Diplomacy in the making : the example of COP21
French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler visited Ashoka University to speak to its students about diplomacy at work in the 21st century, using the Paris Climate Agreement as example.
New Delhi, 28 November 2016
Ambassador of France to India, HE Mr Alexandre Ziegler, was invited at Ashoka University to address its students on diplomacy at work in the 21st century. As an illustration, he spoke about the process that led to the successful conclusion of the Paris Climate Agreement.
It’s both an honour and a pleasure to be with you today.
When I was proposed to come and deliver a short speech today, I immediately suggested to speak about the COP 21 and the Paris conference on climate change. Of course, I will be ready to answer any kind of questions on other international issues, especially on Indo-French relations, but I thought it could be of some interest for you, some of you wishing to engage later into international affairs, to speak about “Diplomacy in the making”.
I was, as a matter of fact, quite involved in this “making”, having been almost four years, before I came to India, chief of staff to our Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, who happened to be also President of the COP21.
Paris Conference was, indeed, a real moment of hope, following a year 2015 that was difficult for the world, for Europe, and particularly for France (as the conference was going to open just a couple of weeks after the Paris attacks). COP21 brought all nations together, which is a rare achievement. It also showed that diplomacy, especially multilateral diplomacy, within the UN system that has been blocked so many times on other crisis, so frustrating on Syria, for example, can still produce impressive results. A hope for the world and hope for diplomacy.
A bit of history before I enter into the substance. There has been 20 COPs before COP21. COP means Conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
This text was adopted in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It had officially recognized, for the first time, the existence of climate change and human responsibility for this phenomenon. Its objective was to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at a level that would prevent any dangerous human interference with the climate system. But this Rio Convention, that has been ratified by 195 countries, had no real legal force and set no concrete national commitments to effectively limit greenhouse gas emissions.
In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, which for the first time set greenhouse gas reduction commitments for developed countries. This protocol was adopted by only 36 countries, and did not include the United states of America, at that time first world emitters of greenhouse gas, nor did it included China or India. Actually, almost two third of the world emissions were not taken into account by the Kyoto Protocol.
Ten years later, in 2007, it was decided to open negotiations with a view to the adoption of universal agreement, to follow on from the Kyoto Protocol and to extend its commitments. This led to the Copenhague conference in 2009, COP 15, which eventualy ended on a failure to agree on a new legally binding international convention.
In 2011, in Durban- South Africa, was launched another negotiating process mandated to produce a new “legal instrument with legal force”. This agreement had to be adopted in 2015 before taking effect in 2020. This was the challenge of COP21 and the reason why, although there has been COP meetings every year over the past 20 years, this Paris COP21 meeting was of such an importance.
France was chosen as the host country of COP21 in 2013, in Warsaw. This was actually not a difficult vote for us as we were the only candidates. The Copenhagen failure was still in every mind. And I remember seeing all our fellow ministers and colleagues coming to my boss, right after the vote with a strange smile on there face and this words « Good Luck, Mr Fabius », which sounded like « condolences »…
The two following years have been years of very hard work, as the success was not build during a two weeks time conference, but merely over a 24 months marathon. It was going to be the largest diplomatic conference ever organized in France. As early as summer 2014, we settled a negotiation team composed of more than 50 experts, diplomats and scientists, headed by our ambassador for climate, Laurence Tubiana, a tiny but very strong lady who had already survived several COPs, including the Copenhagen one.
We also had to take care of the conference facilities themselves. Hosting 20 000 delegates plus another 20 000 representatives from the civil society, NGOs… was quite a logistical nightmare. Indeed, we had to build out of nothing, in just a few months, a dedicated conference centre, on a nearby Paris airport, Le Bourget, with dozens of conference rooms, two huge plenary halls, a press centre accommodating 2000 journalists, but also post offices, relaxation rooms and almost 30 restaurants to feed everybody, as the security procedures were so tight that once you had entered the site, in the morning, there were no chance you could get out before the night.
We also had to forge the diplomatic success itself, which meant preparing, preparing and preparing. During all the year 2015, Laurent Fabius, the president of the COP21, travelled 40 000 km every single month, which means going 12 times around the world in just a year. I remember accompanying him on a weekend around the world, just a week before we started the Paris conference. In just three days, including four nights in a row sleeping in an airplane, we visited Delhi, Addis Ababa, Pretoria (SA), Brazil and Washington, five countries whose influential role on the negotiations had made crucial partners for us.
