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The need for a fair and collective solution to fight climate change and the difficulty of achieving that was underlined at the ‘Road to Paris Regional Dialogue’ hosted by the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network, at the Gullele Botanic Garden, in Addis Ababa from April 7 to 9. Former Ambassador of France to Ethiopia, Stephane Gompertz in his new role of Ambassador for Climate Change (Africa and Indian Ocean) was in Addis Ababa as part of the COP 21 pre-conference build up led by Annick Girardin, State Minister of Development and Francophony.
“Our aim is to arrive at a carbon neutral global economy by the end of the century,” says the Climate Change Ambassador explaining the ambitious role that COP21 has set for itself for achieving a balance between mitigation and adaptation to new energy policies and protection of the most vulnerable people among others. Capital’s Teguest Yilma talked to him about the COP21 scheduled to be held in Paris, France in December 2015, the expected outcome and why this time it would be any different. Excerpts:
Capital: Tell us about ‘The Road to Paris’ campaign’s mission, and your visit to Addis?
Stephane Gompertz: Our aim is to help pave the way for a positive outcome in Paris. The Paris Alliance should consist of four elements: a comprehensive, binding agreement; national commitments; financial mechanisms; and a whole set of technical, institutional, societal and political solutions (what we call the “solutions agenda”). All this has to be prepared, technically, politically, but also, and perhaps above all, psychologically. We are all on the same vessel the Earth. We should all cooperate in creating the conditions for a good agreement: our governments, public and private companies, but also public opinions, you, me, your readers.
It is thus necessary to involve public opinion in the preparation of the event and to hear suggestions from our partners. The “Road to Paris” conference and workshops, organized by Horn of Africa Regional Environmental Center and our embassy, have involved various partners from African governments and civil society, particularly young people. We, as representatives of the future Presidency of COP 21, have explained our expectations; but, above all, we have listened to the other participants, particularly the young, and learnt from their experience and suggestions. I have personally found this experience illuminating.
Capital: The COP21 in Paris, in December, aims to create public/private initiative to provide practical and impactful solutions to help solve climate change. Why do you think it will be a success considering past events?
Stephane: It will be a success for at least three reasons First, there is a growing feeling of urgency. If we do not act now to mitigate emission of greenhouse gas, it will become much more difficult, almost impossible for vulnerable countries and people to adapt to the new climatic conditions and protect themselves; and if we do not act now to help those who are more vulnerable, they will not be able to participate in the global efforts to mitigate emissions. Therefore, there is a growing awareness that we have to act quickly and that mitigation and adaptation go hand in hand. At Durban, in 2011, there was a unanimous recognition that we need by the end of 2015 a new, binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Second, considerable progress has been made already. The EU has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 19% between 1990 and 2013. The agreement concluded recently between the US and China is also very promising.
Third, technological advances will allow cheaper, cleaner, more efficient solutions: look at the spectacular development of hydroelectricity and solar energy in this country, Ethiopia. Look at the new tramway in Addis Ababa. Renault, the French car manufacturer, has invested massively in the development of electric cars. New light bulbs consume much less energy than the old ones. Business and innovation will have a prominent place at the Paris conference. Interaction between governments, scientific research and innovation will be emphasized. Best practices will be exchanged.
Capital: The December conference is the deadline for negotiations to develop a binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, as a result many say that COP 21 will mark a decisive stage in negotiations on the future international agreement on a post-2020 regime can you explain why that is so? Do you think it will be realized?
Stephane: The new agreement will be binding. It might be called a Protocol or not, I don’t think this is very important. We have to make sure it can be signed and ratified by all parties. The parties will commit themselves to making specific, precise, ambitious commitments, even if those are not contained in the agreement itself. We also expect them to promise to continue their efforts after 2020, 2030, and 2050. Our aim is to arrive at a carbon neutral global economy by the end of the century. Thus, we will be able to limit the global warming to 2°C, ideally to 1.5°C. Unless we do that, the consequences will be devastating. Hurricanes in New Orleans and, recently, in Vanuatu, give us a foretaste of what could become our daily life if we fail. I am pretty confident we can succeed.
Capital: To what extent is the EU committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy efficiency, and increasing the share of renewable energy?
Stephane: As have I told you, the EU has already started to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. It has now committed itself to a global reduction of 40% between 1990 and 2030. The share of new and renewable energies in the European energy mix should be at least 27%. During the same period, energy efficiency should increase by 27%. Interconnection of electricity networks will increase by 15%. These commitments feature in the contribution the EU has submitted to the secretariat of the United Nations Climate Convention. We now expect the other parties to do their part.
Capital: What can France and the EU propose to support low-carbon and climate-resilient development globally, and particularly in Africa?
Stephane: At least four things:
To support innovative projects. This is what France has done with the big windmill farm in Ashegoda, which I have visited with our Secretary of State for Development. The EU is financing a forest conservation program in the south-west of Ethiopia.
To adapt their existing projects so that they become more environment and climate friendly.
To help those interested countries to elaborate their national contributions in view of the Paris conference. Our Development Agency, AFD, has created a special facility to that effect.
To contribute to new financing instrument like the Green Fund. France and Germany have committed 1 billion Euro, the UK 1.1 billion. So far, 10.2 billion have been committed.
Capital: Recently Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt signed a declaration of principles to collaborate on the development of the Nile. How do you see this development in view of the growing threats to water vulnerability globally?
