Leading green groups set out what they say are “realistic goals” for international climate talks
By Ed King
Leading environmental NGOs say there are “strong reasons for optimism” over the possible success of a UN climate change deal next year.
Greenpeace, WWF, Christian Aid, Green Alliance and the RSPB say “significant shifts” in the position of China and the US governments on cutting carbon emissions augur well for negotiations.
The world’s two leading emitters have historically avoided making any firm commitments to curb their use of fossil fuels, preferring voluntary targets.
The UN wants developed and developing countries to sign up to a new deal to address climate change at a Paris conference next year.
In the past year both US president Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have announced proposals aimed at boosting renewable energy and tackling air pollution.
These developments, together with a wider understanding of the benefits of climate action, “raise the prospect of serious multilateral cooperation to achieve a common goal,” said the NGOs.
The group’s views are published in a report outlining their collective vision of what an effective agreement could look like.
Launched a day before the UK government publishes its own strategy for success in Paris, the document calls for countries to adopt “rolling carbon targets” to 2050 and beyond.
Alastair Harper, head of politics at the London-based Green Alliance, said the report outlined “what we expect the UK approach to be and how we can work together internationally”.
Criteria for a successful deal include a strong legal framework, accounting rules, more public finance flows from rich to poor and a “central role for equity” based on responsibility and capacity.
But in an admission that hopes of a tough UN treaty where countries are legally obliged to make cuts is all-but dead, the NGOs instead stress the need for a tough “enabling framework”.
“The 2015 agreement will be different from those that came before. In the early years of climate negotiations, the focus was on setting ‘top-down’ targets, which drove national action,” they said.
“Today, the emphasis has shifted. Individual countries are being asked to come forward with their own ambitions and plans for carbon reduction.”
Some observers are likely to see this as a weakening of civil society demands, given green groups had previously demanded a tough legally binding climate treaty.
Only last year environmental NGOs including WWF and Greenpeace walked out of the UN climate summit in Warsaw, claiming the meeting had been taken over by fossil fuel companies and lacked credibility.
And significantly, the paper does not dwell on whether Paris will ensure the world avoids warming of 2C, a goal agreed by governments and one that currently looks out of reach.
Instead it argues the focus should be on governance structures which could boost international cooperation and deliver higher levels of climate finance.
Liz Gallagher, head of international climate policy at the environmental think tank E3G told RTCC the document showed mainstream NGOs understood how the political dynamics of climate talks had moved since the last time countries tried to seal a climate deal in 2009.
“Having more voices come out and talk up the significance of the Paris agreement is key,” she said.
“Showing how the international negotiations have evolved and shifted in particular since Copenhagen is vital to persuading the climate ‘realists’ of the value and feasibility of an international agreement on climate change.”
WWF-UK’s chief climate advisor Leo Hickman, who was closely involved in the report’s drafting process, said it offered a clear assessment of achievable goals for 2015, but stressed it is likely to evolve over the next 15 months.
“I don’t think we can say this is our final vision right up to Paris. It’s a document for the now which will hopefully help policymakers and others move towards Lima and take the next steps on,” he said.
“We all have an interest in making Paris work and be meaningful… but it’s not our final position paper on what we think Paris should look like.”