World leaders are gathered in Paris for two weeks of intensive talks and meetings designed to avert climate disaster. Joining the contingent of high-ranking government officials, activists, business leaders, and faith-based representatives from nearly 200 countries are two Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) associates, Rebecca Barnes, Associate for Environmental Ministries and Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, Coordinator, Mission Responsibility Through Investment with the Compassion, Peace & Justice Program.

The 21st Conference of the Parties, or COP 21 for short, is attempting to forge an agreement among all nations to cut greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Individual countries are responsible for developing plans to reduce CO2 and other gases, which would effectively cap the global temperature rise at two degrees Celsius. More than 150 countries, accounting for approximately 90 percent of global emissions, have submitted action plans to reach the two-degree goal. A huge breakthrough occurred recently when China and the United States, the two largest contributors to carbon pollution, jointly agreed to a specific timetable for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and clean energy development. However, there are also several governments representing poorer parts of the world, namely Africa, Asia and South America, who are lobbying for an even more aggressive 1.5 degree Celsius cap. It remains to be seen whether any agreement from the Paris talks will be able to secure the 2 degree Celsius benchmark.

While the heavy lifting of approving and implementing any plan or widespread agreement falls on government officials, there are thousands of other activists and representatives in Paris attending a multitude of “side events” designed to prod and support those responsible for inking a treaty. One of those is Barnes, who is attending her first COP conference.

PC(USA) associate Rebecca Barnes visits the Noah’s Ark art exhibit at COP 21.

PC(USA) associate Rebecca Barnes visits the Noah’s Ark art exhibit at COP 21. —Photo provided

“It is inspiring to see the passion and commitment of all those who are working tirelessly to get to what is understood to be critical global agreement, long overdue,” wrote Barnes on the Eco Journey blog page reflecting on her first day at the conference. “People speak in all languages, are in all styles of dress, and converse with urgency and dedication.”

Barnes, who coordinates the Earth Care Congregation program for PC (USA), also noted the conference’s commitment to sustainability.

“Like most sustainable conferencing, there are well-place recycling bins, reusable cups and conference non-BPA water bottles given to participants with educational water stations placed throughout the facility. The conference bag is made from former sweaters and notebooks are 100 percent recycled paper.”

The main focus of this conference is clearly CO2 emissions reduction, and Gary Payton, a former director of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and mission co-worker, is also on-site and blogging on Eco Journey. He recently wrote about activity in the “Blue Zone,” which is limited to government personnel responsible for crafting an overall agreement.

“Inside the Blue Zone national representatives are discussing key questions of financing (from the developed world to the developing world), timelines, target numbers for CO2 reduction, and more,” writes Payton. “These are the women and men who are inspired by their heads of state on Monday and are now charged with finding a path to an agreement acceptable to their country while being mindful of the impact on all countries and people.”

COP 21 continues until December 11. There are several social media outlets to follow for those wishing to monitor conference developments. Barnes, Somplatsky-Jarman and Payton will periodically share their conference reflections and insight on the Eco-Journey blog page. The MRTI and Environmental Ministries Facebook pages will also feature updates as needed. ACT Alliance is providing daily news updates. On Twitter, follow @Climate_Action_ or hashtags #COP21, #SIF15 and #ClimateAction.