Stephane: We welcome the agreement. It is a very positive development. Egypt has recognized the vital importance of electricity for Ethiopia and, more generally, for the East of Africa. Ethiopia has acknowledged the vital importance of the Nile water for Egypt to feed itself. There is enough water for all if we use it intelligently and do not waste it. The agreement is not based on a merely legalistic approach, it is future-oriented. It is a big step forward.
Capital: What do you think African countries should expect from the upcoming climate conference in France?
Stephane: The whole world is threatened. But Africa is particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climatic change, like drought, floods, land degradation, coastal erosion, uncontrolled migrations, climate triggered political disturbances, even though Africa does contributes to global warming only marginally. The success of our current effort is, for Africa, a matter of survival. Therefore, African countries should expect from all their partners and from the whole world community a strong commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and to helping Africa cope with present and future threats. We are confident their approach will be both ambitious and constructive. As our Secretary of State Annick Girardin said, “African countries have a major role to play in building the Paris Climate Agreement next December”.
Capital: The IPCC says negotiations and agreements (if any) need be fair to everyone. Do you think that is really possible ? Don’t you think it is inevitable that poor countries will have to sacrifice more?
Stephane: On the contrary, they will be the greatest beneficiaries, because they are more threatened by climatic change than others. They will benefit from technological advances and be able to use green technologies that were not available decades ago. I am not saying reaching a fair agreement will be easy. But it is doable. If we fail, there will be only losers.
Capital: How do you think the financial issues (to help poor countries) will be dealt with during the Paris conference?
Stephane: Finance is and will be a key pillar of the Paris alliance. We have to mobilize huge amounts of money, 200 billion dollars a year by 2020. I am not speaking only about grants. This amount comprises loans, guarantees, etc. Grants will be a catalyzer. The Green Fund has already secured 10.2 billion dollars. France has been one of the first to contribute. We hope the Fund will be able to select its first projects in October, e.g. ahead of the Paris conference. Half of the Green Fund’s resources will be devoted to adaptation.
Capital: The focus seems to always be on poor countries and what they can do to halt climate change; using renewable energy is highly encouraged. What is your main source of energy in France ?
Stephane: I don’t agree with you. The focus is not on poor countries. The richest, who often are among the biggest producers of greenhouse gas, will make the greatest efforts. The EU will reduce its emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2030. This reduction has already well started. Now, to answer your question, the main source of energy in France is nuclear power. It accounts for 74% of our electricity and 45% of our global energy mix.
Capital: Nuclear power, although it is cleaner than using coal, still poses several environmental impacts (power emissions are associated with uranium mining and enrichment process). Does France have plans to switch to a clean and sustainable source of energy anytime soon?
Stephane: In comparison with the quantity of emissions we would have without nuclear power, the carbon cost of uranium exploitation is negligible. But this does not mean that nuclear power has no environmental disadvantages. The main issue, even if it has nothing to do with climatic change, is what to do with nuclear waste. This is why the French government has decided to reduce the part of nuclear power significantly and to increase the part of new and renewables. In 2050, the part of nuclear power in our energy mix will be halved; the part of new and renewables should be 23% in 2020 and 32% in 2030. And we are actively taking part in research about fusion, which will be the main source of energy, some day.
Capital: Do you think reaching a global agreement allowing to remain below 2 degrees is achievable? Why so this time? What is different in Paris?
Stephane: It is not easy, but it is within reach. I see at least four reasons:
There is a growing recognition that the dire predictions of the International Panel on Climate Change are, alas, realistic and well founded. If we do not act now, we are heading into disaster.
The attitude of some key players like the US and China has become much more positive. The whole community wants a new, comprehensive, binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Companies, be they public or private, are more and more interested in such an agreement. Indeed, they will play a major role.
Advances in technology, notably in the area of new and renewable sources of energy, are making the greening of the world economy easier to achieve.
Capital: The development model that the West used has polluted the world. Now you are saying developing countries should use an alternative development model using renewable energy. How can poor countries achieve that ?
Stephane: It is not only the West. Today, the number one in greenhouse emissions is China, ahead of the US. We all have to change our development model. Some developing countries seem to adapt to the new requirements pretty well. The strategies adopted by Ethiopia and Rwanda bear testimony to that. Of course, those which can rely on huge resources like hydropower or wind have a comparative advantage. Many countries will need increased help. But commitment is essential. It is translated in the intended nationally determined contributions, which all countries are expected to submit. Ethiopia has finalized its own. It might serve as an example for others.
Capital: Zero carbon, zero poverty is the ultimate goal the minister wowed to achieve. Do you think it is achievable? How?
Stephane: We need time. We need dedication. We need efforts. We need technological advances. We need international cooperation. We need the involvement of all governments, parliaments, civil societies, youth, women, the private sector, the press, your readers, you, me. Yes, we can make it.
Capital: The participation of the youth in the movement to fight climate change in general is something your minister has stressed upon. The young in Africa are quite different, with different interests. How do you think you can bring them together? Are we speaking about a homogeneous group or are we fooling ourselves?
Stephane: Of course, they are different from each other. They are not robots or clones. They are human beings. But they all have a huge stake in what is going on. The world they are about to inherit is in danger. The mobilization of young people I have witnessed at the Road to Paris workshop here was impressive. They don’t have to be homogeneous to act together. We should not underestimate them.
Capital: There is a difficulty in using funds as a whole in Africa. How optimistic are you that the USD 10 billion package of the Green Climate Fund will be used?
Stephane: Not only in Africa but in the whole world, donors or financial institutions have sometimes cumbersome procedures. Let us hope the Green Climate Fund will function smoothly. As one of the main contributors, we will encourage it to intervene quickly and expeditiously.