The Blue Zone is what they call the conference grounds requiring UN approved access. Security guards the doors, scanning UNFCCC ID badges before permitting entry. There are three main statuses that grant access to the Blue Zone: party, media, and observer (me). Once inside, additional security clearance is required for spaces like the plenary rooms where Heads of State give their opening remarks and official delegations work on the negotiating floor.
In the lead up to COP21 I was given a number of interesting analogies for busy UN conference spaces. Their tendency to be overwhelming was likened to Disneyland. At a climate change themed un-conference hosted by BCCIC Andrea Riemer, Deputy Mayor of Vancouver, described it to me as climate Woodstock – performers and politicians are in their ‘zone’ focused on creating something (with some showmanship), and the crowds, drawn by what’s coming from the stages, are often in their own world. A notable difference, however, is that in the case of COP dazed faces and bloodshot eyes can be attributed to working long hours on little sleep. I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a zoo, with different groups rushing to catch a glimpse of animals in different enclosures. Media pokes the bear, so to speak, trying to illicit an unrehearsed reaction, and for the most part the kings of the jungle only interact at a distance with the sloths.
That being said, the design of the space itself feels rather like one of those maze games. I spent much of the morning wandering around to get my bearings. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the people rushing around might also be trying to figure it all out. I can’t have been the only one pretending to know what was up this flight of stairs or at the end of that unmarked hall whilst exploring, right?
Opening day was busy and exciting. There’s a lot to learn for a first-timer. I’ll do a separate post that details the sessions I attended (spoiler: front row at Trudeau’s press conference). Until then, may I present to you, in Buzzfeed style, my…
Top Ten Odd Observations from Inside the Blue Zone
- Suits. I have never seen more well pressed and tailored suits in one day.
- Ties. Speaking of attire, my award for best dressed goes to an affiliate of 350.0rg who had the organizations name and tag line printed on a his tie and worn with a black business suit. If only everyone else in the sea of suits was so brilliantly labelled.
- Coffee. The longest lines are not for press conferences with Obama (though the media flocks like seagulls to greet him at the door), but for coffee. There are little coffee trucks stationed around the grounds and inside the Halls. The longest line I saw all day wound around a corner with nearly 70 people. It arrived at a cafe and sandwich counter.
- Naps. When the caffeine can’t keep you awake any longer, there is an upper floor filled with cushy chaise lounges, where people in their fancy suits drool and snooze. This crash zone looks hilarious, but I thought pictures would be a bit invasive. After all, with the time change, intensity of negotiations and long working hours, you can’t blame anyone here for catching some much needed Zs.
- Celebrities. Sightings of Bolivian President Evo Morales and Naomi Klein (who was sitting in the same cafeteria as us!) left myself and other youth fanning. I wonder if this is the environmentalist’s equivalent of being on a Hollywood set? I was sitting on a bench near the Canadian headquarters when Tom Mulcair stopped for a chat right in front of me, and I spotted a number of other Canadian poli heavy hitters throughout the day. I hear Bill Gates was also around.
- State Pavilions versus State Delegation Offices. The difference between key state players and backbenchers at COP21 is apparent in their national delegation space. One Hall hosts the heavy hitters (I’m referring not just to those contributing most, but also those who have participated most in the UNFCC or were the most nationally organized), who have large interactive pavilions where you can go an learn about their country’s initiates, investments, and position at the conference, while the other Hall has private rooms and unadorned plywood walls with the country’s name and space number. The US pavilion has a seating area where they live stream US content and I heard (but have yet to confirm) that the Germans were giving away free coffee.
- Observer Exhibits. Similar to the country exhibitions, IGOs and NGOs fill a large Hall with booths about their work. Touring this area reminded me of my elementary school science fair – there was a difference between those who had started their projects weeks ago and those scrambling the night before. Regardless of presentation, the people manning these stations are happy to share about their organizations and look a little lonely when all the attention is focused at the negotiations or elsewhere.
- Media. Watching media is always fun. The way they scrum like gulls swooping in for the fallen fry, and swarm to get the close up of this or that president shaking hands with Christiana Figueres. I admire their dedication to a difficult task. While I get to make top ten lists, they’re working like bees to make sure quotes are exact and ready for the evening news. After all, the devil of this beast is in the details.
- Multitaskers. I have to applaud the multitasking champions I saw at the bike-powered charging station, who were peddling, eating, and working at the same time. You deserve some type of award for these skills.
- PM Trudeau’s walk. I’m just going to come out and say this, and I really intend no criticism by it, but watching Trudeau power walk around the conference was funny. I mean, he has a great stride, really looks like he’s going places! But his poor camera man, with the weight of his equipment on his shoulder, was struggling to keep up and I couldn’t help but laugh as he skipped along every few paces to avoid being left behind. So long as Trudeau is taking steps in the right direction, I’m glad he’s walking with intention.
About Emilia Belliveau
Emilia Belliveau is master’s student at the University of Victoria in the School of Environmental Studies and an individual member of BCCIC. In December 2015, she will be travelling to Paris, France to take part in the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. BCCIC as an organization holds observer status to this conference and will be sending Emilia as well as a BCCIC staff member to the negotiations.
Through the COP21 lead up, and during the conference itself, Emilia will be making regular blogposts which will be available both here at bccic.ca as well as on her personal blog space : https://emibelliveau.wordpress.com/
In her own words, Emilia introduces herself below:
Thank you for taking an interest in climate change and international negotiations.
If we have yet to have the pleasure of meeting, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Emilia Belliveau and I’m currently a master’s student at the University of Victoria in the School of Environmental Studies. I’m interested in social justice, feminism, environmentalism, and politics – so I make an all around great party guest! I recently moved to the west coast from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and am enjoying getting to know this side of the continent.
I’ll be using this platform to share my experiences as I attend the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Paris. I have been nominated by the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) as an ‘observer’ delegate, which simply means I’ll be let in to watch the action unfold. This blog will report on both negotiation developments and my personal observations about the conference. I’m grateful for the nomination of BCCIC that has granted me access to this flashpoint in political ecology. It’s important to clarify that the views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the position of BCCIC or its affiliates.
If curiosity has brought you here – please check in often! I’ll be posting in the lead up to COP21 more about these negotiations (including background info, definitions and resources), their role in addressing climate change, the importance of a ‘treaty year’, the work of BCCIC, and other groups shedding light on Canada’s international action.
I’ll also be sharing the full story of my journey to COP21 and why attending these negotiations is so important to me.