June 26, 2017

Letter from Paris: COP 21 Tackles Climate Change in Challenging Times

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

All eyes are on the COP21 United Nations conference on climate change taking place in Paris from Nov. 29 to Dec. 12. The “Conference of Parties” or COP, have been held every year since COP 1 in Berlin, in 1995.

In the middle of nowhere, in an industrial and non-descript vacant lot – a preview of what our world will become if the conference does not bring concrete results – the Bourget site has been turned into an ephemeral city of tents, movable partitions and kilometers of carpets. The recyclable constructions will all disappear at the end of the conference. More than 3,000 journalists are covering the event.

The circumstances were exceptional, barely two weeks after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. France is living under emergency rules and the danger is still present. More than 120,000 police, army and special forces are deployed throughout the country. Terrorism and global warming were on a collision course. It was a huge challenge for France to organize the conference. The highways and part of the beltway were closed to facilitate the arrival of the thousands of visitors. The Parisians had braced themselves for total chaos … but it turned out to be the most peaceful two days in a long time.

The inaugural day was quite a show of protocol. There was first the greetings of the 150 leaders, followed by photo-ops and smiles. Elham Aminzadeh, the vice-president of Iran, dressed in her long robes, walked past the French president and prime minister to shake hands only with Segolène Royal, French minister of the environment. Then everyone scrambled to find his or her place for the giant “family pnoto.” Leaders of Israel and Palestine or of Russia and Turkey had to stand apart to avoid a diplomatic incident.

This year the heads of States spoke at the outset of the COP. It was believed that their declarations of intent — powerful but brief (three minutes each) — would galvanize the public and give a boost to the working sessions to follow. One sensed a definite will to reach the objective of limiting the global warming to below two degrees by 2100. “Greenpeace could have signed Francois Hollande’s speech,” commented Jean Francois Julliard, the director of Greenpeace France. Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi announced his country’s support of an ” International Solar Alliance.” China is becoming the world first producer of renewable energy. The liberal new prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is changing his country’s attitude about the environment.

Early in the conference, 11 developed countries, including the US, France, England, Germany and Sweden, made the solemn commitment to contribute 250 million Euros for a transfer of renewable technology to the poorest countries.

In the 1970s, the advocates of ecology were not taken seriously and pretty much disregarded. Things have now come a long way from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which so few countries ratified or from the 2009 COP 15 of Copenhagen, which ended up with a weak and non-binding text.

At the midpoint of COP 21, its president, French minister of foreign affairs Laurent Fabius, exhorted the participants to seize the momentum. He urged delegates not to wait until global warming becomes irreversible.

The pollution of the atmosphere is measured in particles per million or “ppm.” To-day it is 400 as compared to 250 in the pre-industrial era. In Peiping, pollution is 25 times higher than that of Paris on it worst day.

In 1990, the developed countries (also labeled as the “North”) produced 14,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the emerging countries 7,500. In 2012, the North had slightly reduced its emissions to 13,000 and the “emerging countries “, called G77 + China , ( actually numbering 134 now), almost tripled their emissions to 20,000. It is ironic that the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is still included among the “emerging” countries.

The main stumbling block at the COP 21 is whether the developed world will have to pay 100 billion Euros per year to the other countries even though they are profiting from the technology it created. Besides, if one has to wait for the “big emergents,” headed by China and India, in the name of “climate justice,” to catch up, the planet will be gone by then.

In the early evening of the inaugural day, I saw a convoy with blue strobe lights, going against traffic in a one-way street in front of my windows. Who could that be, I wondered? It turned out it was President Barrack Obama driving toward the very secluded three-star Ambroisie restaurant on Place des Vosges. In the elegant dining room, under crystal chandeliers, the president, John Kerry and their party seemed to have a great time with Francois Hollande and his cabinet ministers.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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