COP21, Paris, France

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France, on 30 November-11 December 2015 was launched by 150 Heads of State and Government to adopt a legally-binding agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gases necessary to prevent dangerous climate change. There were two parts to the conference on the same site at Le Bourget in the suburbs of Paris. Some 20,000 delegates and observers were accredited to the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where the negotiations took place and where associated side events were organized to inform the delegates. Next door, the French Government created a Climate Generations area where 10,000 members of the public and representatives of organizations not accredited to the conference discussed the issues and considered possible solutions. There were stands for civil society organizations, research centers and local governments; forums for indigenous peoples and biodiversity conservation; projections of films; and conference rooms for organizations to hold events, present panels of speakers on relevant themes, and debate the issues before the conference. Many official delegates also participated.

The International Environment Forum organized four events at COP21, with a detailed report at I was a speaker at all four events and did much of the organization. The IEF and Baha'i delegations totaled 12 people, and some other Baha'is also came in support.

The Baha'i International Community prepared a beautiful statement for the conference: "Shared Vision, Shared Volition: Choosing Our Global Future Together. A statement of the Bahá'í International Community to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France" which we distributed at the conference. It is available on the IEF web site (also in French) at

The conference concluded successfully on 12 December with an ambitious agreement to limit global warming to under 2°C aiming for 1.5°C, although much still needs to be done to reach this ambitious goal, which implies abandoning a fossil-fuel-based economy.

IEF-related events at COP21

(see detailed reports at

The first International Environment Forum event in the Climate Generations area was on 5 December on the topic "Community resilience in the face of climate-driven extreme events, a Vanuatu case study". I summarized the importance for climate change adaptation of local community resilience and presented a case study of the experience of the Baha'i community on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu, after being hit by cyclone Pam in March 2015, followed by a 10 minute video about the Baha'i community's social cohesion and solidarity after the disaster. Serik Tokbolat, Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, New York Office, discussed the tools used by the Baha'is for building social cohesion in communities and neighbourhoods. Janot Mendler de Suarez summarized academic studies of the characteristics of successful community solidarity, and Temily Tavangar provided a recent example of a town in Malaysia hit by the worst flooding in its history.

announcement . IEF event on resilience . IEF event
The electronic notice board for the event; the IEF panel and part of the audience; chair Ismael Velasco, Arthur Dahl, Janot Mendler de Suarez, Serik Tokbolat, Temily Tavangar (photos P. Adriance, O. Vinkhuyzen and T. Tavangar)

IEF event - resilience . Serik Tokbolat . IEF event - resilience
The panel; Serik Tokbolat (photos T. Tavangar)

Serik Tokbolat . Temily Tavengar . Janot Mendler de Suarez
Serik Tokbolat; Temily Tavangar; Janot Mendler de Suarez

Arthur Dahl . IEF event - resilience panel
Arthur Dahl; chair Ismael Velasco and the panel

IEF board member Peter Adriance was the first speaker on a panel in a side event on 5 December at the intergovernmental conference on "Examination of How Nations Have and Should Consider Equity and Justice in Setting INDCs".

ethics panel
Panel on Equity and Justice (photo by IISD)

Peter spoke on the importance of an ethical approach based on equity and justice in governmental decision-making. He noted the presence of faith communities in the climate change negotiations, and called for empathy towards other people when developing INDCs, stressing that “we are a single people on a single planet.” He pointed to statements from several faith leaders in the past year on the relationship between people and the Earth, underscoring that 80% of the global population profess a faith.

Peter Adriance
Peter Adriance (photo by IISD)

On Wednesday 9 December, IEF co-sponsored a side event on Accountability after Paris in the Netherlands Pavilion at the intergovernmental conference. The Moderator was Robert Whitfield, chair of the One World Trust. My good friend Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, who organized the event spoke on "Four pathways for accountability – challenges and opportunities". I then discussed "the Role of Science in Accountability" as a last-minute replacement for a speaker who was unable to attend, before making a second presentation on "Personal and professional accountability: an ethical challenge", reflecting on the role of a personal approach to accountability and responsibility among decision-makers and civil servants (see the paper at Excellent commentaries were provided by two delegates from governments, Mr. Arias (Marshall Islands) and Kennedy Graham MP (New Zealand).

