Art COP-21, a photo story

What is the role of an Artist? What is her responsibility? His duty? To merely express herself? Or to provoke something from other people? Must his work be accessible? Or merely indulgent?

Radical Action Reaction – “We’ve grown this sapling for 5 years. It’s been displayed all over the world. And yes, the curtain is made of live grass.” But now, the show is over – curtain call.


Radical Action Reaction – The Tree Ceremony


The Bureau of Linguistic Reality – “If a word does not exist in our vocabulary, the concept does not really exist in our reality… So we set about creating new words. We run workshops that ask people to converse about some of the most complex phenomena that we find present in our current climate crisis. By making new words, we make our realities more real.”


Morbiqué – n. “the desire to be glamorous with something that is in the process of dying/ disappearing”


The Climats Artificiels exhibition at Foundation EDF – artists’ interpretations of solutions to our climate crisis. It appears to be a real-world ‘Wally’ situation…


Climats Artificiels – When the world gets to smoggy and polluted, immerse yourself in a lush green world. Anytime, anywhere.

Artists Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing are bringing attention to icebergs by bring icebergs to Paris. 12 icebergs (weighing 80 tonnes) were transported from Greenland to Paris, amassing a 30 tonne CO2 footprint along the way. The icebergs were arranged in the shape of a clock in front of the famous Paris Pantheon. We could literally hear the ice melting and the clock ticking…


#IceWatchParis (


When I met Danish artist Jens Galschiøt during COP-21, he had already been arrested 3 times for wearing a polar bear suit around Paris. Here he is seen promoting his newest sculpture, ‘UnBearable’, which displays a polar bear impaled on an oil pipeline in the shape of the graph of cumulative global fossil fuels emissions from year 0 to present. Jens believes that art should be public and political. He believes in artistic invasions of any medium, but his speciality is sculpture.


UnBearable, by Jens Galschiøt

Multiple Identities – which will we choose?


Each of us embodies multiple identities. I hold an American passport, feel like a ‘local’ in Swaziland and Singapore, attend a prestigious university, and care deeply about issues that concern the entire planet.

These identities can clash and compete, or can collaborate and build upon one another. We can use each one when it benefits the moment most, calling upon different shades of our characters to back up an argument or make a point.

At COP-21 I felt like I was constantly asking myself the question, which identity today? Which identity fits this moment the best? Am I Kei, the Yale-NUS student? Or Kei, the American? Or Kei, the artist? Or Kei, the activist? Or Kei, the politically correct? Or Kei, the “Global Citizen”? Or Kei, the peacekeeper? Or Kei, the status-quo-defender?

We are privileged to simultaneously embody identities that give us access to so many different worlds. We are welcome in elite cocktail parties – where hands brush business cards. We are welcome in our national communities – of Singapore and the United States – which hold immense power and brand us with high status on the global stage. We are also welcome in protests, where thousands of throats chant and thousands of feet march. There, we are welcome simply because we are people – citizens of a world that shares a climate crisis.

Throughout the week of COP-21, I found myself flitting between spaces – trying on different identities for size. One moment I was discussing the relative merits of climate words with linguistic artists, and the next, I was listening to a very discouraged member of the Swaziland contingent lament about the uselessness of his country’s very presence at the COP. One day I was holding a sign saying “COP21 = 3°C = Crime Against Humanity”, and the next I was receiving the business card of a Yale professor who believes that COP-21 is the most effective thing we could be doing right now.

Is it hypocritical to embody these various identities from one day to the next? Or is it acceptable (perhaps even normal) because we are young and just learning what is what?

At what point does one have to choose a side, an identity that she will carry more willingly, more consistently, more boldly than any other? At what point does ‘middle ground’ become ‘cowardly’ or ‘unhelpful’ or does it ever?

When it comes to our current planetary environmental crisis – we have many choices. We are, undoubtedly, all part of the problem. If, however, we want to be involved in the solution – we can situate ourselves at various levels of involvement.

We can be politicians, researchers, financial advisors, professors, activists, negotiators, artists, CEOs, campaigners… Each of these positions will surely limit our mobility and exclude us from being involved in others.

We are, each one of us, inherently possessors of multiple identities. We are part of our schools, of our communities, of our political and religious affiliations, of our nations, and of the world. We have immense privilege when it comes to making choices about which identity to wear at which time.

I only hope that we each wear our privilege and our multiple identities with humility and toward greater planetary good.

