Saturday, December 12 – We have an agreement

Today was my travel day back to the United States. It was also the day that the final draft of the Paris Agreement was to be released — and the day thousands of climate activists had vowed to flood the streets of Paris in defiance of a ban on demonstrations by the French government — both happening around noon.  With my flight from Paris to New York leaving at 10:30 a.m., I was in the air for nine hours, plus an additional six hours due to changes in time zone – putting me out of communication for a crucial 15 hours.

Lots of legroom in business class

Lots of legroom in business class

Fortunately I was able to upgrade to business class for the long flight, which meant I could actually sleep a few hours after staying up very late packing,  But by the time I landed in New York at 8 p.m. Paris time, 2 p.m. local time, I was desperate for information.  My friends on social media were only too happy to supply it.  The negotiators at COP21 had reached an agreement — by most accounts a good one.  The French government at the last minute had issued a permit to climate activists.  My feed was flooded with stories and analysis about the historic Paris Agreement, my email was overflowing with reactions from NGO groups, and my friends were posting photos and videos from the day’s events.


The photos and videos from the demonstrations organized by and others are amazing, and remind me of the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City.  I am so glad that the French government finally came to its senses and allowed people to express themselves.  Perhaps they had no choice, as literally tens of thousands of activists were in the streets, and there would be no way to arrest even a small percentage.  Perhaps this chain of events shows people like Naomi Klein know more about activism than I do.  When she urged people to take to the streets in mass numbers, they did, and they won.  I was now sorry that I couldn’t get an extra day at Place to B, but then I’m also glad to be home.

My Paris flight landed 45 minutes late in New York, giving me only half an hour to go through customs, collect my luggage and recheck it, get to the other side of the airport, go back through security, and find my gate.  I got there two minutes before the plane was to take off, but it was already gone.  It took me awhile to rouse up someone at an American Airlines counter to rebook me, and when I did they were incredibly rude.  Air travel has become extremely stressful and unpleasant.  On the other hand, the three-hour wait for the next flight gave me time to get a good dinner and catch up on all the COP 21 news and reactions.  Here is some of what I found.

Paris Agreement

UNFCCC – Final agreement

UNFCCC – Press release

Video – Fabius bangs gavel on COP21

President Obama – Video statement

White House  – Press release

Ban Ki Moon – Statement

Saturday actions – Video – Photos

Citizens Voice – Video

Greenpeace – Video

Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben – Facebook live

News stories 

The New York Times – Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris, by Coral Davenport

The Washington Post – 196 countries approve history climate agreement, by Joby Warrick and Chris Mooney

Politico – The one word that almost sank the climate talks, by Andrew Restuccia

Think Progress – In Historic Paris Climate Deal, World Unanimously Agrees To Not Burn Most Fossil Fuels, by Joe Romm

Mother Jones – Breaking: World Leaders Just Agreed to a Landmark Deal to Fight Global Warming, by Tim McDonnell and James West

Guardian – Paris climate deal: nearly 200 nations sign in end of fossil fuel era, by Suzanne Goldenberg et al

Al Jazeera – World leaders make history with climate deal in Paris

BBC – COP21 climate change summit reaches deal in Paris

Carbon Brief – Analysis: The Final Paris climate deal


Sierra Club – Sierra Club on the Paris Climate Agreement: “A Turning Point For Humanity”

Citizens Climate Lobby – With Paris agreement adopted, climate action begins in earnest

James Hansen – James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks ‘a fraud’

Bill McKibben – World leaders adopt 1.5 C goal — and we’re damn well going to hold them to it

Climate Action Network –  Civil society responds as final Paris Climate Agreement released

International Council for Science – Top scientists weigh in on current draft of Paris climate agreement

The Conversation – Historic Paris climate pact reached: Experts react

After 22 hours of travel, I am happy to be home.

After 22 hours of travel, I am happy to be home.

Friday, December 11 – New text, Extreme Whether

As promised on Wednesday, new draft text for the agreement did come out yesterday, but not until 9 p.m. Thus, when Naomi Klein ended her event at Climate Action Zone last night by telling everyone to flood the streets on Saturday in defiance of French government plans to crack down on demonstrators, she was operating off the weak draft of the agreement released Wednesday. Yesterday’s version was a lot better — though climate activists are not cancelling their plans to flood the streets.

A series of equations related to the general circulation model of climate lines the train stop to Le Bourget at Gare du Nord in Paris.

A series of equations related to the general circulation model of climate lines the train stop to Le Bourget at Gare du Nord in Paris.

