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OPINION: Poverty and climate change – how to close a deal in 2015

Simon Maxwell, CDKN’s Executive Chair, proposes ten actions for governments to ensure that the SDGs and related financing talks and global climate negotiations in 2015 lead to strong positive outcomes on protecting the environment and ending poverty.

The SDG negotiations are well underway in New York. Preparations are in hand for the Financing for Development meeting in Addis Ababa. And the UNFCCC is making stately progress towards a new climate deal, most recently agreeing a negotiating text in Geneva. Is there a common strategy? I worry that these various negotiations are being conducted by different people in different rooms. However, it makes no sense to negotiate the three elements of the 2015 agenda in isolation from each other. There are many links between the negotiations, not least that the SDG framework refers to climate and that achieving goals in one sphere is contingent on them being achieved in another.

In practical terms, there are ten specific actions Governments should take:

1. A cross-Government task force is essential, to lead, strategise and coordinate. In France, this function is carried out by a ‘Comité de Pilotage’ chaired by the Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius. In the EU, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, is playing a similar role, convening all Commissioners concerned with external policy, as well as ministers from Member States.

2. Each Government task force needs a negotiating strategy covering all of the 2015 negotiations. The standard approach, usefully summarised by E3G in a briefing on climate diplomacy commissioned by CDKN, is to ‘know yourself’, ‘know the other’ and ‘understand leverage’. The EU has the beginning of a strategy, an action plan for climate diplomacy. Obviously, it needs to be broadened to take account of other negotiations.

3. Countries need to understand what negotiators call the ‘BATNA’ or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – in other words the outcome if no agreement is reached – and decide how much they care. I suppose for 2015, the BATNA is no SDG framework, no climate deal and no money, or perhaps very weak outcome documents in Addis, New York and Paris. I can’t imagine that any country would be satisfied if that eventuality were to materialise, but for my money, the biggest risk is a weak deal on mitigation. The deal would be weak even if this were recognised as a first step and if regular review periods were included. As an example, and looking forward to 2030, the best estimate from UNEP, in the Emissions Gap Report, is that total GHG emissions based on current pledges will be up to 59 Gt. The maximum emission level for that year is 42GT. So, the gap is up to 17 Gt. That means further reductions of over a quarter are needed. Will they be offered in Paris?

If I am right that a commitment to emission reductions is the main strategic and existentially important objective in 2015, then that suggests all other chess pieces on the board need to be subordinated and instrumentalised to that end. The other pieces include elements of the climate deal, but also other elements of the SDGs. Controversial, I know. And, of course, as subsequent points discuss, the objective should be to secure good outcomes across the board.

4. Money is likely to be one key link between Addis, New York and Paris, but money is short. Some people think that additional money will be available, or at least hope so. It may be possible to sweat the assets of the multilateral development banks, including the new BRICS bank and the proposed Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. There may be unexpected pledges, or new forms of innovative finance which generate new funding, especially for climate-related purposes. A Financial Transactions Tax anyone? Or a levy on revitalised carbon markets? I think it more likely that there will be pledges to 0.7 at some point in the distant future, an intensified conversation about the possibility of leveraging additional private sector finance, and about the need for developing countries to raise more money domestically.

5. Reallocations within existing budgets might be put on the table. For example, developed countries could make commitments to building resilience and ensuring that humanitarian appeals are fully funded. This would provide a useful link to another important process in 2015, the Sendai conference on disaster risk reduction (WCDRR), as well as to the Humanitarian Summit planned for Istanbul in 2016. Can we have some kind of social protection guarantee on the table in 2015.

6. Financial offers by different countries should be aggregated offers into one large proposition over a number of years. One trillion dollars over five years sounds much better than twenty pledges of $10bn a year, renewable.

7. Timing is critical. The dilemma facing donors is that they will be expected to make significant commitments in Addis Ababa, but if they do so, then the locker will be empty when it comes to New York and Paris. One way to solve that problem is to make conditional offers. The EU did this in the climate negotiations back in 2007, when it offered to increase its reduction target from 20% (over 1990 levels) to 30% ‘if other major economies in the developed and developing worlds committed to undertake their fair share of a global emissions reduction effort’. Would it not be reasonable for donors (not just the EU) to make a financial offer in Addis Ababa in July, conditional on satisfactory emissions commitments in December?

8. Countries should be thinking hard about what other sweeteners they can throw into the negotiating pot, or ask their negotiating partners to throw in. Technology looks like a good bet. Professor Sir David King, now the UK’s climate envoy, has long argued for a major investment in R and D to capture the global imagination and deliver sustainable solutions, a kind of global Apollo Project costing 0.2% of GDP. Could this be a shared initiative, perhaps under UN auspices, with a high level of participation by developing countries? Other negotiating instruments? Trade access, remembering that there will be a WTO ministerial in Nairobi in December 2015? Migration rules? Debt relief? These would need to be linked to the overall negotiation.

9. Trust-building measures are important. Think-tanks have a role to play. In the SDG process, for example, negotiators are being supported by the Independent Research Forum, a group of think-tanks including ODI, IIED and WRI. This provides an opportunity for informal discussion. There are many similar opportunities. For example, CDKN last year convened a series of informal regional workshops on post-2015, summarised at an event in London in September. The Green Alliance, an independent UK think-tank, persuaded all the UK’s main party leaders to sign a letter pledging action on climate change. Does that inspire anyone else?

10. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the importance of public campaigning, to raise public awareness, stiffen the spines of leaders and their negotiators – and actually, also, give them more room for manoeuvre in making difficult trade-offs. Action/2015 is the umbrella for such action this year. The letter to world leaders is here.


A longer version of this piece was published at

 Image: courtesy World Bank.


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