When I arrived in Durban for COP17, I knew that I would meet a lot of interesting people. But I thought they would all be from the field of climate change. That was until I incidentally ran into Shaun Thompson while I was biking back to my accommodation from the conference. Shaun, who was crowned World Champion of Surfing in 1977, is a hero here in South Africa.
I caught him outside his apartment, dressed in his ‘business attire’ and waiting for the elevator doors to open so he could jet across the posh lobby without dirtying the floors. He struck me as remarkably funny and totally likable, waxing effortlessly about the charm of Durban. He noticed my UN badge and inquired about COP17. In telling him that I was from UC San Diego, I found out that he calls California home now as well.
Noting my optimism for COP17, he commented on the pessimism in the media and among various delegates. After a perfect pause, for comedic timing, he looks to me and says, “If you come to these conferences, you have to cop in — not cop out.” In the end, his requisite was true. This was the longest COP in it’s 17-year history and negotiators worked 36 hours past the proposed end of the conference. Though the final plenary sessions were nowhere near reaching unanimous consensus on several issues – with Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Russia the most vociferous of all – the COP-in nations of the world chose to do so at a crucial time in human history.
I knew that something was amiss. He just exited a press release, which was held 2 hours earlier than scheduled.
The usually calm and collected Stern was hurried by his entourage. I told a friend by my side that something much more urgent was going on than your typical rush between COP meetings.
Turns out that he was headed for bilateral meetings with the EU and BASIC group. As Christiana Figueres told me the other day, this COP is like a duck, “on the surface it looks calm, but under water” those feet as busy as can be.
Maybe this is just what she was talking about. To me, the only duck in this global pond is the EU. But its feet are moving so hard underwater that it is apparent on the surface that it is working frantically to get allies on round 2 of the Kyoto Protocol. Best of luck, on behalf of all of us, I hope that Christina Figueres is right about this COP having a lot of action beneath the surface. 2020 just won’t do. One thing is certain, Todd Stern was approaching his BASIC/EU bilateral with a lot of focus and preparation. Maybe COP17 can get several ducks in a row, giving us an early Christmas present – a breakthrough here in Durban… Warning: this is my youthful optimism speaking.
Avoided Deforestation Parters hosted a fantastic event yesterday where I met one of a childhood hero, Jane Goodall. This woman, calm and confident, left the audience in awe as she brought passion back into the confused efforts of COP17. I thanked her for this and she showed me her appreciation with a hug and said, “that really is it ins’t it. It’s about passion.”
Also on the panel were: H. Clark (New Zealand) & M. Robinson (Ireland) also present. Event host was Avoided Deforestation Partners, and included special video messages from Bill and Sect Hillary Clinton, as well as Pres Obama. All had touching memories of W.Maathai, whose indomitable spirit is the pulse of this COP on African soil. That spirit is needed now, more than ever. At the UNEP Billion Tree campaign event last night, the prince of Monaco recognized that spirit.
Unfortunately, it appears that all is not right at the moment with the REDD+ negotiations. Fingers crossed that consensus can be reached today. Accounting for over a 1/5 of global GHG emissions, not to mention the social and biodiversity aspects (hence the +’s), keep an eye out for any progress at COP17 to save our forests. Thanks to the efforts icons like of Maathai and Goodall, we have cause for hope.
It was a fancy dinner sponsored by Ned Bank last night. An event held in the honor of Wangari Maathai, whose passion inspired millions and whose spirit remains present in nearly all events here at COP 17. Speakers included the Prince of Monaco, the CEO of Ned Bank, the Executive Director of the UNEP, and the passionate group of youngsters from the Plant for the Planet campaign, led by Felix Finkbeiner (who absolutely stole the show).
You look into the eyes of these passionate (at times a little angry) youths and wonder how on Earth we are talking about waiting until 2020 to SOLVE this problem. “We will not pollute like you do” implored an adorable boy no older than 5 years of age.
The CEO of Ned Bank gave a great speech as well, noting that his company’s green exchange portfolios (that is comprised of sustainably progressive companies) is outperforming general portfolios by 30%. He also reminded the audience that even if they have never been to the African continent, they are returning after about a 70,000 year trip. Like the good businessman he is, he also looked at our GHG emission problem as a budget problem, where we are spending emission capabilities much much too quickly. One looks to Greece and Italy with worry. If we can’t balance national budgets, how can we budget global emissions.
As the World Climate Summit came to a close, I was exhausted. After meeting several potential employers from a host of companies, including the director of sustainability for Siemens, I was debating on leaving without attending the closing reception. The US Ambassador to South Africa, Don Gips, was the host, so I decided to stay until the end. Interestingly enough, when I mentioned my alma mater, UC San Diego, Ambassador Gips immediately asked, “Do you know Peter Cowhey?”. I replied, “of course, he was my dean at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IRPS).” The world is small indeed. I told Gips that it was because of Dean Cowhey and IRPS’s support that I was able to attend COP-16 the year before. The dean taught me the purpose of “stirring the pot” unwaveringly engage business, government, and thought leaders – at large conferences such as these, but always remembering “that the purpose is to create a tasty result.”
It was my pleasure to participate in the Climate Vulnerable Forum today. The minister of Bangladesh, Hasan Mahmod gave a particularly touching speech. If even modest climate change projections are true, a massive proportion of Bangladesh is set to be flooded by sea level rise. Mr. Mahmod stated that our planet is a “single lifeboat. If one of us sinks, we all sink.” The panel moderator, Simon Maxwell, executive chair of the Climate & Development Network, echoed these remarks by stating that there can be no winners if there are losers in climate change. How right they are. The task at hand now is for these countries to lead by example and unite there message to reach the citizens of the major emitting economies. They look to be on track.
Best of luck to my new friends. Below are Mohamed Aslam & Stanislas Kamanzi, the Environmental Ministers of the Maldives and Rawanda.
A compelling lunch indeed. I immediately disclosed that I was from the US, but was quick to point out California’s cap-and-trade system.
Jose Maria Figueres proudly served his country in the mid 90’s, during which time he passed a nationwide carbon tax (’95). Now he continues to exhibit superb leadership in the environmental/business sector. We met during a media announcement of the Carbon War Room. He is chairman of the board for the War Room, which has an innovative idea for providing alternative jet fuel to airlines (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/04/idUS69743+04-Dec-2011+BW20111204).
I was happy to see a local, San Diego based company on the list of jet-fuel providers – Sapphire Energy.
For those unfamiliar with the org, “Carbon War Room works on breaking down market barriers for capital to flow to entrepreneurial solutions to climate change, by employing a sector-based approach focusing on the solutions that make economic sense right now.”
Over the weekend, I attended the World Climate Summit, which is the premier event for private sector participants. The CEO of the Carbon War Room, Jigar Shah, spoke eloquently of the role PPPs to establish effective and scalable projects in renewable energy.