Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Andrew Burger headshot

Agreement on Emissions Reduction Appears Near as COP 17 Draws to a Close

A developer of brand name mono- and polycrystalline silicon solar cells and modules, Hong Kong's Upsolar has a small team of sales and marketing personnel at the UNFCCC's COP 17 conference in Durban. Triple Pundit spoke with Noemie Bourdin, an Upsolar marketing executive based in Paris, about her experience in Durban, a potential global agreement on reducing CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, and the mood among conference delegates and attendees as the UN climate change conference wraps up.

As a sponsor of Responding to Climate Change's (RTCC) real-time COP 17 reporting service, (here's a recent interview they conducted with Mass Goote, lead Dutch negotiator), the UNFCCC allocated three passes to Upsolar. As private sector attendees, the Upsolar team could not attend the plenary or negotiating sessions for government UN delegates to the conference, though they did have free access to the conference exhibition and side events, at which a tremendous diversity of organizations large and small, public and private could be found.

Speaking in the early afternoon Durban time, Bourdin said she sensed a lot more optimism among the delegates negotiating a potential carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty on Thursday and into Friday morning. Talks to extend or develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty had stretched out until 4 am Friday and were expected to continue through Saturday morning. Sense of Optimism

"There are rumors circulating that something will be agreed to and signed tomorrow morning. The rumors are out there and the delegations seemed rather optimistic yesterday...and a lot more optimistic today," she said, adding, "If there is any signature and disclosure will be tomorrow (Saturday)."

Bourdin's reading of the situation jibes with that of RTCC reporter John Parnell. “Six months ago, no-one was talking about a future climate regime, about what should follow the Cancun and Copenhagen agreements,” Parnell quoted Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, as saying. “Today agreement is within reach… on a second commitment period and a roadmap for negotiating a future regime that is global and legally binding.”

The EU has been the central player in efforts to bridge the divide that exists between delegations from countries including the US, Canada, Russia and Japan, the larger emerging market BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) countries, and an alliances of smaller, less wealthy and resource-rich nations.

In a key development, the EU, the alliance of Least Developed Countries and the Alliance of Small Island States announced a partnership in support of putting a new global emissions reduction treaty in effect by 2020, the year the Kyoto Protocol is to expire.

“The rich/poor divide is over,” Hedegaard was quoted as saying. “I note with great satisfaction that both South Africa and Brazil are moving their positions. That is half the BASIC, now we are waiting for the other half."

Greening Its Solar Supply Chain

From Upsolar's perspective, a global treaty to reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions would be a tremendous boost not only for the clean energy industry, but for efforts to develop more environmentally and socially responsible and sustainable economies.

"If the talks failed, I would say that on the one side the [solar PV] market is deeply driven by government policies. So without proactive, supportive policies our market would drop down significantly. But in terms of 'greening' our own value chain, we don't have to wait for that to happen."

Finding effective ways and means to 'green' its own value chain has been a focal point for Bourdin at the climate change treaty talks in Durban. Another was looking for NGO and private sector partners with whom Upsolar might be able to team up to conduct public and educational outreach and job training on the continent.

As Bourdin explained, though Upsolar designs and oversees testing, fabrication and assembly of its brand name silicon solar panels, it relies on an extensive chain of Chinese providers for everything from silicon wafers through PV cells and panels. That means it doesn't have the leverage across its supply chain that a larger, integrated solar PV company, such as SunTech or Trina Solar, has.

Making her way through the sprawling, crowded, and at times frenetic environment to make introductions and set up meetings wasn't easy, she related. Searching to find cost-effective, profitable methods and tools that it could bring to its suppliers and work with them to reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, waste and natural resource use, Bourdin met and networked with representatives of Chinese NGOs, as well as members of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).

"In talking to CDP yesterday, I was very enthused about their experience. They're clearly showing that companies reducing CO2 emissions are often doing so by reducing energy waste...implementing low-cost, low-tech improvements that yield higher profits." Their data show "that it's possible to reduce emissions 3-5% and have a good payback in 2-3 years, but we'll need to work very closely with our partners."

From all appearances, Upsolar's taking environmental and social responsibility seriously and to heart. Upsolar completed its first life-cycle assessment (LCA) just a few days ago. The LCA, which was undertaken with the assistance of Bureau Veritas, will be presented next week in Germany at the Upsolar Europe's annual performance review and strategic planning sessions. "We want to assure and encourage employee participation, not only in terms of profits, but in terms of 'green' factors as well," Bourdin said.

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

Read more stories by Andrew Burger

More stories from Leadership & Transparency