Hosts of this year’s summit in Paris aim to engage wide support for a deal before December deadline
By Ed King
An unprecedented climate diplomacy drive is now fully underway, spanning continents and forcing governments to focus on what a UN global warming pact will look like.
Envoys face a brutal five months in the run-up to December’s UN summit in Paris, where a deal to avert dangerous levels of climate change is to be finalised.
Many will spend the rest of 2015 shuttling between capitals, the vapour trails and additional greenhouse gas emissions of their flights a price paid to tackle this fiendish problem.
“Burdensome but necessary” is how Giza Gaspar Martins, the Angolan diplomat representing the world’s poorest countries at negotiations described his workload to RTCC.
“We are doing much more than the last time we tried to do this… then there was very little prior engagement and as a result we failed miserably,” he said, referring to the 2009 Copenhagen summit.
— Miguel Arias Cañete (@MAC_europa) July 21, 2015
This week’s schedule offers an insight into the level of engagement.
In Rome on Tuesday, sixty mayors from South America, Africa, the United States, Europe and Asia gathered at the Vatican’s science academy to discuss their greenhouse gas slashing solutions.
The same day president Francois Hollande addressed the first Summit of Conscience for Climate, bringing together faith leaders and indigenous peoples to discuss the moral imperative for action.
“The meaning of this meeting is to assemble all of the consciences… the word conscience impacts every one of us,” he told delegates in the French capital.
“It’s up to every individual to see what he or she can do to save the planet.”
Tomorrow UN officials will release a latest version of proposals for the agreement, which relies on the 195 participating countries delivering ambitious climate plans by November. So far 47 have come up trumps.
The current text runs to more than 80 pages, which negotiators say is far too long. This new unofficial “tool”, as it’s being labelled, will offer a sense of how hard or easy the run-in will be.
But the French hosts of this year’s UN climate summit are not simply relying on governments to ensure success in December.
A strategy heavily influenced by Laurence Tubiana, the country’s chief climate diplomat, has seen the country stage a multi-pronged assault across all fronts of climate politics.
At its centre is the Quai d’Orsay, headquarters of the French foreign ministry, where officials have crafted a series of events this year aimed at engaging influential sectors in climate talks.
Businesses, mayors, religious leaders, scientists and youth groups have all been enlisted to ratchet up the pressure.
“It’s unprecedented in the sense that this approach to a major climate conference has not been tried before,” says Michael Jacobs, former advisor to UK PM Gordon Brown and a climate politics veteran.
“But then Paris is itself going to be quite different from previous conferences.”
“I’ve starred in a lot of science fiction movies and let me tell you something: climate change is not science fiction”
Headline acts roped in by the French so far include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kofi Annan, New York mayor Bill de Blasio and the chief executives of some of the world’s top fossil fuel firms.
This week in Paris, former UN chief Kofi Annan offered a chilling vision of the future, where “climate change would leave the living envying the dead”.
Also speaking at the climate conscience meet, Hollywood star and ex-California governor Schwarzenegger made a thinly veiled dig at climate sceptics.
“I’ve starred in a lot of science fiction movies and let me tell you something: climate change is not science fiction, this is a battle in the real world, it is impacting us right now,” he said.
In an unusual move, the French government has also agreed to forward a letter from top religious and cultural world figures to the heads of the 195 delegations involved in the UN process.
“So as you prepare to come to Paris we would like to ask you to think about your personal role, and answer a simple, but profound, question: Why do I care?” it says.
The aim is clear. Keep climate change in the headlines, maintain pressure at home. What the hosts don’t want is a political vacuum, adds Jacobs.
“They have a value in creating the drumbeat… part of the necessary process of Paris is putting pressure on governments to come to an agreement.”
A slew of reports pumping into the inboxes of news agencies and out into the media adds to this momentum.
The UN’s climate science panel outlined the benchmarks for a Paris deal with its AR5 summary of climate science and impacts in 2013 and 2013.
The New Climate Economy project – backed by the UK, Sweden, Ethiopia and Indonesia among others – is churning out studies to show how green policies can go hand in hand with economic growth.
Its release made waves, particularly among social conservatives, who are more likely to be sceptical of climate warnings.
And since its release last month the Pope hasn’t stopped urging action, this week saying he had “great hopes that a fundamental agreement” would be reached in Paris.
What’s vital is that climate action is seen as a “house of gain,” says Yvo de Boer, formerly the UN’s top climate official and now head of the Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute.
“It’s about making economies more innovative, spending less money importing fossil fuels and less people dying from poor air quality,” he tells RTCC.
“And in the case of China and India the message is that being a provider of climate solving technologies will be very good for your economy.”
A recent French government analysis stressed the level of “common understanding” between countries on issues like transparency, the 2C warming limit and how carbon cuts should be shared between rich and poor nations.
Another analysis based on 100 hours of talks with 23 senior officials left one of its authors, former South Africa environment minister Valli Moosa, commenting that failure in Paris would be “seizing defeat from the jaws of victory”.
Yet deep differences remain, notably over the level of finance that developed countries will provide to poorer nations and how legally binding a 2015 deal will be.
September will be a critical month for the process, observes Jacobs, pointing to a round of UN negotiations in Bonn at the start of the month followed by the annual General Assembly in New York.
This year countries are primed to sign off 20 development goals for the next 15 years, many of which are closely linked to the climate agenda and can see the Global North and South pitted as rivals.
“If that is easier then Paris will be easier,” says de Boer, likening the meeting to a weather report on the Paris summit.
The Assembly will also offer world leaders a chance for private bilateral chats where climate strategies can be discussed – Barack Obama for instance is scheduled to meet China’s Xi Jingping.
And with only two weeks of official negotiations left before Paris, face-to-face meetings offer important opportunities to find common ground, argues Martins.
“These meetings providing a space for dialogue that’s needed so the negotiation process is productive,” he says.
“They offer a level of understanding that can’t be achieved in 10 days… and that’s what is left – so these meetings are very helpful – and not just at the highest level.”