Time for Action

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It is hard to believe that it was just a week ago the Paris Agreement was approved – it may be the jet lag! Upon returning home, I avoided most news about the agreement. I was not ready to face the criticism and skepticism. I remained overcome with joy and awe that 195 countries agreed on anything! I have spent the past week writing down every memory and thought I have about my time in Paris. Currently, it reads as a jumble, but what I can say with absolute clarity is my experiences in Paris changed my life. The Paris Agreement will have major implications on my career. I fleshed out some of my scholarly views on diplomacy and the role of the United Nations. I was affirmed that global sustainability is perspective I want to take in my career. The world is a much scarier place than I could have ever comprehended before. I am blessed to work at an institution that recognizes the value of having me attend COP21 not only for the work I do for Agnes Scott, but for the value it gives me personally. Healing the wounds of the war we have waged on the Earth will resolve the wars we wage with each other. Just to name a few, and they keep just pouring out of me.

Over the Christmas holiday, the thoughts will continue to come and as they do, I will also work out how to utilize this blog after COP21, because as Ban Ki-moon said, now is the time for action, and Agnes Scott is committed more than ever to act on climate. I have also spent the past week making sense of the Paris Agreement and have included those updates under the Climate Agreement tab. There will be countless updates to add there as further analysis and developments are made on implementing the Paris Agreement. Thank you to everyone who has followed with the blog, and excused the typos! It has been such a pleasure and benefit to me to share this experience.

Wishing everyone a most wonderful and restful holiday.

An Agreement and Two Hot Chocolates 

 

Both photos are screenshots from the livestream video
  
 We did it – 195 nations did it!! This morning while traveling to the airport, I saw a billboard for COP21 that translates to ‘the climate is in our hands.’ Last night, the world delivered for the planet. The agreement is not perfect but it is a start. It is a rare moment indeed for 195 nations to reach consensus on any issue, which was evident as COP21 erupted in applause after no objections were raised to the Paris Agreement. We sat in our apartment watching the live stream on our phones and tears came to our eyes to know there is global political will to act on climate. I believe this will mark a fundamental shift is creating a more sustainable, and also peaceful world. For centuries, we have destroyed populations with warfare over fossil fuels. We declared war on the environment, scaring her land with practices out of sync with nature. COP21 begins humanity’s peace settlement with the Earth and citizens. 

I said from the beginning this conference meant so much for my boss and I in the different stages of our environmental careers. I remain overcome with gratitude for her and Agnes Scott College that gave us the opportunity to be present in this history that will carry a lifetime of meaning for both of us. As a rare millennial that still holds value in politics and diplomacy, this gives me immense hope and perspective on what is required to take action. 

There will be never ending criticism of this deal from environmental groups who say the deal was not tough enough, to climate skeptics who criticize the involvement of the United Nations. Anyone watching the announcement last night will be hard pressed not to feel some level of gratitude and respect for what was accomplished. Nations could not speak highly enough for the leadership from the UN and France – this is history! 

As the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, said last night, Saturday was a day of celebration and today the real work begins. Since we are traveling we will start our work tomorrow, and with that updates on what this agreement actually is! It is unprecedented calling for no more than a 2 degree temperature rise while moving towards 1.5 degrees, acknowledging human rights including the rights of women and children, and requiring a five year accountability process. It was fabulous to see human rights included since it was up for debate until the end – and as a graduate of a women’s college it was even better to see the equal representation of female negotiators. There is a reason climate change has had unprecedented success at the United Nations. 

Join us today in celebrating – we had two hot chocolates yesterday we were so excited! I also must note they had to make an apology for typos since it was finished so quickly which I must make the same apology for – iPhones ensure typos!

The Face of Exhaustion

 

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While we have not had access to the Blue Zone where negotiations are being held, just right next door the exhaustion hangs in the air. It was announced the delegation would not meet their deadline – instead a final draft will be presented tomorrow at 9:00 am local time. The United Nations and France want to ensure the most ambitious deal possible is put forward. Hopes remain high an agreement will be met. 

