Life as an ICCCAD researcher can be many things but dull. On a Friday morning, you could impulsively open a work email notification while casually scrolling your phone, and end up volunteering to support Dr. Huq in his role as civil society working group member on innovative finance. Next thing you know (after a couple of months), you are presented the opportunity to apply for a fully funded attendance as a civil society representative at the Summit for the New Global Financing Pact in Paris.
I had mainly volunteered for the task, to delve further into innovative financing, given my interest in it, and contribute to the working group discussions. Opportunities like this are not uncommon at ICCCAD as we are encouraged with ample opportunities to foster our expertise. I try to volunteer for them as I tend to study more dedicatedly only when assigned to it.
My eventual interactions with the working group members revealed to me that the task was related to the aforementioned Summit hosted by the French President Macron, with provisions for funding physical attendance. With Dr. Huq’s encouragement, I successfully applied for the funded attendance and thrilled to at the chance for getting to not only support him in his role, but make individual contribution to the summit.
After handling last-minute visa and accommodation challenges, I arrived at Paris on 20th June, my excitement coupled with a sense of disillusionment towards the summit, with its overall organization feeling disarrayed at that point, and many details concerning our schedules remaining uncertain. Also disheartening was the organizers’ disinterest in allowing an official side event on international air solidarity levy was also disheartening.
My first day at Paris commenced on June 21st with a distinguished event hosted by Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, centered around the launch of the 2023 SDG Report. It featured Dr. Huq as a panelist along with prominent speakers like Barbados and Congo ministers, Mayor Hidalgo, and Prof. Jeffrey Sachs (who I seized the chance to chat with to express my admiration towards his inspiring work in economics). The event enlightened me with insightful discussions on SDG index; and introduced me for the first time through the City Hall, to not only the city’s grandeur and architecture, but also the well-known stifling absence of air conditioning.
The event was followed by a reception for the Civil Society summit guests on a docked boat along the Seine riverbank in Trocadéro, renowned for the finest view of the Eiffel Tower. Indeed, my first sight of the magnificent structure from an exceptional vantage point, delivered on expectations. With the Eiffel Tower gracing the backdrop across the river, I connected with fellow civil society members worldwide, and from Bangladesh. The day ended with a delightful dinner with colleagues at a lovely brassiere, with me finally tasting French fries in its (arguably) country of origin.
My second morning in Paris did not begin as planned, with grey skies and prolonged drizzle thwarting plans of a morning city stroll. However, things quickly uplifted with a sudden plan to join Dr. Huq at a studio for a documentary filming featuring him. The studio was nestled at an alleyway resembling a fairytale and hosted a number of other establishments – library, masonry and a flower shop whose florist warmly conversed with me, with her grumpy puppy glaring on.
My primary engagements for the summit began next – two official side events featuring Dr. Huq as speaker and an affiliated event. One of the side events was hosted jointly by CARE, Climate Action Network (CAN) and Oxfam; the other by BRAC and ICCCAD. The former, held at Palais Brongniart, delved into climate finance for equity and making polluters pay. The latter, hosted at UNESCO headquarters, focused on climate vulnerability lessons from Bangladesh.
Key discussions at the side events focused on revenue streams for climate finance (e.g., levies and taxes) and importance of translating global promises into actions respectively. The first event featured Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission endorsing the maritime levy with a global scope, while the second event showcased Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Hon. MP, Special Envoy to the Hon. Prime Minister of Bangladesh, emphasizing on engaging women and youth in climate action.
The final event on our agenda was organized by French youth climate activists at the Académie du Climat, former city hall currently the hub for youth associations committed to climate action. While I was invited to speak about how communities address loss and damage in Bangladesh, Dr. Huq delivered an inspiring speech on the role of fair and inclusive global cooperation to tackle loss and damage. The open-air event proved to be the liveliest of the day with active panel discussions with spirited cultural performances in between to captivate the audiences. Although I had to miss the simultaneous summit-affiliated concert to attend the youth event, I came out of it with no regrets.
The day was action-packed even beyond the summit events – a mini-food tour of four French bakeries (when in France, devour croissants!); exploring the historic Palais Brongniart (built in the early 19th century as the Paris stock exchange on Napolean’s commands); getting lost navigating the periphery of the UNESCO building, trying to locate its main gates; clumsy encounters even on flat surface; misplacing my metro card; an unplanned detour between metro stations leading serendipitously to my first night-time view of the illuminated Eiffel Tower twinkling across the Seine. Dare I forget the sunset stroll along the riverbank, with a French documentary filmmaker as our tour guide and treating us to a wholesome Italian dinner at a French bistro!
The subsequent day involved a high-level closing ceremony exclusively featuring global leaders from 35 countries. The summit outcomes, while not unexpected, were somewhat anticlimactic. Instead of major announcements, it manifested in a two-year roadmap aligned with President Macron’s international financial reform suggestions. Nevertheless, the summit discourse highlighted crucial issues like financial reforms and the Bridgetown initiative, with key global leaders getting to connect.
With the summit over, I was finally allowed to explore the hyped tourist sights, starting with a visit to the iconic Versailles, its palace grounds as grand and massive as expected; followed by a quick tour of the lovely Grande Mosquée de Paris – a piece of Morrocco in Paris, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe; having briefly visited the Basilica of Sacré Coeur beforehand. Unfortunately, the summit’s uncertain schedule prevented me from advance ticket booking and a resultant entrance to the Versailles Palace and Louvre Museum. However, climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for a panoramic city view, including that of Eiffel tower was exhilarating!
Personally, instead of trips to the tourist spots, my favorite moments of the France trip were chancing upon charming alleyways, lovely florist markets, tiny bistros or the Bouquiniestes – riverside secondhand book-market and treasure trove for lovers of literature, art and history.
Paris’s kindness far exceeded my expectations, proving to be welcoming and pleasant to me despite my initial concerns about scams, pickpocketing, and potential racism. As an amateur still learning the ropes of my field, the summit experience was exceptionally enriching, while my adventurous soul was rejuvenated by exploring the city and its corners.
About the Authors:
Towrin Zaman is working as a research associate at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD).