Former US negotiator Daniel Esty: COP21 "biggest step forward" since 1992

Ilario D'Amato
8 December 2015

Daniel Esty, Prof. of Env. Law and Policy at Yale University and former US climate change negotiator

PARIS: The negotiations in Paris that will shape the future of the world's fight against climate change are taking “the biggest step forward since the 1992 Framework Convention,” says Daniel Esty, professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University and former US climate change negotiator, in The Climate Group’s exclusive Climate TV interview.

Part of the reason for such optimism is the stronger role business has played in the run-up to Paris, with companies increasingly taking low carbon actions. One of the most effective is the RE100 initiative from The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, which is supporting the world's most influential companies in their journeys to go 100% renewable.

“I think we are in a totally different world community prospective on climate change here in Paris compared to anything in the last 20 years,” reiterates Daniel Esty, pointing out that today’s global climate discourse has dropped away from its original top-down strategy. “The real news is all the energy coming from cities, states, provinces and the business sector. It promises a shift from talk to action.

“The issue is not really the agreement that is worked out by the official negotiators at Le Bourget: it’s the energy, the enthusiasm and the follow-through that so many people have committed to today and across the last days and across several months.”


Despite high expectations from many experts for the Paris agreement, there are still issues that must be addressed for negotiators to reach an ambitious, successful outcome at COP21. In particular, the biggest ‘sticking point’ to be addressed is climate finance. In 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen, developed countries committed to US$100 billion a year to help developing countries address the challenges posed by climate change.

Daniel Esty says a number of countries “are stuck in what I would call ‘the 20th century approach’ to climate change finance, sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the developed world to give the money, and hoping that somehow that would provide the resources they might need to step into the arena and be part of the clean energy future and part of the climate change solution.”

On the contrary, many countries today are using limited government money to leverage private capital, says the professor. “I’m very much hoping that the countries that still have the 20th century attitude are getting clear now on the reality of the 21st century opportunity”

As a former US climate representative who participated in the 1992 climate negotiations, Daniel Etsy draws a parallel between those talks and today's COP21. “One of the other things that is really different here today is that business has stepped up to the agenda,” he says. “And it’s really playing a leading role in helping deliver solutions."


The former negotiator says the ramped up business engagement "represents a breakthrough from where we’ve been in recent years. The private sector has come to understand that climate change is both an opportunity as well as a challenge – and they are seeing lots of ways and places to drive new markets, to improve their relationships with their customers, and to be part of the solutions agenda that is going to come out of Paris.”

Companies are increasingly understanding that the world has changed, and “they need to change too,” says Daniel Etsy. Business leaders wo will wait on the sidelines “are at risk of falling behind their customers and falling behind the markets,” and for bigger companies there is also the additional risk of falling behind their investors' expectations.

The professor points out that in the stock markets around the world businesses are already experiencing one such risk, what he calls ‘carbon exposure’. This is where companies are not thinking about climate change with "potentially high-emissions in either their production or the products they put into the market”,

This compares to forward-looking businesses that are considering climate change solutions. Daniel Esty affirms that such companies “are really positioned for success and investors interest out over the coming years.”

  • You can watch more of our exclusive video interviews with climate leaders and experts by following the hashtag #ClimateTV on social media.
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