Whatever Works: Of Green New Deals, Marshall Plans, and Energy Revolutions in Copenhagen at CoP-15

A few months ago I received a telephone call from Tariq Banuri, head of the UN’s Division for Sustainable Development.  At the time, I was wandering around the building site where my wife and I are constructing an eco- and climate-friendly house, outside of Stockholm.  “Can you talk now?” said Tariq.  I sat myself down amid the FSC-certified lumber.  “Sure, of course.”

Fast forward.

Today, I find myself on the floor of the Bella Center outside Copenhagen.  I am literally on the floor, sitting and waiting for my letter of accreditation to arrive, physically, from the Under-Secretary-General in New York.  I have a UN badge now, having recently finished work with Tariq and his colleagues on a new strategy paper promoting much-larger-scale investments in renewable energy, as soon as possible, as a way of bringing the price down much more quickly, spreading wind- and solar-power to the developing countries, displacing a lot of fossil-fuel plants that would otherwise be built while bringing green energy — and expanded green energy markets — to the world, rich and poor.

It’s an “accelerate sustainability” strategy, the embodiment, in practical terms, of the “Hope Graph” that I use in my presentations, and in my book The ISIS Agreement. What can we do to speed up in the race against time, and beat the contestant called “Collapse,” who appears to have a couple-of-decades head start?  Here’s one thing:  push down the price of renewables, fast, with a global feed-in policy and funding initiative.  (See http://bit.ly/7QoOlI)  This version is called a “Global Green New Deal for Climate, Energy, and Development.” It could be called a dozen other things.  More on that below.

As I sit waiting on the floor, swirling above and past me is the in-flow to CoP-15, the great climate summit in Copenhagen. A few familiar faces go by, and I get up off the floor to greet Christopher Flavin of Worldwatch Institute; he’s speaking “about 20 times” at various events in the dense orbits of this gargantuan proceeding.  Across the room, Hunter Lovins is talking her way in, somehow. People of every conceivable nationality shuffle, one step at a time, toward the accreditation desks. I continue to sit, and catch up on email via the free wi-fi.

Outside, lines are lengthening.  Tonight I will learn that thousands of people with NGO status waited up to seven hours in the cold before just giving up.  And it will get worse from here, because the UN is forced to reduce the number of spots available to observers in the coming days, as the heads of state start to arrive.

I go back to the UN staff desk.  Magically, my entrance badge appears.  Electronic word has preceded the physical letter (which does arrive the next day). And in I go.


Inside, “cavernous” does not begin to describe it.  Multi-cavernous.  The only real metaphor I can come up with is a giant shopping mall, with throngs of people walking up and down the central hallways.  But instead of shopping for stuff, they are shopping for and selling ideas, opinions, agendas, concerns, hopes, analyses, reports, drafts …  A sea of booths offers a flood of documents (some electronic, stuffed in their gigabytes onto give-away pin drives).  Hundreds of computers serve the press in their own media center, while dozens of cafes keep the cappuccino and sandwiches flowing. Occasionally some activists walk by dressed as trees or polar bears, but most people are in business attire, rushing somewhere, or sitting in clusters, or sitting with the laptops and phones.

You quickly become color-sensitized.  Pink badge:  the “Parties”, that is, members of the country delegations.  Blue badge:  UN staff (I have one of those).  Yellow badge, Non-Governmental Observers, the activists, academics, etc.  The truly important have a second badge; that second badge, which is definitely beyond my level in this pecking order, will become more and more important as the final days raise the ante on what’s happening.

My job here is simple:  circulate, meet people, talk, listen, pass copies of our paper.  Of course, since 10,000 other people are here to do the same sort of thing,that makes for an interesting dynamic.  But the reception is good:  Tariq Banuri, as head of the Division for Sustainable Development, is well known to the people in this milieu, so just mentioning his name as I hand over the paper smooths the first contact.

Since the actual negotiations are generally closed, even to blue-badge types like me, it’s all about networking here, and going to “side events,” i.e., panel presentations on relevant topics.  There are hundreds of options.  I visit a few of these, mostly to connect with the speakers afterwards and pass them this paper.  (There is not a lot of news at these events. But what is enlightening is to watch how fast the new things are picked up and repeated — like the ClimateInteractive scoreboard on the climate deal.) And of course, I run into a number of friends and colleagues — sustainability indicator expert Art Dahl, formerly of UNEP, and here with a religious delegation (he is Baha’i); Joe Alcamo, now Chief Scientist at UNEP; Johan Rockström of SEI, recently named “Swede of the Year” by Fokus magazine for his work on climate; and more.

And I make new friends (in the professional sense), especially at a dinner hosted by the Global Energy Assessment, which is chaired by Thomas B. Johansson.  It is a pleasure to meet folks, for example, whose data I’ve been using in the recent paper (Nakicenovic of IIASA) or who are working on topics I care about (Dulce Benke, working on bioenergy indicators for the UN Foundation).  While the phrase “Global Energy Assessment” may not sound super-exciting at first encounter, this is an exciting project, because it will map the pathway from today’s non-sustainable, climate-destroying energy system to a much better one.  Johansson, Bob Correll and others are asking our input on the project; but it turns out that they have quite good answers to most of the critical questions we toss at them — on topics like valuing the impact of energy access in developing countries, or accelerating feed-in tariffs and other working policy mechanisms.


And so I come to the title of this post, because it needs some explaining.  I’ll hope over lots of colorful details, including how I bumped into (literally) Al Gore and thus passed him a paper, or other chance encounters … and finally cut to the chase.

The paper we’ve released is called “A Global Green New Deal on Climate, Energy, and Development.”  It could have been called a number of other things, and they’ve all been on the list at one point or another:  Green Energy Revolution, Big Push on Renewables, Renewables Accelerator, Marshall Plan on Renewables, etc.

Why Global Green New Deal?  With its American references to Roosevelt, etc.?  Very simple:  this is language that the UN has already adopted, with approvals all the way up.  It’s consistent.  You’ll find other UN documents with “Global Green New Deal” badged on them.

But we could be talking Marshall Plans or Green Energy Revolutions, or anything that speaks of large-scale, global commitment, multi-faceted, fast transformation in the energy sector.

To repeat:  fast transformation, globally, in the energy sector.

I don’t care what you call it, so long as it happens.

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