In the coming days weeks and months after the release of the final agreement I plan to continue these frequent blogs (probably not daily—I have a job to go back to!) with more in-depth analysis of the overall deal, its implications, and further developments in more detail. It’s also important to remind ourselves that climate change is just one component of a wider global sustainability challenge; I plan to also address these other elements of the jigsaw.
If you’ve been following these blogs over the past few weeks: thank you. I hope you’ve found something interesting/frustrating/thought-provoking in at least some of them. Au revoir Paris, bonjour to a new climate pathway.