Over the next two weeks, some 40,000 people — including government officials, civil servants, industry representatives, and environmental activists — will descend on Paris, as the city plays host to the UN's 21st climate conference.
Negotiators from more than 190 countries will spend the next fortnight holed up in a huge conference center in Le Bourget, north of Paris, trying to reach a global agreement on how to best tackle climate change and keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
As heads of state and government delegates launched the summit this morning, VICE News toured the facility where the world's leaders will work to iron out what could prove to be a historic climate initiative.
Dozens of clean-burning buses line up outside La Bourget commuter train station in northern Paris ready to shuttle visitors to the conference center hosting the UN climate talks. After a short ride, passengers are let off in a "forest of flags" — tall white cylinders adorned with the flags of participating countries.
Security has been heightened ahead of the conference, which will take place amid the ongoing state of emergency declared in the wake of the November 13 terror attacks that killed 130 in the French capital. Diplomats, members of national negotiating teams, and the watchdog groups attending the conference are actively discouraged by conference organizers from trying to reach the site by car, and many major roads in and around Paris have been closed — including the Paris ring road.
Police officers patrol the streets on motorcycles, officers are stationed on each block, and helicopters circle the area surrounding the conference site.
Over the weekend, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that 24 environmental activists had been placed under house arrest ahead of the talks. The activists, he said, had expressed "the desire to flaunt the principles of the state of emergency."
Other activists have been prevented from traveling to France and the government has also introduced measures limiting — and in some cases, banning —large public gatherings, including a massive climate march that was scheduled for this past weekend.
Visitors to the conference center must submit to tight security checks and pass through metal detectors.
They then travel along the conference center's main artery — the Champs Élysées, named after Paris's most famous thoroughfare. Scattered throughout this hub of the climate talks are 32 negotiations rooms, a press center that can accommodate 3,000 journalists, and offices for organizers and delegates.
On either side of the avenue are huge warehouses, each dedicated to a specific function. The negotiations center resembles a small town, and boasts a bakery, a bank, and its very own miniature Eiffel tower.
A post office, six restaurants, a prayer room, 45 water fountains, a magazine and newspaper kiosk, a lost and found, an infirmary, and even an office supplies store are just some of the services guests will find at the conference site.
To the left of the Champs Élysées, two more warehouses house the stands, pavilions, and offices of the various delegations attending the summit. India boasts a high tech stand featuring an impressive water feature, while the German corner features a bar. Indonesia's stand is covered with flowers. Next to the stands and pavilions are private rooms where negotiators from each country can work, or take a break.
The globe depicts ocean acidification levels around the world. (Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)
The various stands and pavilions also serve as a showcase for companies and businesses. The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf — which includes countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait — is showing off several "sustainable" companies, including petrochemicals manufacturer Sabic, a public company based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. "We want to show that we, too, are helping reduce CO2 emissions thanks to our technology," said Aline Stanworth, director of communications for Sabic, which has recently developed "green" milk packaging.
Civil society representatives — or "observers" in UN jargon — are housed in yet another warehouse, across from the stands and pavilions. Among them are the Climate Alliance, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Brahama Kumaris, a spiritual movement advocating for sustainable "yogic agriculture."
The site is a maze of conference rooms and offices, which will accommodate several hundred talks over the next two weeks. But most of the talking will take place behind closed doors, away from reporters and the public, in the many VIP suites and meeting rooms reserved for negotiators.
Follow Lucie Aubourg on Twitter: @LucieAbrg
Photos by Etienne Rouillon: @rouillonetienne