Six attendees of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris — where 195 nations negotiated a historic climate change agreement — shared their perspectives on the conference at a forum Wednesday night at Tompkins County Public Library.
The library was packed with engaged townspeople and students with many questions about the conference, commonly referred to as COP21.
The represented nations agreed that any temperature rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius will cause serious harm to the planet and said society must aim to limit this increase, according to Prof. Bob Howarth, ecology and evolutionary biology, a conference attendee.
“In terms of where we are, that is a very, very aggressive target, but it is what the scientific community and the island nations of the world were asking for, what we need if we are going to protect the planet,” Howarth said.
The summit’s atmosphere was very positive and cooperative, according to public health biologist Sandra Steingraber.
“[The mood] was urgent, it was determined, and it was in good faith,” Steingraber said. “I don’t think it was in any sense cynical, though there were certainly forces at work trying to undermine and neutralize the treaty at every turn.”
Steingraber said her opinion of the treaty was generally favorable, expressing her confidence in the agreement’s structure.
“There are good bones, the science is sound,” Steingraber said. “There are pledges in place for almost every nation and there is a ratchet mechanism in place to make the pledges more significant over time.”
Prof. Johannes Lehmann, soil science, agreed, expressing his belief that the treaty was a step in the right direction.
“There was a lot of trepidation … that we would end up with no hope,” Lehmann said. “It turned out to be very different this time, and you could feel it.”
Lehmann also called the attending the summit a “really a huge opportunity.”
“From my perspective as a scientist … this is as close to political decision-making as you can get,” said Lehmann.
Prof. Karen Pinkus, romance studies added that the conference was interesting from a language perspective.
“It was fascinating to sit in on the negotiations where it would be a discussion … talking about syllables, comma placement, very precise terminology,” Pinkus said. “There is an incredible amount at stake in this.”
Other panelists attended COP21 as members of activist groups, according to Colleen Boland, a conference attendee and a founding member of We are Seneca Lake — a group campaigning to stop a company from fracking near Seneca Lake.
“Advocacy groups of all kinds … had gathered outside the official summit, to bear witness, exert pressure, change the media narrative and otherwise appeal to the better angels of those who were inside negotiating on behalf of the citizenry of the entire planet,” Boland said.
Pinkus, however, said she did not feel as hopeful as Lehmann did about the agreement’s prospects.
“We forget that we are a very small segment of the population in a very small part of the world, and we matter very little when we think about the enormous capital and investments and infrastructure of the big carbon monoxide institutions that we’re up against,” Pinkus said.