Working toward an equitable and ambitious international climate agreement in 2015 that is informed by science, considers the specific needs of the most vulnerable populations, and catalyzes sustainable development.
This year’s climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland (COP 19) were a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the summit’s outcomes were dramatically out of step with the level of action needed to solve the climate change problem. A tempting metaphor for the talks was the national stadium in which they were held– one could go around in endless circles in search of the right location.
On the other hand, the Warsaw COP did achieve the incremental outcomes needed to move the process forward. Negotiators put in place a work plan for securing an international climate agreement at COP 21 in Paris in 2015. The COP also made progress on scaling up climate finance and addressing the difficult issue of loss and damage, a process for addressing climate impacts that are difficult or impossible to adapt to. These are small but important steps toward bringing countries out of their repetitive, circular discussions and closer to agreeing collectively on how to address global climate change.
The 2015 agreement is meant to apply to all nations, raising obvious questions about which countries will take what actions and how equity factors into those determinations. Since ensuring all Parties consider the climate agreement fair is a necessary first step to meaningful participation, WRI’s new paper, Equity Lessons from Multilateral Regimes for the New Climate Agreement, examines how equity is treated in a number of multilateral environmental, trade, human rights and international aid agreements.
It’s not every day that several former Heads of State, the leader of the global trade union movement, an organizer of urban slum dwellers, a business leader, and a number of other leaders and advocates all come together on the same page.
But last week it happened. And even more strikingly, it was their common concern about climate change that brought them together.
A diverse group of global leaders launched the Declaration on Climate Justice to highlight the impacts of climate change on world’s most vulnerable people and the urgent need to build a “just transition” to low-carbon and climate-resilient societies. The Declaration outlines the priority actions needed to achieve a climate-just society in the near- and long-terms. (See our backgrounder for more information on the issues raised in the Declaration.)
Historically, the world has talked about climate change primarily as an environmental issue. We focus on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, rising seas, climbing temperatures, and other hard data. While this narrative is important, it’s missing a critical component — people.
After all, communities everywhere will be affected by climate change’s impacts. Those in impoverished, developing nations will likely be hit hardest. That’s why it’s necessary to talk about climate change not just as an environmental issue, but also as an issue of climate justice focused on the way in which people, especially the most vulnerable, are being affected.
The world has been asking: How will the United States turn its climate change talk into real action? President Obama began to answer that question this week when he announced his National Climate Action Plan, laying out concrete steps to curb climate change at home and abroad, including a policy that would bar the U.S. from financing conventional coal plants internationally.
The concrete steps he described are vital--most importantly because they represent actions, not just words. But everyone should also take note of the starting point in his speech. It reveals the critical role the international climate change process can play in stimulating climate action.
This post was written by Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile and a member of the high-level advisory panel for the Climate Justice Dialogue. The Climate Justice Dialogue project is a joint initiative between WRI and the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice. This piece originally appeared on Reuters Alertnet.
It’s become abundantly clear that in order for the world to reach an international climate agreement by 2015, the usual approach isn’t going to work. World leaders need to find common ground and work toward solutions. They need to engage their citizens and infuse new passion into the issue. Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it is one of the great moral tests of our times.
In Chile, we know all too well the impacts of climate change, marked in particular by more frequent droughts and increasing water scarcity. This affects people and our economy across sectors, from agriculture and manufacturing to mining and energy. Sadly, the people most affected by climate change are the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.
In the face of this challenge, we need a new narrative that engages people and presents the issue as a social and economic story rather than as just an environmental one. We need to create a world in which people prosper but without increasing pollution. This is not a distant dream, but a real possibility.
A slight breath of fresh air entered the UNFCCC climate negotiations this week in Bonn, Germany. Held in the old German parliament—which was designed to demonstrate transparency and light—the meeting took on a more open feel than the past several COPs and intersessionals.
