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OPINION: National action is key to accelerating international progress on climate change


The combined actions of individual nations is key in helping international progress on climate change to outpace the increasing level of urgency, so say the Rt Hon. John Gummer, Lord Deben; Lord Michael Jay, Graham Stuart MP; Barry Gardiner MP; Tim Yeo MP; Joan Walley MP; and Adam Matthews

At the recent Doha conference, Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), highlighted the importance of individual government policies in addressing the challenges of climate change.

Since the summit concluded with only modest achievements, consensus has grown that the response to climate change is not up to pace with the urgency for a response. Although the formal international negotiations under the UNFCCC remain vital, the snail’s pace of progress is no longer acceptable. (Observe the difficulty in Doha, for example, of formalising the decision to agree to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed in principle last year in Durban.)

That Figueres highlighted the vital role of national and sub-national government policy to achieving an accelerated response to climate change is telling. Only by implementing such frameworks can the political conditions for a comprehensive global agreement in 2015 be created.

Unlike the international negotiations, domestic climate change legislation is advancing at a rapid pace. This is particularly the case in developing countries and so-called ‘emerging’ economies, which will provide the motor of global economic growth in coming decades. Many of these nations conclude that it is in their national interest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and better prepare for the impacts of climate change.

This is a crucial, and under-appreciated, change in the centre of gravity of the climate change debate. And it mirrors a broader crossroad in international relations, with continuing economic malaise in the West being counterpoised with an increasingly rapid shift of power, both politically and economically, to emerging economies.

The 3rd GLOBE Climate Legislation Study has been undertaken with CDKN’s support by the Global Legislators’ Organisation (GLOBE) and the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics. The findings, released this week at a ministerial-level launch of the study at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, show that 32 of the 33 surveyed countries have progressed or are progressing significant climate and/or energy-related legislation.

For example, after publishing its 12th Five Year Plan in 2011, China has proceeded with more detailed implementation guidelines, including rules for its emissions trading pilots, progress with drafting its national climate change law and publication of an energy white paper. Moreover, at the end of October, sub-national legislation was passed in Shenzhen to tackle climate change, the first such legislation in China.

Similarly, Mexico is proceeding with its General Law on Climate Change, a comprehensive legislative framework to tackle climate change, together with the first REDD+ readiness legislation aimed at reducing deforestation. And South Africa has proposed a carbon tax in its latest budget. In the developed world, the EU passed a new directive on energy efficiency, Germany strengthened legislation relating to carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency, and Japan recently introduced a carbon tax.

This national action has been triggered by an increased understanding of risks associated with climate change, and the significant co-benefits of taking action. Those co-benefits include increased resource efficiency, with its associated lower costs and increased competitiveness; stronger energy security through diversifying away from the insecure supply and price-volatile fossil fuels; improved air quality through reduced use of coal-based and electrified transport; and securing the advantage of being an early adopter of the green technologies of tomorrow.

Right now, a significant gap remains between the cumulative level of ambition of national action and that required to limit the global average temperature rise to the agreed UN ceiling of 2°C. However, if the pace of national action is maintained, the gap will close. Moreover, the frameworks now being put in place by individual nations to measure, report and verify emissions are a prerequisite for an effective international treaty.

Such a comprehensive international deal will only be possible, however, when enough countries commit to taking action on climate change because they recognize it is advantageous for them to do so, rather than out of perceived altruism. In other words, any eventual deal will reflect domestic political conditions rather than define them.

All of this demonstrates that now is the right time for countries to invest more in climate diplomacy and practical international co-operation to help expedite the creation of conditions on the ground that will enable a comprehensive global agreement to be reached in 2015.

Authors: Rt Hon. John Gummer, Lord Deben, president, Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International); Lord Michael Jay, former head of the UK Diplomatic Service and G8 Sherpa in 2005 and 2006; Graham Stuart MP, vice president GLOBE International; Barry Gardiner MP, vice president, GLOBE International and leader of the opposition’s Special Envoy on Environment & Climate Change; Tim Yeo MP, Conservative chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee; Joan Walley MP, Labour chairman of the Environment Audit Select Committee; and Adam Matthews, secretary general, GLOBE International

For more information on the 3rd GLOBE Climate Legislation Study go to http://www.globeinternational.org/index.php/legislation-policy/studies/climate. For information on how CDKN has supported the GLOBE Climate Legislation Initiative please visit GLOBE Climate Legislators Initiative – phase 1.

 

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