How unprecedented can a climate change summit be? For sure, the international talks that opened yesterday in a security-tight Paris have already broken any previous attendance record with more than 40,000 participants. 183 countries, out of the 195 that make up the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have never before voluntarily submitted their own action plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not to mention that the climate itself at these climate talks has never been so optimistic: in a Bloomberg survey, observers of the negotiations gave an average rating of eight out of ten that a deal will be reached at COP21. After 20 previous, mostly ineffective, such pow-wows in the last 20 years, this is definitely unprecedented.
The same adjective was expressed by a great many of the 159 heads of State, prime ministers and kings that yesterday solemnly declared, in front of the plenary assembly, their willingness to ‘save the planet’. The degree of their mutual consensus is to be tested though along the upcoming two weeks of negotiations, which should hammer out the Paris agreement. That consensus, frankly, may not be that unprecedented: Vladimir Putin proclaimed that oil and gas producing Russia ‘is contributing actively’ to the fight against climate change. Bolivia’s Evo Morales reiterated that the ‘only way to save Mother Earth’ is to ‘eradicate the capitalistic system’. As if to baffle the audience a bit more, the Chinese president Xi Jinping even uttered the word ‘democracy.’ At least, this is what the translator said.
“With major speeches concluded, the world’s top leaders will soon have returned to their respective countries, leaving their negotiators with the dirty diplomatic job of sealing a Paris climate agreement”
While the legacy of this massive conference – populated by 3,000 journalists as well as 3,000 policemen – remains to be seen, the number of ‘green’ initiatives being presented is well ahead of the politicians’ boisterous pledges. Bill Gates was here to announce the birth of a fund backed by nearly 30 of the world’s wealthiest investors, including himself, in order to pour capital into the research of technologies that may bring clean energy to the developed and, most importantly, developing world. After being criticised for his investments in fossil fuels, Microsoft’s founder looks now fully converted to the environmental cause.
What is now needed is to convert governments as well, traditionally much more short sighted than businesses. Just think of New Zealand, which was awarded the first Fossil of the Day prize, a long-running tradition at these climate talks, bestowed daily by the Climate Action Network (CAN), a worldwide network of over 950 Non-Governmental organisations. Yesterday afternoon, the Oceanian country joined the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform event, urging countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies that still financially help oil, coal and gas consumption and production to the tune of more than $500billion a year. ‘Prime Minister John Key showed a degree of hypocrisy,’ argued CAN’s judges, stating that ‘the country’s fossil fuel production subsidies have increased seven-fold since his election in 2008’.
With the major speeches concluded, the world’s top leaders will soon have returned to their respective countries, leaving their negotiators and representatives with the dirty diplomatic job of sealing a Paris climate agreement. Such an outcome is likely. How effectively unprecedented, it is still too early to say.