Trip Report – Attendance at “Our Common Future under Climate Change” Conference (CFCC) Paris

Trip Report – Attendance at “Our Common Future under Climate Change” Conference (CFCC) Paris, 6-11 July 2015


By Tom Beer



This conference was organised by an international partnership of Future Earth, ICSU and UNESCO (along with numerous French organisations) to be the preparatory science conference before the COP21 meeting in Paris in December 2015.  But, you may ask, surely the IPCC meetings are the preparatory science meetings.  Indeed, but whereas IPCC works under a ‘science for policy’ regime, CFCC appeared to have a more overtly political agenda designed to influence COP21 into producing agreements (unlike Copenhagen).

The conference had strong support from the French Government – the French President was scheduled to open the conference but pulled out at the last minute because of the currency crisis in Greece – and French institutions.  So much so that I was told that the University of Pierre and Marie Curie (UPMC) insisted on hosting sessions.  This meant that half of the conference was at the eastern end of Paris and the other half was at the western end of Paris.  Twenty minutes by metro between the two locations!

The four days of the conference were organised as:

Day 1: State of Knowledge on Climate Change  
Day 2: Landscapes of Our Common Future
Day 3: Responding to Climate Change Challenges
Day 4: Collective Action and Transformative Solutions

I attended this conference in Paris because it almost directly followed on from the end of the IUGG General Assembly in Prague (a weekend intervened) and I felt that in my role as a member of the ICSU Committee of Scientific Planning and Review I should attend this ICSU organised conference, and in my role as Chair of the IUGG Commission on Climatic and Environmental Change I should attend to foster further interactions with key players in Future Earth.

My only formal role was to display the poster about the Weather, Climate and Food Security program run by the IUGG Commission on Climatic and Environmental Change.  This was scheduled for Day 2 at UNESCO with a second showing of ALL posters on Day 3 at UPMC.

Keith Alverson and I had originally submitted a proposal for a CCEC session on climate adaptation.  This was merged with a number of other sessions and called “Coordinated Adaptation to Climate Change.  Keith, though nominally a convenor, was unable to attend the Paris meeting and, as it turns out, I was unable to attend this particular session because I was unaware of when and where it was on because my iPhone failed.  There was no printed program (not even on the doors of the meeting rooms) so that the only way to know what session was on and when it was on was to have previously printed out the long and bulky program or to have a working computer, table, or iPhone.  At the time of Keith’s session I was discovering the whereabouts of the Apple shop in Paris (near the Opera). Nevertheless, Saleemul Huq delivered a whole plenary talk on adaptation.

The conference published a day-by-day electronic newsletter of activities.  I have reproduced the salient bits in the Appendix.

Personal Highlights:

A new look at Resilience

Following the Plenary speeches on Day 2 there was a plenary panel discussion titled Contours of a Resilient Global Future with: J. Rockström (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm, Sweden), L. . Fernández Carril (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad de México, Mexico), A. Gavilano (Environmental Policy Analysis, Bern, Switzerland)

This was memorable because the Mexican took issue with the use of the word resilience as being a good thing.  He claimed that we do not want to be resilient, we want to make sure that we have been adequately prepared that we do not need to be resilient.  Resilience is defeatism.

Rockström, the head of a resilience institute, defended his position by claiming that he agreed with Carril that mitigation was needed – but if events have gone too far for mitigation then adaptation is needed and that is what resilience is all about.

Curiously enough, on the plane home I read a book “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch FRS, Professor of Physics at Oxford University who makes a similar point in Chapter 17 in relation to “sustainability”.  Deutsch argues against a sustainable world as being one that is static and lacks innovation.  He argues for unsustainability as being needed to keep us innovative and able to provide new solutions,

Boycotts for Climate

Damian Carrington, Head of Environment at The Guardian newspaper, described the paper’s #keepitintheground campaign to divest financial support from fossil fuel companies. He called it a campaign "rooted in the reality that there’s far more carbon locked in the ground than we can safely burn". This was followed by a panel discussion with New York Times journalist Andrew Revkin – who said that US journalists seek to present both sides of an argument and Dagmar Dehmer of German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel – who said that such a divestment campaign violates every ethical code of German journalism.   What I took away from this, and interpolated into a discussion at the World Congress on Risk in Singapore two weeks later, was that the approach to climate change communication differs according to the nationality of the communicator.



    Journalists discussing the ethics of the Guardian’s divestment campaign.

Being at UNESCO and practicing French

I had not previously attended a meeting at UNESCO in Paris.  There was simultaneous translation between English and French during the plenary speeches.  I tried listening to the French on my headphones and realised that I need a lot more practice before I could follow a scientific talk in French.


I had hoped to meet with Mark Stafford Smith, the Chair of the Future Earth Science Committee and a member of the CFCC organising committee but he was not present.  There were many present that I knew from their membership of ICSU CSPR – Chris Field, the Chair of the CFCC Organising Committee, Naki Nakicenovic, Lü Yonglong as well as IUGG colleagues such as Alan Robock and Sophie Godin-Beekmann.  Even though my poster was meant to be part of the Food Security session chaired by John Ingram, who had time only to shake my hand after the session, the existence of posters was not even mentioned during the session.  I did, however, get to meet Alison Specht of the University of Queensland who did a “double-take” at my poster when she noticed that it had a photo on it of her cousin, Mark Wahlqvist, the ex-President of the International Union of Nutrition Science who was part of the WeatCLiFS session at Granada.


