22 December 2015: Thick in action at COP21

Written by Jeannie Tay | Images by Kei Franklin

COP21 LAB_2_cropped

The 2015 Conference of Parties (COP) 21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, has been widely hailed as a historic event, with a landmark climate change deal sealed at the conclusion of the event on 12 December 2015.

The Conference has, no doubt, left a big impact on many. But it is perhaps the most memorable to those who were thick in action in Le Bourget, Paris, to experience the momentous event firsthand.

COP21 LAB_3_cropped

Ten Yale-NUS students witnessed history being made as they were part of a delegation attending the COP21 Paris climate conference from 5 to 12 December 2015. The trip was part of a Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) programme, organised by the Centre for Professional and International Experience (CIPE) in partnership with Yale University, and led by Professors Angel Hsu and Francis Dennig.

Among the LAB participants, two Yale-NUS students, Willie Khoo and Matthew Ware, were selected to receive badges to observe the climate change negotiations – a very rare opportunity to witness the high-level meetings up close.

COP21 LAB_1_cropped

Willie Khoo (Class of 2017) described his experience as an intensive and extremely insightful one as he and his fellow student observers were constantly bombarded with stimuli and information.

“We were at the venue every day from morning to night attending plenary meetings, negotiations, panels, press conferences, and collecting millions of brochures on climate change solutions to the point that you start wondering why the climate change issue hasn’t been solved by now,” said Willie.

Willie also had to learn to speak ‘COP’ very quickly so that he could comprehend the acronyms and political jargon that was being widely used in the conference.

“I do feel, however, that in the world of policymaking and negotiations, one can sometimes get so caught up with learning this language and ‘playing the game’ that after a while, one finds oneself in an echo chamber in which the purpose and importance of such a conference is assumed. This could potentially lead to inflexibility, elitism and an unwillingness to hear the voice of civil society,” he said.

Besides the main negotiations, Yale-NUS students on the LAB also took the chance to explore other facets of COP21.

For example, Kei Franklin (Class of 2017) and Zhong Ruifeng (Class of 2019) saw the opportunity to view COP21 through the lens of art.

To Kei, COP21 provided a rich ground for her to explore the intersection between art and the environmental crisis and to witness what artists and ‘artivists’ were doing about climate change.

“In Paris, I found a wide variety of art exhibitions and installations – ranging from ‘informative’ art, designed to convey information about the climate crisis, to ’emotive’ art, designed to provoke guilt or anger or inspiration, and eventually (hopefully) to provoke action,” said Kei. For example, one artist shipped 12 icebergs from Greenland, and arranged them in the shape of a clock in front of Paris’ famous Pantheon so passersby could “literally see, hear, and feel the ticking of time and the melting of ice”.

“All in all, I was deeply inspired, surprised, and hopeful from all the art I saw during COP21. These artists are contributing in important, unexpected ways to the environmental movement, and their work –  though often overlooked – can be immensely powerful. They make people look, and then step closer and look again – and right now, that is exactly what we need,” added Kei.

Another student who was struck by the intensity and breath of artistic expression at COP21 was Ruifeng, who believed that artistic representation is the most visual way for the public to realize the seriousness of climate change.

Blogging on his visits to the COP21-related artistic exhibitions, Ruifeng felt that the art of climate change presents a creative approach for artists to communicate their ideas and inspire changes.

“These art projects reflect the urging demands of civil society that play a big role in shaping COP21’s success. And my trip to Paris gives me a taste of its bustling contemporary art scene and inspires me to use art for more creative use,” wrote Ruifeng in the COP21 Paris UNFCC LAB blog.

The LAB programme is a co-curricular programme developed by CIPE, in collaboration with Yale-NUS faculty, that allows faculty to share their scholarship with students outside the traditional classroom and create an opportunity for students to explore themes of the curriculum in a broader real-world context.

To read more on the students’ experiences at COP21, visit http://cop21.commons.yale-nus.edu.sg/