Instead of arguing over the agenda, negotiators got down to work, discussing ways to ramp up countries’ emissions-reduction commitments now and move toward a 2015 international climate action agreement. Reaching these two goals is imperative. It was encouraging to hear delegates make progress across three key issues involved in achieving them:
1) "Spectrum of Commitments"
This idea—put forward by the United States—is that every country should determine its own national “contribution” to curbing global climate change and present it to the international community. A “spectrum” of various commitments would thus emerge, which could be included in some sort of formal agreement.
It’s been almost four months since the last UNFCCC negotiations in Doha, Qatar (COP 18). Countries decided in Doha to finalize the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, wrap up a series of decisions on the Bali Action Plan, and outline a plan to establish an international climate agreement by 2015. Countries will gather this week in Bonn, Germany, for the first formal conversations since the Doha meeting.
This week’s intersessional is a low key, but important session. Negotiators will discuss two critical issues: How to substantially step-up the level of ambition by countries, companies, cities, and civil society; and how to ensure a strong international climate agreement by 2015. Progress on these two issues could bring the world one step closer to strong, international action to curb climate change.
The final decision by all countries at COP 17 in Durban recognized that current GHG-reduction pledges are not adequate to keep global average temperature below 2 degrees C (the limit science says is necessary to prevent climate change’s most disastrous impacts). In Bonn, experts will put forth new ideas on how to ratchet up ambition in the short-term. Country representatives will also highlight best practices and success stories, in particular, the role that land use could play for enhanced mitigation and adaptation policies.
We recently travelled to Santiago, Chile, a sprawling city of six million people just beyond the Andes. Our purpose was to attend the first sub-regional workshop of the Climate Justice Dialogue, a new initiative led by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice (MRFCJ). But before we even made it inside the conference center, we were confronted by a poignant, real-life example of climate justice.
Upon arrival in Santiago, a taxi took us to a charming and quirky family-owned hotel. As we were welcomed at the concierge desk, we were surprised to find Chile’s Second National Communication among the tourist books and magazines.
National communications are reports submitted by countries to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They provide scientific information about national climate mitigation and adaptation measures, as well as project proposals that help increase a country’s resilience to the impacts of climate change. They’re important documents for climate negotiators and policymakers because they hold countries accountable for their commitments under the UNFCCC. They are not, however, something you would expect to find as recommended tourist literature.
We asked the hotel owner why he displayed this document so prominently . He responded with a wise smile, “Because it is important.” He then explained how climate change is already affecting Chile’s tourism industry: The retreat of Andean glaciers affects the availability of freshwater for irrigation and domestic use, mountain recreation, and for the animals and plants that depend on glacier-melt for survival. It also makes the glaciers—as well as the related fauna and flora—less accessible to tourists, affecting his revenue. He also expressed his concern over the inadequate response to climate change from the international community, the national government, and a Chilean middle class that’s engaging in unsustainable consumption patterns. He concluded that climate change is part of Chile’s current and future reality, and therefore should matter to anyone who cares about his country—including tourists.
I spent the recent U.N. climate negotiations in Doha trying to reconcile two injustices. The first is captured by Nicholas Stern’s “brutal arithmetic.” This is the simple, unavoidable fact that bold greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be needed from all countries to hold global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s most dangerous impacts. Developing nations, many of which are battling crippling poverty and inequality at home, are being told that the traditional, high-carbon pathway to prosperity is off-limits, and that they, too, will need to embrace aggressive mitigation actions. This is a glaring injustice – the product of two decades of missed opportunities in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), inadequate domestic action in industrialized countries, and substantial geopolitical changes in major emerging economies.
But the second injustice is even greater – one that is manifest and which must be avoided. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has illustrated, breaching the 2°C threshold would seriously degrade vital ecosystems and the communities who depend on them. This, itself, is an issue of justice, as climate change undermines the realization of human rights, including the right to food, health, an adequate standard of living, and even the right to life. Those same developing countries who are home to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our global community—and who are now compelled to act on reducing emissions—will be hit first and hardest by climate change’s impacts.