The Workings of the UN Climate Change Conference


Promotion for the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Paris has started, and its message is clear: the clock is ticking, and it's time to establish concrete steps to protect our world from a plethora of irreversible, catastrophic situations. As established by many world leaders and researchers, we can no longer view elements such as politics, economy and ecology, separately. A holistic view is needed to grasp the full reach and impact of our actions on the world around us, and organizations worldwide have been brainstorming, researching and establishing concrete steps needed to assure minimizing the impact of climate change on society. This article will focus on the organization of the Climate Change Conference, which is the main force behind the instigation of a call for action. The basics of civil engagement and the structuring agency of the United Nations will be covered, as well as an overview of the procedures that took place in Lima, Peru in 2014 and the ongoing work leading up to the anticipated Conference in Paris next November.

Facing a Global Threat

Climate Change. The term has been going around for years, evoking the shifts that are taking place in our environment at a much greater rate than expected due to our increasing carbon footprint. Over the last 100 years, society has evolved like no other time in history, technology and societal rearrangements intensifying our impact on the planet. We are used to living without thinking of the greater picture created by globalization, but since the 60s, social concern and involvement has been increasing as well. A counterweight to globalization can be found in civil engagement and mobilization, which instigates new ways of considering our relationship to the world. When it comes to the climate movement, it has been openly in action since the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, which took place in Rio in 1992. Every year since then, the issue has been brought up, analyzed and investigated in greater and greater depth. Now in 2015, we look forward to the Climate Change Conference in Paris, said to bring new foundations to the movement, one based in concrete, globalized action.


Global Civil Society Involvement and the United Nations

The involvement of individuals is crucial to instigate any form of change, and it often takes effect in activism. Global Civil Society "consists of people organizing to influence their world," explains Michael Goodhart[i]. Global Civil Society is formed by "ideas, values, institutions, organizations, networks and individuals located between the family, the state, and the market," and which operates "beyond the confines of national societies, polities and economies."i As an increasingly complex globalized society, civil engagement via NGOs and other organizations help manage a situation, track progress, involve others and push forward legislation and governmental implication. Activism led by a handful of individuals often leads to the implementation of legislations by governments.

When it comes to the climate, the reach of the issue must be global. This is where the UN steps in. The United Nations, an intergovernmental organization that focuses on international cooperation, has been active in coordinating mobilization in many spheres. The UN is comparable to an umbrella under which different constituencies, mainly formed by civil society, can unite and voice their opinion to instigate advancements pertaining to certain subjects. It is interesting to know that civil society is represented by a wide variety of individuals and organizations. Youth, women, indigenous people have their own organizations, as well as entrepreneurs, university groups and faith communities. They have enlisted and been granted consultative status by the UN in order to participate and observe. These participants team up to listen to debates, give their input and vote on specific issues. Together, they tackle different issues that need to be addressed. Conferences are organized with the goal to gain new grounds towards a universal climate change action plan.

Insight into Lima

logolima.jpgLeaders gathered in Lima, Peru last November for the UN Climate Change Conference 2014 to continue working on what is now referred to as the 'Lima Call for Climate Action' text. This conference was crucial for leaders of different countries and backgrounds to advance major segments required for the elaboration of a concrete action plan that took into account different situations and contexts on a global scale. "As sketched out in Lima, all countries, rising economies as well as rich countries would pledge action on climate change."[ii]

Juan J. Vazquez Milling, a youth representative from Montreal who has been involved in Climate Change activism for a few years, had the opportunity to read the opening statement for the Youth Constituency for Climate Change (YOUNGO). The Conference of Youth, a faction of the UN, is particularly important considering individuals involved will most likely gain importance in other subdivisions of the UN as the years go on.


Juan's involvement started with the Brahma Kumaris, a religious movement through which he emphasized the connection between the self and the environment, and how as spiritual beings we have an impact on the planet. He shared with me the importance of the diversity of the organization, and how each faction brings valuable input to create a complete, concise and universal message. Activists specializing in administration or finance would brainstorm and emphasize the importance of specific aspects to groups that had less knowledge of such matters, for example. However useful to have divergent point of views, it does not always go smoothly. As Goodhart states, global civil society "is a contested terrain, populated by value-driven actors who do not necessarily share harmonious value systems: indeed, their values sometimes clash."i Juan was a witness to this. He remembers a particularly tense reunion where decisions needed to be taken and roadblocks were being felt with disagreeing members of the team. Finance was a particularly touchy subject, specialists pushing forward arguments and statements that needed more explaining to some individuals and did not meet with unanimous agreements. Juan soulfully suggested a meditation and successfully lowered tension in this particularly heated meeting. Many individuals came forward to express how valued his input had been. We are, after all, on the same team. Diversity and acceptance, is key in forging a strong and united faction.


This episode skillfully illustrates the need to include seemingly disparate groups to work together. Here, members of a faith group were able to reestablish cohesion and positivity. Individuals who participate do not necessarily bring solutions, but all bring their share to the association. Together, they helped gain new grounds towards the final Climate Call for Action that will be unveiled in Paris in November 2015.

Looking Forward to Paris

logocop21.jpgThe road to Paris is very busy, to say the least. As Juan explained, decision-making has its own rhythm. People are putting tremendous effort in laying out a trustworthy plan to expose at the Climate Summit of Paris 2015.

Earlier in February, representatives met in Geneva, Switzerland to work on specific, arduous points. A draft text was acceptediii, but the work is far from over, many technicalities having to be settled to assure the efficiency of the proposal. As decided in Lima, "countries are due to come forward by March 2015 with their proposed emissions reductions targets." Smaller scale conferences will be dealing with different segments till November and working groups all over the planet are continuously perfecting sections that deal with their subject of expertise. For example, one of these groups focuses on intergenerational equity, making sure that decision-makers are aware of the need for equitable recommendations in regards to contrasting age groups. The next important conference will be in Bonn, Germany, next June.

"Many people are concerned about the real level of 'change' pushed by such discussions," ii and many are concerned that this is one of the last chances for humanity to deal with this very important subject, due to the magnitude of the situation. More and more hype is starting to circulate about Paris as the expectation and importance of the decisions that will be voiced is felt. Individuals are voicing our need to unite to avoid what could be a catastrophic, worldwide phenomenon.

Media coverage has been helping the cause obtain support via social engagement, and particular emphasis is put on celebrity ambassadors for climate change. Leonardo DiCaprio's speech on the need for action regarding climate change went viral. The singer Pharell Williams plans on starting a concert series 'On the Road to Paris' to help spread awareness. Activists and organizations are voicing loud and clear their opinion on the subject.

Hopes are high for positive change to come forth as individuals focus on solutions and taking action. We must look past the comfort zone, keep the greater picture in mind and unite with the common understanding that real changes must be implemented. Hopefully, world leaders will all support the decisions and actions outlined in Paris next November, for the wellbeing of our planet.

[i] Goodhart, M. "Human Rights, Politics and Practice" Second Edition, Oxford University Press. 2012

[ii] Goldenberg, S. "Lima Climate Change Talks Reach Global Agreement" The 12/14

[iii] "UN Agees Draft Text for Paris Climate Summit" 13/02/15

Photo credits:

(1) National Climate Change Secretariat, Prime Minister's Office Singapore -

(2) Hisham Husain,

(3) Lima Climate Change Logo,

(4) Paris Climate Change Logo,

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