Reflections from COP20, Day 7

Tom Harrisson, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Not for the first time during COP20, the presence of Shell's David Hone on a side-event panel has caused controversy. The event in question, hosted by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), whose name was changed from "Why Divest from Fossil Fuels When a Future with Low Emission Fossil Energy Use is Already a Reality?" to "How Can We Reconcile Climate Targets with Energy Demand Growth?", was inundated by a scrum of civil society protesters on Monday.

Speaking outside the event Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria said "we are here to condemn the activities of Shell in COP20. Shell is promoting dirty energy as part of the energy future of the world but [it] has caused monumental havoc in the Niger delta, [destroying] our rivers [and] our livelihoods, this is why we are pushing for renewable energy to say Shell has no part in COP20".

Also on the panel was Lord Nicholas Stern who, having pushed passed protesters wearing "Get the FF out" t-shirts, spoke about the necessity of up-scaling Carbon Capture and Storage technology to stay within a 2˚C scenario. The protesters duly walked out allowing for a brief Q&A and some much-needed breathing space.

When questioned about his refusal to support the fossil fuel divestment campaign present at the London School of Economics, where he chairs the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, Lord Stern gave a somewhat conflicted response. Without actually acknowledging the campaign itself, he talked about 'portfolio decarbonisation' adopted by large public sector pension funds such as FRR in France, whereby the companies with the poorest environmental standards are dropped, creating positive incentive structures and increased returns on investment. He also talked about the need to be analytical when choosing where to apply pressure, either as a shareholder or none-shareholder.

Stern seems then to indirectly agree with the LSE Divest, whilst inviting criticism from civil society organisations by legitimising fossil fuel companies like Shell by speaking at such events.

Elisa Calliari, Youth Press Agency

Saturday 6 December saw the opening of the first ever Multilateral Assessment (MA), aimed at engaging parties in evaluating developed countries’ mitigation efforts. Convened under the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), this two-day exercise was the second step of a wider International Assessment and Review (IAR) process started in January 2014, with the technical review of the national reports submitted by developed countries. The MA opened on Saturday with presentations by the European Union and some Member States, and continued on Monday 8 December with contributions from the United States (US) and New Zealand, among others. The MA was applauded by parties as an important tool for enhancing accountability, transparency, and sharing of national experiences. Nevertheless, it looked more like an academic exercise with Parties providing their PowerPoint presentations on national mitigation efforts and with little critical analysis on the results presented. This was particularly true during the first day of the assessment, with the Brazilian delegation calling for more interaction and discussion in the process and the SBI chair endorsing this request. In fact, on Monday, the exercise was more engaging and questions by developing countries were so numerous that the session closed with a slight delay before the lunch break. In particular, Fiji, Brazil, China, Saudi Arabia proved to be particularly vocal. On the developed countries side, the US, Canada and Australia were among the more active in the discussion.

From a formal point of view, the MA might represent an important platform for enhancing accountability and keeping track of what developed countries are doing in terms of mitigation commitments. However, the exercise could be improved in a number of ways. In particular, there is a strong need for comparability among the results presented, this being ultimately hampered by the different methodologies individually used for the assessment. Moreover, the assessment efforts put in place by developed countries seemed to be quite uneven. While the EU presentation was based upon a 200 detailed report, the Biannual Report submitted by the US was quite thin with its 34 pages. Consequently, it was no surprise that the US was inundated with questions from both developed and developing countries. This first experience during SBI 41 will hopefully be useful to better shape the process in the upcoming MA (June and December 2015) and to make the MA really meaningful and supportive of an enhanced transparency under the Convention.