COP21, Week two: what to watch out for


The storms have blown over Scotland and the rains have abated. My flight back to Paris later today should be a considerably more gentle affair than Friday’s flight to Edinburgh. Tomorrow I will be joined by my fellow MEPs, as the delegation from the European Parliament sets up camp. We have our first meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator, Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, tomorrow evening. When I left things, pretty much everything was still on the table. Despite negotiators finalising the draft text for Ministers to analyse, I suspect that most of the issues will still be unresolved.

Commissioner Cañete is an interesting character. After a bruising confirmation hearing back in 2014 where questions over oil company shares and his brother-in-law’s interest in energy firms dogged proceedings, he has taken time to find his feet. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Ernest Hemingway, Cañete needs a win in Paris to demonstrate to all his erstwhile critics that he is committed to addressing Climate Change.

Senor Cañete and I first met in Lima. The British Ambassador had thrown a reception at his residence in the hills to welcome the various Climate Change delegates, and Ed Davey, then UK Environment Minister, was waxing lyrical on Climate Change. Peru being equatorial, the speech took place al fresco. Under cover of darkness, I felt I could absent myself from the climax of the speech, which been approaching for quite some time.  Clambering through the undergrowth I headed toward a welcoming veranda. There I found the Commissioner Cañete, whose tolerance was slightly less than mine. We raised a glass of Pisco Sour to the importance of brevity in comments climatic.

As we approach week two, the challenge will be to separate rhetoric from reality.

So, some thoughts on the week ahead.

De chacun selon ses facultés, à chacun selon ses besoins

Or as we say en Ecosse: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’  I suspect you don’t often hear a Tory quoting Karl Marx, but oddly enough his remarks have never been more appropriate.  Back in 1992 the UN divided the world into developed and developing nations for issues relating to Climate Change.  However, 1992 was a long time ago. Many developing nations have developed, including China.  The old ‘firewall’ is no longer applicable, particularly since several of the nations which have made the transition are now significant carbon emitters.  China is hiding behind the needs of its fellow G77 developing nations while also emitting more carbon than any other nation on the face of the planet, and taking its place behind the US as the second wealthiest nation on the planet. So in the interests of fairness, more movement is required. I wonder if we will see it.

Leave the fossil fuels in the ground

This is a phrase you will hear often in Paris. The logic is sound. Carbon in the ground is not carbon in the atmosphere. So many green groups talk of leaving the oil and the gas and the coal exactly where it is. I recently heard a Green MEP make just that point during a radio broadcast in the European Parliament. I was struck at the time, as we sat on polypropylene chairs, and leaned on a formica desk, surrounded by every possible permutation of plastic, that not all fossil fuels are burned. One of the major employers in Scotland is the Grangemouth Refinery. It doesn’t create energy. It creates plastic. Whatever happens next in the great debate on Climate Change, we have to recognise that much of the life we live depends upon the resources we extract from carbon and hydrocarbon.

Energy v. Electricity

The two are so often confused. More often than not when we talk about energy we are really talking about electricity generation.  However, if you take my constituency of Scotland as an example, electricity generation is the smallest share.  The largest share is gas, which providers most of Scotland’s heat and cooks most of its food. It weighs in around 55%. Next is transport at around a quarter. Scotland is doing relatively well when it comes to renewable transport. Aberdeen, the ‘oil capital’ of Europe, is embracing hydrogen for public transport. However, out of a car fleet of 3.2 million there are presently only 1,100 electric cars.  Earlier this year, the BBC reported that nearly half of Scotland’s electric charging points are not being used.

The guests missing from the Climate Change table are transport and gas heating. When you hear the First Minister of Scotland talking about our ambitious targets - and such targets are welcome - they overlook the serious challenges facing Scotland (And that is not even to mention the fact that 250,000 Scottish jobs depend upon the oil and gas of the North Sea, and that tax breaks and subsidies are an essential lifeline).

The second week

So, there is much yet to resolve.  My hunch, an agreement by Friday is a big ask.  I have a feeling that all the ministers and negotiators will be working full pelt next weekend. However, no matter what happens5 I will be doing my best to work out what is unfolding, and blogging away merrily.