Outside of the Blue Zone, criticism remains high as well. Environmental activists continue to push for tougher standards and a more comprehensive resolution. Many rail against the entire COP process, criticizing the importance placed on syntax versus content. While I agree the Paris agreement is not the end all be all of our environmental worries, it is impossible to see the photos of negotiators and critique their efforts. 

In the past few days, pictures have emerged of negotiators looking as if they have been beaten down by the climate resolution process.  All you see are exhausted faces and stacks of paper. Since Tuesday, negotiations have continued throughout the night – and I thought I was tired. While listening to critiques all I can visualize are those images. While I give more favor to international diplomacy, I remain empowered by what 195 countries have already proven possible for the environment. 50 brackets remain to be agreed upon today – this time last week there were 900. I remain the optimist an agreement will be met tomorrow. You can feel the anticipation and hope. Whatever is determined tomorrow will not be enough to halt the effects of climate change,but for me represents a crucial turn in history. My own hope can bring tears to my eyes.

It Comes Down to a Comma

 

A graphic representation of negotiations from a special COP21 edition of Le Monde
 
As you may have noticed while reading this blog, commas are not always my best friend. It is a joke in my family how I can always manage to put a comma where one is not needed, but as my grandmother always reminds me,no matter my frustration we need commas. Her wisdom is proving to be truth for COP21, as negotiators finalize agreement details down to the placement of every comma. 

In the past ten days, it has been commonplace to hear about the minute details of negotiations. Last Monday, negotiators resumed editing the 50 page climate document which had been drafted and revised over the last twelve months. Every portion of the agreement that did not have consensus was put into brackets. After reviewing the document, most of the brackets were around single words and punctuation. In simple terms – by Friday the global community must present a document with no brackets, which will then be the climate agreement. In the past ten days, those brackets have been negotiated while additions have been made and entire sections have been subtracted. Those brackets also surround the most controversial sections of the text. There is nothing simple about the task. 

It is hard to imagine that a comma could derail the process and many climate leaders criticize this process, arguing there instead needs to be an emphasis on action and people, instead of on semantics. A final draft must be presented today and finalized by tomorrow evening. Then through the night, translators will translate the document into the six official languages of the UN in preparation for signing on Friday. The Chief of Staff for the Secretariat of the UN Framwork Convention of Climate Change reported this morning he believed negotiations to be on track to produce an agreement by Friday. There has been a definite change in the atmosphere as deadlines are approaching and many brackets remain. Those commas …. 

Sustainability Icons

  

What a week it has been since arriving in Paris! We took the weekend off from blogging in order to have some time to comprehend this week. There will be more takeaways than I could ever capture on this blog, but the major one I have after this weekend is how many more sustainability icons I will have when I return to Agnes Scott. The convening of an international delegation has exposed me to issues I knew existed but had never grasped, and has offered success stories I could never have imagined. I wanted to take a moment to capture some of these new icons. 

Vandana Shiva – Vandana Shiva is not a new idol for me but I had the distinct pleasure of hearing her speak a second time. You can see her LeaderStory here on the role of women’s education. Vandana Shiva is a seed advocate and eco-feminist – truly a force. On Saturday, she spoke of her hopes for COP21 and ultimately her hopes for individual action. Presently, we operate under fossil agriculture and every time we eat, we are eating oil. Eating is an ecological act, and choosing to eat food, not oil, is the greatest action anyone can take in combatting climate change. I could listen to her speak all day. She also announced she has plans to take Monsanto to court next year for their exploitation of farmers. Where your food comes from matters. 

