PARIS, France — A slanting winter sun illuminated 12 massive blocks of ice in front of the Place du Pantheon in Paris, making them glow an electric blue.
The pieces, arranged in a circle like a frozen watch, had been melting slowly but steadily as COP21 or the 21st Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) enters its second week.
“Icewatch” is the work of artists Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing. The blocks of ice, with a collective weight of 80 tons, were free-floating icebergs that have melted and detached from the Greenland ice sheet.
They made the long journey to Paris by ship and truck for the historic negotiations. It is a powerful message about the immediate and immutable effects of climate change, and why the world needs to act now to save the planet.
“It is what’s happening everyday in Greenland. Here in Paris, we know it but we don’t see it. By putting them here, we get a more concrete idea of what’s going on,” said Warren Blauvac, one of the organizers of the art installation.
Also in the Pantheon that morning was a lively group called the Pilgreens. Among them was polar scientist Dan Price, who cycled his way from Antartica to Paris in the course of seven months to raise awareness on climate change.
A small crowd gathered around Price as he makes an impassioned speech.
“Scientist shouldn't have to do this, but it’s been incredibly frustrating seeing the lack of progress with climate change politically and in society to the see that our leaders have not been responding to the problem,” said Price. “Public opinion and the whole climate movement is growing, but we’re not there yet. We don’t have that threshold to really throw these ideas at our leaders.”
In the wake of the Paris terror attacks that claimed 130 lives, many gatherings and protests were canceled due to security concerns. However, albeit smaller in scale, some public activities remained. It was seen as a crucial way of bringing awareness to people who may not have access —nor an immediate interest, in the proceedings at Le Borget.
Traveling from the Philippines is artist AG Saño, who joined the 1500-kilometer climate walk from Rome to Paris with his brother, Yeb, a former commissioner of the Climate Change Commission.
As an environmental advocate and a survivor of typhoon Yolanda, COP21 has a special significance for Saño. In a poignant tribute, he painted a mural at Quai de Valmy to honor a friend and fellow artist who perished in Tacloban during the typhoon.
“Isang pangako ko kay Agit, ‘yung kaibigan kong namatay sa Tacloban, dadalhin ko ‘yung pangalan niya. Sasabihin ko sa mundo kung ano ‘yung pangalan niya. Dahil isa siyang halimabawa ng kung gaano katotoo ‘yung climate change. Marami pa kasing disconnected na tao eh, sa iba’t-ibang [mayayamang] bansa. ‘Yung climate change sa kanila, magbabawas lang ng isa o dalawang jacket. Magiiwan ng t-shirt o thermals, ok na ‘yun. Pero ‘yung mensahe natin, mabigat eh. Nasasaktan tayo, nasisira yung agrikultura natin, yung paghahanda [sa sakuna] mahirap at magastos, yung mismong bagyo magastos, [sa huli] walang pera,” Saño explained.
Meanwhile, the Philippine delegation to COP21 was in high spirits as the climate negotiations entered the next round on Monday, December 7. The UN released a 21-page draft of the climate deal over the weekend, which will be the basis for an agreement to combat climate change and prepare for its impacts. The document remained heavily bracketed, which means that many portions of the draft were still contested by negotiators. But Climate Change Commissioner Emmanuel De Guzman says there are many reasons to be optimistic.
“We have what we wanted already in the draft, but we have to go through the ministerial process to ensure that they remain there. We will have to guard the provisions that are so dear to us,” said De Guzman.
Among the elements the Philippines wanted enshrined in the agreement was a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will only cause a less than 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global average temperatures (the current ceiling is 2 degrees Celsius).
Negotiators also demanded developed countries to pony up some USD100B by 2020 to help poorer nations transition to greener economies. Beyond financing mitigation and adaptation measure, however, the Philippines was also pushing industrialized nations for loss and damages: that is, compensation for the losses we are already experiencing due to climate change caused by their rampant emissions.