Appendix – Official Summary of Each Day’s Events


Day 1

Our Common Future Under Climate Change kicked off yesterday to a packed auditorium for the opening plenary. French Research and Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem issued a stark warning, saying that "unless we have widespread climate action, we will be the generation that knew what had to be done, but didn't do it." Segolène Royal, French Minister for the Environment, Energy and Sustainable Development, echoed the same message, calling on scientists to speak with a clear voice in the run-up to the Paris climate change negotiations in December. "We have won the battle of ideas, now we must win the battle for action," she said. She also reminded scientists that while science has a duty to provide proof and evidence, "to be heard in the preparations for the summit in Paris as you deserve, your voices must not be too tangled up in precautions." There are transcripts available of WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud's speech and the speech he delivered on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Many of the presentations can be found on the conference Slideshare page.


Day 2

In the first plenary, Karen O’Brien of the University of Oslo recognized the need for adaptation, while acknowledging that there are some risks under higher warming that we can’t manage. She also pointed out that addressing climate change is not only a technical problem, but forces us to ask what risks we can accept or tolerate, which is a question of beliefs and values. Paul Leadley of the Université de Paris-Sud argued that our common future should recognize the value of the many species with whom we shared the planet, whose options under climate change are limited to “move, adapt, or die.”

At midday, many participants skipped their lunch in order to hear Damian Carrington, Head of Environment at The Guardian newspaper, describe the paper’s #keepitintheground campaign to divest financial support from fossil fuel companies. He called it a campaign "rooted in the reality that there’s far more carbon locked in the ground than we can safely burn". This was followed by a panel discussion with New York Times journalist Andrew Revkin and Dagmar Dehmer of German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel on the rights and wrongs of journalism as advocacy. A lively Q&A session with the audience followed that discussed the roles and responsibilities of both journalists and scientists when communicating about climate change.

Day 3

We look forward to seeing all conference attendees at the poster session and social event tonight at UPMC (metro stop Juisseu) from 19.00 – 22.30 h. All authors who presented a poster at the conference are invited to bring it with you and put it up for display on the board marked with your poster ID number during the event

The conference turned towards a focus on responding to the challenges of climate change. Many speakers highlighted the urgency of reducing emissions to lessen the risks of climate change, and many in many cases pointed out win-win solutions to do so. In daringly PowerPoint-free reflections, Saleemul Huq noted that adaptation is not just dealing with risks, but taking opportunities to be better off and make transformational change. He also cautioned that it’s very doubtful that adaptation can be a solution is sufficient in a +3 or +4° world, sharpening the need for mitigation.

Several speakers highlighted the need to articulate an attractive vision of a low-carbon future. Ken Caldeira encouraged attendees to imagine the world we’d like to create, with healthy, happy, prosperous people. In a parallel session, moderator Jeffrey Hardy echoed this need, saying, “I want to see the aspirational sense of wanting to live in a low-carbon future. If you love technology, it’s smart and data-heavy; if you love your community, it’s a better place to live. There’s clean air for everyone. Don’t we want to live there anyway, even if climate change didn’t exist?”

In the plenary, Fatih Birol noted that not only visions, but specific targets will be critical to send the signal for emitters like the energy sector to meet ambitious goals, including an emissions peak in 2020. In Thursday’s press briefing, Diana Ürge-Vorsatz shared an example of ambitious goals spurring change much faster than expected: “When we wrote about zero-energy buildings less than a decade ago, most researchers didn’t think it was possible. Today it’s in European law. The law came out before the scientific community was convinced it was feasible. The regulations pushed the industry to innovate, and it’s having a very significant impact. Really, a miracle happened.”


Day 4

We have a last day of the conference to report from. In Friday’s morning plenary, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research sounded a clarion call that “the age of carbon is over.” He warned that "it is a very bad idea to go beyond two degrees” and suggested: “Let's take this as the reference line, what are we going to do about it?” He said that if there is any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, an "induced implosion of the carbon economy” is needed, adding that the responsibility for financing the transition cannot lie with the poor: "it is not the poor who will pay for this transition, that is ludicrous.” He said that if we are willing to invest in a long-term future for our children in the form of their education, we should also invest in the climate those children will live in.

In the closing plenary, Scientific Committee Chair Chris Field summed up the conference:  

“We are moving to a post-carbon era, where climate change mitigation and adaptation are combined with other goals to build a sustainable future,” noting the deep commitment of scientists to be part of the solution. He also presented the conference Outcome Statement, which emphasized that, for a two in three probability holding warming to 2°C or less, we have a remaining carbon budget of about 20 years’ worth of current emissions. To achieve a stable climate, emissions eventually must go to zero. Conference attendees are invited to make use of the statement in their communications.

Field also emphasized that science has an essential role in highlighting connections between objective observations of the Earth’s state and the human questions raised by climate change: “how we think about the interests of the poor versus the rich, the future versus the present, and nature versus economies.”