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COP21: The First Week of Climate Conference (12/3)     Print Email

By Walter Nicklin in Paris

A few days into the much anticipated 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,  the mood here in Paris seems more optimistic than not.  That’s at least partly due to having defined “success” downward, as the parties long ago recognized: (1) that a formally binding treaty (especially given domestic U.S. politics) would be all but impossible; (2) that strictly limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celius above preindustrial levels, a goal originally proposed by the European Union two decades ago, should not be the conference’s top-down organizing principle.

Rather, the fact that most of the UN members had already announced climate plans prior the conference’s opening – the bottom-up approach -- was in itself the most important seed for optimism. And the fact that 150 heads of government or state came to le Bourget to open the conference just north of Paris demonstrated that – finally – all nation-states agree on a least one thing: global warming is a serious, potentially catastrophic, problem that requires their immediate, albeit belated, attention.  In the wake of the Friday the 13th terror attacks in Paris, the conference’s location conferred an especially poignant sense of global solidarity.  

For security concerns, the planned street marches in Paris were canceled.  In their stead, environmental activists created a human chain along the route, and lined the Place de la République with empty shoes to represent those who would have marched “to save the climate.”

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Reportedly, the Vatican even sent a pair of shoes to represent Pope Francis.

In the same spirit, business leaders came to Paris both to show their recognition of the climate problem and to offer concrete proposals.  Microsoft founder Bill Gates and 27 other wealthy investors from around the world pledged to provide working capital for a “Breakthrough Energy Coalition” to develop clean energy technologies, especially in the developing world.  Similarly, representatives from cities (and states like California) pledged to work together to reduce carbon emissions even if their national governments didn’t. 

On the national level, nine European countries -- Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom -- plus Canada and the United States – announced $248 million in new funding for a “Least Developed Countries Fund” (LDCF) to provide support to the poorest countries in adapting to the impacts of climate change. 

After the heads of government or state departed, negotiators got down to the hard work of finalizing concrete options for the climate framework, including if and how rich countries should somehow pay climate “reparations” to poor countries.  Even the question of how exactly emissions will be monitored – transparency and verification – was on the table.  The conference’s host, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, signaled the hope that these contentious issues be resolved by the weekend.  Only then will the conference’s initial optimism possibly be justified.

Walter Nicklin is Publisher of the Rappahonock News reporting for European Affairs from Paris