Cities, states, the private sector, and civil society organizations played an unprecedented role in the efforts to reach a new international climate agreement at COP-21. As country representatives gathered to hash out a new international climate agreement, hundreds of keynote speeches, panels, interactive workshops, storytelling performances, and advocacy actions took place at the same time in and around Paris.
Many of these events amplified the engagement of cities, states, regions, Indigenous peoples, civil society groups, and companies from all over the world. Signaling a significant shift from the past, these opportunities to learn from the experiences of a wide range of actors have expanded the conversation on climate solutions and provided a welcome complement to the traditional top-down UN negotiation framework. The enthusiastic call for an ambitious climate agreement from these sub-national and non-state actors was contagious, and their involvement brought a renewed sense of optimism to the negotiations.
From witnessing hundreds of mayors demonstrate their commitment as local climate leaders to hearing moving poetry reflections on how Indigenous communities are affected by a changing climate, here is a snapshot of some of the many inspiring moments I was fortunate enough to experience during my time at COP-21.
Hosted by Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, and Michael Bloomberg, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, the Climate Summit for Local Leaders assembled over 700 mayors and other leaders from around the world on December 4 to commit to further climate action by signing onto the Paris City Hall Declaration. The stunning architecture at Hotel de Ville (Paris City Hall) set the stage for a truly inspirational day, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offering concluding remarks, stating “I’ve participated in many conferences but the leadership and commitments from cities here today is unforgettable.” (photo by Stefanie Wnuck)
The Climate Generations area featured a full schedule of events and activities held simultaneously with the negotiations. The Generations area, which was open to the general public, hosted hundreds of panels, debates, and keynotes, as well as 60 film screening, 120 exhibit stands, 20 interactive educational exhibitions, in addition to many advocacy actions and demonstrations. (photo by Stefanie Wnuck)On December 6, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) hosted an event featuring storytelling from Indigenous leaders, as well as a conversation with Robert Redford, producer, actor and seasoned environmental advocate. Chief Mundiya Kepanga of Papua New Guinea (pictured above) shared his story of how his community’s land is being affected, saying he came to serve as the bridge between “our world and his." (photo by Emily Wier)
The Yale Data-Driven Environmental Solutions Group led a workshop that brought organizations and universities from around the world together on December 5 to discuss their research tracking and measuring the ambition and implementation of sub-national climate commitments. (photo by Thomas Hale)Pictured above: Paul Lussier (Founder and Director of the Science Communications with Impact Network); Julia Marton-Lefèvre (Former Director General, International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Edward Bass Distinguished Visiting Environmental Scholar at Yale), Maria Ivanova (Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts Boston); Frances Beinecke (former president of NRDC, and Dorothy S. McCluskey Visiting Fellow in Conservation at F&ES); and F&ES Dean Peter Crane.
On December 6 the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) hosted a panel of alumni and distinguished visiting scholars who shared their views and hopes for a successful climate agreement in Paris. The panelists demonstrated a new take on the climate sign that has became a symbol of solidarity and peace. (photo by Melissa Goodall)
Members of the Yale Data-Driven Group presented their research quantifying sub-national and non-state action through the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) and Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) platforms, as well as the New York Climate Summit, at a December 7 Galvanizing the Groundswell workshop. (photos by Stefanie Wnuck)
Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke to a packed audience at Sciences Po University, outlining California’s climate leadership, and emphasizing why climate actions taken at the city and state level are essential for meeting global climate goals. The Yale Data-Driven Group demonstrated the power of cities and states to help close the global emissions gap, launching a new report in Paris in collaboration with R-20 Regions for Climate Change, the Stanley Foundation, and USC’s Schwarzenegger Institute for Global Policy. (photo by Stefanie Wnuck)
Environmental philanthropist and co-founder & president of NextGen Climate America Tom Styer and his wife Kat Taylor encouraged youth to continue to advocate for a clean energy future at a Paris event on December 8. (photo by Stefanie Wnuck)Pictured above: David Hawkins (Director of Climate Programs, NRDC); Richard Kauffman (Chairman of Energy and Finance for New York State); David Doniger (Director of Climate and Clean Air Program, NRDC); and Dan Lashof (Chief Operating Officer, NextGen Climate America).
Climate and energy policy experts discussed advances in U.S. climate action at all levels – ranging from innovative state energy policies in New York to the implications of the national Clean Power Plan limiting carbon pollution from the power sector –at a side event hosted by NRDC on December 9. “States are the laboratories of democracy,” stated Richard Kauffman. (photo by Stefanie Wnuck)Pictured above (left): FES students Ben Serrurier ('17), Emily Wier ('17), Stefanie Wnuck, ('16) and Kristin Lambert ('16) at the D12 climate march.
Thousands came together from all over the world for a peaceful demonstration and climate march near the Arc De Triomphe in the heart of Paris on December 12. Later that day, the historic Paris Agreement was announced. (photos by Stefanie Wnuck (left); Emily Wier (right))
While the new Paris Agreement outlines an ambitious path forward, all parties realize this is only the beginning. Continued leadership from “bottom-up” non-state and sub-national actors beyond Paris will be crucial to meeting national and global climate mitigation goals. It is also now more important than ever to continue to hold national governments accountable to their commitments by tracking, measuring, and assessing progress toward achieving global climate goals, and to advocate for more ambitious targets to be set in the future.