Climate Politics, Climate Talks, COP21 - Paris

France hosts the world for two weeks

This article is written by Yann Lesestre.

If you heard Laurent Fabius -French Foreign Minister and an experienced French political leader- presenting its role as a COP president, you probably have been told this story: when the hosting of the COP21 in France was decided at COP19, his foreign colleagues didn’t tell him “congratulations”. They wish him “good luck”.


Being a COP president is not about exercising an influence on the content of discussions. It’s about facilitating discussions among the 195 other parties. What a difficult job to set up a proper framework for a universal agreement on climate change and push states and non-state actors to commit for climate change action!

It is too soon to assess the efficiency of the French Presidency strategy to reach an ambitious agreement. But the COP21 president proved in the lead up to the cop his willingness to make the conference of Paris more than just a success, but  a turning point for the mobilization of a wide variety of actors on climate change.

The French strategy to save the world

COP21 success should not only be assessed on the content of the final agreement. The creation of new alliances and the launch of new projects will also play a key role to implement new actions to complement the new agreement.

To ensure the success of COP21, the French Presidency built its strategy on an “alliance” based on four pillars:

  • A universal agreement with a legal nature
  • National commitments
  • A financial package to guarantee solidarity between developed and developing countries
  • An “agenda of solutions”, known also the Lima-Paris-Action-Agenda

During this year, the French diplomacy services have been mobilized to understand parties’ s expectations. François Hollande has leveraged his credit as a head of state to ensure the success of the COP. His numerous travels across the world was where many opportunities for him to discuss the outcome of the Paris conference.


François Hollande and Philippines president Bagino Aquino III during a diplomatic visit of the French President related to the fight against climate change, February 2015.

And Laurent Fabius himself consents to the ultimate sacrifice for a French Minister: speaking English at an international conference.

Contrary to the Copenhagen conference, the calendar of the COP21 has been arranged in a way to let world leaders deliver their statement at the beginning of the Conference. Consequent engagement from heads of states give a positive dynamic to the conference from the second day. According to the French plan, a new negotiating text should be ready at the end of the first week. From Monday to Wednesday of the second week, parties could then engage political discussions on their way to a final agreement.

Inclusion of non-party actors in a party-driven process

The French Presidency expressed its will to involve non-state actors in the UNFCCC party-driven process. Back to the conference of Geneva in February 2015, Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said to NGO representatives she has never seen a COP president paying so much attention to the participation the civil society.

This commitment is realised by a practical element through the Lima-Paris-Action-Agenda co-organized with the COP20 Presidency. As defined by the UNFCCC newsroom, this initiative “brings both state and non-state actors together on the global stage to accelerate cooperative climate action now and into the future in support of the new, universal climate change agreement which governments will reach in Paris”.

Under this agenda important and positive announcements were made during the first week of the conference by states and non-state actors –such as the global alliance for buildings, the Paris Pact on Water and Climate Change, etc.

The venue was arranged in a way of promoting interactions between negotiators and civil society organizations. A “Climate Generation Space” was also built near the blue zone and opened to the public with various side-events and booths from civil society organizations. In the blue zone itself, civil society organizations, spaces have been allowed for booths from civil society organizations.

So far, those measures do not seem to have a practical impact on the negotiation. NGO representatives complained this process not being inclusive enough. Spin-off groups are closed to observers. Other complaints are made concerning the arrangement made to allow them to follow contact groups. Observers need to sit on “overflow-rooms” and watch the progress of the negotiation with screens showing in live the discussions between Parties. This arrangement prevents them from interacting with negotiators during the formal sessions.

Only climate-related motivations?

For the French government, this issue is not only about showcasing the French diplomacy. French President François Hollande suffers from a very low popularity –only 30% of positive opinion before the attacks in Paris in November-. COP21 is an opportunity for him to prove his abilities as a head of state before the presidential election in 2017. By the way, the COP is organized during regional campaigns, with elections on December 6th and 13th.

For the French government, COP21 is also an economical issue. It has been estimated that the conference will bring €100 millions of income from delegates and activists –but this estimation was made before the terrorist attacks in November and the prohibition of demonstrations in public spaces.

The COP21 is also a way for France to showcase its industry performance. French company’s logos can be found at various places of the venue, from the parking area for electric cars, to the stations where delegates can load their laptop by riding. A space near the blue zone has been dedicated to the private sector.

The modalities of transportation, of the hosting and the arrangement of the Bourget venue has also been thinking in a way to promote the quality of the French touristic industries. The special shuttle service for the delegates is efficient. And yes, food in the blue zone is not bad and not so expensive -even if the service could have been delivered in more efficient ways.

As a reminder: Paris is candidate for the hosting of the 2024 Olympic Games and the 2025 Universal Exhibition.

French COP president proved its commitment to create a positive dynamic. Unfortunately, the framework of the discussions won’t be the only conditions for a success. We are almost half way to the end of the conference. Time will tell if the gamble will pay off.


About the author: Yann Lesestre is a Master Student in Public Affairs and Energy policies in Sciences Po Paris. He has joigned the CliMates Training team in February 2014 and has become CliMates’ Secretary General in 2015.


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