COP21: No news is good news at Paris climate conference | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 10.12.2015
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COP21: No news is good news at Paris climate conference

How do journalists know that crunch time really has started COP21? Toilets get closed off at short notice and negotiators start looking pretty beat. DW reporter Andrea Rönsberg lets you in on a few more giveaways.

Let me start with one key indicator: The less there is going on officially, the more is actually going on behind the scenes.

During the first week of any given climate conference, the screen updating everyone in this process about scheduled events is full. NGOs and negotiators alike hold press conferences, taking great pains to drive home their points. There are countless so-called side events on topics ranging from ocean acidification to forest management.

Background briefings and red-rimmed eyes

But once the going gets serious, there is less to announce. Sure, NGOs still hold press conferences, unremitting in their appeals that the planet must be saved. Parties to the negotiations, however, cancel their regular dates and do what they should do: Talk to each other instead of to the press.

At this particular conference, the German delegation offered a daily press briefing, setting the agenda so that journalists would cover topics like how the German government compensates for the greenhouse emissions caused by its officials' travels.

A text message sent out the afternoon prior to the event would alert journalists to the time fixed, giving even the not-so-organized among us enough notice to get their act together and show up on time. But Thursday is the second day in a row on which there was no text message. Instead, briefings are announced on (very) short notice and they are not on the record, meaning that whoever says something must not be named. That's where phrases referring to "sources familiar with negotiations" come into play.

An exhausted participant in the COP21 negotiations in Paris is seen lying on a couch. Photo: Andrea Rönsberg/DW

Shoes off, a scarf over the eyes - that's the way to get a few minutes of sleep as the negotiations roll on

The more of these "sources familiar with negotiations" addressing journalists have red-rimmed eyes at ad-hoc briefings, wishing us a good morning when it's well into the afternoon, the more certain we can be: Negotiators are going through the night trying to forge consensus.

Of VIP and TIP

What else are the indicators we are nearing the final hours of this conference (though mind you, hours may very well turn into days)?

VIP alerts get less frequent - if there is an alert, it's only for a true VIP. During the first conference week, visitors included Robert Redford, Leonardo di Caprio, Alec Baldwin, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a few other celebrities.

This week, only rapper Sean Paul is making an appearance.

Other than that, the limelight is reserved for Truly Important Persons. One such TIP came my way as I was munching on a slice of pizza, intending to cross the hallway. I was prevented from doing so by three very serious-looking security officers, who, it turned out, were clearing the way for US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry then proceeded to address the press by invitation only. The fact that he ended his "press conference" only seconds before conference chief Laurent Fabius addressed a plenary of delegates tells you something about how important the US perceives itself to be.

Not over until the fat lady sings

But it's not just the security personnel that are starting to be a bit jittery. Journalists deprived of regular and "on-the-record" briefings start approaching anyone remotely resembling a negotiator to sound them out for information about how negotiations are progressing (and even the slightest indication as to when this conference may end).

So far, none of these sources more or less familiar with negotiations has intimated we're on the verge of consensus. On the up side, neither have there been tales of Bolivian/Saudi Arabian/Russian/Chinese negotiators walking out of the room, sending all endeavors here into the abyss.

So all in all, there are strong signals a global climate agreement may soon be concluded.

But the fat lady has not started singing quite yet.

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