Lisa Friedman of E&E News has a good rundown of the new draft, which apparently involved a long speech to negotiators by Secretary of State John Kerry:

  • Ratcheting: This is the provision under which countries will agree to have their emissions targets reviewed and increased every five years. This has been something the United States and many environmental groups have insisted upon, while India and others have insisted that doing so must be voluntary for developing nations and come with the commitment of money. The current text includes some key elements the United States hopes to see, including potentially strong language ensuring that all countries move toward economywide emissions cuts. At the same time, it recognizes that “peaking will take longer for developing country parties.”
  • Transparency: This is another issue dear to the heart of the U.S. negotiating team. State Department Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern has called it “vital” that developing countries be asked to report their progress toward their emissions targets with as much rigor and frequency as rich countries. Today’s text leaves that still very much up in the air. Deutz said the biggest resistance there comes from India and China, which, like many other developing countries, are wary of intervention from abroad. “It’s a historic issue for China and also some countries with a colonial past. They jealously guard their sovereignty and domestic politics,” he said — though he also noted, “developed countries don’t really like other nations poking around in their business, either,” but have become comfortable with the U.N. system for reviewing emissions cuts.
  • Temperature target: In a big win for island nations, the new text now calls for holding the global average temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C.” Scientists say it will be tremendously difficult to meet that goal, but the most vulnerable nations said the deal must at minimum recognize it as an aspiration. “With this, I would be able to go home and tell my people that our chance for survival is not lost,” Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum said.
  • Legally binding: In a surprising move, the final text makes no mention of either internationally binding emissions pledges or a demand to implement policies to see those targets through. That’s another win for the United States, which is trying to avoid the need for Senate approval. Rather than requiring that countries make good on their pledges, it states only that intended nationally determined contributions “shall be recorded in a public registry maintained by the secretariat.” European and American activists described the language as a major concession on the part of the European Union, which had sought binding commitments as a means of guaranteeing that promised reductions would happen.

Again negotiators stayed up most of the night to get to this draft of the agreement, and they are promising to release final text tomorrow (Saturday), which means they met at 5:30 a.m. today to start the final round of negotiations.  To think the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of people who have had practically no sleep for three days …

Today was my last full day in Paris.  Tomorrow I have to catch the shuttle at 7:15 a.m. to head to the airport for a 10:30 a.m. flight.  I was debating whether to use the day to go back to the Climate Action Zone or to Climate Generations, but the decision was made for me when the Sierra Club sent out a message that its final gathering would take place at 4 p.m. at Climate Generations.  I enjoyed a leisurely lunch while catching up on COP news and then headed over.

Final meeting of the Sierra Club delegation at Climate Generations.

Final meeting of the Sierra Club delegation at Climate Generations.

At the Sierra Club gathering, we heard from Fred Heutte and John Coequyt of the Federal and International Climate Campaign, who have been inside the negotiations the entire time.  They stressed that the Sierra Club really likes most of the agreement.  Points they like include five-year cycles for national commitments starting in 2020, goal of greenhouse gas neutrality in the second half of the century, a target of 1.5 degrees C referenced in Article 2, global stocktaking for mitigation and finance every five years starting in 2023, and a floor of $100 billion in climate financing per year with cycles of review.  Parts of the agreement they do not like are the just transition only in the preamble, not the body of the agreement, and transparency and verification still in flux.

Sierra Club members signed its COP21 sign.

Sierra Club members signed its COP21 sign.

Coequyt said the Sierra Club would be using positive messaging to talk about the agreement, even though other groups may use a negative frame.  The reason for this, he said, is that these groups have different audiences.  The Sierra Club’s audience is mainly Americans who we need to support this agreement.  Many aspects, especially the incorporation of the 1.5 C target, are above and beyond what anyone expected, though he noted that scientific integrity calls for us to clarify that humans will most likely overshoot 1.5 C (1.4 C is already locked in) and then have to bring it back down.  Other groups, especially those representing climate vulnerable populations, Coequyt said, would frame it negatively because they want to pressure countries of the world to do more.  This explanation really helped me understand why there are such wildly varying frames of the same agreement.

After the meeting, I headed with Glen Besa and Tyla Matteson to  the Fondacion des Etats-Unis to see a theatrical reading of a play called “Extreme Whether” by Karen Malpede, based in part on the work of climate scientists James Hansen and Jennifer Francis (though they are not in a relationship in real life).  Here’s the summary:

ExtremePosterExtreme Whether poses a bitter debate over the future of the planet but becomes a meditation on the sublime in nature. Written in a mix of prose and poetry, with invective, humor and a full musical score, Extreme Whether sets the battle over global warming within a single family as a challenge to the American family at this moment of ecological crisis.

 A major climate scientist, his colleague and lover, an Arctic scientist, wage fierce battle with his twin sister, a publicist for the energy industry, and her husband, a lobbyist, over scientific truth and an inherited wilderness estate. His wise-child daughter and her side-kick Uncle work to protect the natural world and sabotage its abusers.

Theatrical reading of Extreme Whether. My Place to B roommate is second from right.

Theatrical reading of Extreme Whether. My Place to B roommate is second from right.

As it happened, one of my roommates at Place to B was in this play.  I had heard about it while scouting out events to attend before my trip, and she told me that she was acting in a play here when she first checked in this week, but I didn’t put it together that this was the play she was in until today.  The reading was excellent even without the normal props and costumes in a full production.  If you ever have a chance to see this, go.  Here’s a good review.

After the play, I headed over to Piscine Pontoise for a swim.  My flight to Paris had been miserable in part because I hadn’t gotten in a workout before going, and I wanted the flight back to be easier.  Swimming meant that I had to skip a special appearance by Amy Goodman at Place to B.  I was hoping it would be recorded, and fortunately it was. You can join me in watching it here: