November 21, 2013
By Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office
Today much of civil society, including environmental NGOs, social movements and labour unions walked out of the UNFCCC negotiations to protest the lack of urgency reflected in the talks. The action was not taken to say that the negotiations are unimportant, but rather the opposite – they are far too important to be locked into a cycle of low expectations.
Never before has the contrast between the slow pace of the climate negotiations and the speed needed to combat global warming been greater. As UNEP’s Achim Steiner said yesterday, it will not be long before the pace of emissions reductions needed to stay below two degrees may well be untenable. Meanwhile, indications of the impact of climatic events consistent with the impacts of global warming are mounting around the world.
Ironically, instead of guiding Parties to higher levels of effort, the UN negotiations are starting to become uncoupled from developments in the real world.
On the positive side, countries as diverse as Mexico and Denmark, South Korea and South Africa, are each in their own ways taking steps towards legal and technological measures to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. Perhaps most significantly, renewable energy has taken off and is no longer a niche energy source, but is clearly becoming a major player in many places.
In contrast, there were announcements by Australia and Japan in the past week that they will reduce their emission reduction efforts. How they understand their actions to fit into a global effort that avoids dangerous climate change is unclear. Perhaps they don’t know themselves.
Both the positive and the negative are examples of why the UNFCCC is so important. Governments need a framework in which to understand the level of effort needed. They need encouragement to build upon steps they are already making. They need a way to understand how the efforts of one country affect another, and to discuss how to treat populations and industries fairly, within and between countries that have highly disparate economies and levels of development.
The concepts underlying the UN talks are straightforward, and the negotiators in the national stadium are among the people in the world most aware of that fact. Speak to many of them personally and they are often as depressed as anyone that the negotiations are unable to capture these essentials. They feel locked into cul-de-sacs with hard divisions between groups of countries and arguments over principle. Those principles are important, but at a certain point, decisions need to be made. Commitments taken. Action on the ground achieved.
The tools to combat climate change are at hand. Industries are growing up behind solutions, stimulating economies and creating employment. Adaptation strategies are developing globally. And our understanding of the impacts we will not be able to avoid is growing, giving us time to consider how to help the most vulnerable.
The groups, including WWF, who have made this appeal today and left the conference centre hope that these are the messages governments will hear: do not get bogged down in process, do not be blinded by narrow self-interest and consider why this process exists.
Leadership does not come cheap. It is those who are willing to speak plainly about what is plain for all to see, but hard to confront, who will be remembered. It is time for those people to step forward.