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FEATURE: COP21- Inside the ‘Climate Generations’ space

CDKN’s Helen Picot spent some days in the civil society space at COP21, designated as the ‘Climate Generations’ area or otherwise known as the ‘Green Zone’ (in contrast to the ‘Blue Zone’ where only negotiators and observers with an official pass could enter). She reports on the big discussions taking place there.

A ten minute walk from the imposing national pavilions and plenary halls of the Blue Zone, where negotiators, accredited observers, and the odd celebrity stride busily from session to session, is the warmer-hearted little brother – the Climate Generations areas (aka the Green Zone).

Here, ample space has been allocated for over 100 non-state actors’ stands–cities showcase their low carbon initiatives, while NGOs and civil society groups large and small promote their campaigns (with an electricity-generating bike apparently the must-have interactive gadget for many). Open to the public, the focus is firmly on knowledge-sharing and education, and the messages of climate justice and representation of vulnerable groups are loud and clear.

One of the larger spaces is the Indigenous Peoples’ Pavilion – which gives an arena for indigenous leaders and representatives from six continents. However, while most civil society groups also have some accredited representatives, the COP organisers have been criticised for not giving sufficient Blue Zone passes to many indigenous leaders, or voice to youth NGOs. The uplifting sight of indigenous representatives in traditional dress walking through the Green Zone therefore contrasts with the complaints from some that they have been excluded from the Blue Zone, where decisions are made.

Overall, a decidedly idealist and grassroots atmosphere prevails in the Climate Generations space, with a cinema named after Kenyan activist Wangari Muta Maathai and an auditorium after Nelson Mandela. A rich daily schedule of events, ranging from the tough and technical (a marathon session on scaling up climate finance lasted 5 hours on one day), to the more campaign-focussed. Topics were broadly in line with the COP daily themes, with strong links to the development and Sustainable Development Goals agenda. Speakers included big names in the climate space, such as Seychelles Ambassador Ronny Jumeau and WWF CEO David Nussbaum, but also grassroots organisers such as firemen and trade union educators.

Peaceful demonstrations are common, with youth groups holding signs protesting the involvement of large fossil fuel companies at the COP, a march through the main hall in support of the 1.5C goal and climate justice, and a group of Sundarban men singing in solidarity against planned a coal plant in Bangladesh, being just a few that CDKN happened to catch.

Overall, the space is engaging and well-conceived, by some accounts with better food and more creature comforts than the Blue Zone. But whether the earnest atmosphere of the Green Zone represents much more than a friendly respite from the plenary hall, as far as most negotiators are concerned, is a story of two sides.

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