Why did we succeed at the end of the day, where so many had failed? I think, firstly because we found, in 2015, what I call a remarkable “planets alignment” that had never been observed before. Which planets am I talking about?
Planet Earth itself : 2015 had been the warmest in history, it’s also a year when the planet was stuck by so many “climate disasters”, showing that fighting “climate change” was not only preparing the future of our children or grand children, but copping with our present ; by the way, 2016 will happen to be even worth than 2015, with the warmest summer ever registered in human history.
The second planet was the “scientific planet”, whose role in proving that temperatures were indeed dramatically rising and that human activities were the cause for this has been crucial – 10 years back from now, when a conference were to take place on climate change, the first half of the conference were lost into debates on the reality of climate change, the second half on whether or not human activities were to blame for that, and the remaining time, nothing, on finding solutions to fight this phenomenon. This time was over in 2015, and the “scientific consensus” on climate change, what I call the “alignment of the scientific planet”, is one of the key reason for our success ;
The third planet to align was the “civil society”, the public opinion in the world. Climate change had long been a fight for some northern European intellectuals and leftists. In 2015, public awareness on climate change had risen dramatically. In September 2014, almost 500 000 people had demonstrated in the streets of New York during the “Earth day”, which would have been unthinkable in the US even a few years ago. Everywhere on the Internet, in China, middle class is now mobilizing against pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; my impression is that this pressure start growing here also in India. NGO’s, spiritual authorities (the Pope, the Dalaï Lama…), actors such as Sean Pen, mobilisation was coming from everywhere. In 2009, just before Copenhague, there was no real mobilization from the world public opinion on this topic, and even the idea that a failure could lead to a better agreement, later on. In 2015, a failure would have been unacceptable to the world public opinion.
The fourth planet to align was the “business planet”. One of the great successes of the COP21 was to convince the business world that fighting climate change, which implies changing our productions models, could indeed be an amazing economic opportunity, even for large companies, rather than a threat. The mobilization of majors companies and financial institutions towards a cleaner economy, new clean technologies and financial solutions, was one of the major shift that made the success possible.
Last but not least, the last planet to align was the “diplomatic planet”. Copenhagen had been a failure because Washington and Beijing, the two largest emitters, did not want an agreement, or at least did not want to compromise. We knew from the beginning that you could have a consensus from 90% of the planet, if China, India and the United States were not on board, the conference would be a failure. China and the United States, this time, wanted an agreement; not automatically the kind of agreement Europe, African of smaller islands wanted, but still, their commitment for a success was a dramatic change, compared to 2009. As for India, which had been so far very much reluctant to engage into a universal agreement on climate, its conversion to the Paris agreement was remarkable, as India not only joined the agreement but actually shaped it, introducing major concepts such as “climate justice” or the idea of “sustainable lifestyle”. There is no denying that the positive and active engagement of these 3 countries was a key element for the success.
I am not going to bore you with the complete story of 15 days of negotiations. You have to imagine Le Bourget like a small town of 20 000 people, that were all going to live night and days, sleeping a few hours when they could, on a couch, spending sometimes 48h or 72 hours without even seeing natural light or the colour of the sky, just like working in a submarine.
When I look back on the work we did in Paris, it is rather like the work of a sculptor. You know: the sculptor takes lumps of clay. We started with the main lumps: India, China, the United States and Europe. These blocks had to be combined and shaped. Then, the smaller blocks, which were also necessary because without consensus there could be no agreement.
All that had to be shaped, without losing any of those lumps. At the end of the day, that is the work we did, in a spirit of transparency and confidence that was underlined. The main idea was that there should be no surprise for anybody and that everybody should have had the opportunity to express its point of view, its expectations and its red lines.
