Right next door to the official conference center—or “Blue Zone”—at Le Bourget lays an equally ephemeral space: the Climate Generations Area (also known as Les Espaces Générations Climat, the Green Zone, or simply “Le GC”). This has been our home for the week (and will be beyond, in some cases), and serves as the civil society counterpart to the Blue Zone, playing host to hundreds of talks, debates, and lectures by different NGOs, party representatives, and other interests.
It’s a beautiful building—vast, colorful, buzzing, and diverse—with thousands of individuals’ stories and perspectives populating the space. It’s also unprecedented to have a space created expressly for civil society that rests just meters from the negotiations.
And yet, something feels off.
However, as Tuesday stretched on I began to experience a disenchantment deeply rooted in the aesthetic and ephemerality of les Espaces Générations Climat. To be clear, I had a fascinating first day, saw great speakers, and engaged deeply in my research project, but I also began to feel trapped by the wooden box and unsure of what it represents. There are opportunities for amazing individual conversations, but on an organization level every voice talks past the rest, and there’s neither a strong ethos of community nor an explicit engagement with the COP itself.
When we debriefed as a class on Tuesday night, one of my classmates said it well when he suggested that the entire Climate Generations area felt like an advertisement of sorts. Aaron went on to call it a “spectacle.” As the week has stretched on, these observations have become increasingly accurate, and I have personally reached the point where the space of le GC has an immediately stressful, detached, and disorienting effect.
None of these facets are inherently bad, nor do they condemn le GC by any means; passion, commitment, and new ideas run deeply throughout the individual events and interests in the area. That being said, at a conference meant to bring together the international community over the most critical issue facing our planet, shouldn’t there be a greater feeling of common purpose? At the very least, shouldn’t the tone of the civil society area match gravity and content of what’s happening inside the COP?
Or perhaps the ephemerality of the Green Zone reflects that of the Blue Zone. Regardless of the outcome, COP21 will be over on December 11 (or, more realistically, December 14, when the reservation of the Le Bourget space expires). The following morning, we may wake up to a legally binding Paris agreement produced from the conference center. Next door at le GC, the demolition crew may already be at work.