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Climate Change

Paris climate summit: Same, same, but different?

Critics say climate conferences never accomplish anything. But many are saying the current summit in Paris is different. DW's correspondent on the ground provides her own assessment.

bus, reusable cup and a bakery at the climate change conference in Paris. (Source: DW)

Hybrid-driven buses, reusable cups and bottles as well as little tin ashtrays, and a bakery on site - some things about the Paris conference are different

A bakery. That is one of the first things that greets participants as they enter the conference site. And it's not just a bakery - it's one that bakes real French croissants (plus 10,000 bread rolls).

Never had those in Warsaw or Doha, where I previously reported from climate conferences.

But just to be sure, I asked a veteran climate conference attendee, who confirmed that at prior such events, there had been "really crappy food." So Paris is different.

Though one might add that "Paris" is not "Paris." We find ourselves at Le Bourget, some 15 kilometers outside of Paris. The venue is actually a former airport.

map of Paris climate conference site. (Photo: Andrea Rönsberg, DW)

Once an airport where planes happily emitted CO2, now a climate conference venue: Le Bourget, outside of Paris

Now that is a first: United Nations climate summits have taken place at former military sites (Lima, Peru in 2014), football stadiums (Warsaw, Poland in 2013), resorts (Cancun, Mexico in 2010) or luxury hotels (Bali, Indonesia in 2007).

Less waste

Airport aside, what makes Paris different is the fact that it is the first climate conference to actually make an honest (and arguably quite successful) approach at adhering to international sustainability standards.

Because, truth be told, all the climate conference critics grumbling about these events being a waste of time, and a wasteful one at that - they had a point.

But Paris is different. Instead of finding a printout of several pages with the daily schedule on their desks, the 3,000 journalists accredited here are told to check the website, or the app.

So in Paris, we've finally arrived to the 21st century.

bag made from recycled material at Paris climate conference. (Photo: Andrea Rönsberg, DW)

"This was a sweater" - the welcome presents in Paris are, bien sur, made from recycled material

Whereas the Polish presidency back in 2013 greeted participants with a large swag bag containing gloves, a scarf, and mittens (granted, it is cold in Warsaw in December) - as well as the obligatory pen and paper - the French presidency is keeping its giveaway bag (made out of recycled material, to be sure) to the bare minimum: pen, paper, and a reusable plastic water bottle.

Needless to say, coffee here is served in reusable cups as well, and sandwiches sold by caterers are not wrapped in plastic. Delegations were asked to please limit the material they bring to the conferences, to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the event.

Really different?

So how else is Paris different? The city seems to take the onslaught of tens of thousands of conference participants in stride.

So far, logistics of this event have worked out fine. Transportation is centered on public transport and (hybrid-drive) shuttle buses that bring people to and from Le Bourget without too many glitches.

bakery on site of the Paris climate conference. (Photo: Andrea Rönsberg, DW)

A little bread can go a long way toward making people happy - but overall, that may not be enough to make this climate summit different from others

All this may sound trivial. And can it possibly mean this conference will make a difference? I have been told: Yes.

The fact that "Paris" is so agreeable, serves wonderful croissants and provides a functioning transport system, simply contributes to everyone - including key negotiators - being content (and theoretically more productive). No anger and frustration being built up here that could spill over into negotiations.

That said, there is one important thing about Paris that sounds familiar: Negotiations are off to a slow start - moving in a "circular direction," as the German chief negotiator put it.

And the fact that public transport passes handed out to us here that are valid for two days beyond the official end of the conference, strongly suggests one sad fact: On balance, the Paris conference might just be "same, same" - and not "different."

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