This is why COP21 is not a missed chance

11130184_780222895359591_267284219589366224_nDuring December, the spotlight on Paris has been huge because world leaders, activists, researchers, businessmen and journalists gathered for the Olympics of climate justice – the 21st Conference of the Parties, better known as COP21.

The draft agreement was famous and in the spotlight even before the opening ceremony held in Le Bourget on November 29th: “Will the Paris agreement save the planet?”, “Will the Paris agreement be a flop like the Copenhagen one?”, “Will they reach an agreement that will be ambitious, global and binding?”
Eventually the agreement was reached – in spite of many remaining questions-, the experts agree stating that an excellent result was achieved, numerous associations dealing with climate are satisfied and more than half of the governs claim that the result is more than positive.

But apart from the result and rhetoric, what really happened during the two endless, exhausting and overwhelming weeks?

The first week of COP in reality has been a week of negotiations only, defined as ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action).
During these meetings countries and coalitions delegates distributed themselves in parallel sessions in order to confront themselves – or rather arguing with style – and amend the draft agreement. Every discussion, centred on a different theme, should have been open house: the different ONGs and the journalists therefore should have had the right to participate, but for the hottest themes such as the purposes of the agreement and finance, things were different, the location and timing of the meeting was never made public.
It was only thanks to the help of some infiltrators that it was possible to obtain rumours in time, otherwise the distortions of the test were published on the first pages of the official bulletins the next morning, totally limiting any possibility of manoeuvre for possible contrast actions.

The second week, when negotiations were now coming to an end, the atmosphere got much more tense and frenzied. 48 hours before the event’s closure the last version of the draft agreement was presented but it did not satisfy many countries and more importantly the Civil Society, one of the main actors involved in this event.
Themes like human rights, health and the preservation of the indigenous populations have been eliminated from the text and the ambitious project of limitation of the rise in temperature at a maximum of 1,5°C (compared to the 2°C declared before) was not taken into consideration because the proponent countries withdrew the idea in favour of a more convenient compromise.
Less than 48 hours before the end of the event, all the participants have struggled to get their own interests included in the agreement.
IMG_6107We were among them as medical students and representatives of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), with the aim of highlighting the strong connection between health and the climate change.
I was part of the delegation and our job at the COP, as young activists and public health promoters, has been to influence the negotiations. The process of lobby, apparently easy, has been a complex mechanism, that started several months before the COP and it involved many actors: from the non governmental organisations to the World Health Organisation (WHO); from the Press to the countries, known as Parties.

Initially our relationship with the countries was characterised only by mail requests to meet, but after the unexpected removal of the word “health” from the text our diplomatic plans turned into disruptive activism.
We reached almost all the countries using informal strategies: raiding offices to make them listen to us, waiting for delegates out of the negotiations room or simply stopping the negotiators during the coffee break. Our aim was to suggest amendments that would include health in the document. Peru, in the person of Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (Minister of the Environment and President of the past COP), showed himself extremely interested and gave us crucial information regarding South American coalitions and therefore countries to approach to have a greater chance of success.
Thanks to internal contacts, we managed to reopen the debate on one of the most discussed articles, namely the article about the purposes of the agreement and moreover we made secretly meet the interested countries headed by Chile and Nigeria followed by Brazil, Sudan and Uganda.
In agreement with WHO we invited to a meeting all the countries that have proven to be favourable to the reintroduction of “Health” in the agreement. This gave the chance of discussion and creation of alliances as well as the development of a common and compact strategy.
European countries have been the most difficult to approach because, while maintaining their political integrity, they negotiate as a unique country, through the heads of the European Union delegation, differently from the Latin American and Asian countries on which we have exerted a good pressure.

12342342_10206646636899446_7403989989783291105_nDuring the last ours, in which the delegates were still withdrawn in Le Bourget to reach the agreement (and they stayed there until morning, with a lot of coffee), the Civil Society gathered in squares and streets in Paris despite the fact that they had been denied the permission. Thanks to the movement “La ZONE D’ACTION POUR LE CLIMATE”, the Civil Society had a strong voice: the red flow of mobilized people that ripped Paris on December 12th echoed more than the last day of plenary session. The awareness that this COP will not be the last and that the work will have to continue in a constant way even after Paris, must be the new starting point.
In a scenario with 1,5°C the effects still will not have to be neglected: it will be necessary to push the research field for the investment in renewable sources, to create support programs in the deforested lands and to keep on informing people about the catastrophic consequences of global heating.
As medical students instead, it will be important to sensitise the population, to promote interdisciplinary courses in universities and to implement adequate global health plans, for prevention and promotion of correct lifestyle.

Benedetta Rossi
Cop21, IFMSA delegate