Why Paris can succeed where Copenhagen failed - Embassy
’There is no Planet B’ : French envoy optimistic about prospects for a crucial, global agreement on climate change this December.
Published : Wednesday, 09/02/2015 12:00 am EDT
Everybody wants an agreement in Paris.
Nicolas Chapuis, France’s ambassador to Canada, is among a French diplomatic corps that is working single-mindedly, across the globe, towards helping to make that happen.
“Nobody wants to repeat what happened in Copenhagen, when collectively we failed to reach an agreement,” the ambassador said.
Indeed, the Copenhagen Accord on climate change that was signed six years ago was not universal. It was not legally binding, and it fell far short of the goals negotiators had hoped for.
Embassy spoke to Mr. Chapuis Aug. 31, three months before the highly-anticipated UN Climate Change Conference is set to begin in Paris.
The conference, which will run Nov. 30 until Dec. 11, has as its goal the creation of a universal, legally-binding agreement that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and cap global warming at two degrees Celsius.
It’s an ambitious step in a transition towards clean, renewable energy and the full phasing out of fossil fuels by 2100, as agreed upon by leaders including Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and French president François Hollande at the June G7 meeting.
This week, negotiators are meeting in Bonn for a second round of negotiations (the first was in June). There will be a third in October before the official talks begin, Mr. Chapuis said.
There will also be an informal ministerial meeting Sept. 5-6 in Paris. Because Canada is in the throes of a federal election campaign, Canada’s chief climate negotiator from Environment Canada will be in attendance, according to Mr. Chapuis.
A financial meeting is going ahead in Lima, Peru to determine how the objective of $100 billion in funding every year from 2020 to 2030 can be reached.
Economy, climate change linked
Why should anyone believe that negotiators from 196 countries can reach a unanimous agreement in Paris this December ?
There are a few reasons for optimism, according to Mr. Chapuis. He said Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, told 169 French ambassadors at a meeting last week that he is cautiously optimistic, too.
First, the world’s largest emitters are on board with the goals for Paris. “We think that globally, people all across the world, in all of the countries, really understand now that we are committed to address the issues of adaptation and mitigation,” Mr. Chapuis said.
He noted a joint agreement from China and the US on emissions reduction last November and a contribution from China to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change that was “much more than anyone had thought that China would commit.” He also referred to the US’s new clean energy policies recently announced by president Barack Obama.
“That was also very interesting, in order to see how internally the US is taking measures corresponding to its contribution to the UN,” he said. Mr. Chapuis couldn’t comment on Canadian policies because of the federal election campaign.
The second change that Mr. Chapuis identifies in the global conversation is that “everybody now thinks that climate change and economic growth work hand in hand.”
Renewable energy prices have dramatically decreased, showing people there is a comparative advantage to investing in technologies such as solar power—India, for example, has made major commitments there—and wind, hydro and geothermal energy.
A third change for Mr. Chapuis is “the perception by companies, including energy companies, that there should be a price on carbon. And in fact, they want it.”
That could take the form of a carbon tax or a common emissions market such as what the European Union has opted for. “Carbon has a price, and that price has to be made available to all economic actors so they can make the choices, the strategic choices with that price in mind.”
There has also been an attitude shift by civil society. Whereas in the past, the kinds of actors who protested against government inaction on the climate file were NGOs sometimes labelled “environmental militants,” civil society at large has now embarked on the issue.
That includes cities and regional, provincial and state governments. The Paris conference includes a day for civil society organizations and municipal and territorial governments to have their voices heard, Mr. Chapuis said.
“We are at a critical moment in the planet’s history, because we are witnessing a rate of urbanization that we never had before, making it critical to have the right decisions and infrastructures so that we do not have to pay a fossil fuel debt or carbon debt in the next 50 years,” he said.
Finally, a huge change has been the public perception of the threat of climate change.
“These last two years, 2014 and the first seven months of 2015, have been the hottest years ever recorded,” he said, noting an increase in severe weather events : droughts, forest fires, cyclones, typhoons.
“What is coming up in the public opinion is, ‘Do something ! We cannot continue like that.’ What is at stake is the lives of people. We are not talking about a virtual reality. The fact that we are witnessing, in real time, the effects of climate change—with temperatures we have not seen since we began to record them, since 1880—pushes governments to act.
“Because the cost of inaction is so high that you need to anticipate mitigation. You have to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
Paris a ’turning point’
Mr. Chapuis said that France is using its presidency of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to accomplish three major tasks on the road to Paris.
The first thing is to listen to all members of the convention and hear “everyone’s interest, especially the developing world’s interest, which is speaking very loud on the link between climate change and poverty,” he said. “We need also to listen to very small states, especially the islands, which are more threatened.”
The second task is to make sure that the level of ambition in Paris corresponds to the objective. “There’s national interests, which are all legitimate, and there’s a general interest, to make sure the planet is livable,” he said. “We want Paris to be a turning point, so that there is a new beginning.”
There’s always a compromise, because unanimity is the rule, he said. But there also needs to be a mechanism so that countries can revise their level of ambition over time to reach the ultimate target. “This legally-binding agreement is not a treaty. We will leave to each country the way to translate into internal law the commitments that we will make in Paris,” he said.
France has already done so, passing laws about two weeks ago that govern the country’s energy transition and put into legal terms its commitment along with the EU to cut emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels.
“As president, we show the way. We show it is possible within the union to translate into law what we decided to submit to the UN board. And we hope that all the other parties to the conference will meet their obligations,” asserted Mr. Chapuis.
The third and arguably most crucial task is to secure financing to the tune of US$1 trillion over the decade from 2020-2030, money that will enable technological transfers and make it possible for all parties to the convention to set realistic goals.
“Without that financial package, there will be no agreement. That is clear,” he said. But money can buy opportunity, especially for the poorer parties to the convention.
“Who doesn’t want the money ? Who doesn’t want clean air ? Who doesn’t want their children to grow without a climate threat ? These, again, are not virtual issues. They are everyday issues, for all the world.
“Like Ban Ki-moon said, there’s no Planet B. So why veto the future of the planet ?”