Postcard from Chatham House - national action on climate change will underpin a global deal

Postcard from Chatham House - national action on climate change will underpin a global deal

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Date: 11th October 2011
Author: Mairi Dupar
Type: Feature
Organisations: Chatham House, E3G
Tags: international climate negotiations, low emission development, national planning, UNFCCC

A lively debate among the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and participants at the annual Chatham House Conference on Climate Change tackled the thorny question: ‘If a new global climate deal is still some years distant, what are the prospects for climate compatible development now?’

By Sam Bickersteth, Chief Executive, and Mairi Dupar, Global Knowledge Management Coordinator, CDKN

Christiana Figueres had one message for attendees at the Chatham House Conference on Climate Change today: low carbon development is the only development path ahead. The only question is how fast we get there.

Ms Figueres flew straight to the conference from Panama, where final preparations for UNFCCC COP 17 in Durban were held last week. She said an inclusive, legally binding international deal is still some way off, due largely to the US domestic context and the time needed for China, India, and OPEC countries to prepare and negotiate.  Speaking on the record, she added, ‘Governments will take the time they need to open up the space' to create an international climate accord; she refused to speculate on how long that may take.

What happens while we wait for a deal?

Ms Figueres was emphatic in calling for 'a serious dose of collective consciousness’ to shock politicians, business leaders, consumers, campaigners and voters into decisive action across the economy and society, starting now.

While an inclusive, ambitious global climate deal is still to play for, Ms Figueres said that all governments could support actions at national level now, actions which collectively could transform the global economy to a low carbon one. These key actions are:

  • Legislation at national level;
  • Greening investment flows;
  • Measures to bring down the costs of green technology;
  • A broad revolution across civil society, saying ‘enough is enough’.

These national-level actions could provide the drivers for a global deal, she said, as the UNFCCC is composed primarily of national parties:  ‘It is the collective will of national legislators and society that will drive an international agreement.’

Taking a different view on international and national policy drivers, another participant argued: ‘The places where climate action is really happening significantly are where it’s top down,’ that is, where international commitments have framed and driven domestic action.  The EU's range of action to deploy renewable energy technologies and improve energy efficiency across the EU received praise, but also a warning, ‘Without an international agreement that puts real caps on emissions post-2020, this ‘bottom up’ activity in the EU will be lost. We need to ensure Durban works or we’ll lose business buy-in and it’ll take a decade to regain.’

Mexico: where a global framework spurred national action, then a regional vision

These heated exchanges found a perfect counterpoint in the presentation by Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, Mexico’s Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, who described how Mexico’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and chairmanship of the UNFCCC CoP16 had catalysed an economy-wide target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Mexico set an ambitious 30 percent emissions reduction target (for 2020), during its Presidency of the COP;  each ministry must also meet a carbon reduction target by 2012. President Felipe Calderon champions compliance from the President’s office and ‘when the President speaks the cabinet ministers listen.’

Minister Elvira stressed that Mexico does not want to be insular about its targets and progress in emissions reduction: ‘we aim to promote low carbon and climate change resilient economic development in Mexico and Latin America and the Caribbean - we want this vision across the region.’

Minister Elvira’s story encapsulated the interplay of international frameworks – which have been negotiated by nation states -as important drivers of change, and which in turn spur action at national level, and can go on to catalyse knowledge-sharing and action beyond borders.

How CDKN helps developing countries

CDKN is supporting the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change – the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States – to articulate their concerns in the UNFCCC process. The hope is that if these countries’ views and demands can be accommodated, the outcomes of the negotiations will be better for everyone.

CDKN also recognises that an international (political and financial) framework itself is far from sufficient for climate compatible development to succeed. That is why around four-fifths of CDKN’s support to developing countries, via technical assistance, research into knowledge gaps, and knowledge-sharing, is targeted at to the regional and national levels.

Read more about the annual Chatham House Conference on Climate Change.

Image © John Hogg, World Bank

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