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Report from Paris: A Claremonter at the Climate Change Conference

Try to imagine the U.S. Army patrolling Claremont’s Village Venture. I saw something like that in Paris in early December. Groups of French Army soldiers in battle dress, submachine guns held ready for combat, walked through the traditional Christmas market along both sides of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Police, gendarmes, and troops were posted throughout the city center, especially in places regarded as terrorist targets, sometimes in surprising ways. At the Museum of Jewish Art and History, I certainly expected a police presence, but found gun-toting soldiers not only along the street but in the museum itself.

I was in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, one of 45,000 people from over 200 countries who were accredited to the diplomatic area of the conference where the negotiations were held. I was only an observer, but had access to the plenary sessions, as well as hundreds of side events and exhibits.

The conference was a success. However, when the agreement was approved on December 12, I couldn’t help thinking that there was an elephant in the room, a really big elephant in the huge meeting hall, something everyone present was aware of but few were willing to talk about openly: corruption. The agreement calls for many billions of dollars to be given to poor countries to help them cope with climate change. Many of the poorest countries are also among the most corrupt. Will their governments use this money to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect forests that absorb carbon dioxide, and adapt to the effects of climate change, or will it end up in the pockets of the elite? The agreement provides for a certain degree of reporting and verification, but more is needed, ideally along the lines of the inspections carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Although California didn’t have a vote at the conference, Governor Jerry Brown addressed the plenary and it was clear that our state’s pioneering role in coping with climate change was widely appreciated. I was with Governor Brown and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a private reception midway in the proceedings. Among friends and allies they didn’t try to contain their excitement. Realizing how much our state is making a difference made me proud to be a Californian--and glad that our town has taken a leadership role, for example in the Claremont Home Energy Retrofit Project (CHERP); through Sustainable Claremont’s participation in such efforts as the Energy Champions program, the Cool California Challenge, and the Georgetown University Energy Prize (here the Claremont Energy Challenge) competition; and in teaching and research at the Claremont Colleges.

Ted Trzyna is president of InterEnvironment Institute, an affiliate of Claremont Graduate University.

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