Nicolas Hulot –  Speaking alongside Vandana Shiva was Nicolas Hulot – a French journalist and advisor to French President, François Hollande. Hulot was at three events we attended on Friday and Saturday and by the end I was ready to sign up for his fan club – which quickly became clear, is quite extensive. Hulot advocates for the connection between climate change and people – particularly refugees. Climate change is not just a scientific issue to be debated by diplomats, but a human issue. While the political agency of the 195 countries present in France cannot be diluted, individuals must remain at the heart of the dialogue. With climate resolution comes economic and political resolution as well. 

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson – As President of Iceland, Grímsson was the first to admit Iceland is a pretty small country. I must say it was refreshing to hear a politician speak candidly and with a touch of humor. But what was truly remarkable was, despite Iceland’s size, they have become the first country to be powered completely by renewable energy. I was amazed! They still have a long way to go in order to divert their use of gasoline, but they are heating their country with geothermal energy – just like Campbell Hall at Agnes Scott! They just have much more of it. Even more impressive is the outreach they are doing across the world to assist other countries to develop their geothermal potential. He commented that leaders  at COP21 need to focus less on technological development since the technology is already available – case in point Iceland. Implementation must be the focus. Otherwise, climate change appears to be an issue that can only be solved in 20-30 years once we have created new technology. Climate change can be solved now.

Alex Salmond – Salmond is the First Minister of Scotland and was just captivating to listen to. While she quickly had to leave to return to negotiations, she also spoke of the capacity of small nations to implement global change. Coming from a small college it was refreshing to hear about the power of the small. 

Finding a Routine

After three days, we are starting to settle in at COP21. We even had a routine this morning, even though it had very little to do with climate change. We arrived and went straight for food and buttons. We learned quickly there are very long lines for food and coffee come 12:30 and by the end of the day all of the buttons are gone. So today we went ahead and got lunch to go and stocked up on buttons. We are on a mission to bring back a button for everyone. It will take the full two weeks for us to get one for everyone. Today we were even able to show a mother and daughter the ropes of getting through security. I think in the past three days we have learned more about navigating a summit of this size than about climate change. But that is more of the experience than anything. 

Negotiations are occurring behind doors we do not have access to. While we have been able to engage with the summit in many ways, the most striking has been realizing who it is in the world that is committed to halting climate change. We know which countires are on board and which are skeptical. But here we get to see and meet citizens from around the world whose livelihood depends upon the success of this summit. In the United States, we almost joke about losing the peninsula of Florida to rising sea levels. But yesterday we heard from leaders of nations that will not only have their islands submerged in water but will first have to deal with the loss of their nations’ food supplies due to the acidification of oceans and the depletion of seafood. It was a realization that was overwhelming to say the least. 

COP21 has been in session for one week now and I will be honest I have not checked in on the status of the climate agreement as I probably should. The major headline announcements have been made, such as France committing two billion euros in technological aid to Africa and Bill Gates creating a multi-billion dollar foundation to propel the renewable market forward. Now the act of finalizing an agreement begins.  All the while, I have been struck by just how much is at stake and how many people are dependent upon change. 

But for now we have a routine in a sea of urgency. We are also continually impressed by the quality of the food and are filling up on fresh French bread. 

The Struggle Continues with the Doors

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When I studied abroad in Switzerland, there was a recurring pattern with doors. I could never figure them out – I got locked on the bus and stuck in the bathroom. They just baffled me. And our first full day in Paris the door saga continued. We managed to navigate our way to the UN Climate Summit with ease and even successfully navigated the streets of Paris at night to an event in the city. Yet we still managed to get trapped between two locked doors. Oops … Thank heavens for the very patient security officer who freed us from the cold hallway. There is always something to laugh at the end of the day. 

All that is to say we made it to COP21! I do not think I will fully realize I am at an UN event until the very end and it will take months to process everything that is happening around me. Yesterday’s theme was water and after a day of hearing about the importance of cherishing this resource, all that was on my mind was how awed I was by the security. Deciding to travel to Paris was a heavy decision and we knew security would be high. But as someone with a healthy of law enforcement, I was overwhelmed. The city itself has felt no different from normal – except for the arrival of three heavily armed military officers at a popular tourist site. However, the second we disembarked from the metro at the summit we were met by both energetic guides and endless rows of police officers. Everywhere you looked there was a clump of them all huddled together. Never alone, they move through the site in packs and on horseback. There was never a moment I felt unsafe but clearly the French government is sending a message. 

