Video games, inventions, and protests at Paris CO2 summit
By Peter Teffer
A familiar-looking yellow circle was moving around a screen in Paris on Wednesday (9 December), apparently eating smaller circles.
It was not Pac-man, the classic video game from 1980, but rather Capman, a game developed by Brussels-based NGO Carbon Market Watch.
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It was showcasing its video game, which relays the environmentalist group's main concerns in a playful way, at the United Nations climate conference.
The gameplay was apparently so engaging that the man who was supposed to present it, first did not notice a passer-by stopping at his desk.
“Oh, hello, sorry,” he said when he saw her, and started his pitch.
Carbon Market Watch is one of many organisations present at the 21st edition of the so-called Conference of the Parties, or COP21, where the world's climate negotiators try to thrash out an agreement for a global treaty that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
According to France, COP21 “is the biggest international meeting ever organised in France,” and it draws not only politicians, but also businesses, lobbyists, and activists. It takes place in an airport-hangar-turned-conference-centre in Le Bourget, a suburb of Paris.
It is a place where you are given climate-friendly chocolate, can see a centre-left member of the European Parliament wandering around eating a quick sandwich, or spot participants wearing traditional costumes from all over the world.
There is a hall with national pavilions, which often reflect the diplomatic or economic size of the country.
Here, national delegations meet to discuss their negotiating tactics, or the latest version of the draft agreement - such as the one the conference's president, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, shared with the parties on Wednesday afternoon.
Some of the pavilions also serve as a form of nation branding, or a place to organise side-events on topics the country finds important.
Then there is the exhibit hall, where a range of stakeholders, NGOs, associations, and others display their product or views in small booths.
Showing off inventions
Take engineer Kolja Kuse, who came from Germany to showcase “an invention."
He is chairman of the board of the European Business Council for Sustainable Energy, a business association, and has attended several COPs, to talk about the use of carbon fibre as a building material.
Proudly, Kuse showed what he said was a piece of granite with carbon fibre around it. He described it as being as light as aluminium, yet flexible.
“We can make this from CO2. The question is how,” said Kuse, adding that he has had talks with people involved in carbon capture and storage (CCS), a method of preventing heat-trapping carbon emissions from being released into the atmosphere.
“We need coal plants for a long time,” the engineer said. “The CCS people want to store it in the ground. Why not turn it into something useful? Carbon fibre is a very valuable industrial good.”
While it is still in the development phase, Kuse said there are endless possibilities. One of them was using the material in a popular brand of smartphone.
Not far from Kuse, Grace Cahill was sitting at a booth, not because she was affiliated with the advertised organisation, but because the abandoned booth was a comfortable place to sit - by around 4pm many of the booths in the area, which in a way resembles a trade show, had been emptied.
Cahill is media officer for Action Aid, a UK-based NGO. She noted she did not have time to talk much, because she was reading the latest draft text. But, she stressed, there was an event happening at 5PM that could not be missed.
A group of activists had gathered at that time near the French pavilion for an “unauthorised” protest. Unauthorised perhaps, but very well-coordinated judging by the high number of media present.
A ring of TV cameras, photographers, and lit mobile phones could be seen crowding around a group of people.
They had sat down amidst an art installation which featured uni-coloured plastic statues of hippo's, bears, and other animals.
Initially, their chants were not very easily audible.
“...hold them accountable...”
Without any audio equipment, the demonstrators had decided to use their combined voices as an amplifier.
Before any chants, the lead messenger would shout: “Mic check!”, following which the crowd would copy.
While the chants were not always in synch, some of the shouted demands were clearly audible.
“We are here...”
“We are here!”
“...that every single country take action...”
“That every single country take action!”
Meanwhile, the United Nations security personnel were urging passers-by not to stop in the main pathway to watch the sit-in.
“Can I ask you to move aside, because people want to walk here?” one of them asked.
The protest, which lasted around half an hour, also showed how complex the issue of fighting climate change is. The issue is not easily translatable into one-syllable chants or slogans. Yet the activists tried, with one man holding up an infographic of atmospheric CO2.
COP21 is formally scheduled to last until Friday. But late-night negotiations past the official deadline are not rare at climate conferences.