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Greentech Guide to COP 16 in Mexico

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OK, so last year’s COP 15 U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen were a bust. No international treaty emerged that made any of the parties involved happy, partly because the potential of the event was so built up, partly because the world’s biggest carbon-emitting players China and the U.S. couldn’t come to an agreement, and partly perhaps because the COP treaty process itself might not be such an effective one.

But starting on Monday COP 16 — the followup to COP 15 that will be held in Cancun, Mexico — officially kicks off and will occur over the next two weeks. This year’s event is expected to be a lot more low key in size, ambition and in what the countries representatives hope to achieve. As Reuters put it this weekend, the U.N. talks are seeking “modest steps.”

However, what emerges out of the negotiations in Mexico over the next two weeks, will fundamentally effect green technology sectors over the long term — in both potentially positive and negative ways. Moving that much closer to an agreement for how countries can reduce carbon emissions could lead to investors pumping more money into companies that can help facilitate that low-carbon transition. Here’s our Greentech Guide to COP 16 in Mexico:

What It Is: The 16th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit, or Cop 16, runs November 29 to December 10th in Cancun, Mexico and is a follow-up meeting for the Kyoto Protocol. (Remember that document that the U.S. and then-President George Bush refused to ratify back in 2001?) If the Kyoto Protocol is going to be extended (and modified to include the U.S. and China) then countries need to come to an agreement by 2012. Many world leaders will be attending the event and looking to come to an agreement on a variety of issues surrounding how the world’s governments will tackle climate change and agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions in a way that is fair and will be successful.

Why the Negotiations Are Important for the Greentech Industry: The event’s overarching goal — getting close to binding emissions targets — is necessary to ensure that the greentech sector gets the needed investments to scale and reach commercialization. As David Blood, the lesser known partner that makes up the “Blood and Gore” of investment management group Generation Investment, said at COP 15 last year: a strong treaty will “limit uncertainty” for the business community, “unleash capital and innovation,” and “provide long term goals for a sustainable economy.”

Some solid progress in the negotiations is particularly important because the U.S. failed to pass comprehensive energy legislation in 2010, and the weak economy has led to a drop in greentech VC investment. So without legislation and an international agreement and with a weak economy, the private sector has seemed to be waning in terms of making aggressive investments, as the landscape and time line for greentech markets could shift.

In addition, important decisions could be made at the summit concerning how green technology will be transferred to developing countries that need it but can’t afford it. There are already discussions underway on the eve of the event about how to create a green fund to help developing countries, as well as ways to curb deforestation of rain forests.

How to Move Forward:

As we reported earlier this year, one key to reopening the dialogue for binding emissions targets will be to “rebuild trust.” Many developing countries hold a deep-seeded distrust of U.S. intentions, and the U.S. and China displayed strained discussions during COP 15. 130 nations have aligned themselves with the Copenhagen Accord, but most aren’t expecting any final agreement from the talks. As The Climate Group put it in a webinar on COP 16 last week: “The objective is to maintain both negotiating momentum and country support for the UNFCCC process itself.”

Another way to move forward could be to refocus the discussion around “low carbon growth,” instead of cut backs. That’s how political scientist John Zysman put it earlier this year. Campaigners and negotiators would be better served, he said, to focus on the benefits that would accrue to those who make the transition to low-carbon growth first, rather than chiding those that are moving more slowly.

Countries that are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, are taking key steps to reduce carbon emissions. Here’s a run down of the moves so far from China, the U.S., European countries, and Japan.

Who’s Attending:

  • Heads of state like Mexican President Felipe Calderon. There aren’t as many heads of state expected this year as at COP 15.
  • Business leaders, from the CEO of Coca-Cola, to the CEO of Dow Chemical, to the CEO of Duke Energy.
  • The new Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres (the former resigned earlier this year).
  • Investors — last year featured a list of high-profile investors like George Soros and Richard Branson making statements about the need for policy clarity.
  • Protesters. Expect most of the early photos and reports to come from the inevitable protesters.
  • Media. Press is capped at 2,000, but expect at least that many flying in to watch the negotiations.
  • NGOs — Often times the largest contingent of attendees are from NGOs that attend to network, and forge campaigns.


  • The UNFCCC official site including live broadcasts. The official COP 16 site will also have webcasts.
  • Statements from UNFCCC officials.
  • There are several important side events that will take place alongside COP 16 in Cancun this week. One is the World Climate Summit, which brings together business leaders, tech execs and policy makers and runs next weekend. Richard Branson, Ted Turner, and Lord Stern will key note the WCS. The other event is Green Solutions, which is sponsored by the Mexican Government and runs for four days a week from Monday. I’ll be moderating two panels at Green Solutions.
  • — the grassroots group that creates public mobilization projects. Bill McKibben, who spoke on video at our Green:Net event, has led the group to develop one of the most successful Internet and social media campaigns around fighting climate change to date.

Image courtesy of Mike McHolm.

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