COP21 blog

Logistics the key as 100 leaders descend on Paris talks

Haunted by the spectre of Copenhagen, the man in charge of COP21, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, is determined that it will be “a success”. After a long and distinguished political career (he was Prime Minister in the 1980s) this is his last hurrah and he wants to go out triumphant.

The French Government has been putting in the spadework for a couple of years, although some complain that President Hollande has only become fully engaged very recently and the preliminary talks in Bonn last month were difficult and rang alarm bells.

The decision to reverse a 20-year tradition and have the leaders arriving on the first day of the conference on 30 November instead of the last could turn out to be a stroke of genius. It’s hoped presidents and prime ministers will authorize their delegations to go further than they might. They will all want to parade their commitment on the world stage and official speechwriters must be polishing their skills. Expect to become tired of hearing “ambition”, “grandchildren”, “the future” and “protecting the planet”.

Which gives rise to a logistical problem: how can 100 leaders all take to the podium in one day? Fabius’s solution is to hold two plenary sessions running in parallel.

Allocating leaders so that one plenary does not appear to be for the second division will be a headache. Even with two plenaries each leader gets less than 10 minutes, unless they are allocated on the basis of “common but differentiated” priorities.

Preparations at the conference centre at Le Bourget are well advanced. Many are grumbling that it’s too far out of Paris, although once at an RER Line B station it won’t take more than half an hour to get there. (Factoid to store away in case it’s needed: Line B has the worst record for stoppages due to industrial disputes.) And 40,000 participants are a handful logistically. The Copenhagen organizers copped bitter criticism for closing the conference centre to NGO delegates, leaving thousands stuck outside in the freezing weather.

A tip for anyone planning to attend the COP: the first day will be chaos. Stay away, or go to Le Bourget on the Saturday or Sunday beforehand to register if you want to avoid spending 2 or 3 or more hours in a queue. With luck you might sail through on Monday morning while others gnash their teeth.

Accommodation in Paris will be tight, to say the least. In addition to those registered to attend the conference, tens of thousands will be pouring into the city to join the massive demonstration planned for Sunday 29 November.

France has announced it will impose temporary border controls, which is permitted for special events under the EU’s open border rules. Terrorists are a cause for worry, but so are black bloc and anarchist activists bent on fomenting violence at the demonstration. The security services are making plans.