How delegates think, eat and dream green in Paris

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2015 2:48 PM
How delegates think, eat and dream green in Paris

PARIS (AP) — It's a challenge few people could take on: making it possible for some 40,000 world leaders, indignant environmental activists and others to coexist for two weeks in a logistical and negotiating ballet aimed at reaching an unprecedented global climate accord. Here's a glimpse behind the scenes at the Paris climate talks:

SMALL, GREEN(ISH) CITY

The conference site of Le Bourget near Paris looks like a small city, with its medical center, prayer rooms, bakeries, restaurants, post office, selective waste sorting and electric vehicles, and even a mini-Eiffel tower made of reused chairs on the so-called "Champs-Elysees" alley.

In welcome bags made from recycled sweaters, the participants were provided with 36,000 re-usable plastic bottles to fill at water fountains, so that they avoid using disposable plastic cups.

All restaurants have been asked to propose food based on seasonal products only.

Business is not absent from the conference, where participants can get free ice-cream, fruit and other products from sponsors.

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CROWDED PLACE

For almost two weeks, officials from 196 parties —meaning 23,000 government officials— are negotiating under the watchful eye of 9,000 observer organization members and over 3,000 journalists.

You can see Britain's Prince Charles listen to a speech by American actor Sean Penn and meet ministers going incognito into the conference's side streets.

Participants have had to learn a bit of French geography, negotiating rooms labelled after French rivers, which proved confusing for some delegations. One negotiator stood waiting for a rendezvous outside the room called Le Rhin, while his interlocutor was waiting outside Le Rhone.

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NEGOTIATING BALLET

The French presidency, in charge of the organization of the working sessions, insisted on a method based on transparency. "We have no hidden agenda or secret plan," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the delegates.

Yet delegations had to split up to follow formal negotiations in the plenary rooms, informal discussions and sometimes secret meetings in discreet side rooms only accessible for negotiators.

For small delegations — such as Haiti or Nepal— the conference resembles a marathon, as their few negotiators run from one room to the next.

If they get tired, organizers have provided comfortable sofas where participants can take a nap, and even a relaxation room.

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BRUISED EGOS

Gathering 151 heads of state and government on the first day of the conference could not go without a few protocol issues.

The first world leaders who arrived, including Barack Obama, were greeted by France's President Francois Hollande and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. But Russian President Vladimir Putin came too late to be in the family photo, and was greeted by the more junior Minister for European Affairs Harlem Desir.

World leaders were supposed to be limited to three-minute speeches but some of them easily doubled or tripled the time, leading others to wait for hours for their turn at the podium — an unusual situation for the most powerful people in their respective countries.

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PROTESTING, CAREFULLY

Environmental activists organize dozens of meetings and press conferences, but they are also allowed to participate in authorized, not-too-noisy protests in the alleys of the sprawling conference space.

Activists dressed as Star Wars heroes appeared at the Paris climate conference Wednesday, as part of a push by the activist group Avaaz for governments to abandon oil, gas and coal in favor of renewable energy.

The Climate Action Network attributes "Fossil Awards" to countries regarded as trying to block progress in the negotiations.

The "Plant for the planet" non-governmental organization has found a very popular way to defend its cause: distributing chocolate to busy delegates and reporters.

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SECURITY

The conference is officially U.N. territory for the duration of the two-week talks. U.N. guards are carrying out security checks at the site, used for the Paris Air Show and other trade shows when it's not the center of world climate negotiations.

An Amazon tribal observer in traditional robes was puzzled when he was told to take off his feathered headdress and beaded necklace to make it through the metal detector to enter the conference venue. It still buzzed. The culprit? The belt-buckle on his jeans underneath his robes.

Outside, 2,800 French police officers are in charge of the security, some of them patrolling on horseback.

The Nov. 13 Paris attacks cast a pall over the start of the conference, but a week later, at least one security official had relaxed a bit, wishing visitors "may the force be with you" as he directed them toward shuttle buses.