Day 1 of Week 2 at COP21, my first impressions

By Jesse Way

After a week in Paris participating in the Youth in Landscapes Initiative and attending the Global Landscapes Forum it has finally come time to step inside COP 21 and see what is happening inside the venue at Le Bourget!

My ideas and perception of what to expect for the event has very much been shaped by my previous experience with IFSA at the United Nations Forum on Forests. At UNFF in New York all plenary sessions were held in one main conference hall with working group meetings split into two, all being open to civil society groups and individuals at the conference that were not part of official country delegations. The official negotiations around wording of the text agreement were directly visible for the eyes of the observers to see while individual country meetings and negotiations were held behind closed doors.

IFSA is the focal point organization for the Major Group Children and Youth at UNFF and so although limited, we had opportunities to speak and present within the forum to offer our ideas and suggestions for inclusion into the text.

I knew coming to Paris that our role would be more limited and the scale of the event would be much larger than what I had experienced in New York. I quickly came to discover just how much larger COP 21 really was as people continuously emptied off of the many packed free shuttle buses and made their way into the venue.

Going through security I felt almost as a sheep must when being corralled through the gates as we were divided into lines for our bags to be checked and our identities confirmed. I digress from describing the negotiations themselves but given the heightened awareness around security measures in Paris I feel this part of the experience is one that resonates deeply for me. I understand the need for such security measures and very much appreciate the efforts that have been taken to ensure the safety of those of us attending the event but I do believe the discussion around the need for increased security not only here in Paris but throughout the world, what that means for personal freedom, and how we have come to this point is a topic that should not be forgotten when describing how these major global events are organized and operate. But that is a discussion that can be continued after a little more insight into COP21 itself.

Upon first entering the venue the first task was to become acquainted with the set up and layout. There are numerous airplane hangers with additional structures built on and within that make up the various halls and pavilions of the venue. Upon touring through the various buildings and seeing much of what was going on it became almost overwhelming to try to establish a plan for how to organize and prioritize my activities and involvement for the day.

I first tried to attend the High Level Segment in which Heads of State, ministers or other heads of delegations that were unable to make statements during the original Leaders session that opened COP 21 last week were doing so now. I was denied access for lack of proper accreditation but eventually made my way to La Loire Plenary Hall where large screen TV’s were broadcasting the statements for us to view.
20151207_120712My original feeling was one of disconnect, I was here in Paris only a few hundred meters from where these statements were being made yet I sat separate and felt uninvolved from the proceedings. A feeling of disconnect has been a common theme for me this week in Paris as I have listened to presentation after presentation and speaker after speaker discuss the global challenges we face in combating climate change and yet when they offer their solutions of increased funding for projects and increased cooperation amongst the world’s leading organizations working to solve these problems I remain hesitant to fully buy in. I hear stories of how this person represents this group or speaks on behalf of certain people yet I cannot help but feel there remains a large disconnect between these people in these high level positions and the people on the ground at the front lines of a changing environment.

My first impression of the event is that much of the involvement of civil society through the many pavilions and activities that we have the opportunity to be a part of is merely a facade to give legitimacy to the proceedings. Perhaps I am just tired and overly skeptical but regardless I do believe it is a topic to be investigated further.
There does seem though to be a overwhelming concensus on a need for change and strong action and so I remain optimistic and excited for day 2 at COP21!


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the International Forestry Students’ Association.


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