Caroline Engle describes the UN climate conference’s “blue zone”—the formal negotiating space where countries are hammering out an international climate deal—as “kind of a dark, sad place to be.”

Engle should know. She’s come to Paris from Kentucky with the Sierra Student Coalition and has a badge to enter the zone and observe as much of the action as she can—which isn’t much. Most of the negotiations are closed, and there’s more security than she remembers there being at last year’s summit in Lima, Peru.

In contrast, there is the “green zone,” or the Climate Generations area. According to Pittsburgher Angela Wiley, another member of the Sierra Student Coalition, that space is colorful, festive and buzzing with hope.

“There’s also a lot of bikes—stationary bikes—where you can make a smoothie, charge your phone,” Wiley says. “You can race each other to see who can produce more energy.”

LISTEN: “Angela Wiley on the climate talks in Paris”

Wiley says a diverse mix of civil society, including environmental organizations, teachers, mayors, and even the negotiators themselves, converge in the green zone to talk about their priorities for stemming climate change and reducing its impacts.

“It really is a conference within a conference,” she says. “And this kind of space has always existed. But given the nature and importance of this particular year, I think they definitely stepped it up a little bit.”

Wiley and Engle say they’re using the conversations they’re having with others they meet in the green zone to put pressure on U.S. negotiators to be more ambitious about their goals as they move toward a climate agreement.

One issue the Sierra Student Coalition is paying close attention to is the limit for global temperature rise. Many climatologists agree that allowing the earth’s temperature to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above its average temperature before the Industrial Revolution would cause catastrophic damage—like flooding and drought. Wiley and her group have another number in mind.

“We’re hoping for a long-term goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Wiley says. And she and other members of civil society would like to see that goal enacted by 2050—not the end of the century.

Wiley and Engle say they’re also looking at the draft texts coming out of the negotiations for issues such as human rights and “loss and damage” from the effects of climate change .

“I like to describe loss and damage as the third pillar,” Engle says. “So there’s mitigation, adaptation, and then once adaptation isn’t enough, then there’s the loss and damages that you have to deal with whenever there’s either slow onset events, such as sea level rise, or sudden events, such as hurricanes.”

Wiley says whatever agreement is made in Paris among negotiators and world leaders, she and others there in the green zone have accomplished something.

“While we rarely see our ideals reflected in the text, I think that this international negotiating space is a critical way for people who care about climate and care about social justice issues to collaborate and learn from one another,” Wiley says. “Because even if the solutions to climate change are not going to come from this convention, solutions are going to come from the people who spring up around it.”

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Angela Wiley has been podcasting from Paris. You can check out her reports from the climate summit here. Or follow the Sierra Student Coaltion’s updates here