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Today was the official opening of the 21st yearly Conference of the Parties to address climate change, COP21.

Over 150 heads of state attended, marking the largest gathering of world leaders under one roof at one time ever.  So many wanted to speak that after overviews from President Hollande of France, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and a few others, the leaders were split into two rooms so all leaders could give a short speech before the end of the day.  I listened to presentations from President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and others.

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US President Barack Obama. (Photo Credit: Michael Paparian)

Plenty is being written about the conference and world leader comments, so I won’t dwell on them here.  However, I will give some quick highlights from other sessions I attended today.  With upwards of 40,000 participants in the secure zone of the conference center, it has become a small city with a post office, electric vehicle rental office, office supply store and many restaurants. At any time there be several dozen events or sessions taking place on anything from negotiations over the text of the expected climate agreement, to discussions of adaptation in island nations, financing climate solutions, and effective communication on climate science.  The government of the United States has it’s own small pavilion space where sessions hosted by various government agencies take place.

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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. (Photo Credit: Michael Paparian)

Jacqui Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program stressed the need to assure that climate solutions don’t impact communities that have traditionally borne the health and environmental costs of energy and other technologies.  She cautioned that some “clean” energy may not be so clean.  “We need stringent definitions of clean energy,” she said.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned scientists has been to 20 of the 21 COPs.  He said he is more optimistic about an agreement, then he has ever been, but said that we’ll all have to work to see that countries reach their goals and improve on them.  “We need a package of measures to address the ambition gap,” he said.

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Environmental Representatives Briefed by TckTckTck. (Photo Credit: Michael Paparian)

Many constituencies are holding sessions to brief interested parties on the progress of the negotiations.  Many of the youthful environmental participants are being briefed by an umbrella group, TckTckTck, every morning.  The TckTckTck sessions are being broadcast on their website here.

Hoesung Lee is chair of the scientific body advising the United Nations on climate (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  He led off a session discussing how to make scientific information more readable and relevant to decisionmakers and the public.  Paul Lussier, Director of the Science Communication with Impact Network at Yale said that it is important to listen to the needs of entities and individuals and relate climate solutions to solving related problems.  “The focus is relevance,” he said.  “And, if relevance is there, the issue of simplicity takes care of itself.”

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Fossil of the Day Award Presentation. (Photo Credit: Michael Paparian)

Finally, the Climate Action Network is presenting a “fossil of the day” award every day of COP21 to highlight those countries that are climate laggards.  The award for the first day of the conference was shared by Belgium and New Zealand.  It will be no surprise when Australia gets the not-so-coveted award on a future day.

(This article originally appeared on Climate Dispatch. It has been reprinted here with permission.)

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