Ban Ki-moon’s new climate advisor warns on geopolitical tensions

Strained relationships between Russia, EU and Middle East make climate negotiations harder, warns Janos Pasztor

Pic: Luke Redmond/Flickr

Pic: Luke Redmond/Flickr

By Sophie Yeo

Geopolitical tensions could complicate the path towards UN climate deal set to be signed in December, an advisor to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has warned.

The forthcoming agreement, to be decided in Paris, could suffer due to the strained relationships between regions such as the EU, Russia, and the Middle East, said Janos Pasztor. He flies to New York on Sunday to take up a UN role as assistant secretary general on climate change.

“These things do get in the way all the time. Very often political issues that have nothing to do with climate change or, for that matter, sustainable development, can throw a spanner into the negotiations,” Pasztor told RTCC.

The UN’s designated climate body, the UNFCCC, deals with the negotiations – but the office of the secretary general can step in to help deal with these and some of the other broader political issues at stake.

“Whether the secretary general can actually solve these problems is another question, but he can use his good offices to provide and facilitate solutions sometimes, and that’s the trick: to find those where we can actually make some difference.”

Governments, people, business

To this end, Pasztor will spend the next ten months trying to smooth the path towards the deal, which will be signed in Paris, creating coherence between the different UN processes and trying to raise political momentum among governments, businesses, and civil society.

In the case of governments – which must tell the UN no later than October  how far they mean to cut their emissions – this means pushing them to go beyond their lowest common denominator position.

“We know that if you just let nature take its course, the commitment that governments will bring to the table will not be enough for what science is asking,” he said.

But prompting greater action is no longer about providing more information – over the last five to ten years, governments have become more aware of climate change, including its direct and indirect impacts on their economy.

“I think it’s more about understanding what other countries are prepared to do,” he said, as well as sharing technological solutions. “I think it’s these kinds of discussions that will help move countries.”

He will also be urging non-governmental organisations to raise their voice ahead of the Paris talks. Civil society organisations can come up with “really innovative ways of doing things”, said Pasztor, who left his role as conservation lead at WWF International to take up the UN position. The impact of these needs to be multiplied, he said.

But ultimately it is the private sector which will shape the society of the future, he said. He is even willing to work with fossil fuel companies on the condition that they can prove they can help to achieve an ambitious deal in Paris.

“Nobody’s excluded. But in a situation like this, clearly the advantage goes to those who have already demonstrated that they actually want to do alternative energies and the low carbon or zero carbon economy.

“That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Read more on: Climate Politics | UN climate talks