Is Green Greed Good?

PARIS—185 governments have pledged to do all they can to mitigate climate change, and now, say some negotiators here, they need business to grease the way for them to do more.
"We need to accelerate nationally-determined contributions to lowering CO2 emissions," said Sir David King, the UK Foreign Office's special representative for climate change, "and the best way to do it is with innovation, creating wealth out of that process in the private sector."
This has been one of the most prominent themes of COP 21—a heightened role for business. As one observer put it, the environmentalists have been replaced with suits, and it doesn't sit well with all parties and observers.
"There are certainly groups within the negotiation who are seeing this as a way that the governments are ducking the issue by bringing the private sector in," King said today at the Sustainable Innovation Forum, a side event to COP 21 held in nearby St. Denis. "So don’t believe there are any simple issues in these negotiations."
Prominent among the critics is Bolivia, which submitted as its commitment a seven-page screed against capitalism, calling for "eradication of the commodification of nature and carbon markets promoting business climate millionaires, which do not solve the problem of the climate crisis."
Observers have also objected to corporate sponsors of COP 21. Four sponsors alone emit 200 megatons of CO2, said Tamar Lawrence-Samuel of Corporate Accountability International.
"The very corporations that are driving the climate crisis are also bankrolling the talks, and inherent in that is an irreconcilable conflict of interest," she said. "When these corporations are permitted to sponsor the talks, this is called greenwashing."
But the critics and the clean-energy capitalists share at least one goal—in Sir King's words, to "drive fossil fuels out of business."
King wants to do it, however, by making sure that non-fossil energy is cheaper, and the formula that has made that happen so far is government support for innovation and deployment.
"We’re going to treat this as a mission oriented program," he said, plugging an initiative announced last week by 20 countries and Bill Gates to double research spending.
"The idea is to achieve all forms of low-carbon energy so that we can drive fossil fuels out of business. In other words the idea is to achieve cheaper energy from non-fossil fuel energy sources whatever they are—I would include fusion energy and renewables up and running now. We need innovative ideas."
We need innovative ideas, negotiators say, because the cumulative pledges of 185 nations will not keep the world's average temperature below a 2º C increase—the level at which scientists say dangerous disruption to the climate occurs.
The U.S. is pushing countries to agree to revise their commitments every five years, with increasing ambition. Proponents hope innovation and progress will allow countries to make stronger commitments each time.
"The rollout has got to be to stimulate private sector investment in this area," Sir King said. "The idea is of course is that the publicly funded surge of activity in this area is to de-risk it for the private sector."
Then private sector actors jump in, not only to save the world, but to partake of new wealth—actors like Horace Luke, founder and CEO of Gogoro.
The San Francisco company sells electric scooters, but just as Tesla is not just an electric car company, Luke said Gogoro is not just a scooter company. He wants to transform urban mobility by distributing stations where scooter users can easily swap dead batteries for charged ones.
"We’ve been talking a lot about the public sector and the private sector. The one sector we keep forgetting about is the consumer sector," Luke said. "We create a product that excites the consumer, so the consumer raises their hand and shouts to the government, I want this! I want this as part of the changes!"
Bolivia expresses very different wants.
Like other countries, it proposes to use more renewable energy, to halt illegal deforestation, to pursue other practical measures to mitigate climate change. It also proposes ten structural solutions to the climate crisis, beginning with this one:
"Adoption of a new model of civilization in the world without consumerism, war-mongering, and mercantilism, a world without capitalism; build and consolidate a world order of Living Well that defends and promotes the integral rights of our peoples, undertaking the path of harmony with nature and respect for life."

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