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27/09/2016

Sketch: COP21 circus ends with love letters to Paris

Climate & Environment

Sketch: COP21 circus ends with love letters to Paris

COP21 circus animals. [James Crisp]

“It’s like a European Council summit on drugs that goes on for weeks,” one flustered delegate at the UN Climate Change Conference told your reporter last week.

“But there’s Africans in beautiful national dress, and no one seems to have any respect for process or procedure,” the exasperated and exhausted source added, before scurrying off for another round of Sisyphean talks.

Not to mention gigantic polar bears, muscle-flexing Chinese diplomats, electric buses, Machiavellian Indians, unauthorised sit-in protests, very upset Commission officials, indigenous peoples conducting water ceremonies, a circus of multicoloured plastic beasts, and some bizarre Luxembourgish waving-hands wall art.

And that was just the half of it. So delegates could be forgiven for being flustered, such was the effect the COP was having on people’s brains and bodies. Little wonder that when a deal was approved – and in truth even before – there were plenty of tears.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius hammered the 195 nation deal to cap global warming into existence – in more ways than one – at 7:25 PM to whoops, cheers, and standing ovations.

Such was his desire to finally get the bloody thing done that after 13 days of non-stop haggling, he brought down the gavel extremely quickly. So quickly, in fact, that he forgot to use the special leaf-shaped gavel that was reserved for the historic moment.

Inevitably, Fabius was forced to do it again for the cameras, his hand shaking for a split second before he forced it down.

“It’s a small hammer but it can do a big job,” he said, before – and not for the first time at the COP – struggling to keep his composure.

There was a lot of love for Fabius in the room that night, and for fiery UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres. But it was Fabius who stole the show, gaining such cult status he even inspired his own Tumblr fan page, as well as “Absolutely Fabius” headlines.

“I keep asking my staff where my Foreign Minister is,” François Hollande told the packed plenary session. “They always tell me he is in a plane getting a climate agreement.”

“We’ve seen many revolutions in Paris,” he added, “but this is the most beautiful.”

It should come as great comfort to bald men everywhere that Laurent’s star outshone even the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Alec Baldwin.

One can only hope that all those air miles were carbon-offset – unlike the COP itself. France has broken with tradition on that score, but that was the sort of niggling no one wanted to hear in Paris. 

Of course now that the deal was done, a day over deadline, you’d think that all the delegations of the world would be in the mood to party. Especially after two weeks of tedious talking in plenary and behind closed doors.

No such luck, as an increasingly dismayed press pack swiftly realised. It was clear that no one was going to miss their chance to grab a bit of the limelight

In the hours and hours that followed, the word ‘historic’ was used more times than perhaps any other time in history. Or at least it began to feel that way.. 

The press openly began to question whether their readers, listeners, and watchers were even interested in the COP21.

It was the X Factor final in Britain, Manchester United had lost to Bournemouth, French news was obsessed with Marine Le Pen – and I had it on very good authority that Bulgaria’s top news channel was leading with a piece about the price of church candles. 

Shakespeare and Gandhi

There was a flurry of namedropping, as the delegation took turns to praise each other and themselves. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Shakespeare, and Voltaire all got a mention.

But the prize has to go to Venezuela, who managed to thank Hugo Chavez, the Pope, and Mother Earth in three minutes.

Nicaragua was the sole party pooper, angry that the gavel was struck before it had a chance to say its piece.

As it aired its grievances, it put one in mind of the relatives you see at Christmas, who when you ask how they are, tells you “Very, very bad – it’s probably cancer.”

And what of the EU delegation? Well, there were whispers of raised voices behind the scenes and slamming doors, as they struggled to make sure the EU could claim to be a climate leader.

Their task was made harder by Barack Obama’s tweet, claiming the victory for American leadership. But that didn’t stop them sending out their press release, taking responsibility for the success.

But who can blame them? It can’t have been easy. Not least because the EU Pavilion looked like it had been bought at IKEA and furnished from an office supply store.

I am told it was still very expensive. Part of the cost was down to the choice to have a ceiling – which was, in fact, a sheet.

It must have been painful to glance opposite and see Germany’s pavilion; a more moneyed affair that looked like a slightly upmarket airport waiting room bar – with just the same levels of atmosphere.

Still, the ever-ebullient Miguel Arias Cañete kept his spirits up. Always ready with a joke or a bear-hug, the EU’s Climate Commissioner – who bears an uncanny resemblance to Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park – was in good form.

Although as one observer at a press conference put it, after listening to a lengthy monologue, “He could never be accused of being a pithy man.”

As the delegates droned on, the press can be seen wisely hoovering up all the beer they could carry. The restaurants were running out, and no one wanted to be caught short without booze on the far flung outskirts of Le Bourget.

Especially if they were going to have to listen to all of it – all the hours of self-congratulation and celebration.

But the smiles and applause could not mask the overriding feeling of the evening – relief. It was etched on all their faces, and mentioned by Hollande himself.

“You’ve done it,” he cried before mentioning the Banquo’s ghost at the feast…Copenhagen.

In 2009, governments singularly failed to agree to just the kind of deal they sealed today. And COP21 was dogged with the whispered fear it would happen again.

He’d been warned not to host the COP, Hollande said Such was the possibility of another failure. But the risk was worth it for the planet.

He was speaking with a passion unimaginable to those used to his European Council press conferences. Such is the transformative effect of the Paris terror attacks, which have boosted his popularity, but not his party’s.

Hollande went on to yet more applause, “You can say to your children and grandchildren that you were here on 12 December 2015.”

“You’ve done it and you’ve done it in Paris,” he added, perhaps with one eye on Sunday’s regional elections.

Paris was quickly picked up as the other dominant theme of the evening. “We will always have Paris” beamed Singapore or Honduras or was it the Marshall Islands? To be honest it was getting late and the delegations were beginning to blur into each other.

“Paris is once again the city of light and hope”, another delegate declared.

There was a genuine outpouring of affection for a city so brutally scarred by the November terror attacks that killed 130.

So who is the big winner of the COP21? Debate is still raging over whether the pledge to limit global warming to “well below” two degrees is good enough.

The long-term goal of 1.5 degrees is a good start but isn’t backed by tough legal teeth. It remains – and here comes a favourite COP word – an ambition.

The winners are French diplomacy – which cut the most tangled Gordian knot of national interest with skill, patience and determination – and Paris.

Paris is a city which was in dire need of good news, with armed soldiers patrolling outside Notre Dame, and a heavy police presence in the capital.

The landmark deal at the COP21 has hopefully given the city a much-needed spring back in its step. 

And that’s something Paris, a wonderful place, very much deserves.

>>Read: Our live blog to see how the COP21 unfolded

Background

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties, or COP.

Paris hosted the all-important 21st conference in December 2015. The participating states reached an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.

Further Reading

EurActiv coverage from the COP21 final week