Due to the attacks three weeks ago, the major change in program was cancelling large marches and rallies, and as we learned after arriving an hour and a half early, changing the start time. Unable to march, many activists have taken to walking through the venue whether they are young World Wild Life members or singing preachers, making for a very interesting lunch companions. Besides the flood of security, there is a real sense of urgency in Paris that seems to be continuing to build, and is an honor to experience in person. On day two my only hope is to avoid any door jams. 

Deciding to Travel

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Photo courtesy of Jim Diedrick
It was a year ago we decided to travel to Paris. For our director, this will mark the largest milestone of her environmental career. For me this will set the agenda for the rest of my career – and we have the privilege to share this experience together.

Plane tickets were bought, an apartment was reserved and contacts were made at the UN in Paris. All was set. It never occurred to me there was a chance we would not be able to go – all of which changed after the terrorist attacks in Paris two weeks ago. Suddenly the details of negotiations seemed irrelevant and instead all we could focus on was whether or not it was safe to travel to Paris. Instead of finishing up research on the summit and launching the blog, everyday was spent researching security measures and talking through the decision to travel.

The entire time my gut said we would still leave as planned but it took two full weeks before I was comfortable with the decision. I knew it was the right decision but I still waited for UN security measures to be released and the French government to make statements about safety. Then there were several days I checked out of checking the news letting things settle down.Too much was up in the air.

While I was away from the media something pretty extraordinary happened. Before the attacks, rhetoric from the UN made preparations seem final. 146 countries had submitted climate action plans and negotiations would soon be underway. After the attacks, 20 more countries joined forces with the UN, submitting climate action plans. The international community rallied behind COP21 as a symbol of recovery and solidarity. Combatting climate change became a solution for peace.

Given projected temperature changes millions of people will be displaced. Refugee numbers will only increase – political instability will only increase. Combatting climate change is a solution. With this increased momentum behind COP21, we rallied behind it and made the decision we would still travel. We talked about it about four times a day and knew we would not have a final decision until we checked in at the airport. But my gut says go – the international community says go. It is devastating circumstances but nations are now committed to not letting this summit fail. Together we will still be there to witness this historic event.

The Center for Sustainability Heads to Paris

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Agnes Scott College is excited to announce our Center for Sustainability staff will be attending the UN Climate Summit in Paris next week! This trip has been a year in the making. Paris is proving  to be the turning point for climate negotiations, and with Agnes Scott’s commitment to sustainability, it was an event that could not be missed. While COP21 is not perfect we are quite optimistic given the impressive strides already being made. With over 150 countries participating, and critical policy changes coming out of countries such as China, India and the United States, the world seems ready for a global climate agreement!

In preparation we have engaged both our college leadership and student body in the negotiation process. Last week, President Elizabeth Kiss joined over 40 college and university presidents at the White House to discuss the role of higher education in addressing climate change with White House and State Department officials. In tandem, Agnes Scott also joined over 200 schools from across the country ,representing more than 3 million students, in committing to the White House to engage in climate change efforts!

We also rallied a group of students in participate in a photo challenge with GenderCC, a women’s organization committed to addressing the impacts climate change has on women. GenderCC called on women across the world to send in their climate demands to be featured at COP21. Agnes Scott students are calling for more solar power! In the state of Georgia we have a bounty of sunshine and Agnes Scott is proud to have the most solar of any nonprofit in the state.

We will be posting daily updates from the summit on both negotiations and on what it means to actually attend such an event, including what the recent terrorist attacks in Paris mean for COP21 and the decision to still attend.

Stay tuned and enjoy the sunshine this Thanksgiving weekend!