Event in Netherlands Pavilion . Event in Netherlands Pavilion . Event in Netherlands Pavilion
Event in Netherlands Pavilion, Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, moderator Robert Whitfield, Arthur Dahl

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen . Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen . Event in Netherlands Pavilion
Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen speaking; part of the audience

Event on accountability . Arthur Dahl . Event on accountability 
Sylvia presenting; Arthur Dahl speaking


On Thursday 10 December, while the diplomats were trying to find consensus on the remaining outstanding issues in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the IEF held its second event in the Climate Generations area on "Principles for accountability for climate change agreements". The chairperson was Peter Adriance, Representative for Sustainable Development of the U.S. Baha'i Office of Public Affairs, and the room quickly filled to overflowing. Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen was the opening speaker on the topic "Principles - the ethical foundations for accountability relationships". Dr. Mojgan Sami of the University of California Irvine Program in Public Health gave a very dynamic presentation on the Policy Paradox. The next presentation was by Prof. Victoria Thoresen, UNESCO Chair for Education about Sustainable Lifestyles, on "Implementing Commitments". I again spoke on "Personal and Professional Accountability: An Ethical Challenge". This was followed by a lively discussion that continued in the corridors long after the end of the session.

IEF event . announcement of the event . audience
IEF event; the daily programme board; part of the audience

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen . Mojgan Sami . Victoria Thoresen
Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen; Mojgan Sami; Victoria Thoresen

Panel on education
Peter Adriance chaired the panel

On Friday 11 December, the last day of the Climate Generations area, the IEF organized its last event on Values-based climate change education. The panel shared experiences in values-based education for responsible living to motivate adjustments in mindsets and behavior individually and in communities. An audience of about 70 people crowded into the room meant for 50. Victoria Thoresen opened the session with a presentation on "Values-based Education for Climate Change". The next presentation was on "Values-Based Climate Education: Cracking The Behaviour Change Challenge" by Ismael Velasco. I followed with a presentation on "Implementing Values-based Climate Change Education". The final presentation was by Peter Adriance, who described the American Baha'i interfaith work on climate change, and the resulting approach to climate change education.
IEF event . part of the audience . Janot Mendler de Suarez
The IEF panel; part of the audience; Janot Mendler de Suarez animating the discussion after the panel

Peter's poster . audience exercise
A poster illustrating Peter Adriance's presentation; after the panel, the audience was invited to cluster around the room by common interests

Intergovernmental Conference area (the Blue Zone)

Most of the Le Bourget site was in the Blue Zone under United Nations responsibility where the Conference of the Parties negotiations and main side events took place. Only accredited delegates and observers had access to this zone, with extensive meeting rooms, offices for delegations, pavilions for governments and organizations and support facilities, in many buildings along a long central avenue. Much of the area was reserved for confidential negotiations, but there were also many side events in conference rooms and the pavilions of governments and organizations. The IEF co-sponsored one event organized by IEF board member Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen in the Netherlands Pavilion. I also met many old colleagues and friends, including from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) that I organized more than 30 years ago.

Entrance to Blue zone . Entrance to Blue zone

central avenue . Exhibits and booths . exhibits
The central avenue in the Blue Zone; some of the exhibit space and booths for organizations

I re-established contact with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) which I organized 35 years ago, and which is now a major regional intergovernmental organization with a staff of a hundred.

David Sheppard, Kosi Latu, Arthur Dahl . SPREP event
Three heads of SPREP, outgoing Director General David Sheppard, incoming Director General Kosi Latu, founding Coordinator Arthur Dahl; a SPREP event

The Climate Generations area at COP21

entrance, Climate Generations area . Climate Generations area . entrance Green zone
Entrance to the Climate Generations areas (Green zone); the hashtag #COP21

logo . conference rooms
The Climate Generations logo; the IEF side events were in the conference rooms

Forum area . central area . central area
There were central meeting, working and eating areas

watching Al Gore speak
Watching the transmission of Al Gore's speach

central area . youth working . telephone charging
Places to rest and catch up with emails or check the conference programme; even a place to pedal to recharge your phone

Lectures were held in various locations
lecture . panel from evangelical churches . lecture
Lectures on biodiversity and climate; a panel on Climate and Faith by the evangelical churches; presentations on cities and regions

event on human rights and climate change
Event on human rights and climate change

indigenous band and blocks of melting ice . parading .
A dirge and blocks of melting ice for an "ice funeral"; a banner with people in costume

Exhibits and booths for organizations
exhibits . the press . UNESCO booth
One of three exhibition areas; the press were active; the UNESCO booth

Sierra Club Youth Coalition . Sierra Club . new technologies
The Sierra Club was present, and you almost thought that President Obama was manning their booth; new technologies were on display

International Environment Forum delegation

After our first event on 5 December, many of the Baha'is went to dinner together.
dinner . dinner
(photos P. Adriance)

IEF members . a working lunch
Victoria Thoresen, Arthur Dahl, Peter Adriance, Mo Sami; working lunch with Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen

On the last day of the conference, we met for a wrap-up session to share experience.
meeting of IEF team . meeting of IEF team . with a radio journalist
Meeting of the IEF team; Ismael, Peter and Arthur with a French radio journalist

IEF team . IEF team . Temily and Babak Tavangar
Part of the IEF team (photo by Alessia Freddo); Temily and Babak Tavangar

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Last updated 23 February 2016

Photographs copyright © Arthur Lyon Dahl 2015