Nine observations from the Paris climate talks

From the meaning of the deal to who has the best parties; the rise of new media to the lily-white participants, here are nine quick reflections on the Paris climate conference.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
15 December 2015

"COP21 participants - 30 Nov 2015 (23430273715)" by Presidencia de la República Mexicana - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -

I'm back from Paris. After two weeks writing about the nexus between the climate conference, corporate influence and media coverage, hanging out with anarchists and coprorate lobbyists, wandering the conference centre and watching the world's leaders come and go, my head's swimming with thoughts. Here are nine of them.

1) The detail of the deal probably isn't the most important thing

If you want comprehensive analysis of the text, check out Danny Chivers and Jess Worth over at the New Internationalist. My general summary is that, if you follow real-politic, it's remarkable that there is a deal at all, and that it mentions 1.5°C. If you follow science or hoped for justice, then it is woefully inadequate. To quote Naomi Klein, “it's worth pausing to know this: we do negotiate the right of entire countries to exist”.

However, I also suspect that the detail of the deal isn't the important question. Here's what I wrote on Facebook after it was signed.

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"Liberal institutionalism". That's the name for the belief that you can change the world through international...

Posted by Adam Ramsay on Sunday, December 13, 2015

This is largely still how I feel. Whether or not we respond to climate change as the best science and basic principles of justice demand will depend not on the complex detail of a treaty, but the complex web of economic, political and power dynamics all across the world. That's always been true, and remains so.

2) The anti-capitalists have the best parties

I suspect I was the only person there who went to the main parties hosted by:

- The US corporate lobbyists, in a gentlemen's club Proust called 'the most exclusive in the world'. Entertainment: Al Gore.
- The big NGO coalition in a massive night club. Entertainment: well known pop (including, embarrassingly, the sexist/rape-jingle "Blurred Lines").
- The anticapitalists, in a vast squatted warehouse. Entertainment: a brass band, playing what seemed a mix of fast ska/Balkan jazz, interspersed with chants.

The corporate lobbyists may have the best wine, but the anti-capitalists definitely have the best parties.

3) It's all a bit of a corporate lobby-fest
Which I wrote about here. However, many of the lobbyists seemed deeply personally conflicted, like they know deep down that they are on the wrong side of history. As I wrote about here.

4) It's also a climate NGO fair

 Everyone who's anyone in the world of climate change, from radical anti-capitalists to the businessmen and women of green capitalism were there. Inevitably, there were endless meetings in the cafes at the conference centre and the bars of Paris about joint work, international collaborations, skill shares, and so on. While the centrepiece of the conference is the negotiations, the tens of thousands of people there will have had millions of conversations about climate change and what to do about it. For better or worse, I suspect the impact of those will be almost as significant as the deal itself.

5) The state of emergency meant there was much less protest than in the past
It's hard to get people together when the police really do want to crack down. And so there seemed to be quite a lot of activists kicking around in Paris who were uncertain what to do (with a few notable exceptions). Or, at least, that was the case until Saturday. At that point, thousands broke the ban to protest across central Paris, and the police basically gave in, allowing it all to go ahead. I do wonder if the same would have happened if that number had tried this earlier in the proceedings.

6) Journalists seemed to follow the negotiations very closely, and largely ignore what was going on around it
Perhaps somewhat cynically, I always assume that decisions aren't really made 'in the room'. And so I was a little surprised how much journalistic capacity was dedicated to following the ins and outs of the deal, vs what was going on around it; that there weren't more people (as far as I saw) paying attention to what the oil industry was up to, what the corporate lobbyists were doing, etc.

7) New media played a bit of a blinder

The biggest scoop of the COP was arguably delivered not by any of the traditional press, but by Greenpeace's Energydesk.

The best watched video footage in the UK came from the New Internationalist, with 7.3 million views on Facebook alone.

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Undercover police crack down on freedom of speech in Paris

Yesterday undercover police cracked down on anyone questioning the sponsors of a corporate “Solutions 21” event in Paris.The action was supported by Corporate Europe Observatory, Les Amis de la Terre France, Attac France (Officiel), Climate Justice Action, JEDIs, Solidaire and Friends of the Earth France. Kandi Mossett from the Indigenous Environmental Network spoke at the event.For more grassroots coverage from Paris: the truth about corporate influence at COP21:

Posted by New Internationalist Magazine on Saturday, December 5, 2015

The most shared article in the UK analysing the deal also seems to be that by Danny Chivers and Jess Worth I've linked to above (also on New Internationalist). Even the world's longest serving environmental journalist was writing on his own blog...

8) The whole thing was very white

This was an international conference. Of the global population, only a small percentage is white. An even smaller percentage is Anglophone. And yet if you sat around at the conference centre and watched people go by, it felt whiter not just than the global population, but than the area of Paris I was staying in. Similarly, listen into conversations, and amazing numbers of them were taking place in English.

9) If they weren't so dangerous, the climate deniers would be hilarious

From their willingness to debate what they can and can't say in front of journalists, with a journalist in the room, to the ever-growing list of conspiracy theories they use to justify their position, these guys caused much hilarity on the fringes of the event.


We're digging through the media to see how climate change is reported over the Paris climate talks and beyond. Sign up to hear what we find out.

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