Thoughts on COP 21 – a firsthand account.

cop21-logo1After the mismanagement and crushing disappointment that was Copenhagen I arrived in Paris with expectations low for a deal which would achieve sustained progress on mitigating climate change.

The two days I spent there made me less negative driven by clear and strong desire by the EU, US and China to push through a deal, and indeed a deal which I am still trying to process the exact importance of was finally achieved. The outstanding and main issue revolved on how much would be spent and under what terms that spent would take place, to allow the clean energy infrastructure of the developing world to be constructed; and the main player in this debate was India. The combination of appalling levels of poverty, huge population and the desperate need for cheap energy to bring that population out of poverty; plus their huge coal reserves puts India as the loudest voice asking the developing world why is it that their population can’t enjoy the benefits that the developed world has gained from exploiting carbon. An acknowledgement has always been there by the developed world that there is a need for a huge transfer of capital but the commitments that have been announced are viewed with scepticism by the rest of the world. A well-deserved scepticism according to the private and public participates I meet with;  how much capital is really available from the range of organisations such as the Green Climate Fund, Asia Development Bank, Chinas rival development bank , OPIC, DIFID, IFC and the World Bank  and perhaps just as important under what terms is that capital being made available. If this capital will be invested with the expectation of a return how is that balancing the ledger between the developed and developing world, as the later will have to generate that return for the capital providers. As no economically rational player would invest for the same return in the developing world as can be achieved in the developed the argument then become very complex in defining how different portions of the capital would be viewed. The observation of the developing world on those future flows will be intense and with the other key monitoring area of the final agreement, emissions, forms the basis of where the discussions got to. No one was under any doubt that any agreement which had a binding nature containing penalties would not get passed by the US congress, and so the key policing mechanism of the agreement is a joint observational one with regular evaluation periods. This has arguably served us well in the past on another existential issue for the world, that of war between the USSR and the US with nuclear weapons, but is made more complex by the the amount of countries and the various forms of emissions that will have to be evaluated.

My personal observation is that the main players in Paris were much better aligned that in the past, the movement of China towards the EU and US was key in balancing an agreement but without a concerted effort to build a trusted and joint monitoring effort in five years’ time will not be able to build on this agreement to set another lower emissions target.

Blog authored by: Alex O’Cinneide, PhD candidate in the Geography Department, TCD.

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