Piper in Paris
By Piper Christian
Every so often, opportunities come around in your life
that you just have to jump on. For me, attending the UN Climate Change Summit, known as the 21st Conference
of Parties (COP21), was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. This experience was made available by Cherise Udell, the president of Utah Mom’s for Clean Air. She thought it would be valuable to raise awareness about climate change amongst youth in Utah, and extended the offer for 16 Utah students to become youth delegates at the conference in Paris, France. Having always been passionate about environmental protection, joining this delegation was a no brainer for me.
In case you aren’t familiar with the purpose of COP21: This summit was a meeting of the leaders of 195 countries who would negotiate for a two week span in Paris, France with one primary goal: to make a legally binding agreement
that the countries of the world will not allow the Earth’s temperature to rise more than 2 degrees celsius. The enormity of this task is almost unfathomable. In order for
it to work, global fossil fuel subsidies must be drastically reduced, investments in green technology greatly enhanced, and widespread political endorsement must be attained. I couldn’t wait to attend this summit as this incredible task was being taken on.
No one in our delegation, let alone in the world, could have planned for what would happen on November 13th in Paris. Watching the death count sickeningly rise on
TV at home in the wake of the terrorist attacks, my heart broke for France. I also understood it would have major implications for our delegation and the climate summit
as a whole. Little more than a week later, our delegation was called off, because assuming the liability of so many minors in the wake of this event was understandably too challenging. But a few days later, Cherise gave me a call, and personally extended the offer for me to join her at the summit without being tied to the delegation. She had seen how important this trip was to me and still believed that it was still valuable that we attend.
I knew that being in Paris only two weeks after the attacks would be far from easy. Many were surprised I even
considered going. But to me, the climate summit was an opportunity for the city to heal from the wounds of the attacks, as a declaration that despite the evil in the world, countries can still work together peacefully for a greater cause. To be able to witness that was incredibly moving.
The hostel we stayed at was just a ten minute’s walk from Le Petite Cambodge Restaurant, where one of the shootings had taken place. A waiter at a cafe in our neighborhood told us how people had taken cover in his restaurant as chaos in the streets ensued. More than anything, I was astounded by the kindness the people of Paris showed us, for I feel more than ever they were grateful to have our support.
The nature of the summit changed due to the attacks as well. Many events we had planned to attend were closed to the public because of security
concerns, and likewise many climate
change demonstrations were cancelled. There was a great sense of unease and frustration from the public, as many felt that all opportunities for civic society to participate and share their voice at the summit had been closed off. At first I too was disappointed, but then I saw it as an opportunity: I decided that my role in the summit would be to share the stories of underrepresented people from all over the world on how climate change affects their lives, and what unique insights they had on how to fight back.
With my cheap camera and tripod in hand, I interviewed anyone with a story to share. There was no way I could have planned how eye-opening this humble project would be for me. A 15-year-old girl from Bali told me how she went on
a hunger strike to convince her governor to ban plastic bags on their island. A young man from Sudan shared with me his recent realization that tackling climate issues in his country could greatly
reduce regional violence and strife. A woman from New York City showed me powerful art pieces she created to raise awareness about the African Ivory Trade. And those were just a few of the stories I captured.
Meanwhile in the official negotiations, well past the 11th hour, a legally binding agreement was reached. Although the battle against climate change is far from over, there
is widespread agreement that this was not only the most successful UN Climate Summit in history, but a major milestone for humankind for the protection of our planet. Keeping global temperature rise under 2 degrees may seem insignificant, but if we pull it off, it will prevent massive floods, droughts, loss of biodiversity and human displacement. So we can sleep a little sounder at night
knowing we may have dodged a serious ecological bullet.
If I took anything from my experience at the summit, it was this: Hopelessness for our future is only as great as our apathy to take action. Not only are world leaders working making astounding progress for environmental protection, but countless ordinary people like you and I are finding incredible ways to incite change. So upon returning to Logan, I hope to further
this progress by collaborating with the environmental club in my high school and our local or even state government to find new ways to ensure a healthy future for
Utah and abroad, so that we too can take part in improving our world.
Additional Note: If you’d like to hear more about my experience I will be presenting at the Cache Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday, January 10th, and at the Logan Country Club on January 26th. I will share the several of the video interviews I did at these presentations.