Paris, France – I've reported from so many U.N. climate change conferences that I've lost count (11 or 12, I think), but I have never before experienced what is happening in the slapped-together particle board hallways of the Le Bourget exposition site: Optimism. Even a bit of giddiness on the part of the diplomats, and even among the always dour environmentalist groups. At earlier meetings the set ritual has been for activists during the second week to issue a constant stream of urgent denunciations. Sure, one still hears here that there is only 24 hours to get this or that deal done, but the upbeat tone is nevertheless widespread.
For example, during a press conference John Coequyt, the Sierra Club's Director of Federal and International Climate Campaigns flatly said, "We are very optimistic; we continue to believe that a good deal is possible." Luxembourg's Minister for the Environment, Carole Dieschbourg, speaking as the European Union's representative stated, "The new agreement is within reach, a binding global agreement applicable to all parties."
There is another reason for a feeling of serenity at the conference: the absence of mobs of protestors. The commotion produced by of masses of demonstrators inside and outside the climate conferences contributed significantly to the fraught atmosphere that pervaded previous meetings. The French government has used the terrorist atrocities in November as a justification to ban all public protests and marches. This seems to have taken the heart out of lot of would-be climate agitators. Yes, the occasional campaigner dressed in a polar bear costume does wander by, but participants are not being hectored by throngs of doomsters constantly crying climate calamity from their various soapboxes. The result is that the conference venue is imbued with an unaccustomed sense of orderly calm.
While many of the 40,000 conference participants may believe that the world is facing catastrophic climate change, they now seem confident that the negotiators will be able to conclude the first ever universal climate accord by the end of this week. As U.S. Special Representative for Climate Change Todd Stern noted during a press conference, the Paris Accord would then guide global energy decisions for essentially the rest of this century. "Paris can be a decisive turning point in history," declared U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Noting the presence of hundreds of representatives from business and industry at the meeting, Ban said, "The business community is asking for a clear signal from governments that the low emissions economy is inevitable."
In fact, a lot of participants at the meeting are proclaiming that global warming is really a huge business opportunity. Among others so saying was Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Director of Science and Policy, ecologist Peter Frumhoff. "Commitment to a clean energy future is a moral imperative grounded in science and one of the greatest business opportunities of all time," asserted Frumhoff at a UCS press conference. In the same session, biologist Chris Field who heads up the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, mirrored Frumhoff's assertion calling the imminently mandated transition away from fossil fuels "the biggest business opportunity of the second half of the 21st century." For my part, I will just say that people who take investment advice from activist scientists get what they deserve.
But what about investment advice from investment banks? On the eve of the Paris conference, Goldman Sachs released its report, The Low Carbon Economy, as an equity investor's guide to a low carbon world through 2025. The company sees tightening regulations that force the shift away from fossil fuels as driving a market for low carbon power supplies and energy efficiency. The firm identifies "LEDs, solar photovoltaic, onshore wind, and hybrid and electric vehicles as clear front runners in the emerging low carbon economy." Even more optimistically, Goldman's analysts suggest that the adoption of these low carbon technologies "could contribute to an early peak in global carbon dioxide emissions around 2020 – rather than continued steady growth to 2025, as anticipated by mainstream scenarios."
Very interestingly, a new study published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change reports that global carbon dioxide emissions may have actually dropped in the past year. While global carbon dioxide emissions plunged during the financial crisis, this would be the first time that they fell while the overall global economy continued to grow.
Despite the enthusiasm of the Goldman Sachs analysts for the low carbon future, I do note that this is the same company that issued reports that projected that the price of crude oil could ascend to $200 per barrel back in 2008 and later issued another this year saying it might possibly fall to $20 per barrel. Caveat emptor.
Note: I am filing daily dispatches from the Paris climate change conference and will keep readers posted on just how happy the folks here are at the end of the week.