Third Report from Paris – One Week Down, One to Go

Monday, December 7

COP-21 – One Week Down, One to Go

There is guarded optimism here in Paris that things will end well.  The question is only how well.  The Text (Agreement) is now in the hands of the Ministers, with their staff having completed a Draft of it on Saturday.  Here is a quick take on where things stand on the negotiations, and then let’s take a look at that “other” COP going on here – where most attendees seem to not care if they ever talk to a negotiator but where they have plenty to say to each other.

The Negotiations

The first sign that things were going to be serious this time was an announcement by Christine Figureos, UN Climate Chief, that the government delegates were counted as 20,000, and the NGO observers and media were at 10,000.  She said this was the highest ratio ever and interpreted this as I would, that governments saw a need to be there because an agreement was likely.

The best sign to me that things were going well came on Friday night.  I had to the opportunity to attend a small dinner being put on by the one of the lead Business NGOs that works with the delegates and the negotiators, the US-based Business Council on Sustainable Energy (BCSE) As is always the case when inviting VIPs, one hopes that actually come.  In the case of the lead negotiators, the expectation had to even lower, because they were scheduled to work through the night to get their Draft Text ready to hand over to the COP President for formal conveyance to the Ministers for final negotiations.

Just before dinner, in walked the lead negotiators from numerous countries, including some of the most crucial, and including the Co-Chair of the Working Group that has been in charge of sheparding development and completion of the Draft Text.  There presence alone demonstrated good news, but their remarks to the group were positive as well, and there was an congratulatory mood in the air.

During the dinner I sat beside the chief negotiator for one of the large countries that has not been an early mover on making commitments, and that has been vocal about the need to recognize its need to grow and provide energy access to its citizens, most of which do not have it presently.   Wearing my demand response and smart grid “hat”, I talked about the looming rise of air conditioning, in addition to basic energy access, in his country and how challenging that will be.  He acknowledged that but was very conversant in the opportunities that my area presented and saw them as the right way, and low-emissions way, to develop and we talked a lot about microgrids.  As for reaching an Agreement, he talked a lot about the funding that would be needed to help countries, not only his, to do things right – both reduce emissions and grow an economy.  Most important to me, he agreed with my characterization as being a “vehicle” for reducing emissions and creating and distributing funds to help developing countries.  I spoke of how in Washington-speak, a vehicle is often the key thing.  Once it exists, the gas pedal can be stepped on and/or more fuel can be added in response to needs and conditions, without having to go back and create a new vehicle.

As Monday, begins, I cannot find any negotiator, or insider-type NGO who thinks that there will not be an Agreement at the end of this week.  But there are key components for which the details are important and there is still time for argument and debate – and for watering things down.   An example of such a key provision is review of progress towards fulfilling commitments.  This gets to the issue of trust and transparency, which are words you hear in conversations with just about anyone here, i.e. what kind of tracking and monitoring process will there be to assure that none of the 184 countries that offered up commitment before this COP will actually do what they have said.

Another example is one that always matters in an agreement – money.   Everyone here thinks the funding announcements on Day 1 of the COP were good, but not enough.  With the Climate Funding commitments made in Copenhagen to help developing nations not fully funded, and with no country wishing to fork over too much before someone else does, the money issue will be key this final week.  The fact that the Republican-controlled Congress in the U.S. has threatened to block any such funding gets mentioned here, and not just by US folks who are here.

Finally, there is a lot of talk about carbon pricing relative to the Text.  There actually is a general statement acknowledging it in the Text that came into the COP, and a number of NGOs are trying to make that stronger.  Outside of the negotiating rooms, pricing has been talked about a lot, and the efforts of California, Ontario and Quebec (and Manitoba, which just joined with those provinces in their trading program) are cited in many presentations and conversations.

