An Iceberg in Paris

Zarin-Artist-Bringing-Icebergs-to-Paris-1200After a morning meeting with the Chair of the California Air Resources Board, VLS delegates happened upon a circle of icebergs in the shadows of the Panthéon. The “Ice Watch” installation has had its home in the center of Paris since the start of COP21.

In October, artist Olafur Eliasson set out from the Nuuk, Greenland harbor in pursuit of 88 tons of the ice that covers 90 percent of his country. The captain of Eliasson’s tugboat said, “[ice] is a great part of our national identity. We follow the international discussion, of course, but to every Greenlander, just by looking out the window at home, it is obvious that something dramatic is happening.” The Greenland ice sheet loses thousands of comparably sized icebergs every second due to global warming.


Photo Credit: Rebecca Davidson

Twelve icebergs are arranged in a wide circle to resemble the face of a clock. This is meant to represent the passing of time. Spectators are able to witness the shivering, shining ice melt under the winter sun. When passersby hold their ears to the ice, they can hear the heart of the glacier cracking. Touch it, and it melts even faster—another symbol of mankind’s role in the current climate crisis. Eliasson confronts onlookers with a scientific reality.

Eliasson illuminates:

A circle is like a compass. It leaves navigation to the people who are inside it. It is a mistake to think that the work of art is the circle of ice—it is the space it invents. And it is on a street in Paris—and a street in Paris can’t be more important than it is right now. We all feel that strongly.

“Ice Watch” is humbling and fear-provoking, and yet also hopeful as COP21 negotiations continue nearby.


Electric Vehicles: “It’s Almost an Intelligence Test”

As delegates begin week two of negotiations, a panel of scientists and businesspeople opened a dialogue on electric vehicles (EV). These impressive individuals appeared at Le Bourget to discuss needed developments in automotive technology, consumer behavior, available infrastructure, and existing energy systems in the field of electro-mobility.


Today’s Panel

Moderator Nigel Topping opened with an image of New York City in 1906. He painted a picture of horses and buggies crowding the busy streets, with one automobile in the corner. By 1930, he said, this picture is “completely reversed” after a shift from horse-drawn carriages to Ford Model Ts. The question for the panel today was whether it is going to take seven years for the EV revolution, or 17 years. While most models today are closer to 17, “we think it can be done much faster.”

The panelists included:


Electric Charging Station in Paris

Pasquale Romano identified the most prominent barrier in electro-mobility: cost. Romano also examined the phenomenon of charging stations at the workplace. ChargePoint found that when employers offer EV charging at work, employees are 20 times more likely to purchase an EV. “You feel like you’re visiting the future when you visit these lots,” he says. While EV charging stations in cities like Paris help, they are not as effective. Romano says, “next to a cat, [a car] is your most restful asset,” so it is most beneficial to have an EV charger at home and/or at work.

Steve Howard conveyed IKEA’s dedication to an “all-in” approach to transformational change. Howard said that when IKEA began selling LED light bulbs, it needed to change its business, customer base, and value proposition because “people would still just see a light bulb.” The new and improved LED bulb needs to be “outstanding” for people to make the change. The company will soon announce its commitment to selling 500 million by the end of 2020. He is in awe at today’s products compared to several years ago, and said we are leaving yesterday’s technology behind.

IKEA provides extensive international transport to its customers, which is still largely linked to fossil fuel transit. IKEA locations also receive millions of visitors who travel via mass transit. In response to consumer-driven traffic, the company now has 120 stores with charging capabilities. Howard is surveying the vans IKEA customers can hire to transfer large purchases. He plans to exchange these vans for high utilization EV options. Howard’s goal for IKEA is to have universal charging at every store, and this “needs to be the same for every other retailer out there…so let’s go all in.”

There are 80,000 EVs on the road today, so Dr. Philippe Schulz has no doubt that the technology revolution will sweep the international community even faster by creating a mass market. Renault SAS polled that 98% of its customers are satisfied with their EVs. Schulz attributed this success to the production of “sexy products” that also happen to be energy efficient.

Schulz predicted that the parity between electric and conventional vehicles has almost been reached. Batteries have become affordable, and customers cannot ignore the obvious appeal of EVs. Romano chimed in, arguing that we are at “sticker parity” right now because EVs involve no maintenance and require essentially zero cost. He stated that purchasing an EV is such a clear choice that it is “almost an intelligence test.”


Electrically Charged BMW i8 Model

Ursula Mathar affirmed there is both a revolution and evolution; the revolution involves making combustion engine cars more sustainable, while the evolution involves the ground-breaking concept for the BMWi EV series. To ensure that the future of mobility is connected and sustainable, BMW addresses both the customer’s “brain” (the rationale behind electric mobility) and his “heart” (the emotional desire to own a premium car) by convincing the public that EVs are “really fun to drive.” BMW conveys to customers that they receive an additional benefit—rather than losing something—by driving an EV.

