Companies, institutions and NGOs presented their climate solutions at the free exhibition “Solutions Cop21 Paris 2015”, which was held from 4 to 10 December at the Grand Palais and had 42,000 visitors. It was organized by Comité 21, a platform of French networks created in 1992 during the Rio Summit, which has 500 members in the private sector, administrations, research and civil society. An interview with Gilles Berhault, its President.
Is the agreement reached at COP21 favorable for developing countries?
The objective was to have a unanimous agreement. We have it, despite all the concerns that preceded it. The ambition of this agreement is not enormous, but it does comprise gains. We now have a global warming target of below 2°C, which is a real gesture towards Southern countries. However, the current global trajectory continues to be around 3°C.
Adaptation issues are central to the agreement and especially concern Southern countries, be it for flooding, droughts, food problems or rising water levels. It should be noted that developing countries are more unified, with an African bloc which now stands strong. There is no doubt that COP22, which will be held in Marrakech in 2016, will be Africa’s.
Has headway been made on the issue of financing for developing countries?
It has to be said that there is a relative lack of ambition for the new financing. A large proportion of the annual USD 100bn pledged by rich countries for poor countries in 2009 concerns “fishing out” existing financing qualified as green and not of new financing really earmarked for the climate. This being said, it is better to have a changing society than a deadlock situation. The agreement will continue to be discussed. COP 21 brought about quite new dynamics, with many projects coming into being.
Are we not in a situation of a new awareness of climate change?
Yes, as we no longer envisage, like in Copenhagen in 2009, a participatory and generous global organization. We realize that the agreement is only an addition, without anything binding in the short term, or the possibility for the United Nations to verify whether the action plans will be implemented in all countries. It would, to say the least, be surprising if the world accepts a planetary democracy on the climate, when some do not accept it in their country.
Consequently, there continues to be a strong political challenge, with the need to improve democracy and education in order to increase civil society pressure on governments over climate change. In China, this pressure exists: we saw a pollution red alert in this country in the middle of COP21. The Chinese may accept their situation in terms of human rights, but not pollution, which endangers the health of their children.
Almost 60% of the 42,000 who came to the Grand Palais were French, with an apparent desire to take action, find solutions and launch public-private partnerships. Health-related subjects are becoming extremely important for public opinion, which is not necessarily environmentally oriented, but does realize that climate change can completely transform the lives of the next generation. We know why tiger mosquitos have appeared in the south of France and why malaria is arriving in the highlands up to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
Which solutions to climate change have inspired you the most?
Mobility was a predominant topic at the Grand Palais with hydrogen, which gives rise to great hopes. Its storage in cartridges opens up interesting prospects in countries where there is a lot of sunshine, but few energy storage facilities. The use of conventional batteries remains complicated due to the heat and storage conditions. Similarly, electric scooters, hydrogen bicycles and everything which falls within the scope of soft mobility offer a real solution.
In my field of expertise, which is at the crossroads of digital technology and sustainable development, we also find solutions related to governance and technologies. Why governance? Because democracy is a central issue: we will not make progress without access to information and various measurement tools, for example, to manage energy systems and carbon footprints.
There are then technological issues: How, for example, to reduce travel time with teleworking, improve energy efficiency with smart grids, combine several modes of transport thanks to digital information, develop smart street lighting systems? It does not involve increasing the number of control units and connected tools, but considering an eco-design for digital technology that is not exclusively for Northern countries. This tool makes it possible to change behavior in an extremely effective way, because it has tangible repercussions on the amounts of electricity bills.
How do you respond to the accusations of “greenwashing” made by the environmental campaigners who were expelled from “Solutions COP21” by the police?
It is regrettable that they were, the microphones were on and dialogue must prevail. At the Grand Palais, there were a third of companies, a third of NGOs and a third of local authorities/public institutions. Large companies certainly have a capacity to build more sophisticated exhibition panels than NGOs. They were perhaps more visible. However, NGOs and researchers were very present during the many conferences that were held. In any event, we need companies to devise and deploy climate solutions.
Are you listened to, especially by the private sector, when you advocate for a different relationship with private ownership?
The companies of the 21st century have a dual responsibility. The first is to reduce all the impacts related to their activities: resources, energy, waste, stakeholders… ISO26000 provides a good analysis grid for this purpose and the Comité 21 guidelines for dialogue a good method.
However, private groups also have the responsibility of implementing solutions for a societal benefit, hence the need to completely rethink economic models, which break with this compulsive economy of ownership at the end of the 20th century, and move towards an approach to use which involves customers and employees.
They are not all ready for this, or not agile enough. It is a real strategic error. Companies that will be able to develop will need to take account of these logics of responsibilities and, firstly, completely break away from the dependence on fossil fuels and waste of resources. But culture is a major issue and there are significant barriers to change.
What would be your recommendations to policymakers, in both the North and South, prior to COP22?
Following the declarations and signing of texts, it is necessary to implement the commitments, and even much more than that. We cannot wait for 2020 before starting to take action, especially regarding the target of 1.5°C.
The only possible approach is democratic and contributory. Each country, each territory, each company… and even each household must now establish a roadmap. Half the roadmap is technological and therefore requires financing and new skills. The other half is behavioral and therefore implies choices. It is all a question of climate democracy and therefore of education. We also need to be willing to cooperate at all levels. I would almost say that it is an opportunity!