The Paris climate conference venue is a sight to behold. Over 40,000 people crowd into the temporary venue created using airport hangers and demountable buildings. As you turn each corner there is a protest group, a demonstration of stunning new technology, a global leader, a corporate CEO or another protest group.
Monday is Leaders Day. Over 150 national leaders are present, perhaps the greatest gathering of national heads in world history. Indeed as we enter the conference centre the snipers atop the ridge are in plain sight. Inside, Princes and Potentates, Presidents and Prime Ministers are all gathered to generate momentum. Our own Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shares a conversation on technology change with the new Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates and the Presidents of Chile and Mexico. Other leaders seem to gravitate to Malcolm’s natural conviviality. When the PM announces to the Great Hall that Australia will meet and beat its 2020 targets and ratify the 2020 Agreement there is resounding applause. Later on I can’t help thinking that some of the Australian activists I meet are just that little bit unhappy that the world thinks we are doing a pretty good job.
Day Two and the Leader’s have gone and the negotiations are underway in earnest – but still with plenty of high profile attendees keeping an eye on developments. I am half way through an interview with Lateline from the conference floor, when there is a commotion behind me. It takes all of the brutally instilled training from my media advisor not to automatically turn around. Later I see a tweet from Emma Alberici: ‘Tonight on Lateline Prince Charles photo bombs my interview with Greg Hunt!’ As the week progresses we find large numbers of Australian activists around the conference. One phenomenon I am not expecting is that some of those activists have managed to secure well paid positions as advisers to small developing countries and seem to delight in negotiating directly against Australia. In one particular case, suspecting that an Australian activist embedded in another country’s delegation is giving a live stream briefing to the media of our negotiations, I deliberately raise an idea with that activist. An hour later an Australian journalist asks the very issue I had raised with the activist. When this is pointed out the briefings miraculously stop.
Our days start well before dawn with a jog through the airport hotel precinct of Roissy. A lovely village has long been overtaken by a dozen Quality Inn and like airport hotels. We head to the conference centre and negotiate through the day and make it home near midnight.Along the way I encounter one famous figure who talks of the ravages of climate change on his waterfront mansion. An international politician tells a moving story of meeting with Indigenous leaders atop a mountain in Columbia to discuss the sickness of consumption. He then tells us how the helicopter flight from the coast to the mountain and back was one of the great experiences of his life. The global CEOs who have arrived by private jet nod approvingly. There is no sense of irony. I look at the other Australian in the room, an old Shepparton boy, and his eyes say, are we missing something or is there a little cognitive dissonance here? Make no mistake, my belief in the reality and importance of climate change is absolute. The French are doing an extraordinary job. The negotiators from around the world are working 18 hour days and later 22 hour days with absolute sincerity. I am however struck by the fact that some of the wealthiest people in the world, living some of the most consumptive lives in the world, lecture some of the poorest people in the world about the need for restraint. Hmmm.
It is near the end of the week and some young Australian activists who have flown around the world to Paris ask what they might do to help. I suggest that we should work with the private sector to develop a ‘Living Zero’ product so that people lucky enough to be at the conference can calculate and pay for mangrove or rainforest rehabilitation to offset our entire lives…flights, cars, electricity, gas, refrigeration among other matters. I offer to do this for our family and invite them to join me as a demonstration of personal commitment, noting that it will not be cheap. Quelle horreur! There is a furious response that this is a matter for governments not individuals. Sigh, back to the negotiations. Amidst the to-and-fro there is also great hope. I speak at a function with Sir David Attenborough at the launch of his new documentary on the Great Barrier Reef. He is the real thing – a deeply modest, brilliantly informed and utterly compelling advocate for nature. He is practical and has attracted some of the world’s finest scientists who are equally focussed on practical projects to protect coral, restore forests and maintain the great iconic species.
At the end of Week One, the global negotiations for the 2020 Agreement are settled in the plywood Australian office on the floor of the conference centre. We strike an agreement with the G77 and the small Island States. As the agreement is gavelled through there is a sense that for all of the show and glitz, something real and important is happening. People such as David Attenborough are making a difference on the ground, our Australian negotiators have genuinely helped deliver a 2020 Agreement, we have launched global initiatives for protecting rainforests and mangroves.My part in the grand events is over and as I pass the baton to Julie Bishop, I leave with a sense that for all of our foibles and idiosyncrasies, for all of our inconsistencies and imperfections, in the end humanity has enough intelligence, ingenuity and simply enough good people to get it right – in the end.