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COP21: A success, but is it really?

It happened late last Saturday: French Conference President Laurent Fabius, who had led the climate change summit in the past two weeks, announced something historic to the world: The 196 attending delegations had been able to agree on a deal.


It is done! Last Saturday, the world has finally agreed on a new climate deal. But what preceded this result was something probably best comparable to the Cup Final in Soccer: One game only deciding if it's all or nothing. During regular match time the teams could not agree on a winner, so they had to go into overtime.  Still there was no result, so eventually the penalty shootout had to serve. Then the crucial goal scorers had to be chosen and ultimately determined the winner. Its name being 'global community' – a team that has so far only scored some notable successes, but could never win the ultimate prize.

Surrounded by Winners

After this rather pictorial description, let's go back to the actual events. Afterwards, many proclaimed to be the winner of the negotiations. US President Barack Obama announced via social media that an agreement had finally been concluded under American leadership. Meanwhile, German media focused on the role of Chancellor Merkel, who had already put the issue on the agenda at the G7 summit. She also sent her diplomats to the previously difficult partners in emerging markets like Brazil in advance. The French on the other hand praised themselves for their diplomatic skills, because Conference President Fabius tricked some of the blocking countries into the leadership of working committees and thus forced them to participate in the negotiations.

Saved by the Bell

Ultimately, the global community has been lucky. If the summit had already taken place at the beginning of the year, it would have been much more difficult to reach an agreement. Since then, a change of government took place in two influential countries: Canada and Australia have been well-known opponents of an agreement in recent years. Both countries are heavily dependent on fossil fuels and have only begun lately to invest in renewable energy.

Furthermore, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is an opponent of wind energy. He thinks turbines are "ugly" and caused a freeze on investments in wind energy. The new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reversed this policy recently: The Ministry of Environment just declared that money from the 7.2 billion US dollar 'Clean Energy Finance' fund may be invested in wind energy again. Australia wants to focus on the development of offshore wind energy.

Only in October, a new head of state was elected in Canada: The Liberal politician Justin Trudeau had put much emphasis on the need for a new Canadian energy policy in his campaign. He was able to ensure his surprising electoral success with this policy which also ensured the success of the climate talks in Paris. The blockade was finally abandoned.

Searching for a vision

And while the Chinese delegation in Paris was still looking for a new position for the People's Republic in the global environmental talks, images from Beijing's smog-ridden streets went viral. The government had to resort to drastic measures such as factory closures and curfews to keep the population safe. The result of decades of misguided environmental policy was visible for the whole world to see and so forced China to relent in Paris.

Renewables are en vogue

Strong pressure from large corporations is likely to have also contributed to the success of Paris. The massive power guzzling IT industry already discovered renewable energy in recent months and so the companies announced their new contracts to purchase green electricity almost on a weekly basis. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Co. weighed in their own good names (and their assets) to really show everyone that renewables are simply en vogue. And even large industrial nations need to keep an eye on this trend not wanting to scare off their largest taxpayers.

German companies are also obliged to publicly protect the climate and forged an alliance – participants amongst others are Adidas, Puma, Commerzbank, Aldi and REWE. According to Spiegel Online, next to a commitment to ensure climate protection, they also want to force the federal government to adopt tougher energy laws.

Where do we go from here?

It's wait and see now though, if the climate deal actually does make a difference. Although the deal itself has to be seen as a historical success, individual countries must now adapt and correct their environmental and energy policies accordingly. Despite the 'Energiewende', even Germany is not doing enough to enable the success of the agreement at the moment.

And so words of warning are currently dominating the media. Although most environmental organizations showed pleased support for the conclusion, they also promoted tougher measures in Germany at the same time. Among other things, the phase-out of coal is on the agenda, which must be implemented without delay. "The task for 2016 is to create a climate action plan for 2030. This plan must spell out in concrete terms the decarbonisation of Germany. Important components of this is a phase-out of coal[...]”, said Dr. Patrick Graichen, director of German think tank Agora Energiewende. "Germany also needs to sharpen a faster phase-out of oil and gas in its climate targets", comments Olaf Tschimpke by NABU.

The Rest is Silence

But while many major German companies are apparently aware of their power and make appropriate claims, too little is coming from the 'sector of those affected'! In recent days, nearly everybody commented on the subject. But those who have actually been working on the 'Energiewende' for a long time, have been silent collectively.

Though some renewable energy companies were able to generate a bit of buzz on the stock market (turbine manufacturers like Vestas and Nordex, for example), they all missed the opportunity to give themselves a voice in the media and to strengthen their position for future negotiations on tougher energy laws. Instead, the industry of renewable energies was not heard or seen and left the discussion to pessimists once again. Shortly after the first jubilation was over, articles about negative consequences dominated the media again: 'Who is supposed to pay for all the costs? The energy consumer whose bills will go up etc.'

The regenerative industry thus sadly missed a unique opportunity to show remaining doubters that energy transition already is a success story – and will remain so in the future. This has to change fast. Paris showed that offense wins the tournament! Perhaps a good New Year's resolution?

Katrin Radtke

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