Can the Ghosts of Copenhagen be Exorcised at COP21?

Guarded optimism remains as the COP21 climate talks in Paris move into high gear

After a week of negotiators working in “spin-off” groups, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (ADP)  completed their work on Saturday with the final compilation of the Paris Outcome draft text officially transmitted to the COP, ready for ministerial negotiation beginning on Monday.

Typically, spirits in the plenary hall and meeting rooms rose and fell throughout the week. Friday began with reports of tension among delegates as they “frantically” reviewed the  draft texts from the spin-off groups compiled overnight by the ADP co-chairs. With the Saturday deadline looming, talk of “ghosts of past COPs” remerged, particularly over fears of a loss of transparency in the text, with some delegates worried their main concerns would end up on the “bottom of the pile.”

But Saturday dawned sunny in Paris, and with it the mood of the delegates. The tensions had morphed into a much more “harmonious mood,” with reports of one delegate saying that parties has managed to “exorcise” the lack of transparency that shrouded negotiations in Copenhagen.

Thus in a relatively convivial mood, the ADP completed it four years of work began in Durban at COP17, handing over the draft text agreement to COP president Laurent Fabius.

A groundswell of global support

“We’re halfway there” said  Rhea Suh of the National Resources Defense Council at a news conference on Saturday afternoon. “What a first week this has been. For the first time in history we have tabled serious and systematic action commitments from (at least) 170 countries representing 90 percent of the world’s emitters”

Suh said the commitments codified in the proposed Paris Outcome point in “one direction and one direction alone…

“A clean energy revolution that is already attracting unprecedented levels of financing and entrepreneurialism around the world”

Mindy Lubber of Ceres told reporters on Saturday that the “collective will from all corners of the world to tackle this issue is palpable. Unlike anything we have ever seen before.”

“I am optimistic that it will provide the momentum needed to cross the finish line with an agreement that puts us on a clear path to a sustainable, low carbon global future,” said Luber.

Acknowledging the difficult path that still lay ahead in the next week, Lubber added that “we cannot lose sight of where we are today.”

‘We will have some bickering,” said Lubber, “some hand-wringing over the next several days. But I believe, based on everything we’re seeing here, that the world is ready and the time is now.”

Lubber stressed the groundswell of support from beyond government commitments is the key driver of the transformative change reflected in Paris.

“The debate is changing, the message is changing and the messengers are piling on, Lubber said. “When we were in Copenhagen it was about the environment. Here it is about the environment… but it is about health, it is about national security, and this is about the economy as well.”

The business community has found its collective voice, Lubber said. “They are saying quite publicly that they want climate action today, not tomorrow.”

Indeed, COP21 looks nothing like COP15, where business, to the extent it was represented in Copenhagen, was outside, almost beside the point. In Paris it is cities, states, business and the private sector that inhabit Le Bourget in force, ready and willing to drive the conversation as negotiations move to the next level.

Taking a breath at Le Bourget

With Sunday comes relative quiet here at Le Bourget, as delegates, NGOs and many (but not all) journalists take a breath before ministers arrive in the morning to push the ball the last bit over the hill to an agreement. There is a sense of guarded optimism but a realization that Copenhagen may yet come home to roost, despite everyone’s avowed desire otherwise. The same issues lurk; finance, loss and damage, transparency, differentiation, a mechanism to “ratchet” ambition above current committment.

Right now it seems to me that, whatever the Paris Outcome is, the haunted halls of Copenhagen will remain quiet as the transformation takes shape takes shape here in Paris, even if kicking and screaming by some.

This post originally published in


Image credit: Nicolas Bonnement, courtesy flickr

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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