C&EN @ COP21 – Paris Climate Change Conference – 2015, November 30 to December 11

Science’s Presence at the Paris climate conference

The star of the climate change conference in Paris is diplomacy. All eyes are on government negotiators who are hammering out a deal to put all nations on a common path to avert global warming.

Climate model equation on wall of Paris train station. Credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN

Climate model equation on wall of Paris train station.
Credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN

Science is a strong supporting actor. In Paris’s big train station, Gare du Nord, equations from climate models festoon the walls of platform 43. That’s where conference participants who are staying in Paris board a train that takes them to the suburb of Le Borget, where the meeting is taking place.

In the enormous Le Borget complex, at least a dozen science-related organizations of the United Nation have booths just a couple hundred meters away from where negotiators are are arguing over the wording of the new pact. At its booth, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has print copies of its most recent reports assessing the science of climate change. The enormous volume analyzing the physical science behind climate change weighs more than 3 kg. But it’s just a display copy. IPCC offers a USB flash drive containing the report, which is much easier to lug around.

Back side of business card from Japan's Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite. Credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN

Back side of business card from
Japan’s Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.
Credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN

Other science-related groups, including the UN Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which is in the U.K., are here, as is Korea University. Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies has a booth featuring its Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite, which measures carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere. The U.S. government has a large exhibition space where scientists from the National Aeronautics & Space Administration give visually dazzling presentations on a set of video screens dubbed a hyperwall.

Hydrogen fuel cell exhibit credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN

Hydrogen fuel cell exhibit
credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN

A 10-minute walk from the complex where the negotiations are in full swing is an exposition center. It features is a more energetic scene. Two people dressed in penguin costumes carry signs saying “Adopt Me” and pose for pictures. Young people from around the world strategize in multiple languages. Many activist groups have booths in that center. There’s science to be found here too, including a 3-D model of a hydrogen fuel cell.

Also in the exposition area, members of the public can attend panel discussions about a panoply of climate change issues. While many focus on details of climate policy or justice for the poorest people of the world who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, some have a strong scientific focus. Subject include biosourced materials, the role of nuclear energy in the fight against climate change, and a discussion about an international movement to ban fracking. One curiously titled panel, “Recovering of the urban metabolism byproducts,” explored ways to reclaim materials and energy from trash and sewage.

Cheryl Hogue is reporting from Paris for Chemical & Engineering News.  

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