* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Will leaders ride a wave of public support to Sendai, New York and Paris?
This weekend in Lima, international leaders called for a surge in public support for tackling climate change and poverty, in order to galvanise governmental ambition for three landmark agreements in 2015.
Next year, governments will negotiate an international disaster risk reduction agreement in Sendai, Japan; a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York, and a global climate agreement in Paris, France. Helen Clark, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator, also voiced her optimism that the SDGs will be strong on climate commitments, and will underpin a later climate accord.
Large, loud demands from civil society will be vital in creating a political gear shift on climate change and poverty. That was the message from Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, COP20 President; Helen Clark, UNDP administrator; Daniele Violetti, U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Chief of Staff ; Selwin Hart, the U.N. Secretary General’s climate chief; and Michael Jacobs, an advisor for the Global Commission the Economy and Climate.
“The global public has to get a lot noisier,” said Clark, who was Prime Minister of New Zealand before taking the helm of the UNDP. Noting that her generation mobilised against the Vietnam War and South African apartheid, she said today’s public must call more loudly and coherently for zero poverty and zero emissions.
That way, “governments will see how business as usual leads to toxic growth and the wrong legacy for future generations.”
Micahel Jacobs said, “Social movements are crucial to make politicians respond to broader views. All politicians know they have a responsibility to lead, educate. Climate movements point out to politicians their responsibilities to future generations.”
His comments were echoed by the UNFCCC’s Daniele Violetti, who said, “To achieve the long term goals of zero poverty and zero emissions, it will be important to have a short term transformation to low carbon economies, with a push from stakeholders to governments that contributes to raising ambitions.”
The ‘Zero-Zero’ event took place just before the ministerial segment of the UN climate talks in Lima– and climate change was sharply in focus. Several speakers noted an evolution in the way global climate change accords are consulted and negotiated. The climate process has moved on from a negotiation among meteorologists, said Violetti.
“The climate agreement in Paris will be a long way from the Kyoto Protocol [in this regard].”
The Peruvian government has picked up on the “good mood” of the New York City Climate Summit convened by the U.N. Secretary General in September 2014, said Pulgar-Vidal. The New York Summit catalysed the US-China joint announcement on climate change, and also by the European Union, to cut emissions and set the scene for $10 billion in donor commitments to the Green Climate Fund.
The Peruvian COP Presidency has approached this month’s UNFCCC talks as a “process rather than an event,” said Pulgar-Vidal. During this COP, observer organisations are invited to address the governmental plenaries and civil society organisations are encouraged to share concerns and experiences at a vibrant Voices for the Climate Pavilion, which is connected by shuttle to the negotiations venue.
“We want to be famous as the COP that introduced the views of non-state actors,” he said.
What’s relevant for all three global agreements in 2015 is that the scientific consensus around climate change and its impacts on society is stronger than ever before.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which issued its Fifth Assessment Report in four volumes over 2013-2014, found that each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. There is greater scientific certainty than ever – 95 percent certainty – that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the cause of warming.
Without a sharp transition to a low-carbon economy, average global temperatures could rise by 3-4 degrees Celsius above last century’s levels, by 2100, putting food production systems and earth’s other life support systems at risk of collapse.
“The science has been able to transmit the message in a simpler way,” said Pulgar-Vidal. “The IPCC not only points out the threat but the policy and political options. We know we are changing the (economic) paradigm. We know we are going to have in the next few years a new world with new concepts and new approaches.”
This means that if the final Sustainable Development Goals neglect vital aspects of climate adaptation and mitigation, or an international disaster risk reduction framework neglects climate-related disasters, these would be huge missed opportunities for guiding policy and investment. A low-ambition climate agreement would be the perhaps the most dangerous of all.
JOINED UP AGREEMENTS?
Looking forward to next year, how will coherence among the global policy frameworks for sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and climate change be achieved in practice?
The Open Working Group on the post-2015 development framework proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals for consideration by governments. These include both a dedicated climate change goal and elements of climate mitigation and resilience mainstreamed throughout the other goals.
Although it’s possible that the number of goals will be cut and the climate elements weakened, Clark said, “I think it’s reasonably likely that (all 17 goals) will make their way into the final governmental agenda. No one’s going to let go of their goals.”
“You can’t have sustainable development if you’re not doing anything about climate change. You are wiping out people’s hopes and prospects.”
The Sustainable Development Goals will be voluntary, rather than binding; whereas the global climate accord will be binding on governments (but also subject to approval by legislators, in most countries). At the same time, the SDGs could underpin the climate agreement, which is due for finalisation just three months later.
“All in all, there is everything to play for that unites these agendas: sustainable development, climate change and disaster risk reduction,” said Clark. “There can be this tidal wave of involvement of what the elements of this transformational agenda should be - with communities leading the way, and inviting governments to step up to the party.”