Helen Szoke, head of Oxfam Australia, has provided Mamamia with a journal of what happened during the Paris climate talks. Day by day, she reveals how the negotiations moved from a point of stagnancy to one of meaningful, substantial change.
Sunday December 6
Arriving in Paris for the final week of the UN climate changes talks, there was an incredible sense of history in the making. Despite a week of long days and sleepless nights, the Oxfam delegation was in full flight, energised as the finish line to the long awaited possibility of a Paris Agreement was finally within sight.
Paris is crisp and beautiful; but the military presence in the city is evident and a sobering reminder of tragedy that struck only two weeks ago.
Monday December 7
The sheer size and complexity of the talks is incredible; 55,000 people mill around the Le Bourget convention centre, never missing an opportunity to influence and persuade. There is everything needed to house a small city, from internet cafes to high-tech press centres to coffees carts to fuel around-the-clock negotiations.
There are early signs that there will be an agreement, but what will be the ambition and scale? Will this actually make a difference for future generations?
I met with Mr Xie Zhenhua, the China Climate Envoy, who is one of the most sought after negotiators, and of the position that developing countries should not have to pay for the excesses of the developed countries.
President Tong of Kiribati made a heartfelt plea this evening, reminding us all of the dangers these tiny atolls face. “Our identity is our land and without our land we are nothing,” he said.
Tuesday December 8
There is much at stake for our partners –those communities in countries that are most affected by climate change and the least responsible – and that’s why we’re here, to make sure they have a voice.
It’s great to see our Pacific Island colleagues here, proud and determined. I caught up with Tinaai from Kiribati, a young woman who has travelled to Paris, holding press conferences and panel discussions to talk about the importance and dangers facing her home. She is an incredible inspiration, as she was when she lobbied our own politicians in Canberra in October.
Hours before the release of a new draft, signs look grim. We’re very concerned over the direction the talks have seemingly taken. It looks like countries settling for what’s easiest to agree, instead of what’s right for their people and the planet. But it’s not too late to strengthen the deal.
Wednesday December 9
This is crunch time. The delivery of the first text was the catalyst of another sleepless night for the Oxfam team and our partners as they poured over the draft, looking at the technicality of the language.
I had an amazing meeting with incredible women from Latin America who are part of a farmers’ activist network. They have chosen to raise their voices in countries where their rights are not guaranteed and where the impacts of climate change are felt every day of their lives.
The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, hosted a private dinner with NGO, business and government representatives. She was irrepressibly buoyant and optimistic, and it was good to see a strong conviction for an agreement that was not yet clear.
Thursday December 10
We’re worried – now the text has arrived there is no movement on key issues. This morning, I chaired a press conference with representatives from community organisations from across the globe in an effort to inject some urgency. Oxfam brought out its signature ‘big heads’ – people wearing oversize fibreglass heads of world leaders – calling on them to wake up and make the necessary decisions to limit climate change.