A place for all generations

A once in a lifetime opportunity – to create a global agreement on climate change…

This statement, this vision, has been achieved, at least to some degree, at the conclusion of the 21st Conference of the Parties. The true work begins the day after this agreement, however, as the challenge and urgency of implementation, beckons.

But, is that all? Was there more to COP 21 than just the negotiations and that final, dramatic agreement?

If my experience was any indication, the answer is a resounding, yes! “More” came in the form of the many side events, exhibits, press conference, civil society actions and media frenzy that was spread generously across what the “blue zone” at COP 21, accessible only to those accredited with a badge denoting as such.

But there was something else, too. A grand, colourful, strangely familiar yet unique space existed for those both accredited and non-accredited – in fact all members of the public were welcome. This space, the “green zone”, was given the prophetic title of the Climate Generations Areas.

Open from December 1st-11th (with the exception of December 6th), the Climate Generations Areas, or CGA (sorry, I love acronyms) was described by organizers as a space designed to “provide a huge space for debates, knowledge-sharing, discussions and conviviality.” It certainly seemed to deliver!

For those who didn’t have a chance to explore the CGA, or could not be in Paris, let me take you on a quick tour. The CGA space can be broken down into six key areas:

  • cga mapExhibit spaces – Organizations ranging from youth groups to international NGO’s, groups showcasing new technology, sustainable materials, art in different forms (spoken word, visual, interactive) and even UN bodies, such as UNEP, could be find in this space, divided into three wings spread across the site.
  • Pavilion spaces – Grand and extremely popular, these pavilions – the Indigenous Pavilion, the Government of France Pavilion, the Cities and Regions Pavilion and the Rio Conventions Pavilion compliment many more pavilions (representing countries, groups and NGO’s) found in the Blue Zone. Each one acts as it’s own “conference within a conference” with a separate schedule, seating and space for interactive media, art and discussion. One could find themselves exploring just a single pavilion for the duration of the CGA!
  • Screening spaces – In a sense this space could be considered a film festival running daily, for 10 days! Incredible films, TV shows (such as Years of Living Dangerously, a must-see series) were broadcast in this comfortable 500-seat theatre. For every screening there was an opportunity to hear from the creators/organizers in-person, be it with a Q&A, discussion of the topics and opportunities to stay connected and support the project. To the surprise of many who may have expected big names, celebrities and iconic NGO leaders/organizers to stay within the confines of the accredited, security-rich Blue Zone, many came to the CGA, too!
  • Conferences/debate spaces – In many respects the core of the CGA, these were some of the most crowded and frantic spaces on site, tucked within a small corner yet absolutely jam-packed with panels, debates, presentations and “learning sessions”, with plenty of time for discussion and Q&A, too. Presentations were often led by a mix of experts in policy and leaders or representatives from government, NGO’s, academia, business and international bodies, such as branches of the UN. There was also a strong presence of advocacy/civil society groups, as well as community and indigenous leaders from all over the world. A healthy learning experience was the inevitable result!
  • IMG_20151207_162150484_HDROpen thought/discussion spaces – spread throughout the central “hall” that connects all the other spaces, these proved to be an invaluable refuge for attendees, with spaces separated with wooden barriers for noise control, plenty of comfortable seats and lots and lots of outlets! The result was a mix of spaces where one could hear an impromptu presentation, a group furiously preparing a blog post or media storm or just a scattering of people enjoying a snack, reflecting on the day or taking a nap!
  • Food spaces – a little bit of everything happened here, but especially staying energized! Verdict: good food, decent to high prices and rapid service – surprisingly efficient considering the thousands which streamed through this space daily!
  • As a note, a number of additional mini day-conferences and special events took place throughout the duration of the CGA, with the majority of these located in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take part in these due to our overflowing schedules!

Armed with this general understanding of the site, here are some highlights from my experience exploring the Climate Generations Areas, mostly during week 2:

Did you go to the CGA? What was your experience like? Please share in the comments below and stay in touch online using #UWCOP21 – thanks for joining us!

This piece was written by Rahul Mehta (right)

Rahul is in his final year of Planning (Master of Environmental Studies), studying to become a Professional Planner. As part of the UW COP21 delegation, Rahul hopes to build connections across disciplines focusing on climate education, de-growth, the cryosphere and urban/regional planning.

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