Paris COP21: World leaders under pressure

Representatives of 195 countries are expected to arrive this week in Paris to participate in a major UN climate change conference, known as the Conference of the Parties (COP), which is the “supreme body” of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Results of previous COP meetings range from promising to disappointing, while some of them ended in complete failure. This was due to the evident unwillingness of some countries to reach an arguable agreement.

After the Kyoto Protocol Agreement  in 1997, several COP meetings resulted in consensus, however the 15th session in Copenhagen in 2009 ended in dispute.  As informal negotiations took place between a group of major economies and representatives of regional groups, the Copenhagen Accord was drafted by a small group of countries including the United States, China, South Africa, India and Brazil. There was much discussion about the transparency of the process that had led to the drafting of the Accord as it did not involve all parties. The Copenhagen Accord does not contain any legally binding commitments for reducing CO2 emissions.

What is different this time?

Five COP meetings followed the Copenhagen agreement and six years later countries are once again gathering to discuss ways of tackling climate change. But circumstances differ this time: Paris’ meeting is taking place in a somber atmosphere, a few weeks after the ISIS attacks, as people are coping to recover, amid strict security measures and intense criticism by environment enthusiasts and NGOs. The pressure to reach an accord is higher than ever.

Although difficult to predict the result, negotiations will take place in a hopeful mood, since countries are better prepared this time and the planet’s major economies wish to avoid another controversial deal. Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres made it clear in an article with “The Guardian”. A few weeks prior to the event she wrote: “We are at a turning point now. A decisive hour when a historical event occurs, when a decision must be made, when we have understood that the consequences of the past need us to intentionally and decisively redefine the future”.

Some analysts point out the fact that the French hosts have invited world leaders to attend the beginning of the summit and not the end. They believe this would give negotiators time to work on a deal.
Certainly it would be risky to predict the result of a two week summit with almost 200 participant countries. In many previous occasions agreements were reached at the very last minute, amid strong pressure and after long sleepless days and nights.

Gains for the global industry

There is yet another reason why this COP summit is different. As climate change clearly affects economies around the world, the global industry has developed sophisticated energy saving products, innovative tools and environmentally friendly materials that constitute a whole new market. Potential gains are considered huge for a significant number of companies around the world. And we haven’t yet mentioned the funds allocated to relevant research. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is to launch a multi-billion-dollar clean energy research and development initiative on the sidelines of the COP 21 summit. According to reports several countries (among them India, the U.S. Australia and France) and private investors will participate in the scheme.

So, with just hours remaining before the official start of the Paris COP 21, it is evident that a joint, sustainable agreement may favor all parts this time.


SOURCES: UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, CNN International, The Guardian