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.
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.
This piece was written with analysis from Athena Ballesteros, Edward Cameron, Yamide Dagnet, Florence Daviet, Aarjan Dixit, Heather McGray, and Clifford Polycarp.
Expectations were low for this year’s UNFCCC climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar (COP 18), which concluded last week. It was scheduled to be a “finalize-the-rules” type of COP, rather than one focused on large, political deals that went into the early hours of the morning. Key issues on the table included finalizing the rules for the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period; concluding a series of decisions on transparency, finance, adaptation, and forests (REDD+); and agreeing on a work plan to negotiate a new legally binding international climate agreement by 2015. The emissions gap was also front-and-center, as the new UNEP Gap Report showed that countries are further away than even a year ago from the goal of keeping global average temperature rise below two degrees C.
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
It’s now a full 20 years since adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is designed to stabilize “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Despite important steps forward in Cancun and Durban, governments acknowledge that their combined efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to limit a global average temperature increase to 2°C.
This post was co-authored by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current president of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, and Manish Bapna, Acting President of WRI. It originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
The United Nations climate change convention is 20 years old this month. As we see from the just-completed climate talks in Bonn, Germany, we still haven't solved the problem, nor even agreed how to solve it. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change become more apparent, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
Within this statement lies a deep injustice: Those most affected by climate change did least to cause the problem. We need to put a human face on climate change. In the Bay of Bengal, in Bangladesh, sea-level rise, the increased incidence of cyclones, and higher temperatures are causing freshwater ponds to become salty. These are major challenges for families who rely on water for drinking, washing, irrigation and aquaculture. The impacts are so serious that they threaten the very ability of families -- who produce virtually no greenhouse gases -- to continue to live there.