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COP15 Grade Card: LP (by Prashant)

I’m going to disagree with Pat on this – the climate deal at Copenhagen wasn’t meaningful (enough). While the COP15 established the Copenhagen Accord which “is operationally immediately”, the fact that the conference hasn’t triggered anything concrete for the near future is probably a good indication of its ineffectiveness.

Although the accord targets a temperature increase of less than 2°C, it failed to reach country specific emission targets, in addition to the accord being non-binding. The UNFCC now requires that all member countries submit their voluntary emission reduction targets by January 2010. According to a U.N. report, the current voluntary emission targets amount to a 3°C in temperature. I don’t see many countries offering drastic additional reductions in the next month, so the COP15 agreement to limit temperature increase to 2°C means very little. Between now and COP16 at Mexico City, some headway will be made towards reducing emission to target 2°C temperature increase, but an excellent opportunity to make concrete progress has been lost at Copenhagen. Also, the accord promises developing countries $100B a year by 2010, but does not mention which countries will contribute how much money to this cause.


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COP15: Essential Beginning or Failure? (By Pat)

UN chief Ban Ki-moon described the accord from COP15 as an “essential beginning” and U.S. President Obahma, called it “ a meaningful agreement” while critics labeled the accord a sham and a failure. Having spent the week in Copenhagen focusing on climate change issues, do I view the conference with positive hope for the future or not? Was COP15 worth the time, cost, and carbon emitted from the travel miles of tens of thousands of people?

I fall into the ‘glass is half full’ camp. I have hope because of the variety of people I saw in Copenhagen deeply engaged in the issue of climate change: from the managing directors of the major Wall Street firms to presidents of international environmental groups to country delegates from across the globe. The issue of climate change has smart, passionate people across multiple sectors— government, private, and public— ready to tackle what they know will take years to address. Tracy R. Wolstencroft, Managing Director at Goldman Sachs, reminded the audience in a session organized by the International Emissions Trading Association, that successful firms look ahead, and both a low carbon economy and policy changes related to climate change are part of that future. He quoted world-famous hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, who said that, ”I skate to where the puck is going to be—not where it is.”

The negotiations at Copenhagen are part of a long series of meetings and conferences organized by the United Nations that span years. It was well know before the doors to the Bella Center opened and COP15 began, there were significant differences between countries. Perhaps, in addition to poor planning for the massive number of prospective participants, the UN was guilty of setting expectations too high, and we all had hoped for too much progress. Despite this, there are positive results to note from COP15. Both developed and developing countries have set a mitigation target of two degrees Celsius, declared a finance mechanism to support developing countries, and agreed to share information on the implementation of their actions. Lars Josefesson, President and CEO of Vattenfall, the Swedish energy company serving 4.7 million customers in northern and central Europe, said in another meeting I attended, “We are in the process of re-engineering the entire world. We need to move systematically forward. COP15 is one step.”  Slow but steady progress is being made and for that reason alone, I am hopeful.

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A unique Israeli experience (by Itamar)

On Wednesday morning, due to the UNFCCC decision to stop the accreditation process for NGOs without any advance warning, I ended up being the only Tuck student delegate that attended the actual conference. In addition to attending some side events, varying from climate change adaptation costs in Africa, through Senator John Kerry making his forecast on what the US will do in the next 6 months to the tension between climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts in the city level to the ones in the national government level, I also tried to find a way in which at least one of us will be able to attend the conference on Thursday.

The UNFCCC has limited the number of observers on Thursday to only 1,000 (as opposed to 7,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday) and a new secondary badge was required. As it turned out, the overhead organization for research and independent NGOs (RINGO) was the one capable of providing us with such badges yet they decided to give priority to organizations that have attended past RINGO meetings during the conference. Since we never even got a chance to attend one, we were out of the race.

I decided to try the Israeli delegation. Since I didn’t see too many Israeli NGOs around, I figured they might have some extras. Unfortunately, the contact person for Israeli NGOs did not have any badges but when I asked him if he knows anything about the itinerary for the expected visit of Mr. Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel, past Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, he invited me to attend a closed event with Mr. Peres for the Israeli delegation later on that afternoon in one of the hotels in town. Having never met Mr. Peres in person before, needless to say I was quite excited.

It was interesting to see the dynamics in the meeting: Mr. Peres began by stating that his goal in that meeting was to make sure that tomorrow everybody is going to be on the same page, and gave the rough outline of his planned speech for the Plenary meeting emphasizing the Israeli opportunity to develop climate change related technology, Israel’s willingness to share its knowledge and expertise with the rest of the nations and its commitment to comply with the international standard, whichever it may be. He then asked the audience for feedback and comments and hearing some of them incorporated in his speech the next day brought a smile to my face.

