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  • Image by Geoff Lye

    As the dust settles after the negotiation of an ambitious global agreement in Paris, Geoff Lye offers his assessment of its significance.



    23 years ago, I left Rio full of optimism – confident that a range of Earth Summit agreements, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, would set us on a sustainable path well before I would have any grandchildren. When I got back to the UK, I made a video to persuade clients of the company I was then building to take environmental issues more seriously. In practice, not only were many of my forecasts simply wrong, but my spirit of optimism was misguided. In 1992 I had four young children. Returning for the Rio+20 conference, I had four young grandchildren – and I was struck by how little progress we had made; worse, on most measures, we had tracked significantly in the wrong direction.

    So, on a train to London as COP 21 finally closed with a truly ambitious agreement, I was – in contrast to the first blog of this series – once again seeing the climate glass as half full. In fact, I see it as much more than half full. This agreement – voted on behalf of over six billion global citizens – fires the starting gun on a quest to deliver a carbon neutral economy within the lifetimes of our grandchildren. It would be easy to highlight the many potential loopholes and future roadblocks in the agreement, but the agreement does, I believe, change the nature of the debate and shifts the framing of decarbonising our economies irreversibly.

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  • Flickr image by ConexiónCOP Agencia de noticias

    In the final hours of the Paris Conference, Geoff Lye offers his assessment of the latest draft text emerging in Paris.

    The penultimate conference text was released last night and reflects remarkable progress. The mood music is good. And there is widespread optimism that the ‘Paris Agreement’ will be voted through tomorrow. As I predicted, it was inevitable that extra time would be needed to work through the sticking points and the negotiators and ministers are guaranteed another sleepless night. I also predicted progressive dilution from the draft text brought to Paris and, inevitably, there has been some – but huge advances have been made. Even the way the agreement is worded gives a sense of compromise made in good faith and in the proper spirit; deficiencies are acknowledged and carried forward to be addressed in the years before the agreement comes into force by ‘1 January 2020 at the latest’.

    At the heart of the latest draft text are the statements of overall intent and purpose. The agreement sets its overarching goal as to ‘hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.’ It also sets an aim for countries ‘to reach the peaking of greenhouse house gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century’. These are not, of course, as forceful or as rapid as many would like to see, but they represent profound shifts from any global agreement we have ever seen in the past.

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  • Image by Geoff Lye

    Having arrived in Paris last Friday for COP 21, Geoff Lye reports on highlights of a whirlwind of weekend events. This is the latest in his blog series on COP 21. For more, read his earlier posts.

    COPs can be very frustrating. Not simply in terms of the pace and direction of the UN negotiations, but also on account of the multiplicity of competing events at any time of any day – from breakfast through dinner . In practice, choosing which events to go to is a bit of a gamble; and I knew before I came that attending a COP is like panning for gold. You have to sit through and sift through a torrent of PowerPoints and panel sessions for the elusive sparkles. A few nuggets have emerged from the pan (as it were) and I have highlighted them in this blog.

    But first, my assessment of where the negotiations had gotten to by Monday evening. It is, of course, a fast changing picture, but there is a real spirit of optimism – in spite of some critical sticking points. The consensus seems to be that there is now agreement on where we don’t want to go (above 2 degrees), but not on how we won’t get there! [You may want to read that twice]. The text released on Saturday has reduced the overarching goal to a choice between 1.5°C and ‘well below 2°C’ as the warming threshold to be avoided. The tough part – still to be agreed – is setting the timelines for decarbonisation and agreeing how the burden of delivery is shared. Those issues will, no doubt, go to the wire on Friday (or, more likely into Saturday).

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  • Flickr photo by Alisdare Hickson

    As COP 21 gets underway, Geoff Lye considers the role of business to help deliver the decarbonisation needed to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold – the ultimate goal of the Paris climate talks.

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  • Will Geoff Lye's latest grandchild, Leo, wonder why it took us so long to avert the huge impacts of climate change?

