The vast conference complex that is hosting the Paris climate summit opened its doors to the general public this morning, just one day after world leaders launched the talks with a round of rallying statements and promises to combat global warming.
The inauguration of the Climate Generations areas was due to take place three days after the world's largest climate march, which was canceled by French authorities in the wake of the November 13 terror attacks that killed 130 in and around the French capital.
According to organizers, 360 French and international civil society organizations will help bring the conference center to life during the two-week summit, which is expected to attract 40,000 visitors.
Olivia Teter and her daughter Jacqueline Puliati, 20, had traveled all the way from San Francisco to take part in Sunday's big climate march, and to add their voice "to those who are putting pressure on world leaders." But like scores of others, Teter and Puliati were turned away from Place de la République by police blocking access to the square. "I was very disappointed, it wasn't the right answer," Teter, a climate activist based in Silicon Valley, said.
Any hopes that Teter and her daughter may have had of joining protests near the conference center have also been dashed, with Paris police authorities announcing Tuesday that protests around the Le Bourget site would be banned until December 13 — two days after the end of the talks.
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Speaking at the official inauguration of the Climate Generations area this morning, French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal told a crowd of environmental activists, policy makers ,and visitors that the space was "theirs."
"We wanted these areas to be close to the negotiations center, in order to encourage exchanges," said Royal. "I hope [these exchanges] can influence the course of negotiations."
Nicolas Hulot, a former French reporter and president François Hollande's Special Envoy for the Protection of the Planet, was also present at the launch. "It is civil society that makes sure they [policy makers] are looking in the right direction," he said.
The Climate Generations area includes 100 stands showcasing various public and private climate initiatives. Visitors can also catch one of the 70 films that will be projected during the two-week conference, in collaboration with the FIFE International Environmental Film Festival.
There are several photography shows to choose from, including one exhibition curated by educational charity An Eye for An Eye, which promotes photographic exchanges between French children and children from other countries. Describing the images of polluted rivers and burning trash heaps, education coordinator Claire Mazard said the group had tried to steer clear of "abstract" representations of climate change, and that children had been encouraged to capture the reality their daily lives.
According to Isabelle Jean, head of mobilization, volunteer networks and fundraising events for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), many of those strolling through the center this morning are "aware and informed" of the issues and stakes relating to climate change. "Only one third of the people who have visited our stand are not directly involved in the summit," she said.
Around noon, president Hollande made an appearance in the Climate Generations area, followed by a horde of journalists.
The president lingered a moment at the Atelier 21 stand, which was showcasing several initiatives, including the bicycle-powered "Solar" sound system. Camille Boble, of Atelier 21, said the interactive stand had proved popular with visitors. "The great thing about being here is you such high visibility," she said.
As climate activists and sustainability advocates continue to network and show off their projects and initiatives over the next two weeks, the world's climate negotiators will iron out the details of a universal agreement to tackle climate change and keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), just steps away.
With both areas completely sealed off from one another, it is not immediately obvious how visitors will be able to influence those who will set out the planet's climate agenda for the next 85 years.
In one corner of the Climate Generations area stands a wishing tree. Visitors are encouraged to write down on slips of paper what they fear losing to climate change, and tie the ribbons to the branches of the tree. For many visitors — including Teter and her daughter — adding their voice to the wishing tree may be the closest they will get to "putting pressure" on the world's leaders.
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