Live From Paris
Earlier today I was in attendance at a closed negotiating session with delegates from twenty or so developing countries represented by the Coalition for Rainforest Nations at COP21 in Paris. The negotiation was over a single one-sentence clause in the agreement of the parties to the UNFCCC (so many acronyms here it’s dizzying), with draft language that would be presented to the French environment minister later in the day. The sentence under review was about how much funding or “results based payments” developed nations would commit annually to helping developing nations limit their carbon emissions and transition to sustainable economies. It’s one of the core sticking points of this leviathan conference. I was jet lagged and honestly having a hard time staying awake, although the discussion itself was very intense and interesting.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the meeting, as the ministers of several countries suggested revisions to the text, the moderator paused the session to say “By the way, colleagues, I’d like to introduce our guest, Baba Brinkman, who is a rap artist visiting us from New York. He writes rap songs about climate change, and has offered to turn his skills towards helping us get the word out about our current struggle to secure financing for protection of forests under the climate accord. In fifteen minutes he will rap a summary of the meeting, and we all look forward to that. Okay, what do we think about clause three, should it be ‘provide funding’ or ‘mobilize funding’?”

Suddenly feeling extremely wide awake, I started jotting down a rap. I knew I was brought here to rap about the conference, but didn’t know I was starting in this particular meeting. Fifteen minutes later, just as the next negotiating team was about to take over the meeting room (of which there are hundreds in the sprawling complex of pavilions that make up the conference), I performed my thirty second rap summary of the previous hour’s negotiations, to general applause and appreciation from the ministers and delegates. And tomorrow I’ll do it again.

Welcome to my entirely surreal new job. The concluding lines of the rap went “Let the public finance flow just a bit / And Richard Branson and his clan will step in to cover the rest of it” and I wasn’t being entirely flippant. Twice in the past two days I have been in a room to witness Sir Richard’s announcements and both were very similar: that he and his business colleagues stand ready to invest trillions of dollars in green innovation and renewable energy tech, and as an owner of three airlines he is calling for a global carbon tax, and for a binding agreement that puts a price on carbon and commits the world to 100% net renewable energy by 2050, and commits to limiting global warming to 1.5º C. And not only was this owner of three airlines sounding like Greenpeace, he was joined on stage by the executive director of Greenpeace while making the announcement.

I don’t know if that’s the deal we’ll get, but it’s definitely the deal the world deserves, and this kind of ambitious call isn’t just coming from eccentric billionaires. I’m hearing it everywhere I turn here in Paris. That said, the business of the conference still comes down to haggling over commas and square brackets, and that’s the process I’ll be following with my daily raps.

Here’s the first-ever rap song about the need to price carbon, if you haven’t heard it yet: