Climate Conference of Madrid, Spain
While I’m working on many posts regarding the science, policy, and innovation I’ve learned about here at COP22, I realized that I have yet to say much about the day-to-day goings on. So here’s a more light-hearted look at the ACS Student Rep’s daily activities. (TLDR; it includes lots of bread, walking, and looking at a schedule--with lots of cool people inbetween.)
6:30 AM: Wake Up
My bed is hella comfy. Our group is staying in a riad (see it here), with six bedrooms and a lovely common space. For once in my life I was very assertive and immediately dibs’d the top room: I wake up and go out onto the open-aired patio. It’s chill when we wake up--low fifties--but I always dress in layers because midday the sun makes Marrakesh quite hot; high seventies for us this week. At the beginning of the week, the group ate breakfast together, but now we all leave at different times based on what events we want to go to. Maddie and I usually leave first, eating breakfast at 7:30. Before we go we try to figure out what events and panels we want to attend: more on that later.
Ayoub, the manager/attendant/all-around-awesome guy who works at the riad, makes coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice. We eat a different type of hot pastry each morning, but the portion of that is very small, so everyone supplements with a hunk (or two) of fresh baguette slathered with fresh strawberry or fig jam. Then we head off to catch the bus to the conference. Our riad is in the Medina, or old town; we walk about a mile to reach a huge square (the Jemaa el-Fna) where the buses park. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the conference.
When we get to the COP--a sprawling compound of tent-like structures set up just two months ago--we go through security (think airport) and then enter the Blue Zone. COP is separated into two areas; the Green Zone, which is open to the public (still requires security), and the Blue Zone, which requires U.N. Accreditation to enter. There are cool events and exhibits in both areas, but the Blue Zone is where negotiations and high-level meetings occur.
There are a million things happening at any time. Plenaries are probably what most people imagine when they think “UN Conference”. There are two major Plenary halls; Casablanca and Marrakech. Within them are hundreds of tables, placed row after row, where delegations sit behind signs marking their nation/NGO affiliation. Each seat is equipped with a microphone. We, as observers, sit in the back. In the Plenaries, high-ranking officials speak on action items in the Kyoto Protocol, Montreal Protocol, an Paris Agreement. After these opening remarks, >>>>
Meanwhile, press conferences, side events, and both open and closed meetings about specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the Paris Agreement are also happening. Meetings take place in smaller rooms set up with square conference tables, each seat with a microphone and a moderator keeping delegates on-topic. There are several press rooms in the Blue Zone, and NGO’s, nations, and high-ranking officials all give briefings throughout the day. Yesterday I went to Secretary of State John Kerry’s press briefing: it was very moving and well-delivered. You can find the full text here.
The side events include great panels featuring every climate-related topic you can think of: food security, water scarcity, energy innovation, climate finance, gender equality, rights of indigenous people, education, etc…. Choosing what to attend is hard, because there are so many interesting things happening each minute.
I usually have about an hour break at noon or one to grab lunch. In the Blue Zone are many different ethnic cuisines; Mediterranean, Chinese, Moroccan, French. I grab lunch with Maddie, and sometimes we sit with strangers. One of the most interesting lunches we had was with two lawyers from different countries in the EU. They were got into a heated debate over the Paris Agreement’s chance of success, especially in the face of a U.S. exit. (One was staunchly positive, and one was quite pessimistic.) After lunch we part ways and head back to hear more panels or sit in on meetings. Events go until 8 PM, but we usually head out at about 6:30 or 7. It’s been dark for an hour or so by the time we leave.
We get off the bus in the same square where we boarded in the morning. The bus rides are fun, because we meet people from all over the world. This morning I sat next to a man from Seychelles--a nation I hadn’t even heard of before. Maddie and I walk back to the Riad to drop off our things and re-group with the rest of the ACS team. Dinner is most commonly eaten back in the Jemaa el-Fna square, or somewhere within walking distance in the Medina. Our meal is usually one of two things; either cous cous with vegetables (and meat for some), or vegetable tagine: a kind of roast made in a ceramic dish.
After that we walk around the city a bit, exploring the market stalls and taking in the bustle of the evening. The square is full of people after dark: international tourists, visiting Moroccans from other cities, and more juice carts than I thought one city could need. Our conversations usually circle back to the COP and the interesting people we met and listened to. On our walk home we stop for an ice cream or pastry (which we can get for 15 DH or less; that’s a $1.50).
Back at the Riad, everyone says goodnight and heads to their rooms. I collect my notes and make outlines for blogs or further research until my eyes refuse to stay open.
Then we wake up and do it all again.