Viewpoint: Wind offers optimism to the climate topic

WORLDWIDE: You don't need to be one of the 40,000 people heading to December's climate jamboree in Paris to know that the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN's climate framework (COP21) is a big deal.

The event has been described as the last chance for the nations of Earth to agree to take the necessary action to give us a decent shot at limiting global temperature rise to within the 1.5 or 2 degree limit beyond which climate impacts start to get really nasty. Underlining the importance of the Paris talks, Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate secretariat, stated that, in the event that actions cannot be agreed at Paris: "There is no plan B."

It's no secret either that climate diplomacy is an almost impossibly complex business that sorely tests the negotiation skills of seasoned diplomats and the political will of their heads of state. The so-called road to Paris has been long and, given the grindingly slow progress on the draft negotiating text, major divergences between countries and history of missed chances, one can be forgiven for feeling pessimistic or even cynical.


But, when compared to the disappointing 2009 conference in Copenhagen, from which no meaningful agreement emerged, the run-up to COP21 does seem to be different. The heaviest emitters, China and the US, have both made significant national commitments in the last year.

And, publicly at least, there is acknowledgment that any climate deal needs to be more inclusive and seriously address the concerns of the developing countries likely to be most affected by climate change, not just the powerful ones that industrialised in the 19th century. After all, tackling climate change will require many countries to industrialise without emitting greenhouse gases; a feat that has never been achieved by anyone, anywhere.

There is also a distinct shift in the rhetoric about what a global climate deal can or should look like. As highlighted by the French president and host of COP21, Francois Hollande, the financing of the energy transition in developing countries is critical to the success of any deal. A more nuanced interpretation of what constitutes "legally binding" is also on the cards, with any agreement likely to be more open-textured and accommodating of diverse approaches.

The key to making real progress toward the goal of averting climate catastrophe lies in successfully reframing the discussion about the transition to a low-carbon global economy. Continuing to talk about climate change as a "burden to be shouldered" by signing up to strict and punitive measures as attempted by the Kyoto protocol can lead us only to an agreement short on ambition and with scope for countries to wriggle out of their commitments and even abuse the system and increase emissions.

Instead, we should think of the actions needed to create a carbon-neutral world as a once-in-an-epoch chance to set the world on a path to a resilient and prosperous future. John Kerry, US secretary of state, put it plainly when he said: "Clean energy is one of the greatest economic opportunities the world has ever known."

As crucial as deals between nations may be, an important lesson learned in Copenhagen six years ago was that tackling climate change is far too important to leave to national governments. The commitment to a low-carbon future must resonate and be amplified across society. Local, regional and city leaders, civil society and, of course, business voices all have a role.

Climate leadership

And although the discussion is far bigger than wind power, our industry has a special part to play. There is perhaps no better example of a business community capable of showing commitment and leadership on climate.

The renewable-energy industries that have been built over the past few decades have shown that, far from being a drag on a nation's ability to develop towards prosperity, radically reducing emissions by rolling out renewable-energy technology actively creates jobs and fosters innovation.

Climate change will not be solved this year, and any agreement signed at COP21 will be just one - albeit critical - step forward. But for the road to Paris to end in something other than a cul-de-sac we must hope for international commitment to climate action as the only viable path to prosperity and not a "nice-to-have".

Proponents of wind energy, as part of a wider renewable-energy community, have a duty to bring some much needed optimism to a topic too often afflicted by cynicism and mistrust.

Oscar Fitch-Roy is a senior policy consultant for DNV GL — Energy and member of Exeter University's energy policy group