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A User Guide to the Climate Change Conference

Roberto Rodriguez Labastida — December 1, 2015

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) held in Paris in the first week of December will be the 21st early session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Six years have passed since the public debacle suffered by the group in 2009, when all the eyes of the world were turned toward Copenhagen expecting (perhaps naively) to see a global accord binding the countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions enough to prevent a rise in atmospheric temperature of more than 2 °C  by the end of the century.

Climate policy today is increasingly negotiated behind closed doors, depending more often on unilateral commitments and bilateral negotiations that have proven to be as valuable as the all-or-nothing approach used before Copenhagen. Also, technical advances have significantly reduced the cost countries face in achieving their reduction targets. For example, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Tracking the Sun VIII report, the cost of solar power has fallen by about 80% since the conference in Copenhagen in 2009. 

In the past, the involvement of the two largest GHG emitters, the United States and China, caused disruption and delays. Now, these two countries are working together ahead of the meeting in Paris. With the United States and China now moving in the same direction, there is cautious optimism that a deal could be reached. That said, there are several different scenarios that might play out in this year’s COP.

Outcome Already Known

The negotiations to sign an all-inclusive agreement will keep people involved in early December. However, some of the outcome is already known. During the process behind this year’s COP, the majority of countries have put forward Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are essentially climate plans. These countries have pledged reductions that in total will bring 95% of global GHG emissions under some form of policy or regulatory scrutiny.

The next step (even if an all-inclusive agreement is not reached), is to translate country strategies into an executable playbook. It is here that the continuous improvements in low-carbon energy generation and energy efficiency technologies, business and financial models, and the implementation of the Energy Cloud will play a major role in achieving global emission reductions. These continuous improvements represent a necessary step in slowing down global warming and improving resilience during catastrophic events by optimizing power consumption across the grid while increasing comfort levels and providing a decentralized control and management that allows for redirecting energy flows and many-to-many networks.

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