Reflections on COP 21: The Paris Agreement


Part I: InSpired about Our Future...and Our Children's Future

Twilight on the Winter Solstice, the sun emit such a rich magnetic glow across our marine sanctuary in Chrystal Cove that it seemed to literally hold back the heavy, ominous, ashen black clouds hovering over the horizon. Running the Cove and watching closely the impending storm; I thought: " How is it that this magic light can both temper such a dark storm, and yet summon the richest colors, render the truest hues from all things painted across the living landscape?"

And so it was in Paris... despite the threat of anomalous and escalating climate change (once perceived as science fiction and now clearly and nearly universally accepted as science fact), a bright light omnipresent throughout COP 21 seemed to ultimately illuminate the best of human nature and inspire an impressive ambience of global cooperation when and where most needed to drive dialogue in the right positive, collective direction. Unlike Copenhagen where the dark December clouds precipitated a final rift between the industrialized developed world and the emerging developing world, COP 21 in Paris witnessed a different kind of international coalition-building where informal organizations like The Most Ambitious Coalition comprised of developed and developing countries organically formed to ensure a successful conclusion. Meanwhile, the COP 21 Secretariat behind the negotiations continued to shine the light on narratives of inclusivity, global citizenship, moral responsibility to future generations, universal compassion ( a sentiment easier to reinforce after the Paris terrorism attack), and stewardship of our common world " that some cultures consider mother earth" - sacred. ( Paris Agreement ). Also shrewd, they capitalized on every event in the flurry of COP 21's excitement to reiterate that in success we would all become part of history this December 2015... And who doesn't want to feel valued and remembered as part of history?

So, during the darkest period of the Northern Hemisphere's year, 195 Nations decided each in turn to shine their independent lights across the Country Pavilions and Common Halls of Le Bourget where the climate negotiations took place. Certainly, each country came with their national agenda and geo-political strategy. However, this COP's brilliant focus on empowering individual countries to independently frame their own climate commitments and devise their own national plans well before COP 21 stimulated early a strong sense of ownership, accountability, and responsibility to the collective narrative, as well, creating a virtuous cycle for other nations to write their INDCs (Independent Nationally-Determined Commitments).

Given the demonstrated political will of 150 Heads of State gathered at the opening December 1st,... given the strong voice of the international business community strongly supporting an ambitious Paris Deal and forming their own Breakthrough Coalitions,... given civil society sprouting up grassroots everywhere and using social media to organize on the fly Marches for the Earth despite the cancellation of many organized events for security reasons...and given the riveting images on Our Common Home that astronauts showed us from space-sick with a cancer caused from hyper-development, carbon-emitting industrial processes, and overly exploitative natural resource extraction... a Paris Climate Agreement at the end of the COP 21 was inevitable.

Thus, on December 12th (late night, almost the 13th) the World decided to meet our Apollo Challenge-- Transition Together Toward a New Low Carbon Economy. And when Laurent Fabius, the COP 21 President and French Foreign Affairs Minister, laid that gavel down; not one person in Le Bourget could be contained to their seat. Great joy filled the Halls of Le Bourget. And for an evening we were United on One Planet Earth as One Global Village--relieved and ecstatic that this 21-Year effort had now culminated in the framing of an international agreement upon which we could now universally point and build forward.

Imagine! The world -- 195 nations accepted not only an agreement, but a most aspirational and internationally-binding one that most every nation expressed pride in returning home to sign, celebrate, implement, and ASAP (as soon as possible) ratchet up. We have now great cause to be grateful and joyful this holiday season and year end. Certainly, the year 2015 will go down in history. And 2016 shall be a great beginning to new era of global cooperation on climate change and meeting our global goals for sustainable development!!!

A Deeper Reflection on Why The World Reached an International Agreement at this COP 21


Why Now-- After 21 years of regional-science-technology-implementation-business discussions and annual meetings was this Conference of the Parties (COP) ripe and ready to collectively and globally to treat the root causes of climate change's cancerous conditions? What made this COP 21 and this year so different?

The simple answer is that this COP 21 we were all clearly, universally, undeniably InSpired.

Here I have seven points to make, and so as the text grew long; I'll divide this article into three separate blogs; Part I, Part II, Part III.

