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One Planet Summit: A Climate Meeting at the Top. Three Questions to Amy Dahan

BLOG - 4 October 2018

By Institut Montaigne

Upon the initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron, with the support of Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, the One Planet Summit was created in 2017 as a complement to the Conferences of the Parties (COP) in order to gather public and private players around climate issues. What can we expect from this meeting? Amy Dahan, Emeritus research director at CNRS and co-author of Gouverner le climat ? : Vingt ans de négociations internationales (Presses de Sciences Po), shares her insight. 

Following the One Planet Summit in 2017 in Paris, what were the challenges of the second edition held in New York last week? 

Three years after the COP21 in Paris and a year after the first edition of the One Planet Summit, this new international gathering in New York confirms that the measures taken to protect the environment so far do not live up to the commitments made in 2015. 

Such a meeting is nonetheless interesting because it flags the climate issue on the American territory, and thus starkly contrasts with President Trump’s recent environmental policy. This conference was also a way to reaffirm a general consensus on the issues at stake. Yet, in practice, countries are in a position of withdrawal and have clearly made much less efforts than required.

Some countries, such as China, claim to be leading the fight against climate change within international institutions, and seek to endorse further responsibilities. In the specific case of China, it is both a matter of public health and a political necessity, as the population is less and less accepting of air pollution. However, the Chinese delegation, which is more concerned with trade than environmental issues, remained on the sidelines during the summit in New York. Industrial policy and energy supply issues are also important to China, and are sometimes hard to reconcile with an engaged discourse on the protection of the environment. 

Where is global environmental protection at today? Has finance become "green"?  

At the global level, the implementation of COP21 goals does not match what was agreed upon in 2015. Climate governance is in fact more of an incantation than anything. Be it regarding new regulations, industrial transformations or the energy mix, very few measures were launched so far to apply the 2015 commitments.

While Europe might be a huge economic power, it is also politically weak, and its Member States do no share any common position whatsoever. 

In Germany, for example, climate change is less and less considered a key issue, in particular because of pressure coming from the right wing of the government. The country continues to emit more greenhouse gases than France, and to open coal-fired power plants, even though it had promised it would further invest in renewable energies and limit its use of coal.  

Some countries, however, courageously address environmental issues and invest in research. This is the case for countries of Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland), in particular in the fields of offshore wind energy or geothermal energy. 

Compared to these small countries and their highly developed technologies, France is falling behind. Despite France's low greenhouse gas emissions due to the nuclear sector being omnipresent in its energy mix, the cost of the renewal of nuclear infrastructure will inevitably be a problem, particularly given the budgetary slippages of the EPR reactors meant to embody this renewal. Further education on these issues seems necessary, and the next multiannual energy plan should raise public awareness and start a real debate on climate change in France. 

With regards to green finance, the implementation of carbon taxes is still too weak and too localized. Yet energy transition requires that global monetary masses significantly shift towards renewable energies and towards the conversion of industrial processes and transport with high CO2 emissions. There has also been little progress in building insulation, given that this sector may account for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions (heating, air conditioning, etc.) in Europe. Developing green finance also requires stepping up the fight against tax evasion, which represents a loss of tax resources that could otherwise be invested in the decarbonization of the economy. It is quite paradoxical that new American tech companies claim to promote the fight against climate change while avoiding to pay taxes.

When Nicolas Hulot, former French Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, stepped down, many economists called for the establishment of financial regulatory mechanisms, the product of which could directly support the energy transition. The conversion of traditional industrial processes, such as concrete or the construction sector, for example, should also be discussed. 

What can we expect from COP24, which will take place next December in Poland? What goals do you think should be set? 

The organization of COP24 in Poland sends a negative message, both symbolically, since expectations regarding its outcome are low, and in practice, as Poland produces 80% of its electricity from coal. It is also the third time that this country hosts a COP (2008 and 2013), and it organized a big exhibition dedicated to fossil fuels when COP19 took place in Warsaw.

This summit could nonetheless be of some interest regarding power relations within developing countries and their public opinions’ awareness on climate issues, particularly in India, which, despite a low per capita emissions ratio, faces many problems related to water and air pollution, etc. This COP will thus be an opportunity to measure the mobilization of these countries’ people, as well as the stances taken and the efforts made by their governments. 

If this COP raises few expectations, it is also because of the planned verification of commitments adopted in 2015: they should be implemented as early as 2020 for developed countries, and 2023 for developing countries. This verification must be detailed, in the light of the already negative progress report on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. 

The roles played by certain technologies also need to be specified, such as that of Negative Emission Technologies (NET), which are meant to absorb more carbon into the atmosphere than they emit. In practice, they would take the form of reforestation or the development of less polluting coal-fired power plants by capturing carbon before emissions and by injecting and stocking it into the ground.

While Brazil started accounting for the efforts led against the Amazon’s deforestation when calculating the decrease of greenhouse gas emissions in the past 15 years, a new form of carbon accounting is now present in scenarios (until the end of the 21st century). Indeed, it now involves BECCS (Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage) technologies, which combine land use and carbon storage on a large scale. Yet this fictional accounting - which responds to the desires of the most vulnerable countries that fought to include the 1.5° limit in the Paris Agreement - is not very credible. These technologies do not exist yet, and in such scenarios, BECCS require the use of huge surfaces to absorb carbon, to the detriment of other uses of space and land (agriculture, food, urbanization, etc.). The IPCC report on this issue will be published in October and will probably be widely discussed during COP24.

To conclude, while no verification of commitments is planned before 2020, it is worth noting that some countries are investing in research, are making an effort to educate and are questioning their model. Given this dynamic, a first group of European countries could take control over the climate issue and align it with other public policy goals, such as the greening of finance or the fight against inequalities. Given the lack of progress in this area, the New York summit is a disappointment. The question thus arises as to whether such a discourse will be delivered before the European elections, and if so, by whom? 

Copyright : Ludovic Marin / AFP


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