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Politics & press news – Embassy 61

COP21 Interview with Ambassador Bermann

On Friday it’s hoped that representatives from 195 countries gathered in Paris will sign a deal that will slow global warming and save the planet from catastrophic climate change. French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann reflects on French diplomatic efforts to ensure COP21 is a good COP, not a bad COP.

As Paris is hosting COP21, what has the French Embassy in London done to set an example as a sustainable embassy to cut its carbon footprint?

The French Embassy went green in May this year with the launch of our ‘Environmental Charter’, part of the French government’s worldwide programme to set an excellent example on sustainable development as hosts of COP21.

Our charter aims to reduce the environmental impact of our buildings and daily activities, and raise awareness of environmentally responsible behavior amongst our staff.

One of the first steps was the switch to green energy provider Ecotricity, so that the Embassy and Consulate now operate on 100% green electricity. We have also taken a number of simple actions aimed at reducing our carbon footprint, such as installing more recycling points around the building, giving priority to videoconferences over traditional meetings and encouraging the use of public transport for hosting delegations.

My new official car is a Peugeot 508 hybrid, and by next year three new vehicles will be equipped with low-CO2 engines.   

Last week, representatives from thirteen other embassies came to my residence for a ‘green seminar’ (please click here to see report). Some very interesting ideas and examples were shared on how we can reduce our carbon footprints. It’s fantastic to see so many other embassies and high commissions in London contributing to the fight against global warming too.


At the Green Embassies seminar, Secretary General Bruno Aguesse outlines how London missions are reducing their carbon footprints

What events has the French Embassy hosted to raise awareness in the run-up to COP21?

Raising public awareness of the critical importance of COP21 has been a major objective for us these past months, and we’ve done this by holding a series of bilateral Franco-British public conferences – in partnership with groups including the Grantham Institute at Imperial College, the European Commission representation in the UK, the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce, UCL and the LSE – on different questions linked to climate change and the COP21.

The conferences have looked at the diplomatic roadmap for COP21, the role of business in the fight against global warming, the risks and adaptation challenges linked to climate change, and most recently the links between climate change and migration.

At each event, some top names in the French and UK climate fields have presented their views and engaged in fruitful discussions on the topics. In the audience we’ve had policy-makers, business people, students, academics and journalists – a wide range of people who have approached the discussions from different angles and greatly enriched the debate. It’s been a real pleasure to take part and hear so many interesting viewpoints – the events have generated some really lively and instructive debates, as well as a great deal of food for thought.


Ambassador Bermann engages students at the LSE on the issue of climate change refugees

Who would you say are Britain’s “climate heroes” that you most admire?

There are so many people doing hugely important work for the climate in Britain. I’ve been very impressed by the commitment of the Prince of Wales, particularly on issues such as deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade. He has already voiced his support for the success of the Paris negotiations and for the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy, and he will be making a keynote speech at the summit calling for the protection of the world’s forests. We are very grateful for his important contribution.

Another climate hero I have to mention is Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, whose 2006 report on the economics of climate change was a defining moment in lending legitimacy and credibility to the debate around climate change. He has played an instrumental role in raising awareness of the issue on a national scale and has been an important contributor to the preparations for the Paris summit.


Prince Charles, Ambassador Bermann’s climate hero

We have had high hopes for climate change summits before that have not ended in a success or a legally binding agreement. What will Paris do differently to increase the chances of success?

One of the defining features of this COP is that it will mark the beginning of a process, not the end. Mechanisms will be built into the deal to ensure that each country’s national contributions are reviewed at regular intervals, so as to continue ratcheting up ambition after the Paris summit.

One of the problems with Copenhagen was the lack of involvement of the major political leaders. This is why the French presidency chose to invite the heads of state and government to attend a special opening session. Some 150 of them were present, before they handed over to their ministers and negotiators for the remainder of the summit. And this time the negotiating text is far more concise – just over 20 pages – to make it easier to sign off during the two weeks of talks.


No COP out – French President Francois Hollande urges ministers to craft an agreement from the draft text

What mix of factors (eg economic conditions, technology, public sentiment, urgency) do you think will contribute to a climate of “ambitious compromise” as Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius calls it?