The New Role of Cities

“The commentary for a long time has been ‘nations talk and cities act.’ We’ve been part of that dialogue too. That’s changing now. National governments are coming to organizations like ours and saying ‘help us, we get it.’ Cities are a vehicle and everyone should be getting in that vehicle and joining in for the ride.”

– Seth Schultz, director of research at C-40 Cities

My biggest takeaway from the Paris Conference is understanding the new role of non-state actors in spearheading climate action. During my time as an Urban Studies major in Yale-NUS, I have researched on urban resilience and how cities are getting ‘smarter’. This trip really consolidated the dominant role of cities in climate action, and how urban resilience and smart city technology must be formulated in tandem with environmental targets and standards.

Mayors, state representatives, non-governmental leaders were well represented at this years COP, having arrived early in the week. This set the tone for the rest of the negotiations as a strong signal of intent, highlighting that cities and non-state actors are at the forefront of climate action and crucial to achieving our climate goals. During the conference, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Bill McKibben and representatives from, an international organization set up to convince world leaders to reduce carbon emissions. In his speech, McKibben mentioned that cities move with a ‘nimbleness and speed’, and are ‘big enough to make a difference’. This is crucially what makes cities so important in taking the lead to create effective climate action and setting environmental standards. Often times, cookie-cutter federal or state-wide environmental policies are too broad and imposing; they do not address the needs and intricacies of individual cities. Ground-up environmental initiatives need not wait on national governments or international agreements. Cities need to take initiative to act, and often, they have political freedom to enact effective, long-lasting change.

The Paris Agreements marked the first time the majority of countries voluntarily submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This groundswell of bottom-up activity shows how the nature of environmental action is changing to include more voices and bottom-up initiatives. Perhaps this is why the Paris Agreement fills us with hope and is widely considered a success – there was more buy-in this time, and the pressure from the failures of Copenhagen made this agreement virtually a must-happen.

In reaction to the newfound role of non-state actors, I began to reflect on the architecture of the United Nations. The UN is not a body which is truly representative of nations and their climate attitudes for it lacks representation of the many voices within national boundaries. This is why organizations such as ICLEI and C-40 are important, as they bring cities together to find interdisciplinary and participatory solutions to climate change through cooperation, sharing best practices and learning from each other. In order for the UN to effectively move forward, it needs to continue to work with these organizations and make efforts to capture the subnational movement into its indices.

This prominent and newfound role brings about increased expectations and scrutiny about how cities take the lead in climate action, and I look forward to how new policies will be implemented as a result of Paris 2015. I take special attention to this considering Singapore, my homeland, is uniquely both a nation and a city at the same time. Now that the agreement has been formalized, it is time to look beyond Paris and see how countries operationalize the standards they have set. The true test now begins, and I am looking forward to a status update during the Climate Action conference in Washington in May, 2016. What a time to be alive!

When arts meet climate change

Alongside the heated climate policy discussion happening at the COP21 climate conference in Paris, various ongoing art exhibitions, installations and workshops empower global artists to explicate their concern of climate change. Their unified message—climate talk should not be limited to politicians and scientists—makes clear the desire of civil society to address the climate issues. Paris has long been perceived as world’s integral cultural hub. It is the perfect place for me to witness the COP21 in conjunction with a myriad of art events.

Earth Guardians is a group of young environmental activists who performed in Solutions COP21 conference at the Grand Palais. People might not take them seriously because of their age, but they took the stage and offered the powerful message to condemn the fossil fuels industry. The audience were drawn to the outspokenness of their rap lyrics and inevitably started dancing to their groovy beats. The energy of the crowd spiked up at the end of their performance when the audience were chanting with the group in unison. And the organizer had to come on stage to end their speech. Their critical voices must be disconcerting to the participating energy companies in the same venue. Companies like engie paid up a big sum of money to have a booth here and attempted to present sustainable energy solutions. But they in fact are predominantly oil companies whose main motivation is making money. And that is what Earth Guardians are aware of. What they represent is a younger generation that demands disrupt revamp of the business model rather than minor transitional changes.

Another art exhibition Climats Artificiels (Artificial Climates) I visited explores the theme of human efforts reproducing natural phenomenon. A selection of nearly 30 installations, photographs and videos seeks to question the boundary between the nature and artificiality. These art pieces, without the appearance of human images, either depict the distorted natural scenes or amplify natural experiences.

