Didier Le Menestrel

To COP or not to COP

I really dislike acronyms and other abbreviations that clutter our daily life! While acknowledging the laudable intent of shortening and simplifying terms, they nevertheless provide a much too convenient excuse to the “initiated” to hide behind jargon and lord their superiority over the uninitiated.

Despite this strong sentiment about acronyms, I also find myself constantly using them in my own discourse. Whether I vociferously assert “Down with the FTT”, “Yes to the SRI” and “Long live the PERF (plan épargne-retraite familial) equity retirement plan”, whether I go to the AMF (the French financial market authority) and the AFG (the French asset management industry association) to discuss growth in GDP in the EU, in summary, despite my best intentions, my own day-to-day life is cluttered with an unending stream of capital letters.

A perfect illustration of this situation in recent days has been provided by the sudden irruption in our lives by COP21, the famous “Conference of the Parties”.

COP21 here, COP21 there: the first insight that may be drawn by the adoption of this acronym is that 20 events were necessary bringing together every year a multitude of heads of state and the organisation of the event in France (after Lima and Warsaw though who remembers those?) for spirits to awake and noble sentiments and vocations…take centre stage, with everyone suddenly laying claim to a past as a purveyor of ecological wisdom.

However, we mustn’t deny our pleasure in witnessing the gesticulations of public figures – after all, it is better that they finally become convinced of the subject’s importance – but also let’s look beyond the show to concentrate on the essential: 195 countries (plus the European Union) coming together until 11 December to reach a formal, binding and universal agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

COP has existed for 20 years and several steps forward have been achieved. No one denies anymore the phenomenon of global warming or the important role of human activity in this phenomenon; this is a good thing. And if there are still sceptics among you, I would remind them as Christian de Perthuis has said : “In case of doubt, the best rule of conduct is to minimise the cost of error”[1]. There also is a general consensus regarding the use of carbonated products which need to be better controlled, and the resources to be deployed (€100 billion per year starting in 2020) and the objective to be achieved: to limit the increase of global temperatures by the end of the century to 2°C above the level of the preindustrial era.

Where the challenge lies is in the deployment of resources which still remains a point of contention among the participants: since the Kyoto protocol entered into force in 2005 (resulting from COP… 3 of 1998!) only industrialised countries and in particular Europe (the United States refused to sign) adopted proactive and effective policies. Goodwill that fails to resolve anything over the long-term: every year China produces nearly one third of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions compared to less than 10% for Europe and country-continents like India are rapidly reaching population and growth levels that are considerably multiplying the risk of accelerating the rate of emissions.

At the risk of dampening the enthusiasm of the most forthright, it comes as no surprise that the discussions will be extraordinarily complicated, that tiny steps would already represent a major advance that should be justifiably applauded, i.e. modestly and that there is no doubt that the future COP22 will be even more critical than the current edition now being held in France!

In the meantime, let us contribute as we can. Let us for example encourage politicians to think more quickly and efficiently yet about the important role to be played by companies and markets (notably for CO2 in particular) in driving ecological transition. A positive rather than a punitive incentive to the economic world would clearly contribute to promoting a sustainable collective movement.

Combating global warming does not merit either posturing or exaggerated enthusiasm. It is above all the first universal battle that we must all win.


Didier Le Menestrel

[1] Christian de Perthus and Raphaël Trognon, Le climat, à quel prix ? La negotiation climatique, Odile Jacob, 2015.