We went through a process inspired from a traditional Zulu type of negotiation called “indaba”. An indaba is a village or large family assembly, designed to allow every party to voice its opinion, but still arrive at a consensus. Instead of repeating stated positions, which had been heard again and again by every delegates over the past ten years, each party was encouraged to speak personally and state their “red lines” while also providing solutions to find a common ground. During the four days of the conference, we hold an indaba every night, generally starting around 9pm to stop between 5 and 6am the next day. On this basis, we would work on a text or bits of text to be released in the early afternoon, and start the process again. Meanwhile, we hold dozens of bilateral or trilateral meetings at the COP21 Chair delegation offices.
It was not an easy road: it took us hours and nights of negotiations in Paris to bring everybody to the plenary hall final meeting: the one where everybody was hugging and crying. But at the end of the day, the sculpture was satisfactory to everyone.
Let me say a word about the agreement itself. Reaching an agreement was not the only point of the conference. It also had to be a “good agreement”. I think we can say, without excessive triumphalism, that we did. What are its key points?
First, we have secured a universal and legally binding Agreement, based on the national contributions of 186 countries, which is a considerable achievement.
Second we have secured an agreement with a high level of ambitions. Its long-term plan is to limit global warming to 2°C, a commitment to maintain efforts to reach 1.5°C, and to achieve neutrality of greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the century.
Third, the agreement is a dynamic one, which means that it can become even more ambitious with the time, depending on the evolution of technologies and availability of funding. There will be a global stocktake every five years. Every five years, countries will have the obligation to review and, if possible enhance, there national commitments to reduce there greenhouse gas emissions. Paris is not the end of the story, it is its first page.
Fourth, the respect of the agreement will be monitored, through a common transparency framework.
Last but not least, the Agreement is fair: the notion of differentiation between developed and developing countries is present in all issues, and there is solidarity from rich countries towards the most vulnerable ones, with in particular the commitment to meet and then exceed the target of $100 billion per year for these countries.
Another great achievement of COP21 was the involvement of an unprecedented number of non-governmental stakeholders in climate action. Over 5,000 cities, regions, businesses, investors and NGOs from 180 countries have made commitments. New public and private financial announcements have made the implementation of national contributions more credible. In short, a shift towards low-carbon development has been set in motion. I believe it is irreversible.
For once, it is no exaggeration to use the word “historic”. In the fight against climate change, there will thus be a “before Paris” and an “after Paris”.
It is clear that much remains to be done to clarify and implement this historic Agreement. After 2015 which was the year for negotiations and decisions, 2016 has been the year of ratification and entry into force. It’s been an amazing success to achieve the ratification process in due time as to permit its entry into force not even a year after its signature. For this, we needed 55 ratifications, representing 55% of world greenhouse gas emissions. We made it and the early ratification of India was an element of the success.
Now comes the time for action.
The agreement sets principles. The goal is now to agree on how to translate these principles into action. On issues such as climate financing, on the terms of the five-year stocktake of national commitments, on the agreement monitoring system… COP22, which was held in Marrakech in couple of weeks ago, did part of the job, but a lot remains to be done before 2020.
Moreover, we also have to focus on what we call the “Pre-2020 period”. Aside from the implementation of the Agreement, which is due to enter into force in 2020, we will have to keep track of pre-2020 action and initiatives from States and non-State actors. It’s an essential aspect for the credibility of the agreement itself. For how do you want to convince that the agreement is going to be a success in 10 years’ time, if you cannot implement the decisions you have taken for the 3 years to come? I am thinking in particular of the “International Solar Alliance” launched by the Indian Prime Minister, Mr Modi, and French President François Hollande; I am thinking of our financial commitments to renewable energies in Africa, which must be quickly and fully honoured.
We will build the credibility of the Paris agreement, which is a long term commitment, on our ability to fulfil the short term commitments we have taken in Paris.
To conclude, I would say that, off course, Paris has been a turning point, and definitely not the end of the story. But remembering this historical moment, on December 12, were everybody was hugging, I had the impression that in a world that is really very tough, very complicated and very uncertain, there really was, for the first time in many years, something that would allow not only the current generation, but also those that follow, to simply live better.
For this agreement is not only about climate change; it will have an impact on the environment in general, biodiversity, public health. In that sense, it is also a genuine contribution to peace and stability. Shaping such an agreement is a situation that does not come up every day in one’s diplomatic career.
It is now up to us all to keep this “Paris spirit” alive.