BMW is working on integrating the i3 model into car sharing so that the public can experience EVs. Mathar addressed the generational shift of the sharing economy; EVs are more attractive to young people who cannot yet invest in a premium car. Millennials are more flexible and open to experiencing new technologies.

The panelists concluded by discussing various remaining obstacles. Schulz reiterated the issue of affordability, and the need for strong companies that are willing to invest in quick-charging technologies. Howard wanted to make clear that this is a revolution, that every single stake holder is “part of the game,” and that the infrastructure either exists or will exist very soon. The bottom line is that EVs must be affordable and attractive to the average customer, and as the panelists say, “we’re getting there.”

Prince Charles addresses COP 21

imagesPrince Charles spoke at the opening of COP21 this morning. In his address the Prince restated that in March 2009 there were 100 months of business as usual left before irreversible climate change would be the global reality.  He relayed that 80 of those months had now passed. He stated the urgency of the need for an outcome to address the now evident impact of global climate change. His comments reiterated the statement of Christina Figueres, who preceded him and announced that there has never been a time in history where the fate of so many was in the hands of so few. The Prince concluded by noting that the world knows what needs to be done, the cost is low 1.7% of global GDP, and his sincere hope that an agreement would be reached.

The Prince has been an advocate of the environment and established the International Sustainability Unit (I.S.U.) as part of the Prince’s Charities in 2010. The goal of the I.S.U. is to address development and environmental issues. Since its inception, I.S.U. has initiated programs in natural capital and climate resilience.

Religion & Climate Change: How the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change Affects COP Negotiations

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger [of] ending life as we know it on our planet.” Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change

Islamic Declaration Photo

On August, 18th, 2015, a group of Muslim scholars, leaders, scientists, and clergy members made a call to action in the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul. This call to action urged the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and all nations across the globe to actively combat climate change by phasing out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and by committing to a 100% renewable energy strategy. The declaration specifically calls upon the Conference of Parties (COP) to “bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion” at the December 2015, meeting of the Parties in Paris.

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change is part of a movement by many faiths and denominations who are all calling on governments to take action at COP21 in Paris. In June, Pope Francis released an encyclical letter declaring climate change a moral issue that must be addressed. Additionally, over 300 rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption. With over 84% of the world’s population religiously affiliated global support by faith groups for effective climate action has the potential to reach large audiences.

In response to the Islamic Declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said:

A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other. Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.

Global responses to the Islamic Declaration have been overwhelmingly positive. For example, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, welcomed the declaration “with great joy, and in a spirit of solidarity.” He pledged that the Catholic Church would work with the declaration’s authors to protect their common earthly home. Additionally, NGO’s such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund have commended the declaration as a positive display of climate leadership.

So far the actual effect of the Islamic Declaration is unclear. While the majority of country Parties with high Muslim populations have filed INDCs, the quality of pledges has greatly varied. For example, Climate Action Tracker rated Morocco’s INDC as sufficient based on the country’s target reduction goals. A sufficient rating is encouraging because it means that Morocco’s targets are ambitious and that Morocco is pledging to its “fair share” of global efforts to keep warming below 2°C.  Conversely, Climate Action Tracker rated both Turkey’s INDC and Indonesia’s INDC as inadequate.

Even though INDC’s for Muslim countries do not definitively support the Islamic Declaration, many news sources still view the declaration as a step in the right direction because it “turns up the heat” for government officials by signaling an ongoing shift in the zeitgeist, or spirit of our time. In the words of Bill McKibben, “[t]he real effect of documents like these, though, is less immediate policy shifts than a change in the emotional climate. Most of us identify with one or several groups—Islam or Christendom, our alma mater or our union. As these begin to emphasize an issue, it becomes easier to make it part of our mental furniture.”

COP21: Threat to Public Policy?


Schengen Area

The European Union recently celebrated 30 years of the border-free Schengen Area, a crucial pillar of the European Single Market. Schengen cooperation guards the fundamental right of 400 million E.U. citizens to cross internal borders without being subjected to cumbersome border checks. This guarantee also applies to many non-EU nationals, cross-border commuters, and tourists. With COP21 fast-approaching the city of Paris, the Schengen Area is struggling to find a balance between freedom of movement and security.