Part I

1. The Spirit of environmental urgency and global collaboration still lingered from the UN Sustainable Development Summit in NYC this past September 2015. There the world-195 nations, signed the 17 Global Goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. There, Pope Francis's moral tone and urgent call to action in the Opening General Assembly still resonated in the ears of World Leaders at COP 21. Even before, Pope Francis' Encyclical woke us all up this summer; and thankfully all were still awake in December. So, it's perfect that: "Welcoming the UN General Assembly's Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development A/RES.70/1 was the first Decision Statement of the Parties in the Paris Climate Agreement. And to carry the world's spirit of urgency and collaboration forward; it's also perfect that the agreed 2030 Agenda (Number 13 of the 17 Global Goals being "Climate Action") provide the backdrop to the theater of National Statements by Heads of State and to the drama of bilateral, trilateral, regional country negotiations to follow.

2. The COP 21 hosted the largest gathering of World Leaders at any one Global Event. Who wouldn't be inspired by the events to come? By December 1st, no one wanted to miss Opening Night when 150 Heads of State travelled to Paris to present their National Statements (also to show solidarity with France after the terrorist attacks), and this time on a supremely solid scientific stage (97% concurrence on climate change reality and anthropogenic influences, IPCC).

But what really made the speeches this COP so inspiring was the authentic urgency expressed among world leaders for climate action. The tone of statements revealed that climate change was no longer simply a subject of scientific inquiry and predictive modeling. World leaders have begun to view climate change as a lived reality. All are now awake to the reality that climate change threatens also our global security- antagonizing conflict in the Middle East and contributing to trans-border, urban migration, for example. Why now? Too many anomalous climate events have transpired these past years. No one can honestly ignore anymore the drama of sea ice melt, sea level rise, glacier melt, desertification, flooding, heat waves, fires, anomalous climate events have indeed played out tangibly, more intensely since Copenhagen "in mother nature's theaters around the world" Bill McKibben. Just this year witness: the recent flooding in Chennai and London, extreme drought in California, fires in Australia, extraordinary heat waves in Iran, inundated aquifers under the Marshall Islands, Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet melting at unprecedented rates, permafrost in Russia and Siberia releasing deadly methane, the worst air pollution on record in China. "The science is screaming at us- 14 of the last 15 years-the warmest on record, and yet we can also witness climate change impacts all around us in the world, today." (John Kerry, COP 21 Speech)

3. As the sheer presence of so many Heads of State inspired all, country delegations also worked long hours in right spirit throughout the COP--inspired to return home with a climate deal, but not just any deal. The moral imperative to Inspirare -- breathe life into an internationally binding climate agreement that was just, socially equitable, environmentally sound was universal. The Global Goal to InSpire the agreed policy framework and to grow the 180 INDCs (estimated by Dec 1) toward the light of financing and implementation trumped any singular, individual national concern. No country this COP 21 wanted to be responsible for another "Hopenhagen" turned "Copenhagen". So, as soon as they came, Heads of State swiftly left and national delegations immediately got on with the business of negotiating draft terms and building consensus.

Even the most watched and demanding country delegations were willing to engage in the give and take of compromise, all agreeing to Voltaire's oft quoted wisdom in Le Bourget, "let not the perfect be the enemy of the good."

India, for example, may have refused to give up the right to develop (even build coal fire power plants); but they agreed to retract from a 10-year review process (opposed to the non-negotiable US/EU 5-year review process). Indian Express They agreed to receive technological and financial assistance to focus the future of energy on renewables, if the human face of climate change became prevalent in the text. The Result: "Climate Justice is now a human right. All countries shall be responsible for ensuring that the most vulnerable ones are not left behind to deal with the loss and damage of climate change, as well, the finance required to adapt to present and immanent climate-related danger. And in exchange for such committed international assistance, every nation agreed to present a climate change mitigation plan to 2030 that extended across industries and included common methodologies, so the entire world could help each other transition together toward an energy-efficient, low carbon economy. Paris Agreement The good news is that the economic-environmental-social incentives to do so are now naturally intelligently falling into place and sparking healthy development, worldwide. So, while still stuck on coal and looking at 2050 to peak their population, President Modi of India unveiled and now leads the Solar Alliance of 120 countries, including China and the US, to expand solar energy across the Global South. In addition, only a day after the Paris Agreement, India and Japan signed a deal to invest $12 billon USD in Shinkansen bullet train technology for India. Japan even agreed to soft lend India the money. Forbes These inspiring national decisions we need to celebrate.

