Reflections on COP21 Day 0 & 1

Yes, day zero. Turns out that the COP21 organizers decided to have their opening press conference the day BEFORE the main conference was scheduled to begin, so frankly, the opening “day” was basically a fuzzy ramp-up over several days of gradual meetings, meals, and press events. This “first” event was aptly called, “Opening Story” and while I’m always eager to hear a good story, I don’t know that it did justice to the magnitude of the challenge we’re facing. Before I dig into the story elements, however, I’m delighted to report some of the fun (and uplifting) facts that differentiate this process/event from the poorly performing Kyoto protocol, as reported at this Opening Story event:

  1. 183 nations have presented an INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution — individualized climate-related goals put forward by each nation) prior to this event.
  2. The INDC’s cover 95% of global emissions, much higher than the 15% covered by the Kyoto protocol.
  3. The INDC’s curb emissions from a “business as usual” 5-6°C above pre-industrial levels, to roughly 2.7°C above pre-industrial levels.

These bits of relatively good news are accompanied by a global climate movement much, much larger and more visible than what existed back in the 90’s during the Kyoto process, and even significantly larger than the movement that existed during the failed 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen. And I’m currently (at least when I wrote the first part of this) sitting here at COP21 in France watching world leaders gather and pronounce their commitment to meaningful climate action in sequence across two separate rooms. That level of leadership didn’t show up until the END of the COP15, and seems to indicate that world leaders are now really owning the process and their role in it. Indeed, during the opening remarks of all world leaders in attendance, President Obama took the 2-3 minute standard allowance and stretched it to 13 minutes with soaring language and easily quotable sound bites that could easily touch the heart of any environmentalist (with countless “ding ding ding–you’re over time” bells ringing the whole time!). Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 11.09.07 PM

There is definitely plenty to celebrate, but the “Opening Story” has a few sentences that I feel are worthy of careful dissection. I can’t say that they’re factually incorrect,  but I do feel that the average reader might think that the climate problem is already solved before the conference even begins, when we all know that’s just not true. The proof will emerge in the COP21 pudding in two weeks. In the meantime, a quick analysis of a couple sentences points to some of the “verbal gymnastics” that I’m expecting to see at the conclusion of the event:

  1. The “Story” states that nations “have already delivered an almost universal set of national responses to meet the long-term climate challenge before the conference even begins.” Considering that the aforementioned responses take us to 2.7°C or higher, which leads to catastrophe, the only good news about this is that it was nearly “universal,” which is true. A more honest version might update the sentence to read, “…set of national responses to begin to address the long-term climate challenge…”
  2. Another sentence I find overly optimistic applauds the global corporate and government leaders who “…have announced their commitment to the essential economic and social transformation to low-carbon, sustainable growth and development.” I see what they mean, but my version of reality sees that corporate and government leaders have used some beautiful language to stand in the place of the meaningful financial momentum required to decarbonize our global economy. Conversations about billions of dollars need to shift towards trillions (the World Bank estimates $89 trillion over 15 years). Furthermore, they’ve delayed that action long enough that incremental solutions will no longer suffice.

I could go on and on, but this early encounter with the obviously sophisticated COP21 wordsmiths at the United Nations has gotten my attention. I also spent a little time Googling some of the phrases in the text and found they were copied and pasted into a couple dozen websites around the world. Word for word. Check it out here. We’re going to have to watch these people closely so that their smooth talk doesn’t lull us into complacency. There’s too much on the line.

(P.S. I’ll write many more blog entries over the course of the COP21, but if you want to follow my up-to-the-second tweets, pics, and chit-chat commentary about this climate summit, please check out my Facebook pages, Twitter feed, and Flipboard “Mark’s Climate Magazine” full of cool climate articles below.)




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