Time to wedge the gap on global carbon emissions?

By Nicholas Harrison

International efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are falling far short of what is needed due to a lack of coordinated leadership beyond the top-down UN-led process.

Joining together bottom-up, sub-sovereign and trans-national initiatives now presents our best hope of bridging the emissions gap, but it will require new collaboration and global leadership to energize an effort which is both effective and complimentary to the UNFCCC process.

As governments convene for the eighteenth round of talks in the annual UN climate change conference, discussions once again continue about who must do what, by when, to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions before the whole problem spirals out of control on an epic global scale.

But progress continues to be slow and the ambition gap between what national governments are willing (or able) to pledge and what science tells us is required, has once again grown in 2012.

Meanwhile, investment in innovative energy-efficient and low-carbon technology has also grown and with it new jobs in green industries bring the promise of improved development outcomes and green-stimulus for sluggish, post-credit-crunch economies.

The 2012 UNEP Emissions Gap report highlights that despite the growing ambition gap, we still have both the technical and economic ability to put the world back on a safe climate path.

Despite the slow progress in the intergovernmental negotiations, there is much to be enthusiastic about in the activity underway across the globe being driven by leadership beyond that of national governments.

Enlightened front-runner businesses, communities, city-regions and states are finding new ways to secure prosperity, health and stability while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving their resilience to future economic and environmental shocks.

The challenge then is not that we don’t know what to do, or event that we can’t afford to do it – it’s simply that on a global scale, the current pace of action is far too slow.

Leadership on ambition?

There is clearly huge potential for additional complimentary bottom-up action by actors not directly driven by the UN process and many initiatives by sub-sovereign and non-state actors are now well under way which demonstrate this.

While there are many excellent examples of effective collaboration across specific themes such as renewable energy or energy efficiency; or at sub-national scale such as cities or regions, what is lacking is the global coordination needed to ensure these many initiatives together add up to sufficient action to bridge the gap by 2020.

This collaborative coordination is the basis of an approach called ‘Wedging the Gap’, proposed by Ecofys in a recent Nature Climate Change article.

It’s an idea which is attracting considerable interest from leading international business, government and NGO figures who are now discussing how it could be effectively implemented.

The approach advocates connecting existing global initiatives through a super-coalition covering 21 key themes (or ‘wedges’) which together hold sufficient potential to bridge the emissions gap.

Wedges cover familiar themes ranging from the reduction of supply-chain emissions and deforestation to improving access to renewable energy and the deployment of clean cook-stoves.

Each Wedge has significant mitigation potential and already has efforts underway led by organisations and coalitions who could form the membership of the super-coalition.

Importantly they are also driven by interests beyond emission reductions, such as job creation, health improvement, social inclusion or resilience. All that is now required is some strategic collaboration to bring these initiatives together and increase the scale and pace of their work.

Building momentum

Such collaboration will require a pioneering new generation of leadership not yet seen on at global scale between such initiatives.. Wedging the Gap provides a blueprint for such leadership, bringing together key actors to facilitate a coordinated global collaboration to put us back on a safe course.

At the UNFCCC conference in Doha, Ecofys will present the Wedging the Gap concept at a special meeting introduced by the UNFCCC Executive Secretary and moderated by the co-chairs of the ADP.

The analysis suggests it will work – all that’s needed is a convergence of new global leaders who have so far worked on the fringes of national government efforts but who now need to step up, because the world needs them and their time has come.

The ADP Co-Chairs Special Event will take place from 1-3pm on Saturday 1 December at COP18 in Doha. All are welcome.

For more information on Wedging the Gap visit the website or contact Nick Harrison at [email protected]

About the author: Nick Harrison is a Senior Consultant in the International Climate Policy unit of Ecofys and in 2011 coordinated the UNEP Bridging the Emissions Gap report. Formerly a UK government adviser specialising in building capacity to implement the UK’s Climate Change Act, his career spans non-profit, public and private sectors and he has helped develop and support a wide range of innovative grass-roots, national and international initiatives to address climate change.

Read more on: Climate politics | COP18 |