Good cop, bad cop

November 22, 2012 | 00:00

Good cop, bad cop

On Monday, the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC will kick off in Doha, Qatar. Yes, here we are with another UN climate conference, or COP, as these annual talkfests are affectionately called by their habitués.

"Doha" is the successor to "Durban", "Cancun", "Copenhagen" and 14 other climate conferences that by now have largely faded into memory. If you were not aware of "Doha", you may be forgiven. Nobody seems to expect much from it. After the much-hyped Copenhagen, expectations from the COPs seem to find themselves on a long, downward slope.

I myself attended two COPs, "Montreal" in 2005, and "Poznan" in 2008. After that, I decided I had seen enough. "Climate circus" seems to be just about the right word to describe what goes on at these mega-confabs.

One wonders: how long will they keep this up? If you have gone through 18 huge global conferences on climate change, and you have nothing to show for it, except rising greenhouse gas emissions, isn't it time to try something new?

What about putting all world leaders in one room, lock the door, and don't let them out until they have reached an agreement? Unrealistic, you say? But then how serious are we about this anyway?

For the energy sector of course the whole process is quite frustrating. After all these years, does anyone know where climate policy is going? Even in the EU, self-proclaimed climate leader, climate policy is still a model of uncertainty, and that's putting it mildly. If climate change is the threat that many say it is - and let's face it: the International Energy Agency is bandying about scenarios of 6 degrees (!) temperature rise, i.e. utter catastrophe - we could use some real climate cops instead of what we have now.

Speaking about cops, another global energy conference is starting on Monday, this one in Warsaw, and it too has everything to do with global governance of the energy sector. I am referring to the 23rd Meeting of the Energy Charter Conference.

The Energy Charter got its start in 1991, six years before "Kyoto", and its aim was to ensure some kind of investment security in the international energy sector after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War era.

Some people would argue that the Energy Charter in its own sphere has produced just as few concrete results as the Conferences of the Parties in the climate scene. And it is true that the Charter has not had a very a good press, mainly because Russia decided at the very last moment not to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty.

Yet not everyone would agree. I had an interview the other day in Brussels with Howard Chase, who is a person with as wide an experience in "international energy affairs" as you can find anywhere. He worked for 35 years for BP. In 1990 he became political advisor to the famous John Browne, who subsequently became BP's CEO. Running BP's Moscow office for four years, he helped lay the groundwork for BP's first Russian venture, in 1997. After that, he worked first in Washington, then in Brussels. Later he switched to Dow Chemical, which hired him to build up "government affairs capability" in Europe and Central Asia. In other words, he went from a major energy producer to a major energy consumer. Indeed, he told me that Dow, the largest US chemical company, uses 800,000 barrels of oil equivalents per day, equal to 1% of global oil production!

Chase is also Chairman of the Industry Advisory Panel of the Energy Charter, an informal body representing some 40 major companies, which aims to provide the Energy Charter Secretariat with, as he puts it, "some practical business perspective". Although this Panel only got started in 2004, Chase has closely tracked the Energy Charter since its inception in 1991, when he was asked at BP to "find out a bit more about this Lubbers initiative". (Lubbers was the Prime Minister of the Netherlands who founded the Charter.)

And Chase has had a positive feeling towards the Charter to this day. He points out that, the mere fact that the Energy Charter Treaty is there, that it exists, provides a legal frame of reference for international transactions in the energy sector. "This is valuable even when you are in private project negotiations that do not directly refer to the Treaty", says Chase. And he should know as he was deeply involved in BP's projects in the Caucasus and Central Asia in the 1990s.

To put it in a nutshell, Chase's firm belief is that the Energy Charter is a good cop.

The question is of course, to what extent is the world really interested in a global energy investment cop? Or in a global climate cop? Let's hope that will become clear in Warsaw and Doha next week.


Next week, on Wednesday 28 November, EER will organise its fourth "EU energy policy breakfast". Representatives from the European Commission, the (upcoming) Irish EU Presidency and the Smart Energy Demand Coalition will discuss the progress (or lack of it) in the development of the internal energy market. Admittance is free, seating limited. To register, click here.


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