France cranks up climate diplomacy ahead of 2015 UN summit

Climate change now a key foreign policy aim for Francois Hollande, seeking to learn from mistakes of 2009 Copenhagen talks

(Pic: UN Photos)

(Pic: UN Photos)

By Ed King

France is ramping up its climate diplomatic network as it seeks to ensure the 2015 UN summit delivers an effective global emissions reduction deal.

The government is said to be keen to avoid a repeat in Paris of UN talks held in Copenhagen in 2009, which ended in unpleasant scenes as world leaders failed to deliver a comprehensive climate treaty.

Veteran climate negotiators say they have been impressed at the level of focus France is placing on the summit, two years before it opens. “The French are engaging seriously on this agenda,” one told RTCC.

Monthly strategy meetings are taking place between Minister for Development Pascal Canfin, Environment chief Philippe Martin and Jacques Lapouge, a former Ambassador to South Africa who is now the country’s leading climate diplomat.

Canfin recently returned from an initial round of high-level discussions in Washington DC aimed at galvanising support for the UN climate process, which is still recovering after the trauma of 2009.

The French are banking on Ban Ki-moon’s world leader’s summit in 2014 providing the political impetus ahead of Paris, with Canfin telling ClimateWire countries could potentially offer “voluntary but nationally binding post-2020” targets at the meeting.

Thomas Spencer, who heads the Energy and Climate programme at the Paris-based Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations told RTCC climate change is now one of the key foreign policy dossiers for the French government.

“There is an understanding of the responsibilities and expectations that are around 2015, and that they need to mobilise the French diplomatic forces in order to make it a success,” he said.

President Francois Hollande is taking personal interest in the summit, appointing French environmentalist Nicholas Hulot as ‘Special Envoy to the French President for the Protection of the Planet’ and asking him to initiate a “process of persuasion” around the world.

“I have confidence in our ability to get past the failure of Copenhagen,” he told a meeting of Ambassadors at the end of August.

“My exchanges with the Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian leaders, as well as with the African heads of state, confirm my view that it is possible to achieve a compromise,” he added.

Observers say the appointment of Laurent Fabius as chair of the 2015 conference is a sign Hollande is serious about ensuring the summit is a success. Described as a “political heavyweight” by Spencer, Fabius is Foreign Minister and was Prime Minister between 1984-86.

European divisions

One priority for France will be to heal EU rifts over the bloc’s current climate goals, which some member states deem inadequate.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told a meeting in London yesterday that a new set of 2030 climate targets would be announced in January 2014.

Poland, hosts of this month’s UN climate talks, is staunchly opposed to tougher targets, largely due to the country’s dependence on coal for electricity generation.

Others, such as the UK, want the Union to aim for a 50% reduction from 1990 levels by 2030.

Tensions over this conflicting views are likely to emerge in Warsaw, where Poland’s Environment Minister Marcin Korolec will chair the main set of negotiations.

Spencer says the French government has invested time to develop a “common strategic line” with Poland and the 2014 UN summit hosts Peru, but it is unlikely this will pay any short-term dividends.

Few diplomats RTCC has spoken to believe this summit will generate any major headlines, labelling it a “transition COP”.

A major focus will be to establish a two-year road-map that will allow countries to deliver new emission reduction commitments in time for Paris.

Carbon limit

According to the UN’s climate science body, the IPCC, the planet can only cope with a certain amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, before dangerous levels of warming are inevitable.

“We want people to come away from this meeting with a clear political understanding that they have to work on these commitments,” a negotiator from a developed country, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RTCC.

In a marked contrast from previous years, leading emerging economies like China, India and Brazil have indicated they would be willing to accept tougher mitigation targets.

“They are now coming forward with ideas on what they are prepared to do, subject to access to technology, finance and so on. It’s much more about ratcheting up ambition for everybody,” the IIED’s Saleemul Huq told RTCC.

Small Island States and acutely climate vulnerable countries like Bangladesh are likely to demand tougher emission reduction targets, greater financial contributions from rich nations and progress on a controversial climate compensation mechanism.

Developed nations contributed around $30 billion to climate mitigation and adaptation efforts between 2010-2012, but this flow has substantially dried up.

While many countries have made individual and bilateral pledges, it is still unclear where the $100 billion a year rich nations promised to deliver by 2020 will come from.

One advisor to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) told RTCC a lack of any new financial pledges would be source of deep frustration with some delegates.

“It is always the issue that could just boil over and undermine the whole programme,” they said.

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