The world is now waiting in suspense as world leaders and activists alike gather in Paris for the 21st meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: the largest international climate change conference in history.  The negotiating positions of all countries are unique and as New Zealanders it is vital that we know where our negotiating position lies and what to expect during the conference. Amongst those New Zealanders travelling to Paris to participate in the conference are Victoria University of Wellington students Simon Hillier and Lottie Boardman. They will be feeding up-to-date information on the negotiations to a team back in New Zealand who will be publishing concise, readable and comprehensive analysis on the student-led website Deconstructing Paris.

New Zealand at COP21

The New Zealand government’s negotiating stance is economically pragmatic to the point of conservatism. Their stance on financing adaptation and response action is simply to widen the donor base.  The government is also resistant to a strong loss and damage mechanism, which would aid those countries suffering disproportionately from the effects of climate change, including our small island pacific neighbours.  New Zealand negotiators will be emphasising strong reliance on land use and offset mechanisms (including the use of forestry to “soak up” emissions) and the use of Carbon markets (like our ineffective Emissions Trading Scheme). Ultimately, a strong reliance on land use and offset mechanisms does not stop carbon emissions from harming the planet. Instead, it disproportionately benefits New Zealand because of our vast forests and forestry industry. Carbon is still being emitted and the problem being ignored.  A reliance on Carbon markets also reflects a “business-as-usual” approach for the New Zealand government, overlooking past failures of carbon commodification.

New Zealand is publicly leading the charge to put an end to fossil fuel subsidies on a global scale while conspicuously increasing fossil fuel subsidies seven-fold since National won the 2008 election.  On the opening day of the conference, New Zealand was awarded the satiric “Fossil of the day” award by Climate Action Network for this hypocrisy. New Zealand is continually focused on agriculture and has been willing to hedge its bets on technological innovation while side stepping issues such as carbon emission cuts in the transport industry. Our negotiators generally fall in line with other non-EU developing countries in the “umbrella” group.  Within this group New Zealand has been influential in developing the “hybrid” approach to reaching an agreement. This approach requires binding procedural commitments to ensure engagement with the agreement, while requiring non-binding emission reduction targets to ensure parties widespread participation without fear targets won’t be met.

New Zealand’s conservative stance is potentially worrying regardless of our meager contribution to global emissions on the whole (0.15%). We are generally considered to punch above our weight in international negotiations and hold sway as a progressive developed country. On this issue, however, it seems we are opting to sit on our haunches and see what happens.

The precise nature of the agreement remains contested but New Zealand negotiators believe the political will that has accumulated internationally will lead to an agreement focused on wide participation rather than bindingness and international sanction.  They believe the result coming out of Paris will be a framework for international cooperation to mobilise, enhance and project ambition into the future.

Wellington Students Participating in COP21

Simon Hillier and Lottie Boardman are travelling as part of the Aotearoa Youth Delegation to the conference.  Prior to departure Simon and Lottie have been busy with preparation. Simon was interviewed by 95bFM from London about the conference and what it means around the world. Since leaving for Paris they have linked up with other New Zealanders based in Cambridge, who are also attending the conference, and attended a symposium focussing on the contentious aspects of the conference and the prospects of an agreement being reached. They were also involved in the London Climate March alongside 50,000 other people.  Their accredited observer status allows a personal youth perspective to be conveyed back home, hopefully enabling wider participation.

Simon has been the primary student driver of the student initiative website Deconstructing Pariswho have been interpreting the draft negotiating texts for the last 12 months.  The website offers a youth perspective on all relevant parts of the potential agreement in readable language.

This website will continue to cover developments as they occur over the coming days.  Each day new content will be distributed via the website and news through Twitter giving those who wish to know the ability to follow the negotiations as they happen.  Due to the 12 hour time difference between Paris and New Zealand, the aim is to offer an overnight service that is updated while Paris sleeps to ensure the information can be accessed by those at Paris as soon as the new day begins.

During their involvement in the conference, Simon and Lottie are documenting the events as they unfold with the intention of expanding their coverage from the written form on the website to a documentary based project.  The aim of the project is to convey the scale of the conference and  insights into their experience as youth observers at the  historic conference.  A current Pledgeme account has been set up to enable this project to go ahead with an interim goal of $2200 enabling the purchase of equipment and a total goal of $11,750 in order to professionally edit the end film.  By having a documented youth perspective in Paris these students may offer a unique insight into the process that will determine how our future is impacted by climate change.

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