Power meetings, big and small, all the time! That is what it feels like here in the Blue Zone at Le Bourget. The intensity of the atmosphere has most certainly ramped up since Monday. More people have arrived and security has a bigger presence. The security folks inside the Blue Zone are firm but extraordinarily friendly. Always saying bonjour, holding doors open, and even saying "hello" to my class while I was webcasting back to Breck School (although this was part of a foray to make me stop filming at that particular location).
The design of the Blue Zone harkens back to the covered passageways that used to crisscross Paris at the turn of the 18th century. Back then, there were about 140 covered passageways in the city. Most were in upscale neighborhoods, and allowed shoppers to do their business free from the elements. Unfortunately, the intervening years have seen the loss of most of these beautiful passages.
To enter the Blue Zone, the first step is, unsurprisingly, going through security. Upon exiting security, which is essentially airport security but larger and more efficient, one enters into a covered passageway that is called the Champs-Elysées. It is about half the length of a US city block. There are six buildings off this passageway, each with its own specific purpose. One area hosts country pavilions, which serve the duel purpose of promoting their various sustainability and climate change mitigation efforts and serving as a meeting point for negotiating teams. Another building houses the press. There are huge work-spaces, rooms for the big media outlets and three rooms for press conferences. The press conference rooms are booked on the half hour by all types of organizations. Press conferences are an important way for groups to state their opinions and reactions to the negotiations. Booths for organizations are in a third building. Groups from all over the world, working on a plethora of issues, are demanding a voice in the process. Youth, Indigenous rights, human rights, farming, shoreline protection, all the UN agencies, and many other groups are represented. Halle 6 houses the meeting rooms. There are at least 27 meeting rooms where delegations confer amongst one another or with non-voting groups. The blood, sweat, and tears of COP21 are extracted in these meeting rooms. Of course, there is also a VIP area where I imagine plenty of "unofficial" negotiations take place. Finally, the two Plenary Halls: Le Seine and Le Loire. These are the large halls where the entire COP21 delegation assembles to conduct the official business of the climate change negotiations.
The atmosphere in the Blue Zone over the course of the week has moved from business-like, to frenzied, to the current state of heightened anticipation. Monday and Tuesday, it felt like people were simply getting on with business. Wednesday there was the feeling that time was running out, and the associated frenzy that ensued. By this afternoon, those of us outside the negotiating halls but still within the Blue Zone were in anticipation mode - anticipating the words, phrases, and ideas of a new, near-final draft document. Everyone waiting in every spot at Le Bourget has a personal stake in the negotiations happening behind the closed doors. There is a sense that the stories have been told, the facts have been delivered, and protests are on pause. Some are fearful for their very existence, others are concerned about language on human rights, Indigenous rights, a 1.5° target, loss and damages, food security, and finance. There are so many important issues within this one document. The afternoon on Thursday was filled with whispered speculation that a draft would be released at 7:00 pm tonight.
7:00 ticked by... nothing. 30 minutes later, a full delegation meeting was scheduled for 9:00 pm in the largest hall - Le Seine. Overflow was scheduled for Le Loire. Something big was going to happen. By 8:45, people all over the Blue Zone were headed for the Plenary Halls, those with proper credentials funneling into Le Seine, and the rest of us into overflow. The announcement time arrived. COP21 president, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, made the new draft text of the COP21 accord available. Once the document was introduced, President Fabius stated the procedure to which negotiators would adhere for the finalization of the document. Because he stated that this next meeting was to produce a final document, he is calling it the "Indaba for Solutions." Indaba is a Zulu term for an important conference and, as I understand, the word was adopted for use at COP17 in Durban, South Africa.
At 11:30 pm, two hours after the conclusion of Pres. Fabius's remarks, the delegation would reconvene in meeting room Le Rhone. Each delegation would be awarded three transferable badges. The Indaba would be streamed into three additional rooms available only to the official delegations. While the Indaba is convened, President Fabius continued, Parties who cannot agree on an issue will be told to meet in the corner of the hall. The involved Parties would have 45 minutes to come to agreement. He concluded by stating that legal and linguistic teams have been assembled, and he expects a final document tomorrow (Friday).
By the time I exited the hall, the draft text was available online and via print in the Blue Zone. As I walked through the Blue Zone towards the exit and waiting buses, huddles of people were in every corner, room, and table. Every delegation and interested party was pouring over the document to see what it meant for their constituency. The Blue Zone was in a new, hushed state. As I write this, they are two hours into the Indaba for Solutions. I hope the delegates are thinking of their grandchildren.
Minneapolis-based nonprofit, Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, is leading a delegation of 10 Education Ambassadors to COP21 through their Window Into Paris program, December 5-11. These 10 teachers - representing diverse subject areas, grade levels, and school communities from Denver, Atlanta, upstate New York, western North Carolina and Minnesota - are connecting their students to climate policy in action, helping to build both climate literacy and the relevance of this issue in their students' lives. Follow their stories via their blogs and daily digests.