We then proceeded to the Jewish Synagogue in central Copenhagen which was packed with the local Jewish community to light the 6th candle of Hanukkah.  Being a rather secular Jew myself, I still found the situation to be quite emotional and Mr. Peres’ speech addressing the congregation very moving.

Through some creative thinking but primarily luck, a rather dull morning has turned into one of the most memorable experiences I will have from this conference.

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The many sides of COP15 (by Frank)

The Tuck delegation meets with IPCC chairman Dr. R.K. Pachauri

If the history of warfare has taught us to never fight a land war in Asia, then you might say that COP15 has taught us to never hold a December conference in Scandinavia.  Snow, freezing temperatures, and bitterly cold winds made Copenhagen a less than desirable destination on Thursday, providing a bit of a reminder of the Hanover winter we had just left behind.  However, with heads of state descending on Copenhagen over the next two days, the UN had announced it would further cut NGO access to the Bella Center today and Friday, meaning we again focused our efforts on outside events (no waiting in line!) rather than once again braving in the cold for hours on end to get into the conference.  Given the weather today, the 12 hours I spent waiting in line on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday didn’t seem so bad.

A day after attending a series of panels organized by the International Emission Trading Association (IETA) at the Crowne Plaza, I started Thursday with a trip to the Klima Forum at DGI-byen.  The two hotel conferences were near perfect foils, representing the stunning diversity of NGOs trying to leave their mark on the climate change debate.  At the modern, swanky Crowne Plaza you can get your fill of star-gazing: Thomas Friedman ate brunch across the way from us, while Al Gore made an appearance later in the afternoon on the way to a VIP event being held there.

At the DGI-byen?   Not so much.  The conference center is home to hundreds of mostly environmentalist exhibitors set up in crude cubicles–think junior high science fair, complete with raised basketball hoops overlooking the ramshackle affair.  Meanwhile, the hallways are crammed with mostly young people huddled over their laptops to use the free wifi.  Groups are there from around the world, campaigning against everything from nuclear power to carbon offsets to multinationals’ role in Argentine crop experimentation.  For an MBA student, the DGI-byen obviously offered little of the business focus we came to learn more about, but it’s still an interesting counterpoint to the more practical, big picture view offered at events such as IETA.  Everywhere you find people looking to make connections, make their points, and get a better feel for the complex problems ahead of us.

But perhaps the highlight of the conference thus far came Thursday evening, when the ten of us from Tuck had the opportunity to speak with IPCC Chairman and Nobel Laureate Dr. Rajendra Pachauri.  Despite his whirlwind schedule, he generously sat down with us for nearly an hour, answering questions on a broad range of topics: the importance of 350 vs. 450 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the ethics of mitigating vs. adapting to climate change, and the communication challenges of the recent “Climategate” scandal to name a few.    Listening to Dr. Pachauri recall stories about everything from the rigorous IPCC peer review sessions to his meetings with Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, it’s easy to see not only how challenging his role as IPCC chair has been, but also how he’s managed to pull it off: with a disarming mixture of humility, compassion, realism, and respect for others.

As for Climategate, it was clear that Dr. Pachauri had been frustrated by both the foolishness of some of the emails as well as the resulting relentless drone of media conspiracy theorists.  But he’s also a realist.  While the IPCC has already addressed and refuted the specific concerns about the emails, he acknowledged that it was difficult to do much beyond investigate the issue and reaffirm the IPCC’s findings.  While many on the other side had strong financial incentives to push the issue into the forefront, the UN itself had neither the funding nor the mandate to fight a PR battle.  That could prove a problem going forward in the U.S., but it’s clear from the past two weeks of COP15 that national delegations themselves remain focused on the bigger issue of mitigating climate change.

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A few inconvenient truths but a few convenient ones too…. By Manoj

As I write this blog post world leaders from 119 different countries are negotiating to pull up an agreement. But the overwhelming majority out here doubt whether negotiators can pull it off from where things stand today. But as I envision a world 50 years from now does success at Copenhagen matter? Well, only time will tell. I believe whether the world is able to successfully combat climate change depends on technological breakthroughs not political pledges at Copenhagen.

It is our 5th day at COP15, and we as a group have attended dozens of sessions on topics such as climate justice, policy making, emerging clean technologies, role of NGOs and sub-national governments, tax implications of carbon credits, and oversight of carbon market. During all these events the sidelines, we had the opportunity to interact with the attendees (climate change scientists, CEOs of energy companies, policy makers including governors and legislators, NGOs, climate activists etc.) from different parts of the globe. Personally, I have been overwhelmed by the diversity of perspectives I have got in such a short span of time. It has been a real learning expedition, and I am happy that I made the trip.

