Our Future Is at Stake in Paris: Week 1 Policy Recap

Week one at the Conference of the Parties or COP21 in Paris felt strangely like the three prior negotiating sessions I attended in Durban (2011), Warsaw (2013), and Lima (2014). Heads of state delivered grand statements, youth hit the ground running with lively actions and discussions, and negotiators began closing the doors of spin-off groups as they created a draft text. One of the most important weeks in climate policy history felt oddly like “business as usual” with a few more famous people sprinkled in.


A 48-page draft text of what is informally referred to as the Paris agreement was released on Saturday, December 5. This text led to the formal closing of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform, or the subcommittee drafting the agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol. Arrival of ministers and the opening of the High Level Segment on Monday, December 7th means we are a few days closer to an agreement in Paris.


Meanwhile, much of civil society is spending time in the public Climate Generations area where interactive booths, workshops, and informal meetings are leading to meaningful dialogue. While there, I had a great conversation with a young person from the Philippines. As we casually discussed typhoons and boom and bust industry, it finally hit me that it was week two of COP21.


We both exclaimed at how long we had been waiting for this moment -- for a new agreement that will be implemented in the coming years. From the Rustbelt of the United States to the shores of the Philippines, youth are ready to see our future as a driving force of the Paris Agreement.


Here are some of the policy areas that civil society is paying close attention to:   


  • Long-Term Goal

    • Lots of options remain on the table, which is nice but also terrifying

    • Debate about “climate neutrality” vs “decarbonization”

    • What is “long term”? 2050? 2060-2080? By the end of the century?

    • What temperature are we talking about? 1.5 degrees? 2?

  • Loss and Damage

    • Discussion about if this will remain a distinct article

    • Climate Vulnerable Forum is keeping L&D in play

    • Negotiation about liability

  • Equity

    • Article 2.2 very much in danger, and it includes critical language about human rights and underrepresented constituencies

    • If Article 2 language rooted in equity is moved to the preamble, it will not be an operational component of the agreement

Over the weekend, thousands of people in Paris participated in additional conferences and workshops spaces, and many groups organized moments of expression to drive ambition leading into week two. I have had the luck to see youth and other members of civil society gear up for one of the most important weeks in climate policy history. As we look closely at the grains of sand (options in the draft text) and broadly at the forces orbiting the text, the scene is both overwhelming and inspiring. I am on the edge of my seat at COP21 in Paris, and cannot wait to see what comes next.  

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