Skip to main content

COP21 Climate Briefing: The First Three Days

Your recap of a whirlwind opening at the 2015 United Nations climate summit.
narendra solar cop21

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pictured last year at a solar project outside Bhagwanpura village; on Monday in Paris, Modi and French President François Hollande unveiled a 121-nation solar alliance. (Photo: TRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)


  • On the first day of the Paris climate conference, heads of state from nearly 150 countries around the world, including Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, made persuasive calls for action at this year's talks. It was the headline event of the day, and we already told you all about it.
  • Less hyped but arguably more important: Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a multi-billion-dollar initiative aimed at funding new clean energy technologies. Gates and Zuckerberg are just two of 30 different high-profile global investors who've pledged to shepherd clean energy ideas out of the research lab and into the marketplace. "Our primary goal with the Coalition is as much to accelerate progress on clean energy as it is to make a profit," Gates writes on his blog. Meanwhile, the United States and 18 other countries have committed to augment private-sector money with public funds, pledging $20 billion over a five year span.
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a critical player in this year's negotiations, unveiled a 121-nation solar energy alliance with French President François Hollande. "Solar technology is evolving, costs are coming down, and grid connectivity is improving," Modi said. "This will be the foundation of the new economy of the new century." The alliance aims to utilize public finance from richer states to help deliver "universal energy access" to those in need. It will be headquartered in India, and is expected to raise $400 million through international agencies and membership fees. Signatories include a handful of European countries—France among them—as well as more than 100 solar-rich countries from the tropics.
  • And: Dozens of the nations most at risk from climate change banded together to urge negotiators to move the target warming cap from two degrees Celsius to just 1.5 degrees Celsius—a much tougher to goal to achieve. Realizing it would involve dropping carbon emissions down to zero and adopting 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. It's a bit of stretch, and many experts say even the proposed two-degree warming cap is unrealistically difficult, but these nations don't see any way around it. Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said a two-degree warming cap (the optimistic scenario at this point) would mean roughly 100 million people would "fall between the cracks."


  • On Tuesday at a meeting with the leaders of small island nations, President Obama announced a $30 million U.S. contribution for "climate risk insurance" in countries most affected by storms, floods, and rising sea levels. The meeting at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was billed as part of a broader set of actions aimed at helping the most vulnerable populations adapt to climate change by providing climate data, tools, services, and more. "The contributions announced today will increase climate risk insurance coverage to help respond to severe climate-related impacts," the State Department wrote in its note to media. The announcement comes in the wake of goals set by G-7 leaders this summer to increase the number of people in the most vulnerable areas worldwide who have access to insurance against the negative impact of climate change.
  • Meanwhile, Prince Charles joined global environmental leaders in calling for action to defend the world's forests, which play an essential role in climate change mitigation by sucking carbon dioxide from the air. "Many of the world's largest companies—and their financial backers—pay scant, by which I really mean no, attention to the deforestation footprint of their supply chains,” he said. "Unsurprisingly perhaps, this is especially true in markets where there is limited consumer pressure to do the right thing." While forest-heavy countries have banded together to monitor and protect their forests in an agreement known as REDD+, finance is still needed to incentivize developing countries to forgo profit and protect their trees.


  • On Wednesday the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sosene Sopoaga, and others will publicly announce the first nationally representative household survey on climate change and migration in the Pacific. The project, which canvassed 6,852 individuals, found more than 70 percent of households in Kiribati and Tuvalu had family members who said they would migrate if "climate stressors," including drought, sea-level rise, or flooding, continued. In Nauru, that number was 35 percent. The project, which was conducted by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security and the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, also found that many survey respondents lack the means to finance such a migration.
  • Bill McKibben will join other divestment leaders in announcing a new tally of divestment commitments under management that's "gone fossil free." As of September, 400 institutions representing over $2.6 trillion in assets had made some kind of divestment commitment. Stay tuned for the new (and big) numbers tomorrow!

All these announcements, while consequential in their own right, are merely appetizers for the main meal that's being cooked up behind the scenes: No sooner had world leaders launched the talks Monday than the actual negotiators got down to work drafting the international climate accord. These meetings have so far been taking place behind closed doors, but Yvo de Boer, who was the U.N.'s climate chief in Copenhagen, tells me Hollande has demanded a near-final draft by Saturday. As for the larger political questions being hashed out? "There are still big issues around how to define 'legally binding,'" he says. "The big elephant in the room is still finance."


Catastrophic Consequences of Climate Change” is Pacific Standard's year-long investigation into the devastating effects of climate change—and how scholars, legislators, and citizen-activists can help stave off its most dire consequences.