14 December 2015

Democracy, croissants, art and trains (Climate Change edition)

Ah Paris, backdrop to some of the most ridiculously impressive photo-ops.
The Eiffel Tower, Paris, 12th December, 2015
This week I have mostly been in... Paris.

Now, I'm not saying that I was instrumental in ensuring that an agreement was finally reached between 196 nations to try and actually tackle the greatest threat to our species since the development of the front-facing camera on mobile phones, nor would most delegates or participants in the negotiations even acknowledge or actually have been aware of the fact that I was there, but I will say that I was not present for COP15 in Copenhagen and we all know what a disaster that turned out to be, and within 48 hours of me arriving in Paris for COP21 an agreement was reached, so I'll let you draw your own conclusions there.

A lightning visit to Paris, mostly by train, saw Thursday evening spent at the Climate Action Zone, the hub for most of the activists who braved the draconian public order measures brought in by the French Government in the wake of the horrific attacks in the capital just a few short weeks beforehand. The State of Emergency declared in the aftermath of these attacks saw any public demonstration banned (though sports events and Christmas markets remained defiantly open, hooray for Capitalism!) and environmental activists placed under house arrest as a precautionary measure before the climate negotiations had even begun.

A General Assembly at the Zone D'Action Climate. So much warmer than Dame Street.
Centquatre, Paris, 10th December, 2015
The ZAC (Zone D'Action Climat) was based in a cultural centre in the 19th Arrondissement, a fair distance away from the actual negotiations in Le Bourget, a giant conference centre in the northern outskirts of the city. The ZAC was a mix of workshops, maker space, public assembly and planning sessions for those direct actions and demonstrations that did take place in defiance of the ban. The centre saw over 2,500 participants from across Europe and beyond, of all ages and nationalities, all drawn (like the Very Understanding Girlfriend and my good self) to Paris to have our voices heard in whatever way was possible, and to be present for what hopefully would be a turning point in the battle against human-induced climate change.

And we got to see Naomi Klein there, which was nice.

The experience brought back strong memories of Prague in 2000, where 15,000 demonstrators forced an early end to the IMF summit, not in terms of the outcome of the actions but in terms of the collaborative approach to planning and coordination across activists of many backgrounds and nationalities, and the atmosphere was very reminiscent of the Convergence Centre in Prague, a disused factory where most of the planning took place in small affinity groups with much jazzing of hands. There were fewer jazz hands on show at the ZAC, and an awful, awful lot more smartphones, laptops and GoPros. If the revolution can't be televised, I'm not sure if anyone these days would come.

Interestingly enough just as No Logo was the intellectual fuel for many in Prague and Klein was there in personThis Changes Everything was on the lips of many this week in Paris. Eventually everything comes full circle if you live long enough and stay grumpy for most of it. Does this mean I can break out all my old paisley shirts now, please?

Where the magic happens. And by "magic" I mean "soul-crushing-tedium-of-special-interest-lobbying".
Le Bourget, Paris, 11th December, 2015
Most of Friday was spent out at Le Bourget itself where the negotiations had entered their critical final day. While access to the negotiations were, of course, restricted to delegates (and we had left our Big Book of Jedi Mind Tricks for Short Negotiations behind), some parts were open to the public, specifically the Climate Generations area, where supposedly NGOs, the public and the negotiators could interact in a Google office-like environment of yoga zones, bicycle-powered smoothie bars and selfie-friendly styrofoam hashtags, but in reality served as convenient place to corral all the hand-wringers away from the serious folks in suits and their wranglers from the oil and coal industries as they tried to water down any agreement to something weaker even than a Starbuck's mochafrappulattecino.

Ironically the coffee there was actually rather good.

It's a COP21 Cappuccino. It's a... wait for it... COPaccino! Yeah, no-one laughed on Twitter either.
COP21, Le Bourget, Paris, 11th December, 2015
Saturday we put on our activist trousers once again and headed out to La Tour Eiffel and joined a few thousand of our fellow hand-wringers to form a series of human chains. Unlike my twenty-something year-old self in Prague, who was happy (well, not exactly "happy", more like "accidentally ended up in the front row as the riot police charged) to stand up and take a beating for his beliefs, the forty-something year-old Unkie Dave prefers his protests to be more of the "warm-and-fuzzy-photo-op-with-Polar-Bears" type and less of the "Please-stop-beating-me-please-please-please" variety of the days of my youth.

See what I mean about ridiculously photo-oppy?
The Eiffel Tower, Paris, 12th December, 2015
Then late on Saturday night came word that an agreement had finally been reached. Was it perfect? Far from it, and there is much to criticise, but the fact that 196 nations finally sat down and agreed that radical steps need to happen, and what form some of those steps need to be, is quite frankly something that after the last few years I did not believe would ever happen. If you had told me even six months ago that an agreement referencing a target of 1.5C would have been negotiated, I would have said that you had been knocking back the aul' pepper spray a bit too much. Of course unless subsequent agreements place concrete and meaningful penalties in place for failing to achieve any of the admittedly fizzy targets then it may turn out to be nothing more than an aspirational smokescreen, but as the blessed St Mulder once said, "I want to believe".

On Sunday we caught the train back to London, the climate saved and our presence no longer required.

All that was left was to do was to upload the self-promoting self-congratulatory selfies.

Job done.

The show's not over 'till the selfie is taken.
COP21, Le Bourget, Paris, 11th December, 2015

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