Through a process of widespread global engagement, ACT 2015 will develop an ambitious and effective proposal for a new international climate agreement in 2015 that catalyzes climate action and moves the world onto low-carbon, climate resilient pathways.
For the first time, the meeting of many of the world’s pre-eminent political and business leaders held an official “Climate Day” to discuss the challenges posed by a warmer world. The day and the Forum’s several events and panels yielded encouraging talk—and the potential for some transformative initiatives.
As we recap in our extreme weather timeline below, this year saw a range of catastrophic events—from Typhoon Haiyan causing more than 6,000 deaths in the Philippines, to severe drought in California, to raging wildfires in Prescott, Arizona. A new report shows that 2013 ranks as the fourth-warmest year on record (tied with 2003). And this December marks the 346th consecutive month with global average temperatures above the 20th-century average.
Manish Bapna highlights five standout climate and energy stories of 2013, which point to signs that some businesses, consumers, and governments are moving toward a growing understanding of the risks of climate change. The question is whether this heightened awareness will shift a global course quickly enough to reduce negative climate impacts. This blog post was originally published at Forbes.
The UNFCCC negotiations are entering a crucial phase. Negotiators decided nearly two years ago to establish an international climate action agreement “with legal force” by 2015. How this agreement will be structured, though, remains to be seen.
WRI’s new working paper lays out the various options for designing the process for submitting "national offers," countries’ plans to reduce their respective greenhouse gas emissions. It will be critical for negotiators to focus on three key areas: the content of the offers, the timing and process for submitting them, and how they will be reviewed.
The High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda provided a welcome injection of energy and ambition into the future of development with its final report released last week. While the details will be parsed over the coming months, the report’s recommendations were at once bold and practical. The Panel sees that the promise of a world free of extreme poverty is within reach, and achieving this vision requires that sustainability and equity should be at the core of the global development agenda.
While there have been many such calls to move the world onto a more sustainable and equitable development path, if the Panel’s proposals are to be truly acted upon, the results would be transformational.
With that in mind, let’s look at how the report stacks up against the four “issues to watch” that we highlighted last week:
1) Will sustainability be on the margins or at the center of the post-2015 agenda?
This was a clear winner, as the Panel recognized that environmental sustainability and poverty eradication are inextricably linked. The report identified sustainable development as one of five essential “transformational shifts.” Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which relegated the environment to just one of eight goals, the panel offered four goals--on energy, water, food, and natural resources--that directly connect human well-being with care for the planet.
Delegates at the April UNFCCC intersessional in Bonn, Germany made some encouraging progress. As negotiators gather again this week, it’s important that they build on this progress and take action on two key topics: raising ambition, and establishing core elements of the 2015 international climate action agreement.
Indeed, there’s an even greater sense of urgency since delegates met for the April intersessional. The world crossed a perilous and alarming threshold, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels exceeding 400 ppm, a level that has not been experienced in at least 800,000 years and possibly not for millions of years. Plus, this may be the last intersessional before COP 19 in Warsaw in November. Negotiators must move forward on raising ambition and establishing the 2015 Agreement if COP 19 is to have a successful outcome.
Raising Ambition Now
The need for countries to make more ambitious emissions-reduction commitments remains self-evident—even more so, now that the world has exceeded 400 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In Bonn, negotiators are set to focus on the transformation of the energy system.
If you asked five different people what they think “equity” means, you’d probably get five different answers. Their personal experiences and opinions would be overlaid on their cultural perspectives. A philosopher might bring up Aristotle’s teachings on justice; an economist would likely talk about maximizing utility and efficiency. A Buddhist and a Muslim might frame their answers from different perspectives that are difficult to compare, just as the viewpoints would likely vary between people raised under different forms of government.
So it’s no surprise that when climate negotiators from nearly 200 countries come together at the end of each year, they can’t agree on what exactly ‘equity’ means as applied to addressing climate change. To further complicate matters, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ties equity to “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC).”
There are many legitimate views of what equity means in the context of the UNFCCC, reflecting sharp contrasts on how to share both the burdens and opportunities of the global transition to low-carbon development. Some countries emphasize “responsibilities,” usually explained as the historical responsibilities developed countries have because of the greenhouse gases they emitted in the process of growing economically. Other countries focus on “capabilities,” the capacity countries have now to deal with climate change, such as their financial and technological resources to reduce domestic emissions or support adaptation research and activities. Several options for “differentiation” have been suggested over the years, including historical responsibility, levels of economic development, and vulnerabilities and needs. The current approach to equity has become a tug-of-war between countries that are reluctant to make greater climate change action commitments without assurances that others will also act.
History of Equity in the UNFCCC: Capability vs. Culpability
The UNFCCC’s ultimate goal is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a “level that would prevent dangerous, anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Scientists have found that in order to avoid devastating consequences such as mass desertification, glacier loss, extreme weather, and sea level rise, the international community must limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the climate negotiations, “ambition” refers to countries’ collective will—through both domestic action and international initiatives—to cut global greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the 2°C goal. Ambition further represents the actual steps countries are taking to meet that temperature goal.
Collective ambition is deemed to be lacking when the aggregate policies and actions of all countries are deemed insufficient to meet the 2°C goal. Countries are also judged on their own individual ambition levels, which are assessed based on their commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. In recent years, effective implementation of policies has emerged as an additional method for evaluating whether individual countries are sufficiently ambitious or not.