A real sense of momentum has built up around Paris, and if anything the sense of urgency has grown stronger in the wake of the atrocious terrorist attacks that took place on 13 November.

We saw a huge show of solidarity at the opening of the talks, and we’re hopeful this will provide the boost that’s needed to reach a successful deal.

The scale of what’s at stake really does seem to have sunk in - I think there is an understanding that this is a turning point for the future of humanity. These are troubled times we are living in, but there is a definite sense that this is something massive, and positive, that we can do in order to secure our planet’s future.


Absolutely Fabius – French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius holds up the draft text that hopefully will form the basis of a deal

A key aspect of COP21 is to get legally binding commitments that developing nations will agree to. What commitments in terms of funding and technology transfer does the developed world have to make to ensure they bring the developing nations along with them?

Climate finance for developing countries is an essential part of the Paris deal. Success on this front will mean the flow of $100 billion per year by 2020, from public and private sources, to support mitigation and adaptation measures by developing countries.

China is key to the success of COP21. You were Ambassador to China and have lived in China. Have you noticed China’s attitudes change towards climate change (and if so can you give some examples)? They have made some ambitious promises. Do you think they will inspire others to do the same?

When I was Ambassador in Beijing, I noticed a major push involving government and NGOs to raise awareness of the seriousness of climate change and the importance of reducing emissions.

And last year China provided a huge boost to international efforts to secure a deal when it announced – at the same time as the USA made a similarly important announcement on carbon cuts – that it would cap emissions by 2030.


China has provided a huge boost to secure a deal

What are your views on the national pledges? Are they ambitious enough?

The national contributions process is a first in the history of climate negotiations, and it’s a solid basis for the success which is essential in Paris. The national pledges made so far confirm that we can avoid a worse-case scenario of warming of 4ºC to 5ºC, but that in order to keep warming below1.5ºC or 2ºC by the end of the century, additional efforts over time will be necessary.

That is why it is essential to achieve an agreement in Paris which enables us to periodically revise national contributions upwards.

The French Embassy recently staged an important event on climate refugees. Do you think the current refugee crisis will focus minds on the potential consequences of climate change and to encourage thinking on a global and humane response to those worst affected by climate change?

I was delighted to welcome some brilliant panelists to the LSE to discuss this timely subject.

It is certainly important to consider how climate change is creating new challenges for fragile populations, through its impact on the economic, social and political factors which drive migration.

We know that environmental change will continue to affect migration in the future. It’s a complex issue but one which isn’t going to go away. And of course, as with our response to the current refugee crisis, a response framed in human rights will be necessary.

Traditionally the EU has led the way on climate change policies. Do you think COP21 will be a way to restore EU solidarity and show as a force for good in the battle against climate change?

The EU has been clear that the world needs a global deal for climate, and will be a strong voice at the negotiating table. EU member states – including of course France and the UK – are working towards the same goal. I think this will be a moment of European solidarity.

What measures is Paris taking to ensure COP21 is a “green conference”?

COP21 will be a perfect example of the circular economy in action! All waste generated on the Paris-Le Bourget site will be sorted and recycled, meeting rooms are designed so that they can be dismantled and re-used for other events, and delegates will use 100% recycled paper which will then be recycled again at a local paper manufacturer.

Other energy-saving measures will also be in place: skylights to give priority to natural light, bikes for recharging mobile-phones and tablets, "wind trees" to power the LEDs which will light up the forest of flags at the entrance to the site… The list goes on!


Above and below: Pedal power – delegates cycle to generate energy for sustainable juice, recharge their mobiles or power up the sound system at the COP21 Conference Centre at Paris-Le Bourget

And finally, the famous French diplomat Talleyrand is reputed to have said to Napoleon: “Give me good chefs and I will give you good treaties” - are delegates at COP21 enjoying sustainably sourced French cuisine that will “deliver a good treaty”?

Of course! Almost all of the food served at the conference will be homemade from locally-sourced produce, with the caterers having signed a ‘responsible eating’ charter. I’m not sure the food alone will be enough to deliver the deal we need, but I have no doubt it will be delicious!

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