The refugee crisis in Europe has been the worst crisis since World War II. A record number of individuals are seeking asylum within the E.U. A U.N. refugee agency reported that 218,394 people crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe this October, which is close to the number from the entire year of 2014. The refugee crisis is challenging the notion of free movement of people across borders. Pressure is mounting to close the E.U.’s open borders along the migrant trail. The recent flood of refugees has overwhelmed countries outside of the E.U., which have been receiving limited support from Member States. European leaders are demanding a restoration of border control, and are questioning the concept of the Schengen area. Have citizens of the E.U. been taking Schengen and the right to move freely for granted?

cop3The French government will reintroduce border controls for the month surrounding COP21, beginning on November 13th and ending on December 13th, two days after the COP21 is scheduled to end. According to Article 23 of the Schengen Borders Code, this measure is taken “where there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security.” The possibility that any open zone of the Schengen area will be suspended “is impending dangerously over the core principle of free movement and is a further blow to the European integration.”

For this month, no one—including E.U. citizens—will be able to move freely across French borders. French officials published a document via the E.U. Council which states France’s plan to reintroduce controls at the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, the Swiss Confederation, Italy and Spain “on the occasion of COP 21.Le Monde published that “since the Borders Code came into force in 2006, each time border controls have been reintroduced, it has been for the purpose of preventing terrorism and crime, and for security purposes related to the hosting of international meetings or sports events.”

Close-up page of passport with Schengen visa

passport with Schengen visa

It’s not only the refugee crisis that is persuading France to close its borders. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chair of COP21, Laurent Fabius, says that 80 Heads of State and foreign officials will appear at the Conference. He fears violence by protesters and green activists. The Ministry has created a special procedure for accredited participants of COP21, particularly those that require a visa to enter France.

It seems that the civil society mobilizing for COP21 is being targeted; “embassies are requesting various documents including invitations from us and proof of the applicant’s ability to pay for transport, among other requests,” says a spokesperson for Coalition Climat 21. Mouhad Gasmi is the voice against shale gas in Alegeria. He filed a visa application on October 21st, invitation to COP21 in hand. The consulate of France in Algeria gave him an appointment for one month after COP21. Climate 21 further states, “the government is choosing who they want to take part in the official summit.”

The public is “unconvinced of the French government’s claim that it is willing to include them, in all their diversity, in the COP process.” Do France and other E.U. Member States need to sacrifice freedom for safety and peace?

Parisian Preparations: Local Anticipation of COP21

Time is of the essence as the COP countdown continues in the city of lights. The international community is making final preparations for a historic UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris this December. The world has been preparing for Paris for quite some time. The Road to Paris campaign was launched at COP19 in Warsaw. Finance, business, and government leaders established an initiative to develop solutions to climate change at COP21. But what is Paris up to as the conference looms closer?

copPresident François Hollande fired the starting pistol at the Palais de l’Élysée in September during the first of several events featuring France’s commitment to climate change. Monsieur le Président commented, “France wants to set an example. We have already taken some steps like those mentioned by the ministers…but we have to speed up our efforts to become a carbon-free economy…” About one week earlier, Hollande disclosed that France may fail in its bid to craft a new international agreement at COP21. French prime minister Manuel Carlos Valls Galfett added, “the stakes are enormous.”

In France, the Secretariat-General assembled a civil society relations team to lead the charge in preparing for and organizing COP21. The team has consulted all representatives of the civil society constituencies, requesting any thoughts as to the the programming and organization of the Paris-Le Bourget Conference venue. According to the 117 responses, participants think COP21 should cater to younger generations via educational workshops and exhibitions. Most respondents also voiced a desire for accessible conference rooms to foster debates and discourse among parties.

France selected the expansive and accessible Paris-Le Bourget site to host 40,000 COP21 attendees. The venue will be divided into three areas: the conference center, the climate Generations areas, and the gallery. The conference center is the big cheese of the COP21 locations. It is “where the success of COP21 will be decided.” This area is open to accredited guests and operates 24/7. The climate Generations area is accessible to the public, providing an arena for debates and discussions. The gallery is reserved for professionals and offers an overview of climate change solutions developed by companies.


The entire country is enthusiastic. Just this past May at Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers, 200 students participated in a public simulation of COP21. The organizers arranged a “political, diplomatic, scientific, and artistic experiment” aimed at teaching young people to understand and transform the climate change scene. Sciences Po launched an initiative to prepare for COP21 called “Make It Work.” This project combines creativity and political activism.

The French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy created an opportunity for citizen participation that will unite and mobilize civil society. The crowd-sourcing platform allows all French citizens to join in the climate change debate.

Scop2ome worry that COP is not getting enough attention. According to a Forbes survey on Google search statistics, the international media community has “failed to spark any interest in global warming.” Worse than neglect is the negative attention COP21 is receiving from climate justice activists. According to a report by the global EJOLT project, activists have voiced their intention to “hack, resist, and confront…false solutions” and inactivity at COP21.

Negotiators from all countries will meet in Bonn on October 19th for the last time before COP21 to hopefully address any remaining concerns.