COP17 blog: Christmas, economics and climate change

UN negotiations at COP15 in Copenhagen

The focus of negotiations this year will be dominated by finance and a second commitment period of Kyoto

Hannah Ryder, a senior economist with the UK’s Department for International Development and a former climate change negotiator has five COPs under her belt. Writing for RTCC she explains how things have changed since her first experience of the UNFCCC talks and what she hopes to see in Durban.

It’s just less than five weeks until Christmas. But it is an unusually quiet time for me. For the last five years, this time of year has been incredibly hectic for another reason – the climate change negotiations. This year they’ll be taking place in a few days time, in Durban in South Africa.

The first ever climate change negotiation I attended, five years ago, was also in an African setting – in Nairobi in Kenya. Back then, my job was focused on publicising the findings of the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change, which I had worked on and which was published in October 2006.

Over the last five years, things have certainly changed. Back then, the idea of climate change being an economic issue was alien. The Stern Review changed all that, and meant, for example, that Economic and Financial Ministers from all over the world attended the subsequent climate negotiations in Bali and Poznan in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

Back then, the issue of “climate finance” was not even a recognisable phrase. Now, it is one of the key issues that the UK negotiates on. In Durban, countries will be discussing how to complete the design work next year for a new “Green Climate Fund” and how to get it actually working. Back then, only developed countries such as the UK had targets to reduce emissions.

Now, large emerging economies like Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico also have national emissions reduction targets, albeit voluntary and, in some cases, conditional on international financial assistance.

So if things have changed substantially over the last five years, what about this next conference in Durban? Will it deliver more “big change”?

Although things have moved on in the last five years, there is still a lot of work to do. In particular, many countries still need to be convinced that taking action on climate change won’t limit their growth or poverty reduction aspirations. Indeed, many ordinary people like you and I need to be convinced about this. I know many people who think that doing something about climate change involves paying through the roof for renewable energy and/or giving up a whole host of things we love doing.

Until these views shift ubiquitously, the people representing their countries at the climate change negotiations will find it very hard to negotiate differently to how they negotiated last year or the year before. Lord Stern has recently warned of risks of “lethargy” in negotiations.

But it’s not all negative. There is change afoot. For example, South Africa’s Government is due to unveil, in Durban, an ambitious new initiative that will create the potential for tens of thousands of jobs directly (and many more indirectly) and attract tens of billions of dollars of private investment, through building of up to 19GW of renewable energy by 2025.

That’s over double the current total installed renewable capacity in the UK. Testing this kind of initiative and commitment in a country that is also the largest carbon dioxide emitter in Africa could represent the start of a real shift in attitudes worldwide. Other African countries have similarly big ambitions for green growth – Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Kenya, for example.

But that’s why after five years, Christmas will be an unusually quiet period for me. This time, I won’t be going to the climate change negotiations in Durban. Instead, I’ll be staying in the UK to help find the best ways to help developing countries test this crucial question about the compatibility between action on climate change, economic growth and poverty reduction.

I’ll also be writing a few more blog posts about some of the topics and issues my colleagues will be working on in Durban – so do watch this space!


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