I would like to summarize my experience so far by highlighting some inconvenient truths and some convenient ones too. First the inconvenient ones….

• An agreement even without binding legal framework rather than a hollow political commitment, which seems to be the most probable result as I write the blog, would have given impetus to the efforts made so far and sent a signal that the political leadership of the world is serious about tackling climate change.

• There is no talk about “Climate Gate” at Copenhagen. While everyone believes that there is climate change not everyone believes that it is global warming that is the root cause of climate change. My personal belief (which is shared by most of my business school colleagues) is that the UNFCCC can communicate its stand on the “Climate Gate” in a more emphatic way so that it is clarified once and for all. We are meeting with Dr. R. K Pachauri ( Chairman of IPCC, Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change) this evening on the sidelines and would keep you updated about his thoughts on this issue.

• In any negotiation the powerful ones can’t win at the cost of the weaker ones. A win – lose outcome is not necessarily good for the winner at the end of the day. If the developed countries think that they can win by committing less reductions while extracting developing nations to cap their emissions they probably are short sighted. It has to be a WIN-WIN for both.

• One of the widely talked about topics at COP15 is MRV (monitoring, reporting and verification) of target reductions. The developed countries think that the developing nations will both cheat the system and take advantage of it. To me it seems that the developing nations are the clear victims of the impact of climate change. If they fail to live up to their commitment, it would be to their destruction. My belief is that no sovereign country would agree to audit by other countries. Would the US agree to an audit by China?

• The rationale I hear quite often in debates about climate change in the US is that it will hurt the American economy and there will be job losses as other developing countries, like India and China, will gain an unfair advantage if there is no cost of carbon in those countries. As I think through the reasons, I would like to give the example of the European Union. Have Germany, Denmark and Spain lost jobs or become uncompetitive in the process of becoming a greener economy? No, they have definitely not. In fact, they have clear competitive advantage in clean technologies which will drive the world tomorrow while US is behind. To put it in Tom Friedman’s words from one of the COP 15 events, “Being Green is the next big opportunity. Countries like China are not becoming green by choice but out of necessity. China will probably lead the world into a cleaner world as they believe in making things happen not in pep talk. Friedman says “If the US could become China for a day, it would be a different world”

• While the world focuses on Copenhagen let us not forget the biggest challenges facing mankind today: hunger, poverty, and access to water. Some of these issues are as important as climate change.

But not everything is lost. The world today is a healthier, safer and better place than it was 50 years ago. So I have no doubt what so ever in my mind that it will change for better only in the next 50 years as well. Now the convenient ones …..

• Developing countries like India, China and Brazil now appreciate that they are equally responsible to combat climate change as the developed nations. They simply cannot hide behind the wall. And there is a big opportunity out there. Who knows if the next big innovation will be in India or China instead of in the Silicon Valley?

• While national governments are negotiating over issues related to climate change, the sub-national governments have been actively embracing change and taking the lead in implementing policies and initiatives to combat climate change. This is the biggest silver lining, and my MBA colleagues have covered this aspect in detail in previous blogs.

• While the world continues to debate how to combat climate change, efforts will not succeed unless there is a behavioral change in every human being on earth. Unless each one of us change our lifestyle, minimize waste and lead a sustainable life, the battle of climate change will never be won.

I sign off with my favorite poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost praying that our leaders chose the one less traveled by and act so they will be remembered in history for having the courage to do so.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth; ……………..

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Note: We had a great meeting with Dr. R. K Pachauri on the sidelines at COP15 and a separate blog post covering our interaction with him follows…..

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Terminator 5: A Glimpse of Hope (by Steve)

Over the past two days we attended side events organized by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA).  So far the events have been great, with a focus on potential future legislation and sub-national governments and businesses.   It appears to us that business and a number of state agencies are a lot further ahead than the UN in thinking about and making climate change reforms.  One of the events focused on sub-national collaboration acting not only as a bridge between any UN agreement and actual implementation, but also as a leader in achieving real climate change action. 

An example of this is the formation of the Regional Group of 20 (R20), which Arnold Schwarzenenegger, Governor of California, announced on Tuesday at the Governors’ Summit.  This is a group of sub-national governments who plan to fast track legislation within their own jurisdictions to fight climate change.  The group will address strategies to mitigate current and future climate change through public-private partnerships, technology development and transfer, and financial measures. 

Mr. Cherif Rahmani, Minister of Environment, Algeria; head of the UNFCCC Africa group; and a member of the R20 spoke at one of the IETA events we attended about the R20, Algeria’s existing relationship with the government of Quebec and the need to develop more of these types of coalitions.   The event also highlighted a number of achievements already made on the sub-national level, like the California EPA, which has implemented real mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gases in state energy production.

