by Dawn Weisz | Dec. 3, 2015
The following update was contributed by Dawn Weisz, CEO, Marin Clean Energy, from Paris, the 21st Conference of Parties climate summit.
I wanted to pass along some updates on the climate talks underway at COP21. First, it has been amazing and inspiring to see so many people from so many countries of the world coming together with a shared objective that cuts through the usual differences in culture, language, and levels of resources and development.
There is a large “civil” space where non-governmental groups can highlight their work through presentations and information booths, and MCE is participating in that venue to learn from others, and to share the community choice model which is surprisingly relevant in some other countries, particularly in terms of financing and community empowerment.
I have also been able to participate in the ‘blue zone’ which is where the delegates from each country are having discussion on text, planning and implementation. It is a huge mass of temporary structures with sections for every participating country. Participating countries and regions display information to highlight accomplishments to-date, and actions underway. They will often have seating and meeting rooms for their delegation and for visitors. There is a lot of focus on mitigation and adaptation as many impacted countries are present. Also, issues familiar to us are common, such as renewable energy intermittency and the high cost of storage impacting use of renewables in developing countries. The theme of environmental justice is strong here as vulnerable communities, indigenous communities and developing countries have been most heavily impacted by the effects of climate change, even though they have had the least to do with creation of the problem. It is unclear how this theme will translate into the written agreements however, and this is partly due to political and cultural differences among the involved government delegates, and probably also due to existing corporate interests and influence.
While in the blue zone, I have been able to listen to negotiations on actual language with many different country delegates pushing for their points of view. Some countries, including Columbia and France, want language that ‘invites’ actions from ‘civil society’ (which basically means non-governmental groups), but other countries, including Saudi Arabia, are concerned that such language would invite actions of groups that are ‘not good’ in their view. It is interesting to see how different opinions voiced by country delegates reflect their beliefs and local politics, but also relate to their interpretation of English words (English is the language being used in the negotiations I saw) like the meaning of ‘inviting’ vs. ‘welcoming’ vs. ‘authorizing’ the actions of civil society. It is also interesting to see how the facilitator tries to find middle ground and keep everyone at the table even when there is strong disagreement. Generally, things seem to be going well and it is encouraging to see the discussions happening at this level of detail (rather than at the level where climate change is just being debated!). All country delegates seemed to agree that by the end of this conference there will be an agreement on a plan, and that the task will then shift to implementation.
Here are two interesting thoughts for the day:
1. There is a very different range of energy options and challenges facing countries that do not yet have an electricity infrastructure, and are in the process of choosing and implementing this infrastructure. Many people still do not have any access to electricity (for example, 300 million people in India have no access at all), and when there is access, it is often just for a few hours per day (we were asked yesterday how NEM should be proposed in this setting). The flip side of this issue is that in some cases, there is not yet an existing fossil supply stream in place. To highlight this point, 95% of Ethiopia power supply is renewable today.
2. Wealthy and developing countries alike are subsidizing the fossil fuel industry while arguing that they do not have funds to commit to climate change.
- At COP21 there are discussion about participating countries committing $100 B to address climate issues by 2020.
- Annually, worldwide $452 B is spent on subsidies to the fossil fuel industry while just $121 B is spent in subsides for renewable energy
MCE’s ability to connect government actors and community members is a relevant model here, as is our ability to redirect existing fossil revenue towards renewable sources. So, as always, I am inspired by all the good work that continues to go on by each of you… back in the Bay Area!
I look forward to being back with you all in person next week.
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