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NEWS: Greater diversity the best way to gain climate consensus

Mairi Dupar reports the outcome of lively debate hosted by PwC and CDKN which addressed the question: Is international consensus on climate change the way to save the planet?

National delegations should more truly represent their countries, by bringing women’s, young people’s, indigenous and other marginalised voices to the fore. This was voted the best idea for building consensus in international climate change talks at an event hosted by CDKN and PwC last week.

Bridget Burns of the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation, who won with 21% of votes cast, said that the “delegations to the United Nations climate talks should no longer be dominated by ‘men in blue suits‘”.

The world is spiralling toward climate disaster and the negotiations have come to a halt,” said Ms Burns. “We need to think differently and for that, we need an equitable representation of perspectives at the table.”

Ms Burns proposed that, to achieve such diversity, three things were needed: capacity building to promote more diverse representation in national delegations, such as more women and young people; transformation in the relationship between civil society and member states; and specific resources to support transformative representation.

CDKN and Oneworld have made a film of the event, showcasing the seven big ideas and the discussion highlights.

The event, entitled Is international consensus on climate change the way to save the planet? placed seven leading thinkers before a panel of judges to pitch their big ideas. The judges and spectators had time to interrogate each speaker before the audience voted for the best option.

The other speakers, whose ideas received a very warm response, were:

Mark Kenber, CEO, Climate Group: Any negotiation that is based on sharing out of burden cost or pain is doomed to fail. The whole global climate debate should be reframed in a positive way to offer ‘wins’ to parties, so that they coalesce around opportunities for shared benefits. For instance, new forms of cooperation around clean energy would allow nations to pool resources constructively for real climate gains, and this could be replicated in other areas such as water and forests.

Jose Garibaldi, Director, Energia: The existing negotiating blocs in the UNFCCC are a hindrance to progressive outcomes because there are too many competing interests within these blocs. We need the nations in favour of more ambitious action to work together across blocs to generate momentum for stronger outcomes. These forward-looking leaders would create new markets and business opportunities so that “at a tipping point, countries would lose market share by not joining up in a new economy”.

Louise van Schaik, International relations expert, Netherlands Institute of International Relations: The voting rules of the UNFCCC should be changed because they are not working. Currently, the process seeks unanimity, but this permits small nations to act as ‘spoilers’ to ambitious collective outcomes. Instead, a majority-based process should be considered, as it is likely to generate agreement faster; perhaps something like the EU’s qualified majority voting system.

Farhana Yamin, Visiting Professor, University College, London: Vested interests, short termism and disjointed policy making are leading to lock-in of dangerous levels of carbon. The people at the core of the UNFCCC negotiating process, many of whom have been there for years, have fallen out of touch. Continuing the route of climate diplomacy and elite advocacy only makes sense if we build a mass global movement in support of low-carbon, people-friendly development. A brighter future lies with active social movements that are focused on saving the planet.

Robert Falkner, Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics: The international negotiations are not going anywhere fast, and the locus of action is at the national and regional levels. After all, effective climate policy happens at the national level where commitments reflect societies’ priorities and preferences and a broader range of stakeholders, such as businesses, can participate actively. More support should be channelled to developing countries to help them develop climate change legislation. Having said this, the UNFCCC process has a role to play in driving up the level of collective ambition so it shouldn’t be abandoned altogether.

Christoph Schwarte, Executive Director, Legal Response Initiative: We shouldn’t focus solely on what the UNFCCC can achieve: alone, it is not the way to save the planet. There are an array of other international legal initiatives that could deliver significant progress toward a safer climate, such as the International Maritime Organization and Montreal Protocol on the Ozone Layer. In the UN General Assembly, the small island nation of Palau is seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change damage. Progress on these complementary initiatives can help create the political pressure to reach a new deal on climate change but fundamentally, developing countries should look outside the UNFCCC, not just within it, for effective channels for climate action.

On the final audience vote, the remaining six speakers placed closely behind Bridget Burns. Sam Bickersteth, Chief Executive of CDKN, concluded that there is no “silver bullet” for rescuing the climate, but the event had produced a rich set of ideas, which could be pursued simultaneously to drive more ambitious action. CDKN Executive Chairman Simon Maxwell, who chaired the debate, added: “those responsible for negotiations need support from all of us”.

Daniele Violetti, the Chief of Staff of the UNFCCC, ended on a similarly upbeat note: “It is clear government can’t make it alone in 2015 [the date by which Parties to the UNFCCC have agreed to conclude a legal commitment]. We need to build momentum and bottom-up direction. We have to be optimistic, it’s the future, there is no way back. The suggestions made today are all good ones, it’s a question of making them happen.”

Read the CDKN policy brief How to build consensus in climate change negotiations

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