Ange Leccia (c) La mer

The projection of Laurent Grasso’s short video ‘Double Sun’ displays an apocalyptic world where two suns coexist. This world is completely sterile and lifeless. While the Greek buildings and sculptures are scorching under two brutal suns, the hot air is vibrating. In the video, the static objects bear witness to the catastrophic effects of global warming. It packs an emotional punch to the visitors viewing in the dark room and allows us to envision the possible consequences of human action. Yet the central installation Cloudscapes , curated by artists Tetsuo Kondo and Transsolar, allows the visitors to walk through artificial clouds. People can climb up the staircase inside a large transparent container and put them through different layers of the clouds. The project is described as an unique experience to explore elusive properties of the clouds and provides an artistic recreation of the natural environment.


Up in the clouds

The art of climate change might be overt or subtle in delivering its message. But in both ways, it presents a creative approach for artists to communicate their ideas and inspire changes. Through my experience, I believe artistic representation is the most visual way for the public to realize the seriousness of climate change. These art projects always reflect the urging demands of the civil society that plays a big role in shaping COP21’s success. And my trip to Pairs gives me a taste of its bustling contemporary art scene and inspires me to use art for more creative use.




Why COP21 Makes Me Sad

Imagine a world turned upside-down, where whole countries are written off as acceptable losses. Leaders are unable to stand up for the rights of their peoples. Soldiers with guns patrol the streets of Paris.

You know what’s so sad about this picture? You don’t need to imagine it.

Almost no one expects COP21 to produce an agreement that’s ambitious, fair, or even sensible. Climate-linked violence is becoming more and more prevalent across the globe. Celebrities, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, pull in bigger audiences than experts or activists, even here in Paris. How on earth did this circus become our reality?


Photo Credit: Maria Ivanenko, Yale-NUS ’17

All over Paris – besides the soldiers – you’ll find businesses and politicians championing renewable energy as the solution to our climate problem. And they might be right – well, partially. The renewable energy technology we have available to us today is truly a marvel of human ingenuity. However, the way we’re actually using it reeks of human cruelty. The executive director of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Philip Bloomer, stated that the renewable energy industry was actually the second largest source of human rights violations. The first – of course – was fossil fuels. This isn’t because the technology of renewables is inherently unjust. Rather, it’s because governments are implementing it by unfairly appropriating land from the poor.


Schwarzenegger – who gave a talk at Science Po – is one of the individuals championing renewables. Unlike the others though, he also contends that an effective response to climate change means moving past divisions of “poor” and “rich”. That’s a great platitude – but not much else. These aren’t arbitrary divisions. As their titles suggest, the “poor” don’t have money; the “rich” do. And when we all need to move past fossil, it’s only sensible that the rich help the poor do so. At the very least, we ought to expect the leaders of the rich world to transition their own economies without repeating historical injustices or unjustly appropriating land or signing poor countries off as acceptable losses.

As the hundreds of young climate activists gathered at Le Bourget put it, “we need systems change, not climate change!” Paris might mark the beginning of a drastic reduction in worldwide GHG emissions. Renewables could completely transform our impact on the planet. Even so, things sure still look like business as usual.


Stop Lending Money to the Developing World?


From left to right: Peter Bakker, Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Ulrich Spiesshofer and Purna Saggurti

I had the privilege and opportunity to attend the International New York Times Energy for Tomorrow conference from the 8th – 9th December 2015 in Paris. This conference was filled with CEOs, politicians and think tanks that tackled climate change from political, business and economic angles. “Stop lending money to the developing world. Derisking opportunities so the private sector can invest”, said the chairman of the investment division of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. As a student studying economics and politics, my ears perked up when he made that statement. In that statement, he captured one of the most important barriers to climate financing in this age – risk. On one hand you can have government policies delineate the implementation and deployment of green energy projects but on the other, these will continue to remain fringe investments and risky assets in investment portfolios unless the main body – the private sector, catches up.

In some ways, this represents the state of climate change investments. It has yet to catch fire because investors are cautious and waiting for each other to move. This waiting translates to inaction. How do we derisk these investments? This is perhaps where the government should step in to formulate policies encouraging businesses to take the leap forward. One-way could be to create green bonds, a different grade of investment from debt capital that is safer yet stable. Another clear signal could be government’s strong action to stop fossil fuel subsidies, setting the right prerogative for businesses to follow. Business leaders have to work with government policy makers in setting the right direction for the future. It is only with price and regulation can there be a success in fighting climate change.

Initial Impressions of COP21 Events

If there’s a word to describe my first impressions of the events happening in and around COP21, it’s Energy. From presenting ambitious projects alongside other passionate youth at the Global University Climate Forum, to observing high-level panel discussions in observer rooms at the Blue Zone in Le Bourget, I’ve never seen so much energy and optimism anywhere else. This is my first participation in a high-level conference on a global scale, and this event is leaving its mark on me as one of my most valued experiences thus far.

