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Amidst a Weak COP 16, Greentech Optimism

The first week of the U.N.’s climate change negotiations hasĀ kicked off in Cancun, Mexico and not surprisingly, there are low expectations of any meaningful agreement coming out of the talks. In fact, the discussions seem more heated and chaotic than even last year’s disappointing event in Copenhagen (if you believe all the media reports coming out).

This week, Japan has publicly discussed a stance that the Kyoto Protocol should not be extended beyond 2012 (though it doesn’t seem to have officially abandoned the treaty), and it’s a feeling shared by Canada and Russia, too. At the same time, countries are unsure how to deal with the Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism if the treaty isn’t extended beyond 2012. China, India and developing countries, not surprisingly, don’t want to shift away from the Kyoto Protocol, while the U.S., which was the only developed nation not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, wants a version of the Copenhagen Accord, the fly-by-night agreement that was hashed out in the 11th hour at last year’s COP.

It’s pretty clear international negotiators probably wont be making much progress anytime over the next week (fingers crossed, though!). Combine that with the failure of the U.S. Congress to pass a comprehensive energy bill in 2010, as well as recent indications by House Republicans that they’ll shut down a global warming committee created by Democrats. Governments, in terms of policy moves, just aren’t coming through.

What remains, and what will likely provide the most optimistic glimmer out of the Cancun talks, will be the future of greentech and green-leaning business. Sunil Paul, early stage cleantech investor and founder of the Gigaton Throw-Down project, heads to Cancun tomorrow to help put on the Gigaton Awards, which will give an award to a company that has demonstrated the most leadership for emissions reductions. Paul told me in an interview on Thursday that “Even in the absence of government action, companies are taking actions.”

Indeed, one of the most high-profile side events of the COP 16 negotiations will be the World Climate Summit, which is a meeting for business leaders, and will feature talks by entrepreneur and investor Richard Branson, media mogul Ted Turner and Emilio Azcarraga, President and CEO of Grupo Televisa.

China is looking at the problem through this same lens as well. While China and the U.S. were at odds over disclosures needed for the Copenhagen Accord last year, and China, along with the U.S., is one of the biggest barriers to moving forward, the Chinese government is taking a decidedly different approach in terms of stimulating its domestic greentech industries. In its backyard, China is investing an unprecedented amount into clean power, smart grid and electric vehicle technology, taking advantage of its swiftly growing economy.

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Image courtesy of Mike McHolm.