COP21: the global market is a guest of honor at the climate conference


On the eve of the COP21 climate conference in Paris, all the participants have already formalized their position with respect to the measures they consider necessary and practicable to contain the increase in global temperature.

What lies ahead is - once again - an inadequate compromise agreement, conditioned by strong and multinational countries, while other proposals, excellent, such as that of all the countries of the European Union, risk remaining "good intentions" unheard.

The following is the result of a discussion with Andrea Barbabella, energy manager of the Sustainable Development Foundation, to whom we asked to help us read the economic scenario that is the setting for the climate conference.

Image | Matthias Kulka / Corbis

The English call them stake holders, that is, stakeholders. These are nations, companies, bodies and other bodies that will intervene in the XXI Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, representing peoples, industrial complexes and supranational bodies that could be favored or affected by decisions on future climate change. Many of the decisions being considered in Paris will be influenced by the pressure of stake holders, and until the end of the international meeting the outcome will be in the balance.

"It is taken for granted that everyone agrees - at least on paper - on the goal of containing the global temperature increase within 2 ° C, but the commitments made so far are not enough and the guidelines on how to achieve them are very different ».

The agreement should be legally binding, as they say in diplomatic language, that is legally binding: that is, it should oblige the States to observe the provisions that will come out of Paris. A first draft of a global agreement was filed at the end of October, and this will be discussed during the conference.

One more referral? However, the approach adopted in Copenhagen (COP-15, in 2009), strongly oriented towards top-down impositions defined and calculated according to various parameters, has been abandoned. In Paris, on the other hand, the address is that of the so-called INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), in practice "promises" that individual States have made on the reduction of emissions. The whole of these intentions is currently not sufficient to limit the temperature increase to 2 ° C: according to the United Nations they would lead to an increase of about 3 ° C at the end of the century. Too much.

"Ultimately it is likely that an agreement will be terminated", said Barbabella, "but this will hardly allow the 2 ° C limit to be respected and, perhaps, we will postpone a subsequent update to raise ambitions".

An overview of the pledges placed on the COP21 negotiating table: tables and interactive maps (page in English)

The position of individual countries, that is, the promises that 149 nations have made before starting to discuss, are determined by the political perspectives of the governments themselves. Perspectives that depend on a series of factors: from political interests to the pressure of the industries, from the demands of citizens to those of the great associations and organizations, up to the short or long term perspectives of the politicians and even the real knowledge and skills of the politicians themselves.

Image | Matthias Kulka / Corbis

Who brakes and who runs. This interactive map of the World Resource Institute goes into detail of the position of the participants. "India, the United States and China for the first time have formally made commitments to reduce or contain emissions, but these are still too cautious. Europe, on the other hand, is very resourceful: it promises to reduce emissions by at least 40% compared to 1990, among the few commitments on the carpet, perhaps the only one, in line with the 2 ° C limit, a demanding promise, which many consider a brake on the economy because it hinders the industry with heavy obligations and costly gas reduction technologies greenhouse, decreasing the competitiveness of EU countries in the global market, on this point, however, Barbabella makes a different reflection: "That of competitiveness is a false problem. Reasoning in terms of blocking emissions as an obstacle to progress is an approach that it could be used years ago.Today the most competitive countries are those that invest the most in renewable sources or energy efficiency, such as Northern Europe and Germany ".

Globally, financial investments and research on "classic" methods of energy production, from coal to natural gas, have been surpassed by those on renewable sources. On the research front, in Italy, for example, ENEL stated that in 2050 it will have "zero emissions" and will produce energy only from renewable sources. In terms of financial flows, worldwide investments are moving towards renewables, and many investment funds and pension funds are divesting from the oil and coal industries. The Divestment movement encourages banks and private individuals not to use their funds in companies that deal with fossil fuels. At the end of November the divested funds amounted to 2.6 trillion dollars.

The advantages of financial risk. All this ignores the ethical aspect, and depends above all on the fact that alternative energy technologies have become competitive on the market in recent years and that investments on fossil fuels, according to bank ratings, are becoming a risk. Italy is also moving in this direction: Wednesday 25 November was presented to Minister Galletti, from the Foundation for Sustainable Development, the appeal containing seven proposals to cool the climate, signed by many Italian industries. Many multinationals worldwide demand that the legislative framework be clearer and above all that a carbon tax be applied, ie a tax applied to the carbon content of fuels: the higher the content, the higher the tax.

Image The silhouette of the China Central Television building wrapped in a blanket of fog and smog. Air pollution (pollution, in English) is one of the visible effects of industrial activities, heating systems in large urban areas, transport: in short, the use of fossil fuels. It is certainly not typical of China, even if in this country it sometimes assumes frightening proportions: in Northern Italy, it is enough to look towards the Po Valley from the Bergamo hills to realize it. Investments in research and new energy technologies can help reduce these effects. | Jason Lee / Reuters

So why are development-locomotive countries, like the USA and India, not going decisively in this direction? China and the USA are making important strides, even if they still do not want to commit themselves like Europe: China is now the first investor in the world in renewable sources and Obama has nevertheless set a target for reducing emissions from electricity production to 2030 significant although not sufficient (-32% compared to 2005). "The transition to a less polluted world must be rapid, otherwise it will come too late. Some industries have understood this, others do not want to change the status quo, "says Barbabella.

Who controls the games. Also because it is difficult for an oil multinational to convert to another in a few years. These are among the most powerful industries that influence the global policies of industrialized nations, and that block the transition. In the United States, for example, the congress (today with a Republican majority) voted to block the financing, of about 3 billion dollars that President Obama wanted to allocate to developing nations, to help them overcome the use of fossil fuels. Even in Italy, according to Barbabella, "those who have had the most difficulty in interpreting the change underway are precisely the politicians". Who do not know or do not understand the moment, despite dozens of industrial appeals and representatives of civil society are asking politicians to accelerate the transition.

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