Paris is ready. Are we?

Paris is ready.

The UN climate talks start tomorrow, and the French hosts have left nothing to chance. No last-minute failure, no repeat of Copenhagen here, thanks very much.

Technicians are busy putting the final touches to the Le Bourget site, environmental groups are preparing their stalls in the exhibition centre, and the negotiators and media are starting to drift in ahead of tonight’s preliminary session of the talks.

It’s an impressive spectacle. The organisers appear to have stripped IKEA bare: simple, functional furniture is the order of the day, the partitions are made of unclad particleboard (except the Gulf Cooperation Council’s exhibition stand and a few others), and all the exhibition and working space is lined up either side of a single central “avenue” to make communication and access easy.

Lots of room to sit back, relax, have a quiet conversation. The onus here is on “comfort”, “efficiency” and “let’s do this deal”.

Go back to Copenhagen in 2009, where the negotiators were over here, the media were over there and the NGOs and exhibition space was waaaaaay over there, and everyone came together in a massive traffic jam around the minimal catering area. It’s like a long-distant nightmare.

Here, you can’t walk five metres without tripping over a cafe. Everything is brightly-lit, well signposted and while you have to walk a fair bit to get anywhere, there’s plenty to see en route. There are plastic animal sculptures to break up the concrete monotony, large friendly signposts and plenty of helpful staff.

Everything about COP21 says “Not Copenhagen. Most definitely not.” The French presidency has had two years to work on the diplomacy, and it looks like they also gave themselves two years to plan the infrastructure. Nothing is being left to chance.

We arrive in Paris with a draft text – imperfect, but something that all nations can work with. There’s no secret proposal that anyone knows of, no backroom deal that would scupper the talks, destroy trust and confidence. Instead, we have more than 180 national commitments to act on climate change, all freely available to be inspected and analysed. We have bilateral agreements between the US and all the major emitters, multilateral agreements among regions. We have determination to reach a deal, in short.

And we also have business and industry. Boy, do we ever have business and industry. Hardly a day’s gone by in the past month without some new association of industrial companies announcing it, too, was behind a strong outcome in Paris. They’re all setting up shop here in Le Bourget, preparing a non-stop schedule of events that will highlight the role they want to play in a future climate regime.

And not only that, but these business groups are throwing their weight behind carbon pricing in a way we haven’t seen before. Obviously they aren’t keen on being regulated, nor do they really want a flat tax. They want carbon markets. They want a network of trading systems, linked through the UNFCCC, that will allow them to treat the climate and environment as another cost; something to be hedged, essentially.

And perhaps that is the only way to marry the economic system we have with the needs of the planet. At least, that’s the way they present it.  And all that pressure is going to have to find its way into a text that so far fights shy of the words “markets” and “trading”.

So Paris is ready. Business is ready. Nations are ready. The only thing not ready yet is the text of a treaty, or agreement, or protocol that will encompass the willingness of mankind to start to repair the damage of the last two hundred years.


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