UN climate leaders reflect on 20 years of talks

COMMENT: past UN climate chiefs reflect on the negotiating process, and outline where they see progress

(Pic: UN photos)

(Pic: UN photos)

Michael Zammit Cutajar (1991-2002)

The 1992 Convention has served well as a “framework”, restrictive though that qualifier may have seemed at the time.

Building on a scientific assessment then in its infancy, the Convention placed a little-known issue on the global agenda, set out principles for cooperative action to address it and put up signposts for the directions that action could take.

The contents of the current negotiations on a post-2020 regime – mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building and transparency – can all be traced back to those signposts.

If the shelves of the Convention are scantily stocked with success after two decades, it is not because of the scope of the framework, but because of the lack of political commitment by the Convention Parties to fill it out.

The Kyoto Protocol was a moment of hope, undermined by the withdrawal of the lead actor.

Facing the expectation of a strong political signal from Paris next year, the Parties can regenerate hope and ambition by mobilizing the dynamics of non-State actors.

Corporate strategists take the long view that can give a sense of the profits to be gained from investment in a cleaner economy – and of the risks inherent in hanging on to fossil-fuel assets past their use-by date.

Municipal leaders with their ears to the grass roots can understand the benefits of reducing air pollution and traffic congestion in climate-friendly ways.

In fashioning their national “contributions” to a new intergovernmental agreement on climate action, governments should construct frameworks and incentives for responsible initiatives from these quarters.

That said, the risk of “green-wash” by non-State actors is real. They should be held to credible verification of the results of their actions. Accountability for all actors must be at the core of the post-2020 regime.

If there is one element that should be added to the framework Convention itself, it is a quantified mitigation objective for 2050 (e.g. carbon neutrality) towards which national targets would converge, and against which successive phases of effort would be assessed.

(Pic: UN Photos)

(Pic: UN Photos)

Yvo De Boer (2006-2010)

Growing up can be a painful process. After the euphoria of Rio, the successful entry into force of the UNFCCC and the agreement of the Kyoto Protocol, the process has arguably entered its troubled teens, culminating in a very rough Copenhagen birthday party.

Or has it? Yes, emissions are heading in the wrong direction, but understanding of the science and willingness to act are not.

The steps are still too modest, but there is now almost universal engagement on climate action, from governments, from cities, and increasingly from the private sector.

When full adulthood is reached at COP 21 in Paris, a lasting platform must be created that allows global efforts to rise to the ultimate challenge the Climate Convention still poses.

These comments appear on the UN Convention on Climate Change’s 20-year timeline of the negotiations.

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