11.12.2015 12:39

COP: First impressions

From the moment that you arrive in Paris, the COP is impossible to ignore. All throughout the city there are billboards and displays highlighting the impacts of climate change and the goal of the conference – to finally reach an international treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

COP: First impressions
Louisa Whitlock, delegate for the Red Cross

The conference site itself is enormous. Described on its website as a “temporary city that never sleeps”, there are vast spaces for the observing organisations and NGOs, the national delegation offices, a press centre, restaurants and cafes, a post office, and relaxation rooms full of exhausted delegates dozing on couches. All over the site are signs and options urging delegates to recycle, plant trees, save water, offset their travel, and generally be as carbon-neutral as possible. Meanwhile, in separate meeting rooms the negotiators work their way, paragraph by paragraph and word by word, towards the final text of an agreement.

The IFRC  booth is in the observers hall, full of stands showcasing  the initiatives of civil society organisation, research institutes and private organisations from around the world. Taking a tour around the booths gives a good idea of the sheer variety of organisations invested in the outcome of the COP: specialists in ocean acidity, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, mountain livelihoods – there are dozens of booths and thousands of people. Exploring them all properly could take days; fortunately I have some time!

As well as the exhibition stands, dozens of side events take place in the meeting rooms and exhibition spaces across the site: opportunities for delegates to present their achievements and share lessons learned from their experiences working on climate change. I arrived and walked straight into a session on climate-smart agriculture as  part of Farmers’ Day.

Agriculture is one of the sectors most vulnerable to climate change, and since so many people still rely on farming as their main source of income, improving the resilience of farmers to climate shocks is a key part of adaptation – making their agriculture “climate-smart”. Civil society can support small farmers in the face of climate change in many different ways, such as promoting the use of drought-resistant crop varieties in areas with increasingly uncertain rainfall, or developing insurance schemes that support farmers if their crops fail.

Although individual organisations don’ t always have the expertise to support these kinds of activities, NGOs can build partnerships with other specialist organisations and institutions to bring such innovations to community level. Partnership-building to address adaptation challenges is one of the most important aims of the Austrian Red Cross Climate Forum East II project in eastern Europe and the Caucasus, and it’s great to hear about other successful examples of network building – we can’t adapt on our own.

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