On that note... despite the current political climate, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry (supported by President Obama), led the US delegation and committed another $800 USD million in grants (not loans) toward climate adaptation. Time So while I'm baffled by our country's political rift on climate change (and just about every other topic), I'm proud that the US showed up to champion one of the most important international humanitarian initiatives on climate change. As 80% of the 130 INDC's from the developing world included (and prominently featured) climate adaptation plans looking for finance, the US financial contribution was more than symbolic (albeit still a relatively small amount). As only 0.7% of the $ 22.6 B USD in 2014 of International Public Finance Funds (per Climate Adaption Panel, COP 21) to date fund climate adaptation projects; our US commitment hopefully will catalyze other countries to boost their contributions to climate adaptation funds, as well. Indeed, every investment leads to greater social stability and more robust infrastructure to prevent further climate catastrophe, avert harm, and generate a virtuous cycle of financing (lower risk capital) to then flow toward low carbon investments. Such integrated, system's thinking seemed more prevalent in the COP 21 house than in previous years... and this was inspiring.

Further, as more commitments geared toward supporting developing countries adapt and deal with loss and damage of climate change grew; the more best practices were shared, the more technology was exchanged, and the more countries like France committed to ratcheting up their INDC commitments; then the more countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, and Sudan who adamantly opposed the Copenhagen Accord and the exclusivity around the accord's framing... began to sing a different tune in Paris. In fact, Venezuela's well-known Chief Envoy to the Climate Conference, Claudia Salerno, in her closing statement this year praised the inclusive nature of the COP 21 negotiations, praised the flexible, supportive tone of the text (discussed below) and praised the perceived authentic commitment of developed countries to ensure that all nations succeeded in meeting their baseline carbon reduction goals (Venezuela's is 20% by 2030)... as long as each country is free to decide their own development future to eliminate also abject poverty. A similar sentiment of inclusivity and true concern for developing countries' capacity to respond to climate change resonated throughout Latin America, across Southeast Asia, among the Small Island nations, and across the continent of Africa. All G77 countries agreed to transition toward a carbon neutral state ASAP, and remain accountable to one another in the international COP community for ratcheting up in the next 15 years. That said, the South African delegation (representing the G77+China) reminded us that we still have a "Long Walk to Freedom", quoting Nelson Mandela. Positive, inspired action must continue along the "Road Through Paris". These most vulnerable countries will require access to debt-free finance and assistance to realistically leap-frog current energy-transportation-city plans to the New Climate Economy's vision of climate resilient, energy efficient cities. In fact, 90% of the commitments made by developing countries express a reliance on assistance from the international community in financing, technology, knowledge sharing, and capacity building. But all were inspired by most every developing country's commitment to the future and faith in one another. Thus, the only real way forward is to celebrate, protect, and expand this new trust among developed and developing world nations and now deliver on our promises to one another... and the world.

Finally, a short review of inspiring country delegation actions at COP 21 wouldn't be complete without reference to China. I believe all were inspired by China's recent change in tone and tack on climate change, greater cooperation with the US, recognition of itself as a major global power, and aspirational commitments. In September during the UN Summit, China made a public pledge to be a carbon neutral state by 2030. And, already they have doubled solar production in one year (11 GW of solar in 2014 to 19 GW in 2015). Reuters They will certainly play an important role in India's Solar Alliance and help unlock the power of the sun to push the world past coal. The Chinese delegation also framed plans to deploy 800 GW to 1000 GW in carbon-free capacity, while reinforcing their financial contribution through the South-South Fund to the developing countries "with whom they share values" (Lui Zhenmin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, China, Press Conference COP 21). They even finally agreed to transparency and carbon tracking for every source from coal, hydro, natural gas, geothermal, nuclear, solar, and wind. This was a huge win for the world and led experts like Dr. Jackson Ewing, Asia Society to comment "China's position has seen the greatest evolution on environmental and climate policy in the past years." Why now? Perhaps China realizes that it has simply reached a growth step where the country needs to seriously invest in clean air, clean water, wild nature and slow protect their economy, to avert the emigration of their intellectual capital, and to fulfill their senior responsibility to the international community as a leading world power. Not that we in the US have arrived to a carbon-neutral utopia yet; but we did make some visionary commitments in 1970 as our Industrial Revolution ramped up that tempered the escalating pollution of our generation. Under President Nixon we passed the Clean Air Act (amended by President George Bush, Sr. in the 1990's), the Clean Water Act, the Wilderness Act, and formed the EPA. Could China be reading the writing on the US's historic wall and innovating further still? Could the US Republican Party's historic support of these seminal 1970 conservation and environmental health initiatives remind Republicans today of their visionary role in preserving the natural wealth of our nation? Could their historic protection of America the Beautiful serve as a means to invite and encourage their participation now in the climate conversation to protect health of our nation and the wellbeing of our world for our children? What if climate change could be a unifying issue for Democrats and Republicans; instead of a divisive one? Now that would be cause for great celebration!

Stay Tuned for Part II!