    This is the second in a series of blogs Geoff Lye will produce in the run up to COP 21 and through the conference itself. His blogs from most COPs since the Bali conference in 2007 can be found here .

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  • Flickr image by digitalpimp

    This is the first in a series of blogs I will produce in the fortnight running up to COP 21 and through the conference itself. As a regular attendee and reporter from most COPs since the Bali conference in 2007, I must admit to a feeling of déjà vu. The world’s leaders will be coming together in yet another of the UN’s last chance climate saloons to try to deliver a global agreement to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold.

    After COP 17 in Durban I decided, in frustration at the lack of progress, not to attend future events. Yet here I am – travel and hotels booked – excited once again in anticipation of joining the biggest ever assembly1 of climate professionals, activists, politicians, technologists, scientists and economists. For the first time, however, I have failed to get accreditation to the UN’s Blue Zone – and I know that my blogs will be weaker for that. But at this COP, most of the most interesting events and networking venues are outside the formal conference. This will create a far more open environment for most attendees and I can guarantee that there will be no shortage of surprising, inspiring and, in equal measure, depressing stories over the coming weeks.

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  • The momentum around fair and responsible tax practices continues to build. I was struck by a recent comment from Britain’s highest paid executive who decided he should support responsible tax practice by disclosing that he pays all UK taxes with minimal tax avoidance (i.e. the legal ways of reducing tax bills). He believes, he says, ‘that if you want to be accepted in society you have to be seen to be paying your fair share’. His disclosures come hard on the heels of public denouncements of aggressive tax avoidance by David Cameron as ‘morally wrong’ and by a Treasury minister as ‘morally repugnant’. Nor is this issue restricted to the UK. Personal tax affairs feature strongly in the US Presidential elections. And the French billionaire CEO of Louis Vuitton was widely pilloried for seeking to shift his domicile to Belgium – allegedly to avoid the new 75% tax rate….

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  • Rio+20 or Rio-20?

    03 Jul 2012Geoff Lye

    At the end of the Rio+20 Summit Ban Ki-moon agreed to meet the 9 ‘major groups’ who have a formal role in the preparatory process and the conference, they include business, trades unions, scientists and young people’s NGOs. In practice, only four representatives of the groups were invited to speak. I was struck by the pointlessness of this process, …

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  • Copyright (c) Unilever

    It looks as though Unilever’s Paul Polman decided to take Rio very seriously and has been an active participant in many events here. If anyone doubts his sincerity, they would just need to hear him talk about how the current market system has failed so many on this planet. He spoke at Rio+20 at an event organised by Avoided Deforestation Partners. APD’s founder, Jeff Horowitz is an amazingly self-deprecating man who has had a major influence on the movement to have forests valued as natural capital and thereby avoid deforestation….

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  • The Value of Lunch

    20 Jun 2012Geoff Lye

    There is increasingly talk of partnerships and ‘pre-competitive collaboration’ and this is one bright spot in the corporate landscape that was reinforced by Unilever’s Paul Polman at a High Level (UN speak for ‘you’ll be in good company’) lunch at the Rio+20 Business Day. It was a strange affair.

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  • Having pretty much recovered from having my iPhone, iPad and laptop stolen (and having also pretty much recovered from one of the worst bouts of flu in my life), today in Rio was, on balance, a great day. People often ask me whether I am optimistic generally on the sustainability front and I find myself repeating that I wake up an optimist and go to bed a pessimist. And so it looks today.

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  • Fast-moving industries involved in the production of consumer goods, food, apparel and precious stones have all come under pressure about the provenance of materials, components and products in their supply chains. Many companies in these sectors have responded by developing mechanisms to assure customers and consumers that products can be traced and sourced with environmental and social considerations in mind. Such traceability has reshaped expectations of corporate accountability and transparency.