A common thread in many of our blog posts has been the potential for more local and sub-national action. From business school students’ perspective this is a very encouraging development because it is an area that most of us will be able to engage in and have an immediate impact on in the short term.   For those of us in the Tuck Delegation who have been disappointed by the gross inefficiencies demonstrated by the UNFCCC at Copenhagen this is especially encouraging.   Who knew it would be none other than “The Terminator” who gave us this glimpse of hope!

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COP15: Cold, Flat and Crowded (by Karl)

After spending another six hours on Tuesday waiting in a handful of lines while doing calisthenics to fight the near-freezing temperatures, we are thrilled to announce that we actually made into the conference! Unfortunately, I use the term “we” quite loosely. That is because only five out of ten people in our group were permitted to enter – the UNFCCC had issued required “secondary passes” to control the number of entrants, and we only received five of these. I could spend the rest of this blog writing about how dysfunctional the conference has been and questioning how the UN is in a position to broker a deal among hundreds of countries when it can’t effectively manage a two-week conference, but I won’t. And why not? Because Thomas Friedman was far too entertaining yesterday.

The Climate Consortium Denmark hosted a panel focusing, in part, on what the role of government is in a green growth economy. The panel featured the renowned author, Thomas Friedman, as well as The Danish Minister for Economic and Business Affairs, Lene Espersen, and the CEO of the international shipping company Maersk, Nils Smedegaard Andersen. What was refreshing about the group as a whole is that all three of them wholeheartedly agreed that the government should put a price on carbon emissions. This was especially surprising coming from the CEO of Maersk who claimed that such policy would only encourage his company to further lower costs and innovate while distancing themselves from their competition. I simply didn’t expect to hear this from the CEO of the largest shipping container company in the world.

As for Thomas Friedman’s comments, if you have read his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded”, you probably wouldn’t have gotten anything out of the panel. That said, he made several points throughout his talk that seemed to resonate with both the audience and the other panelists. One comment of particular interest was how China is going green not simply from an economic perspective, but out of necessity. Given the country’s huge population growth, high level of air pollution and dwindling water reserves, human survival in China is certainly more at risk than, say, that of the United States. According to Friedman, “they get it.” And as an American citizen, this worries him. Friedman wants America to be the country that develops the new and innovative technologies that will mitigate climate change and keep America at the forefront of economic dominance. But he doesn’t appear confident that this will happen. Issues surrounding the environment are much more immediate to the Chinese than they are to the United States, and American citizens continue to be more focused on their immediate needs (i.e. health care reform). China is in a position to “clean our clocks,” something that I don’t necessarily disagree with.

The other point that Friedman made that solicited a round of applause from the audience was his rant about price signals. His point was simple, but effective (and very animated). Fifteen years ago, people (some, anyway) were willing to pay $2,000 to own a cell phone. Why? Because it changed their lives and made life more convenient. Are individuals willing to pay a similar price premium to put solar panels on their rooves? No way. That is because solar panels do not change a person’s life. They deliver the same thing that a electric utility delivers: electrons. As such, the only way that people are going to pay for solar-generated electrons is if they are relatively cheaper. And the only way to do this is by instituting a price signal: either make solar cheaper by offering incentives, or make fossil fuel more expensive by placing a price on carbon. This might be an obvious point, but it is truly critical to climate change policy. People’s behavior won’t change unless doing so saves them money.

The second panel that we attended was sponsored by ICLEI and featured a handful of federal, state, and local elected officials. They included Nancy Sutley, Chair White House Council on Environmental Quality; Jim Boyle, Governor Wisconsin; Michael Bloomberg, Mayor New York City; and Patrick Hays, Mayor North Little Rock. In general, the panel sounded like a handful of political pitches (Bloomberg 2012, anyone?). In particular, Sutley looked and sounded like she was making a speech to Congress, constantly looking down at her notes and thanking a variety of people and organizations. While the other panelists made some good points about the role of local governments in implementing change in cities which contribute to a whopping 80% of all carbon emissions, they focused primarily on their own accomplishments. It would have been more refreshing to hear them speak their opinions and real ideas to affect change. Perhaps the only truly unique idea from that session came from an audience member, Carl Pope, who is the former Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Mr. Pope quoted Bill Clinton, saying that private banks around the world hold $9 trillion cash that they would like to lend, but can’t find the right opportunities to do so. He claimed that there exist lots of local municipal projects (e.g. energy efficiency programs) that are not only provide better services to the community, but are actually profitable. If banks lent a fraction of this money (say a mere $3 trillion) to municipalities for such projects, the municipalities would receive much needed capital, banks would earn a reasonable return on their investment, and carbon emissions would be reduced as a result. To quote my good friends in the consulting industry, this is what I call a real “win-win”!

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