This past December 2015, the 21st United Nations Climate Conference (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place in Paris, France. The COP meets each year to make decisions that further the implementation of the Convention and to combat climate change.
Many people complain to me that these climate conferences are useless because of how painfully slow and drawn out the process of coming to an agreement is. Although I do agree that climate negotiations should move and come to decisions much quicker, I don’t agree that these global meetings are useless.
The decisions at these climate conferences have to be made by consensus, which unfortunately weakens and slows climate governance. On the other hand, governance is in every way a multiparty procedure. States deal with cities, NGOs, activists, and stakeholders. This is where I think it’s extremely important to know who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about if you dream of any sort of actions passed to protect our environment. During COP21, there was a Climate Generations Area where other forums were held simultaneously to the negotiations. This space was open to the public and provided more than 88,000 visitors the opportunity to share information and attend talks and debates.
My classmate Pamela Millan and I were given the opportunity to attend and participate in these public forum events working for the Sylvia Earle Alliance with Charlotte Vick and underwater photographer and filmmaker Jon Slayer. Our goal for the week was to maintain crucial conversations on the importance of our ocean through interviews for Oceans Inc., social media, and attending talks and events. One such event we particularly enjoyed was We Are the Frontline: for the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change (CANCC). Where President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, explained the reality, his nation and other low lying islands, are facing today with rising sea levels consuming their very homes.
Pam and I were also able to attend talks at Tara Expéditions, a 36-meter research vessel based on the banks of the Seine under the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. This schooner has traveled across the oceans dedicated to collecting data on climate change impacts on our oceans.
Despite our ocean’s crucial role in our very existence, the lungs of our planet have been somewhat absent in climate change conferences in the past. Organizations such as the Sylvia Earle Alliance, Oceans Inc., Ocean & Climate, and Tara Expéditions are working to change that. One fundamental achievement of the conference was the recognition of the ocean within the Preamble and in the Agreement itself. This is the first time the word ocean is reintroduced in the text.
As underwater photographer, Thomas Peschak has mentioned, “to thrive and survive in this field you have to be a hopeless optimist.” Regardless of the circumstances around me, I still don’t think it’s too late for our ocean. I’ll continue to seek all opportunities. The ocean needs people but we also need the ocean. Unfortunately, the consequences of the negotiations will still be too warm for the ocean but at least the conversation has been revitalized. We need to continue the conversation, move our actions forward, and work together to push for even stronger agreements for future climate conferences.