Climate summit preparations on right track, says Minister

Climate disruption/COP21 – Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, President of COP21, to RTL (excerpts)

Paris, 27 July 2015


THE MINISTER – You know, there’s something Léon Blum said which I like a lot: when he was asked whether he believed in the success of whatever, he said, “I believe it because I hope for it”, and that’s exactly…

Q. – That’s how you feel!

Climate change/changing attitudes

THE MINISTER – …how I feel! It’s true that we’re working an enormous amount for this, and it’s why a foreign minister was appointed as President of COP21. I’m making the most of all my international contacts in order to talk continually about the climate, as is President Hollande, and things are moving in the right direction. I remain cautious because the main difficulty is twofold: firstly, it’s an extraordinarily complex issue. Never, to date, have we managed to get all countries to agree. The only precedent where there’s been an agreement is the Kyoto Protocol, but that’s only a small part and here, at the end of the conference, on 11 December, I’m going to have to call a vote on a text and the 196 parties which I’ll have in front of me must all raise their hands. There mustn’t be any vote against.

Just think what that means with regard to an increasingly complex matter. But I must say that we’re moving in the right direction. Why? Firstly because the scientific work has been outstanding. Had you made this programme only three years ago, we would have been talking about these issues not with Professor Etienne but with someone else, and half the time would have been spent asking whether the phenomenon existed. Today, that’s over, everyone knows it exists and that scientific work has been done. The phenomenon has unfortunately also got worse and people are increasingly aware of it and want to fight this aggravation. And – let’s tell it like it is – a few major leaders, major countries have committed themselves: I’m thinking in particular of President Obama and the Chinese, who are completely committed now, which wasn’t the case before. (…)

Climate change mitigation/"4 per 1,000" programme

Q. – Agriculture and forests can play an important role in mitigating global warming. An international programme has been launched called “4 per 1,000” because, of course, people are realizing that the growth of plants and trees, greenery and photosynthesis fix carbon dioxide. It’s been realized that if 4 parts per 1,000 of this vegetation were planted every year, it would allow us to cover the excess carbon dioxide emissions. So are farmers and foresters really present in the discussions today?

THE MINISTER – The forestry industry, yes; agriculture, still not enough, but the forestry industry, yes, what with the whole problem of deforestation… And that problem is being very effectively taken into account by a whole number of countries – we can call to mind Indonesia, Brazil and its problems, which I could say are under control. The “4 per 1,000” is quite a new subject and French researchers are absolutely at the forefront in this field because there have been discoveries which show that if we use agriculture in a certain way, we can cultivate, and, at the same time, fight carbonization. And we’re going to step up our effort a great deal in this area. It’s quite a new subject internationally, but one which is extremely promising because it allows us to move towards a degree of decarbonization and at the same time maintain the agriculture we need. (…)

COP21 agreement/major players

Q. – (…) Which are the countries, the biggest players, the trailblazers, those who are going to be able to lead the 196 to an agreement? To put it another way, who are you counting on? (…)

THE MINISTER – Firstly, Europe, which is negotiating overall, i.e. it isn’t France, Germany and Italy doing this. There’s a negotiator, Miguel Arias Cañete, who’s negotiating on Europe’s behalf, even though he is supervised by the various countries of Europe. Europe – we can say this without arrogance – is after all a leader and a very good student.

You have the two biggest emitters, the two biggest polluters, namely the United States of America and China, and what explains why things are looking much better than before is that President Obama on the one hand and the Chinese authorities on the other have decided to make headway. They’re very important, because the United States sets the tone for some countries and China exerts influence over the Group of 77. You have the Africans, who are acting together, and clearly they too are very important, because they’re experiencing a paradox: on the one hand they have very few greenhouse gas emissions, and on the other they’re very badly penalized by global warming.

