“There were some days when I thought: wow, this is so great! There are people from all over the world, coming to Paris, to save the planet. And then, there were days when I thought: but wait, if this is the twenty-first meeting, what are they doing that it needs twenty-one meetings?!”
This is how Célia Blauel, Paris’ Deputy Mayor for Environment describes the lead up to the most monumental climate change event ever held in Paris: COP21.
In an LSE lecture theatre earlier this week, many people sat listening to Blauel’s insights into hosting COP21.
Acting on climate change is “about health improvement, about rebuilding cities for a better quality of life, and tackling energy poverty and creating jobs,” says Blauel.
Since COP21, Paris is “on the road to building a low carbon city,” with a 10-year climate change action plan.
Paris climate policies
Part of the 10-year plan is retrofitting energy-inefficient housing. Every year, 500 Parisian social houses will be refitted and 1,000 private sector buildings will be given retrofitting advice.
In response to air pollution that has left Paris at a standstill, the city is boosting public transport and cycling.
Paris is also renovating public places, especially tourist attractions, to be car-free, and an electric car sharing system is being introduced.
There is a ‘Restricted Circulation Zone’ being developed so that “the most polluting cars will not have access into Paris anymore, step by step, by 2020 there will be no diesel car access,” says Blauel.
In terms of energy, Paris has 50,000 square metres of solar (PV and thermal) panels installed, and an online ‘solar potential map’ on the way. Paris’s government administration buildings are also “100% green energy now” says Blauel.
Blauel then introduced the audience to something new in the city’s climate change policy: ‘adaption strategy’.
“It is how to live with climate change impacts: drought, floods, and hurricanes.”
In the event of a serious flood, for example, in “just 3-4 days, there would be nothing to eat in Paris!” says Blauel.
Adaption plans include protecting food supplies by linking rural and urban areas for food supply, and rebuilding local production.
Paris has also re-municipalised its water distribution. “Water is a common good; it is not for commercial use; it is for the public,” says Blauel.
On financing climate policy, Blauel says she is “fighting for new rules, outside of the banking system.” To help with finance now, Paris received financial help from the Rockefeller Foundation’s ‘Resilient Cities’ programme.
“When we met [Rockefeller] they wanted to work with us on terror and crime, and I thought: they are American, they see terror everywhere; they are crazy, but they have money so…”
“Then we had Bataclan.”
“For 48 hours I didn’t know how to go on with COP21,” Blauel says. “But the people of Paris are amazing; they were going out the next day.”
After the attacks, there was a temporary ban on public demonstrations, meaning that many marches were cancelled.
Cancelled marches are important when reducing 80% of Green House Gas emissions is dependent on more participatory decision making, says Blauel.
Blauel expressed much frustration during COP21: “we are tired to see you [COP21] negotiate: do something concrete.”
“We should throw out some of the politicians we have now for more courageous people.”
The lecture was then followed by a question and answer session with the audience.
Asked what universities like LSE can do, Blauel replied: “Universities are really interesting, like the 350.org/divestment movement, it got so high, in just 6 months. Then it came to France, it was created and spread.”
“I’m interested in what LSE can give, to take ideas and to be inspired […] to take ideas from wherever.”
Asked what she would do if she found herself in an elevator with London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, Blauel would tell him: “Stop doing what you are doing; stop playing with fire on the EU! It is time to take responsibility, to behave properly.”
Talking to the audience after the event, Darren Gill, an LSE postgraduate student in City Design and Social Science, says: “It is useful to not have technocrats but officials, trying to convince others to think about this and to bridge it to the real world.”
Georgina Knock, a researcher for BUPA and the NHS, says the lecture “Inspired me to get into politics. I had not thought of it before, before I thought I could just help to assist policy makers – but why not be one myself? I loved it; really inspired and genuine, I really enjoyed it.”
Graham Stevens, chair of Bluegreen UK, says “It was very interesting to hear what Paris is doing – the re-municipalisation of water is incredibly good news, in London we have an Australian bank and Chinese investors looking after our water! I would come to an LSE event again.”