This article is part of the Climate Nerd Chronicles.
He was American, she was from the Marshall Islands and more than an ocean separated them. More than anything Gods could create. Under the lights of the Conference Of Parties,while the world looks intently toward Paris as the climate slowly changes, they were looking at each other. In the corridors filled with journalists, in the rooms fooled by greying diplomats and government leaders, through the windows of different universes…
First meeting in Copenhagen
How many times did the camera catch them gazing at each other? How close were their governments to noticing their dilated pupils and pumping hearts? Did they see the colours of their cheeks coming back after the horror of these negotiations? How long before someone sees them waiting in the dark of the building, acting, feigning to struggle to reach an agreement, wrestling like bull and lion for misplaced brackets? Will anyone see that when he takes her arm it is to feel her close, to know she is only pretending to disagree? Will anybody understand that when she looks at her feet it’s not to calm herself but to make her blush stop? Their governments shall never know about this. Nobody may know, and nobody will.
The star-crossed lovers of COP21
She was from this small island, he was from the second greatest polluter. As if you could ever be great by polluting. But here they are, in the middle of the plenary room. Here they are, with all the negotiators, all the delegations, with the public and journalists, observers and detractors, NGOs and religious leaders, looking forward to the agreement that would release their tension, their anxiety, their chains and their fears from their shoulders. Here they are under the spotlights of the world and their gazes cross in a glimpse.
He knew in a flash how she felt. She was tense, anguish painting her eyebrows in a frown he was used to. She sometimes looks like that in his arms when they find peace. Or at least when they should be at peace. Reality usually catches up their veins in its icy fist at the worst moment. Death itself will never be that cold, the hand of the worst murderer should be warmer than that.
He knew, from the thin line formed by her lips that she was also anxious and preparing to say something she found hard to pronounce. Something she had not shared with him. They had secrets of course and it was a common decision, a common agreement reached years ago. Almost since their first kiss, their first night in between two sessions in the hard hours before the failure of Copenhagen. Silence was sometimes more useful than tragic discussions, and they knew it. They were too experienced to judge or force one another in sharing their nightmares. She was the holy light in the night, when werewolves yell in the dark and juggernauts stump the floor. He was ready to protect her from anything, even secrets, even shadows, without asking anything. If she was anxious and was preparing for a speech, he would back her up. He had found many ways to encourage her propositions. One of his greatest tricks was to promptly and aggressively reject her declaration in order to provoke empathy from other parties. It had worked many times but he felt used. This technique was too painful sometimes and he knew that it was not entirely a game. So many hearts depended on this conference. But it was nevertheless important that he used such tools, such political tricks. He could create a coalition against himself just by attacking her small island. But he could also try to get some delegations on his side and by a correct wording, make them go right to her side. Many countries would defy him if he only dared today, but will he have to do it again? There was something else in her eyes. Something he couldn’t name. Not fear, not shame… Sorrow? What was happening?
She knew she should have told him. She knew she would have to talk and explain herself later. Even when they could be silent, even when he accepted everything, he would need an explanation. But if she had told him he would have made one of his usual foolish moves. He was always trying to protect her. But she had seen more. She knew that as well, and she couldn’t afford to blush again when he tried one of his “secret” moves to give her support. Why should a man have such power over her feelings? She was way too experienced! She couldn’t afford to react as a teenager. Let him do his tantrum later. She did not need him today, it could only make things worse. She needed him to act as the country he represents, to play exactly his role. Will he? She couldn’t stop wondering. She was sure he would understand. However, people already suspected things. Well, women did. They talked about it and she even heard once a delegate from Europe asking Switzerland next to her if the intensity with which David was speaking wasn’t hiding something deeper. It took her most part of this last year to debunk this assumption. Fortunately, some delegations seem to think small islands and developing countries are not as subtle as she really is. This gives her an edge, a way to get what she wants. Most of the time at least and not on the most important subject. At least not on this. For that, she needed to stand tall, her head held high and to talk, to declare what needed to be said and heard by everyone. Let them know who the leader of the group was. Let them know who they will have to talk with. Let him know what was going to happen. Let him understand why… She made a small prayer for her lover to be there tonight, her friend to hold her in the days to come, for her other soul to trust. This might be their last chance to reach the agreement the world needed.
A speech louder than words
She heard the COP president calling her and she looked at him one last time. When her eyes met his, she knew he would be there. He knew as well and tilted his head slightly to show her his support. By a small gesture, an infinitesimal move of her neck she told him no. And by doing this, for the first time she rejected him a little. Because she had to. And this was not his role. She had better plans for him. But not today. Today, he will be hurt and she will have to put her love in jeopardy.
Tears were already crawling in her throat but she maintained her dignity and when she opened her mouth, words were clear as spring water tumbling from the sky. She was nature itself and her anger reached the walls and exploded as the storm started. Her tears came and rolled down her face like rain on glass, her declaration was as powerful as lightning and when she felt she couldn’t keep on, the force of her speech taking everything from her, she saw him. He was there, standing. He should not have been standing. But he was not alone. Other countries around him started to stand. To defy everything, taken by her words, taken by her fierceness, her truth and her reality. Was he washing away a drop on his eyelid ? Was that pride on the contour of his face ? She looked away and kept on talking, as if all the water from the Three Gorges Dam just rushed through her.
When she stopped, the hall was silent. You could have heard the wind caressing the green grass of the fields outside, and the sound of insects flying above. It was silent like a prayer, silent as the traveller advancing in the desert. Silent as life itself in its most peaceful moments. The whole room was standing but no applause came. Only tears fell down, and a few heads nodded. Even Saudi Arabia’s delegate shrugged his shoulders as if he was suddenly aware that he was standing as well. The Holy See delegate was weeping with his hands in front of his wet nose, a smile of adoration on his lips. The COP president was numb, as if he saw her for the first time, like many others. This was a triumph, but a voiceless one. There was no definitive victory, only battles to be won.