    Attention is now turning to oil and gas. The sector is already facing a reputational crisis following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the WikiLeaks disclosures and recent events around the Keystone XL oil pipeline and controversy in the UK over the European fuel quality regulation means that it is likely inevitable that there will be growing demand for greater transparency. As in other sectors, traceability will be a key feature of the rising tide…

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  • Sustainable consumption has been high on our agenda in recent months. Most recently, our latest report Signed, Sealed… Delivered? highlights the diminishing returns from sustainability labels and calls for sustainability to be ‘built-in’ rather than ‘bolt-on’ (or, in this case, labelled-on) to consumer brands.

    So with my antennae sensitised for unsustainable consumption, I was stunned to flick through the Financial Times‘ Weekend magazine Christmas Unwrapped and read endless exhortation of excessive consumption…

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  • This is the last in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, five, and six.

    Back in the UK now and reflecting on the news filtering out this (Sunday) morning. Given the threat yesterday of a chaotic collapse, with echoes of Copenhagen, I was relieved to hear of the final outcome. The very best was never going to be equal to the full climate challenge we face, but this COP has made some major strides in securing a long-term mitigation roadmap with ‘legal force’.

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  • This is sixth in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, five, and seven.

    As the high-level ministerial segment reaches its final day, there are many tired faces around the centre, including some needing a lunch time nap as in the picture below.

    A surprising exception is Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and responsible for getting a good set of outcomes in the next 24 hours. I have attended two progress briefings she has given. The first – and by far the more interesting – was a meeting with the youth groups…

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  • This is fifth in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, six, and seven.

    One of the joys of COPs is that strange things happen which make you realize that these grand UN events are as vulnerable to human foibles as a local school fete. I stayed on (and on) at the conference centre to join a business briefing by Jonathan Pershing, the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change. He is a very approachable man of huge integrity whom I first met in Bali at COP 13 when he was still at WRI. When he was later sworn in to his new position as US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change under the Obama administration, I was delighted.

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  • Fourth in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, four, five, six, and seven.

    People who know me also know that I am a great believer in serendipity. As I was driven this morning to the city’s Botanical Gardens for The Durban Dialogue organised by B4E, I spotted a Nando’s restaurant and immediately thought of Sir David King who, when he arrived in Oxford to direct the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, agreed to meet me at their temporary offices. These were, as he explained to me as I called for directions, ‘behind Nando’s’. Amazingly, and serendipitously, standing near the registration desk a few minutes later was David himself. With surprise and delight, I told him of the Nando’s connection. He looked underwhelmed.

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  • Oh to be YOUNGO

    06 Dec 2011Geoff Lye

    This is third in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, four, five, six, and seven.

    Given SustainAbility’s growing interest in bringing voices of the future into the board room and in mobilising Gen Y as a source of inspiration and innovation to corporate sustainability thinking, I’ve been looking out for how visible and vocal youth organisations have been here in Durban.

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  • The second in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, three, four, five, six, and seven.

    In the lift to my hotel room this morning, I was embarrassed to be sweating profusely after a run along Durban’s beach promenade under a blue sky in 25 degrees with high humidity (yes, hard work at these COPs!). As the lift doors closed, a delegate from a COP 17 side event leaped in. ‘It’s freezing in the conference,’ she said, ‘I’m heading for my room to get a jumper.’ The irony was not lost on others in the lift, but it did highlight for me the continuing disconnect between the rhetoric and action. And Durban does not look remotely well set to close the gap between the two.

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  • This is the first in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: two, three, four, five, six, and seven.

    Durban will briefly be in the climate spotlight just months before the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit. Few of us at Rio in 1992 would have believed that so little progress would be made in the intervening years. At the time, I had four children of school age. Frankly, the UN process has served neither them, nor my four grandchildren, well since. Climate procrastination has put future generations (with over two billion ‘climate innocents’ to be born by 2050) at severe risk of increasingly dangerous climate disruptions. We have seen how national and international governments and institutions responded to the 2008 financial crisis in just two crucial days, but also how, in two crucial decades, they have achieved very little on the much deeper climate crisis. Nature neither defers decisions nor haggles; nor, as widely observed after the financial crisis, does nature do bailouts.

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