The first day in Paris for COP21 grabbed a lot of attention. In fact, during the opening ceremony political leaders from all over the world gave powerful speeches on the solutions to global warming and entertained several meetings. Nonetheless, the Conference that will decide a global strategy does not only depend on rhetoric exercises, good words and group pictures.
With the leaders gone, the second day of the conference could start, with technical consultations beginning and many side- events taking place. These meetings attract thousands of delegates from all over the world and will continue for the next 10 days. Officially a final agreement should be expected on Dec 11, but it is very likely that a few extra days will be needed to close a promising deal.
Tuesday, Dec 1, was a slow day, with the main negotiating bodies meeting in plenary session to open and launch the agenda and the mode of work for the next few days. Yet, most of the attention was on LPAA (Lima Paris Action Agenda) focus event on Forest and Agriculture. This type of thematic focus events will be hosted by LPAA throughout the week and will concentrate on the effects of climate change on specific sectors, offering updates on the current situation to stakeholders as well as solutions creating new alliances.
Yesterday, a new alliance among organisations and stakeholders was announced during the event on forests. The aim is to eliminate natural deforestation and degradation, as well as to prevent threats to sustainable farming and people's livelihoods.
Keynote speakers talked about the importance of managing land wisely and in a sustainable manner. They pointed out that greenhouse gas emissions related to land use form almost a quarter of all the emissions. Most of these emissions are the result of growing demands for food and wood that are destroying forests all over the world. The majority of the people affected by deforestation are farming communities in poor countries. India is one of them.
During the focus event on Agriculture, new cooperative initiatives and programmes to protect these communities were launched by several governments and organisations, including UN FAO. The cooperation will be focusing on investments as well as know-how to empower these communities. The success of emission reduction depends strongly on these initiatives. In fact, these farming communities constitute a vast percentage of the global population and the way they will continue their farming practices in the following decades will have a huge impact.
Actually, most of the attention yesterday was on the reactions and discussions following the statements of political leaders. Many climate activists and politicians were talking about Modi's leadership role, acting as the ambassadors of the "poor" emerging countries. Most of them agreed on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and were happy to see the new alliance on solar energy launched by India. Yet, they were also afraid that most of the words of Modi, like in the past with other energy projects, will not result in actual implementation. The fear is that India will meet growing energy demands only by burning dirty and highly available coal. De facto, this could jeopardise all the efforts taken by other countries. Many believe that the achievements of COP21 depend on Indian leadership and investments on renewable energies. This is also why they generally agree that rich countries should also commit to substantial financial contributions.
Another major point of discussion was on Obama's speech and its visible commitment to global warming. Compared to Copenhagen in 2009, Obama's words were decisive and seriously aiming for a leadership role of the US, the second largest world polluter. However, there is a widespread fear that Obama will push for non legally binding agreements due to the opposition he is facing in the Republican controlled Senate. With most of the Republican still denying climate change, it is very unlikely that they will vote for any commitment to something that "does not exist". The lack of a legally binding agreement could weaken the extent of the agreement but should not ruin the overall outcome.
The word of the day was "Brandalism", a project that highlights the links between advertising, consumerism, fossil fuel dependency and climate change and that filled Paris with over 600 hacked adverts created by artists from all over the world denouncing corporate "greenwashing" at COP21. One of the most popular hacked ad was from Volkswagen, showing a brand-new model with an ironic phrase on top: "We're sorry that we got caught".
Before leaving Paris, Obama proclaimed himself an "island boy" and posed for pictures with leaders of Island states that run the risk of disappearing under the water. Yet, French president Hollande visited the Climate Generations area, an area open to the public and hosting over 400 conferences, and signed an important deal with African countries to double investments in renewable energy generation in the continent.
Much more is expected to come in the following days. This is just the beginning of very long negotiations.