Last official day of COP21: What’s Up?

I waited around near the document center for a few hours yesterday, hoping for the latest draft of the COP21 agreement… IMG_0726It didn’t arrive until early this morning via e-mail, however, so with sleepy eyes, still in bed, I flipped though the latest version of the agreement and discovered that the differences were becoming more fine grained than I could easily decipher. What I could see, however, was that 1.5C was still in the running and suddenly the whole day seemed to orbit around the prospect of 1.5C: What does it mean, and can we ever achieve it if it becomes embedded into the agreement? A quick conversation with Kevin Anderson (Deputy Director of the Tindall Climate Research Center at Manchester University) pointed to something in the range of “no” (albeit with a couple caveats) as the answer to the “can we do it” question. Bummer. And what does it mean? Massive and quick decarbonization if we want to get even close to that (i.e. 2C).  The rest of the interview was fascinating and I’ll share it with you all soon!

Kevin Anderson at COP21


Kevin Anderson getting mobbed by journalists asking about 1.5°C

The rest of today was been filled with a visit to a panel discussion on African Youth and Climate Change, and a couple other panel discussions on the latest status of COP21. At the Africa event I was able to interview a bright young woman from Egypt who equated a 2C target with suicide. No hesitation in her part. She is definitely working full tilt for 1.5 or less.IMG_0767

Another panel discussion, held by the Climate Action Network, highlighted some additional nuance about where things stand with the agreement process. Some vital tidbits:

  • The US, Canada, Japan, and NZ (maybe more) were resistant to strong climate finance terms.
  • Saudi Arabia, China, and India are trying to  make the agreement less strong. The Saudis resisted flexibility for developing nations. China proposed more “wooly language.” India worked to weaken the legal rigor of the review/ratchet mechanism.
  • Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Russia attacked the 1.5C target. A panelist commented that they clearly fear the implications of a 1.5C target signaling the imminent phase-out of coal, oil, and gas.
  • There is general concern that if the first commitment review period is too far into the future. Sounds like we need a review by or before 2018 or we won’t have much of a shot at even 2C.
  • Maritime and aviation emissions are no longer in the text. These major sources of CO2 need to be at least references for future consideration.
  • France continues to receive high praise for their administration and coordination of the event. I heard the word “masterful” used today. Apparently France has been using its extensive diplomatic corps for months (if not years) to lay the relational foundations for this summit, and it seems to be paying off.

    The French “MegaBooth” at COP21
  • We’re starting to see language emerge around a “carbon market” that may help drive initiatives around a carbon tax, efficiency standards, or a plain old carbon market. Not sure yet.

It was nearly unimaginable a few weeks ago that 1.5°C would take as much prominence as it has in this COP. I still don’t think that we’re going to see a straight “below 1.5°C” commitment in the agreement, but we will likely see some very, very strong language around it.

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 12.33.25 AM
A teeny tiny protest for 1.5°C at the start of COP21.
An overflowing, security-blocked (to avoid crushing crowds) press conference TODAY to hear about 1.5°C.
A better view of that massive overflowing 1.5°C press conference. Unreal.

If that “pointer language” does a good enough job to materially change the conversation about climate mitigation around the world (but particularly at the business level) then I think that COP21 will have done the best that it can do. (Given how the prospect of a strong 1.5°C reference dramatically altered the questions and attention of the press, I think that is a very likely scenario.) The follow-up steps will be to strengthen all the current national commitments until 1.5°C is a measurable, credible reality.


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