Editor’s Note: As national leaders and the energy and environmental communities gather to discuss the possibility of a climate deal in Paris over the next two weeks, Dan Delurey, President of Wedgemere Group and former CEO of the Association of Demand Response and Smart Grid, will be providing Utility Dive readers with updates and his perspective from the ground.
As he has done in the past, Delurey is part of an official accredited delegation of cleantech companies to COP-21, and will be giving presentations on how the smart grid can help address climate change in the Blue Zone at official UN Side Events and in the U.S. Pavilion. You can follow him on Twitter during the COP @dandelurey.
This is Dan’s first piece from the climate talks — a primer on what a COP is, what it's like to be on the ground in Paris, and what we should be watching for this year.
So, what is a COP, anyway?
COP stands for “Conference of the Parties," with the Parties being the countries that belong to the United Nations. The COP is first and foremost an event where national representatives work on crafting agreements – not only on emissions reductions but on other ancillary aspects like providing financial assistance to developing countries to help with emissions reductions and climate adaptation.
The meeting in Paris is COP-21, meaning it is the 21st COP in a series of such annual events. But a COP is not the only gathering of the parties each year. The hammering out of a climate agreement is actually a continuous process, with representatives meeting several times a year to try to make progress that would set up an agreement to be reached at that year’s COP.
The key phrase in the months leading up to a COP, and during the COP, is “Text," with the Text being the agreement that will (or will not) eventually be signed off on.
Previous COPs have tried to focus on agreements that would result in commitments on emissions reductions for each country by a date certain, i.e. “targets and timetables." With that not having worked in the past, the process leading up to COP-21 has instead focused on voluntary commitments.
COPs have another side to them, however. Not all attendees are official representatives of the Parties. Thousands of others attend, and their purpose generally falls into two categories. The first is to try to influence the Parties on what positions they take on the Text as they negotiate with the other Parties. The second is to accomplish educational and networking objectives with the other non-Party attendees.
What is it like to be at a COP?
COPs consist of three different venues. The Blue Zone is the official UN Zone, with a limited number of credentials needed from the UN to be able to access it. This is the Zone where the negotiations take place, both in general (plenary) sessions and other meetings. The Green Zone is more like a trade show, with lesser credentials needed, and where no negotiations take place. It is a building filled with exhibits booths and meeting rooms with scheduled presentations by a variety of speakers. Finally, there is the Civil Society Area, which can be thought of as a temporary village with larger experiential exhibits and displays that can be accessed by the general public.
It should be said that the Blue Zone is not all about negotiations. It also has exhibits, particularly by the parties themselves. The U.S. always has a Pavilion and features continuous presentations by U.S. companies, policymakers and stakeholders. The Blue Zone also has UN–endorsed presentation rooms, which hold what are officially known as “Side Events." These events are designed to be educational in nature, both for the Ministers and other representatives of the Parties, but also for the other attendees.
The UN has developed an acronym system for attendees at the talks that has resulted in some very interesting sounding names. Non-governmental attendees are officially known as NGOs, but business and industry NGOs are called BINGOs. Youth non-governmental organizations are known as YOUNGOs. Trade Union NGOs are known as TUNGOs. And so on.
Finally, because of space limitations and other reasons, not all related events are held at or near the COP venue. In the case of Paris, there will be a number of conferences, seminars, workshops and other events in the city itself. These sometimes draw representatives of the Parties but are often put on for educational and networking purposes.
All in all, a COP is an event with tens of thousands of attendees that is simultaneously a comprehensive United Nations negotiation and the largest environmental trade and educational event in the world.
What should we watching for this year?
This year’s COP started out differently from in the past, especially different from the well-known Copenhagen COP-15.
At Copenhagen, and at previous COPs, President Obama and other heads of nations came at the end of the conference, and there was a build-up to announcements. The quick take-away yesterday was that the front-loading here may work better. The presence of all the leaders here yesterday may have gotten things off to a good start by showing not only a bit of unity, but also the fact that there is growing recognition among countries that the game of brinksmanship that has been played to date, where no one wants to move ahead of anyone else, may be running out of time.
There is a discernible uptick in focus and content on adaptation and resilience here, which is likely also a sign of the overall forecast for climate change impacts. While some funding was put forth for adaptation by different sources yesterday, it was ultimately not a lot, and some observers looked at it as not even moving the needle.
In the type of chance encounter that happens at COPs, I sat next to a journalist from Bangladesh yesterday on the COP shuttle bus yesterday. His first comment was “not enough assistance is being provided to countries like mine."
He also said that, one day in, this COP was feeling like Copenhagen all over again. He talked about how the commitments submitted to the UN ahead of the COP were not enough, collectively, to keep temperatures where they needed to stay. But when pressed, he admitted that perhaps this new model of commitments and financial instruments would serve as a platform into which more commitments and funding can be added, as opposed to having to develop an entirely new structure again.
As for the negotiations themselves, the word as of this morning is that the Text of the Agreement will not change over the course of the next few days and will likely emerge in its present form on Saturday.
At that time, France, as the lead Party, will control the Text and begin meeting with the other Parties one-by-one to seek their approval. One view is that the Text will be presented in a take-it or-leave it fashion. Another is that any Party seeking changes will have to take the initiative to achieve a consensus of the other Parties in order for the change to be approved.
Editor's Note: Stay tuned for more updates from Dan on the climate talks later this week and next. For a primer on how the climate talks could impact the sector, check out our post from Monday on what power companies should be watching for in Paris.