View our Daily Photo Diaries from COP21. This first diary captures our journey to Paris and arrival on November 29 (before the COP begins), as well as some of the sights around the city.
Shoes hung from a lamp post at the Place de la Republique.
Two days ago I arrived in Paris to observe the COP21, culminating months of collaborative effort with a knowledgeable and thoughtful team of co-instructors to teach a course on international climate negotiations at Stanford. During these months, I’ve have traveled – metaphorically speaking – with my colleagues and students along the road to Paris to understand how science, political, historical, ethical, and economic considerations shape the sphere of international climate negotiations. Which is to say that we’ve taken a fascinating and challenging journey through a complicated and messy landscape.
Since arriving in France Saturday morning, I’ve taken to explore the actual roads of Paris, stealing a few hours to roam the streets of this immense, gray city with its sky of beaten pewter, its imposing architecture, its streets full of pedestrians and lovers, its bright cafes full of conversation, its cheerful patisseries full of delicious temptations. The city of Paris exists within a thoroughly humanized landscape, full of beauty borne of human creativity and imagination. Everywhere colorful lights set the city aglow, and ornate, imposing figures adorn museums and bridges and cathedrals.
But nature is scarce in the city, and all vestiges of wildness subdued. I have identified only a few species of birds who have made their homes here – Carrion Crows, Black-headed Gulls, and Rock Doves – avian representatives that thrive in transformed, urban ecosystems. The city’s arterial gray-green Seine is tamed, confined for centuries to flow between ramparts of stone. The gentle sounds of rainfall, the rustling of wind in the green-gold leaves of the liquidambar trees (native to the southeastern U.S. and my home state of Texas) are barely audible above the incessant rushing of traffic and singsong cry of police sirens. Walking through the city, I’ve wound my way past corridors of imposing buildings that confine the wanderer within a network of canyons, an immense labyrinth without a view to a hill or a star by which to navigate.
No, it’s not a bondage thing. For those who follow the climate change negotiations, the current dustup in the media is about whether the treaty will be “legally binding” or not. The US says no; the EU says yes. France just caved — or did it? As with most things, Shakespeare comes to the rescue: is this, perhaps Much Ado About Nothing?
The problem, as usual, starts in the US. Ever since the debacle of Kyoto, when the US Senate preemptively voted 95–0 to not ratify the Kyoto Protocol before it was even drafted, we have known that the chances of a climate change treaty surviving the Senate were as good as James Inhofe’s snowball surviving its own Senate hell. That matters because if the Senate doesn’t ratify, the treaty isn’t legally binding; and if the US — the world’s largest economy, the largest historical emitter, and the second largest current emitter — isn’t legally bound by a treaty, then what good is it? And what other country would sign up to be legally bound if the biggest player isn’t playing ball? It risks the whole process falling apart.
The UNFCCC process doesn’t come up with a new treaty (also called a Protocol or an Agreement) every time it meets; usually it issues “COP Decisions” which are relatively minor and relate to procedural issues. These aren’t important enough to require ratification; but imposing emissions limits and requiring countries to deliver financing are serious commitments, and would require ratification. In fact, the UNFCCC has only produced one ratification-requiring treaty so far: the ill-fated Kyoto Protocol. Paris is slated to be the second: a legally binding treaty, requiring ratification by all parties. It’s right there in the text — check out Article 16. The ratification text is not in brackets, meaning that this is what all the parties have already agreed to. It clearly spells out that there will be a treaty-level Paris Agreement which will require ratification.
It started on the plane: familiar faces, familiar voices.
“Fancy seeing you here!”
“So, you’re back for another round?”
“Yes, just like Charlie Brown and his football.”
“Are you attending the bilats?”
It’s like an annual in-gathering of a far-flung tribe: delegates headed to the climate change negotiations. Unlike most international treaty negotiations, which involve a few dozen lawyers and topical experts in a boring hotel room somewhere, the climate negotiations have grown into an event unlike any other. There are lawyers, to be sure, and lots of wrangling over legal text; but most of the tens of thousands of people descending on Paris over the next two weeks are not going to debate the niceties of “legal form” (more on that later) or make a plea for one of [should][shall][shall strive to]. They are going because the meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have become the primary venue for debating humanity’s future.
Over 250 Stanford citizens surrounded President Hennessy's office today, in a bid to force the university to divest from fossil fuel companies that contribute to harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Many of the protesters plan to camp out in the Main Quad indefinitely to show the urgency of their cause.
According to the Fossil Free Stanford campaign website, students, alumni, faculty, and staff have joined hands to support divestment, expressing concern that "within the lifetimes of current Stanford students, the warming the planet experiences will produce mass migration, civil war, famines across the developing world, and severe economic strain worldwide." They believe that Stanford University, as a leading institution of higher education, should conduct investments from its $22 billion endowment, in an ethical and socially responsible manner.
As one of the United States' most high-profile universities, Stanford's actions have the potential to impact public perceptions and send a message about the ethics of investing in the fossil fuel industry when its activities threaten a livable climate.
The protest has been timed in advance of the Paris COP21 talks, so that Stanford's Board of Trustees "understand how important it is to act now" and the signal sent by Stanford's divestment from fossil fuels "could have the maximal impact." Last year, over 75% of Stanford students voted in favor of divestment, and at present, 379 faculty have signed a letter in support of the campaign demanding action now. According to one of the protest organizers, Josh Lappen, a number of teach-ins led by Stanford faculty will take place in coming days, alongside the protestors camping out.
Fossil Free Stanford, the group spearheading the campaign, plans to post photos, press releases and daily blog updates as the protests unfold at fossilfreestanford.org. Track the protests with #DivestStanford and #SitWithUs
In advance of the Paris talks, the COP21 class represented two dozen nations and the UNFCCC secretariat in an all-evening climate negotiation simulation.
The delegates of the mock conference tackled issues as crucial as the global limit on warming (two degrees was affirmed as a target); as esoteric as setting emissions allowances for each country; and as minute as disputing the wording of individual sentences in the treaty text.
Source: Richard Nevle
An active slate of journalists documented the conference, which included plenary sessions, smaller working groups, and intense conversations in the hallway. View press images in a Flickr gallery here.
Voices of Stanford@COP21
Faculty and students from Stanford University share their observations of the COP21 process.