And you have other groups, including the one called AOSIS, i.e. the [Alliance of] Small Island States, which must be treated in that grouping. You have South American countries, you have countries which, individually, always have an important role, like Brazil and India. For the latter it’s complicated, because its main resource is coal, and coal is very bad from this viewpoint. The Indian Prime Minister, Mr Modi, tells us that he clearly understands our concerns but that his number one task is to combat poverty and support his country’s development. In a very timely way, Prime Minister Modi emphasizes new technologies and solar power to combat global warming, but without giving up coal. We must not only deal with each country individually but also groups of countries, and this of course is one of the difficulties of the negotiation. (…)

France/energy transition act

Q. – And for France, is the basis the energy transition act?

THE MINISTER – Well, the basis is what we’ve done at European level, and by the end of the year we should reach the point where 90% of the countries have revealed their commitments, their road maps. (…) Then there will be verification – every five years, we think – to see how this road map is being implemented.

In the meantime, there will have been technological discoveries that will completely change things and make renewable energy much cheaper. For example, solar energy is much cheaper today than it was 10 or 20 years ago, and awareness is also going to be raised. A lot of businesses – which wasn’t previously the case – will understand that they must move towards a decarbonized economy, and there will be commitments by local authorities. There’s a UN website called NAZCA that is going to publish all these commitments and over time, probably every five years, we’re going to revise these commitments upwards. And gradually this will enable us – even if we risk going above 2ºC at the beginning – to get back to the path of 2ºC. (…)

In France, the laws have recently been passed: the energy transition act and those on biodiversity. For example, it means that we’re going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions for building, in the industrial field, that we’re going to encourage renewable energy, we’re going to give incentives for the use of green energy as opposed to carbonized energy and so we should have a very good record.

There’s the problem of nuclear energy, which is a paradoxical problem. Nuclear energy doesn’t release greenhouse gas emissions and, as you know, we’ve planned to reduce the proportion of nuclear energy in electricity production from 75% to 50%. But 50% is still a very high figure, and we want to plug this gap through a massive effort on green energy – i.e. solar, biomass and all forms of marine energy.

Business investment

Q. – In other words, we’re investing, we’re asking businesses to invest, we’re building more?

THE MINISTER – Exactly. In other words, we’re taking steps, particularly financial ones, to ensure that what’s carbonized is penalized and what’s decarbonized is given an advantage. This ties in with another problem, namely carbon pricing, the carbon market.

The main idea is as follows: we’ve had a world that has developed on the basis of carbonized energy, and today we can see that carbonized energy emits greenhouse gases, which are very bad for the climate. So we must gradually move from carbonized to decarbonized energy. (…)

In Copenhagen a promise was made that by 2020 the rich countries, be it through the public or the private sector – it’s not only the public sector, it’s the private sector too – would contribute $100 billion a year to the poor countries. This may seem a huge figure, but when you combine the public and private efforts we’re in the process of approaching this figure.

But I personally believe that the rich countries, the so-called G7, will need to make an additional effort. The Germans have done it, the Americans are thinking about it, and we ourselves are thinking about it. I think it’s absolutely essential, to create the trust you talk about. Not that finance solves everything, but unless finance exists the developing countries, including the African countries, will tell us that they have no responsibility for climate disruption but are suffering its consequences and that they need funding for technologies to cope with it, and that’s what we must do.

There are many things being done to this effect. Right now there are 20 American businesses, major companies – I’m thinking of Google and Coca-Cola – that have made commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Funding is also going to be provided by the private sector, and I recently met Bill Gates, who is considering more funding – including out of his own pocket – for breakthrough research that will be capable of making green energy much cheaper. There’s a whole trend under way, and in Lima, Peru, in October, during the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, we’ve decided with our Peruvian friends to organize a special meeting on climate finance. All the world’s finance ministers will be there – as will my Peruvian colleague, who chaired COP21, and I, who am going to chair COP21 – to frame these solutions.

Q. – Must a very hard-cash figure and a very clear timetable emerge from it?

THE MINISTER – Yes, the clear path that guarantees that by 2020 the poor, developing countries will have $100 billion a year available through public and private funds. (…)./.

Published on 31/07/2015

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