Paris Talks

Reporters Chemnick and Kirkland preview E&E's COP 21 coverage

Beginning this week, E&E Publishing will have three reporters on the ground in Le Bourget, France, providing in-depth coverage of the United Nations' climate conference. ClimateWire reporter Jean Chemnick and EnergyWire deputy editor Joel Kirkland will head to Paris this week to join ClimateWire deputy editor Lisa Friedman for coverage of all aspects of the negotiations, side events and delegations. During today's OnPoint, Chemnick and Kirkland discuss the significance of Bill Gates' launch this week of the largest public-private clean energy research and development partnership. They also discuss the players they'll be watching most closely and the potential for an unfavorable outcome to the negotiations.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today are ClimateWire reporter Jean Chemnick and EnergyWire deputy editor Joel Kirkland. Jean and Joel are set to head to Paris for the COP21 meeting this week. Thank you both for joining me.

Joel Kirkland: Thank you.

Jean Chemnick: Thanks for having us, yeah.

Monica Trauzzi: Joel, you'll be joining ClimateWire deputy editor Lisa Friedman who has already landed in Paris, and she broke news last week that Bill Gates would announce the largest public-private clean energy research and development partnership. The announcement came Monday. How is this significant in the broader context of reaching a final agreement in Paris?

Joel Kirkland: I think it's very significant. For one thing it's leveraging billions of dollars in capital. You know, it's a number of very wealthy people who -- including George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg -- you know, who -- you know, with a combined total of like $350 billion to kind of throw around. Obviously that's overstating the case, but it is 19 countries that are coming together along with these wealthy individuals to say, you know, research and development is a critical piece of this, technology development is a big piece of this. You know, Ernest Moniz, the Energy secretary, said this will help set the tone for the talks, and I think that what that really is saying is that there needs to be cooperation between both the private sector and the public sector.

Monica Trauzzi: Jean, climate finance is one of the biggest open issues that needs addressing at the conference. How does the Gates announcement sort of affect the future of those negotiations? Is there any link?

Jean Chemnick: Well, I mean, it was a new gift from the U.S., or at least sort of generated by the U.S. at the start of these talks, so it probably adds some momentum. But it also -- the U.S. component of this, which is the doubling of R&D funding from a number of nations including the U.S. -- $5 billion to come from the U.S. in the next -- by 2020 -- that's more money that Congress has to appropriate presumably, and so it requires more buy-in from Congress to this deal. So that will open a lot of questions.

Monica Trauzzi: Yeah, potential pitfalls there, hurdles ...

Jean Chemnick: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: Absolutely. Jean, the question of will the agreement be legally binding is probably one of the most critical elements of the negotiations. There are already some seemingly strong disagreements among the biggest players. Why is it so important to the French to see a legally binding outcome?

Jean Chemnick: I mean, that is their position. The idea is that it will be stronger if all elements are legally binding. But I think there's a broad understanding that the U.S. wouldn't be able to ratify a treaty that made emissions reductions subject to international law. So what the U.S. administration is pushing for is a deal that has politically binding emissions targets and a financial components but makes elements like submitting pledges every five years or other procedural elements legally binding.

Monica Trauzzi: Joel, there are so many voices at the table here trying to have a say on what the final outcome looks like. Who will have the most significant impact on the final outcome? Which voices are you going to be watching most closely?

Joel Kirkland: That's a really good question. I mean, I think India is one voice that we'll be paying attention to. You know, Prime Minister Modi has talked a lot about sort of finding a balance between economic growth and the need to address the environmental issues, including a 100-gigawatt goal of solar power in India, which is a massive amount of energy, clean energy. So the question is whether he will take an active role in the talks, and I think he will, and to what degree he's sort of willing to go along with what the United States and China are trying to do, which is to create a new framework whatsoever -- you know, create a completely new framework around cooperation and targets and sort of in five-year increments sort of looking at the way the economy is growing throughout the world and shifting those targets to sort of accommodate that growth and the changes in the environment.

Monica Trauzzi: The momentum heading into this meeting is strong, certainly stronger than any previous meetings that we've seen. Despite that we're expecting those negotiations to go down to the wire. You'll both be there for that. What is the potential for an unfavorable outcome?

Jean Chemnick: Well, that was asked of Todd Stern -- Todd, the top U.S. negotiator last week on a call and he refused to even entertain the question. I think there's broad agreement that if there really wasn't an outcome from this meeting, that that would really be a disappointment, that that would be the end of this process for a little while and probably negotiations would have to continue on a bilateral basis or something outside of the U.N. So there's really a lot of pressure on these guys to get a deal in Paris.

Joel Kirkland: You know, I think one of the differences also is that they're approaching this different than they did Copenhagen. You know, for one thing they've got as much of the agreement as they can possibly get done prior to it, and they're not going to have sort of a dramatic ending -- in theory, although we'll see. You know, but they've frontloaded the talks with the heads of state, and so President Obama's there and the European leaders are there and they're giving their speeches and they're creating a tone that is ultimately supposed to drive toward a finished product that will be both transparent and targeted and durable.

Monica Trauzzi: So with three reporters on the ground in Paris, what kind of coverage can we expect in E&E's publications over the next two weeks?

Joel Kirkland: Oh, I think the coverage is going to be thorough and it's going to be -- I mean, you're going to see it in all the publications. It's going to be -- the ClimateWire obviously is going to take the lead. Greenwire is going to get a lot of copy, in large part because it comes out at a time -- at the end of the day in Paris. And EnergyWire, you know, I hope will focus a little bit on the technology and business side of all this.

Monica Trauzzi: Jean, any particular stories that you're excited to cover when you're there?

Jean Chemnick: Well, I'll be doing mostly the U.S. angle, and of course at some point we're expecting a delegation from Congress to show up, and that should be some good theatrics, political theatrics probably. But then I'll also be working with Lisa on sort of covering the negotiations, which will be interesting.

Monica Trauzzi: Great -- looking forward to reading the coverage. Thank you both for joining me and safe travels.

Joel Kirkland: Thank you.

Jean Chemnick: Thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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