I first began my time in Paris by participating in the Global University Climate Forum organized by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) where my team and I from I’dECO, the Yale-NUS Sustainability Movement presented our project the Singapore Sustainable Solutions Network – a network that we hope to create to bridge all environmentally-related organizations and institutions in Singapore to enhance and facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration.There were many other university students in the poster rooms who delivered their projects, ranging from creating an app to improve food waste management in dining halls to fossil fuel divestment projects. But they all echoed common characteristics of ambition and idealism. There’s great energy and motivation to either get things started, change things that don’t work, or build on current progress.

And that was precisely what I saw in my first three days at the official events here in the city. One of the highlights of the Development and Climate Days Conference I attended on 6 December was the promotion of insect-derived protein and food products as a solution to global food insecurity. This session saw an Argentinian food expert and a Senegalese chef on stage explaining the environmental benefits of shifting our diet to eating insects instead of beef.  I walked away at the end of the day having eaten my first locust and mealworm chocolates, but was also thinking to myself: these guys had so much energy and idealism in attempting to generate behavioral change! While some held back at the idea, others rushed for macarons with crickets that were going around tables, and a minority didn’t seem concerned. While everyone in the room came from diverse backgrounds and had varied opinions, we all nonetheless had convergence around the issues that truly matter to us – these stood out really strongly when we were discussing the methods to implement women empowerment programs in Uganda or in addressing water inadequacies in Bangladesh.


I walked away with three bags of insect-derived products from the D&C days conference (after having to answer quiz questions on the environmental implications of eating beef at the table)!

Yet at my very first COP at Le Bourget I felt slightly overwhelmed with the sheer number of events, meetings and exhibits to get involved in. The scale of the event was immense, with both areas of the Climate Generations and the Blue Zone. I’ve only just begun to get a sense of the proceedings, fortunately with the help of daily RINGO meetings, newsletters and other friends around. As one of the youngest people roaming around the observer rooms and plenary halls obtaining occasional glances from those older, I am humbled by this opportunity for me to be able to observe discussions and to truly appreciate the incredible amount of hopefully impactful work that goes on between our lawmakers, politicians and members of the civil society. The final outcome of the negotiations remains to be seen, but I am nonetheless hopeful that this year’s negotiations will be the largest step we have taken for our climate and ourselves.
PS: I hope to discuss more about my areas of interest in climate justice, cities and development in my next post.

What can finance do to mitigate climate change?

The finance sector is incredibly important in financing a shift in energy technologies. There could be cutting-edge investments in renewable energies. These energies, with increased R&D over the past twenty years, have recently experienced a huge drop in price and a large increase in reliability. Because of this, they are proving to likely be good investments. For example, I attended a talk in which one of the panelist was Huang Ming, the founder of Himin Solar. He described how his company has experienced rapid growth, especially in a Chinese market. He has begun to develop “solar everything” – his company develops not just traditional panels, but also some oddities like solar hats, solar toys, and solar fans. Thus, with the right management and business strategies, renewable companies can prove to be extremely good investments. With increased investments, these companies could also expand and help facilitate a worldwide shift towards renewables. This will be particularly important as fossil fuels become more and more dangerous to exploit.

But why would the finance sector even care?

Very simply, the investments can pay off. Furthermore, by divesting in dirty energy, they are minimizing their risk. The onset of climate change impacts three types of risk – physical, with the increase in extreme weather, transition, as policies can make the market uncertain and riskier, and legal liabilities, as claims are increasing and investment companies may be secretly implicit. Finally, investing in renewables can better a company’s corporate image. A renewables portfolio could certainly help develop a company’s CSR, as well as help the world transition.

However, the renewables industry must also accomplish a few goals before the financial industry can completely shift to include them. Policies must be clear, and motivations must be stated clearly in order to decrease the risk from uncertainty. There needs to be disclosure by the companies of long and medium term growth strategies. There also needs to be increased revenue, as burn rates, barriers to market entry, and lack of deployments have cause a lack of revenues. Finally, there needs to be a standardization of policies, in order to better enforce disclosure of critical information.

Of course, this is all much, much easier said than done. However, I hope the financial industry helps in making the renewable energy sector more profitable through increased investment, and the renewable energy sector will then become more financially stable and sustainable.


Maria Ivanenko