The other COP

I mentioned above the high number of credentialed attendees (30K).  But there are tens of thousands more attendees here and so many going on in so many places that it is mind boggling. An example of the latter is the entire conference within a conference that a number of business organizations are putting on inside one of the giant halls here.  The groups, examples of which are the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), the International Energy Agency (IEA), are putting on stellar sessions separate from the UNFCC Side Events that part aimed at impacting the Text of the Agreement and part aimed at facilitating business understanding, advocacy and deal making.  Many nations have their own pavilions with full day programs of presentations and speakers.  There hundreds of NGOs from around the world that have exhibit booths staffed by experts to talk to.  Even the UN has two tracks going on.  In addition to the official Side Events, the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, a pathway to channel solutions into the overall implementation of all facets of the agreement, has its own multi-day, full day set of meetings, presentations, etc.  But that is only in the blue zone.  There is also Le Gallerie, a trade show that features top-level exhibits from major companies and organizations, and which also has an all-day, every-day set of presentations.  Then there is the Green Zone, also known as the climate generations area, where there are many, many exhibits and meetings sponsored by organizations focused on  youth, environmental health, women, energy efficiency, social behavior, etc.  There is also, starting today, inside the Green Zone is a full conference called Caring for Climate, a business forum sponsored by the UN Global Compact.  But wait….there is more.  Starting today there are 5 different conferences/events starting up in downtown Paris.

So what is happening at all of these things?  Certainly a lot of information dissemination and sharing.  Certainly a lot of business-to-business and business-to-government networking.  It is the latter that I want to comment on.  One of the reasons that I started coming to COPs is that not all of the Delegates attending from countries are negotiators.  Many members of a foreign delegation are there to learn what other countries are doing so they can bring ideas and solutions back to their country and apply them.   These delegates are not the negotiators, but the designers and implementers of the climate action plans that a country will be pursuing.  Think of it like the Clean Power Plan in the US.  There is the top level policy (CPP), and then each State has to develop a plan to implement it.  Same as with a UN Climate Agreement.

So just as in the US, I am here to talk to people, especially foreign delegates, about why they should look at smart grid, demand response, microgrids, etc. as something to put into their climate plans – both for purposes of climate mitigation and climate adaptation/resilience.  I have made two formal presentations at events so far, and it was these types of delegates that were most interested in hearing about what is happening in the US in these areas.  Some had their eyes opened.  One energy ministerial staffer from a key central european country was fascinated to learn more about demand response, and he actually attended both of my presentations just to get clearer on things.

Panels at the Official UN Side Events, have certainly included talks on renewable energy and energy efficiency, as one would expect.  But their presentations could be said to be “same old” and that has been a problem at COPs, i.e. they are still stuck thinking that those are the only two buckets.  This is primarily, in my opinion, a case of the country representatives attending being much more likely to come from an environmental than energy ministry.

A few days ago, one panel showed that the Delegates may want more than that.  After the type of presentation I mentioned above, a Delegate from Kenya took the Q&A session opportunity to say that for her country they needed energy storage and that they also needed to think about energy access.  One of the speakers on the panel was from Schneider Electric, who had actually talked a bit about microgrids during her presentation, and she expanded on smart grid technology solutions and after the session ended, she had quite a few people who wanted some of her time.

The example of Schneider and microgrids is not the only example I have run into here on that topic.  In a typical COP encounter, while I was eating lunch and catching up on some work, environmental ministry representatives from two different developing countries sat down at my table in succession.  As we chatted about our respective work, there was immediate interest in talking about microgrids, particularly as a means of improving energy access for their citizens.

Another topics showing up in both official and unofficial side events is carbon assets, and the stranding thereof.   Lead person on this is non-other than Al Gore, who seems to be everywhere here.  In this talks, he combines his climate credentials with his new financial/investment experience to talk about climate change in business terms and the need for businesses with carbon-related assets, utilities and others, needing to recognize what is happening, and plan and act accordingly.

So that is my quick snapshot on what it is like to be here as a smart grid/DR/DER advocate.  It is exhilarating and rewarding and I can’t wait for the remainder of my time here.