2014 will be an intense year for the politics of climate change. The formal processes of the UNFCCC will mosey on to plot the structure and lay out the policy options for the 2015 agreement. But it is the informal processes which have the most potential to shape the national interest debates in many critical countries.
In the past, the political dividends created from the informal processes have remained invisible to the naked UNFCCC negotiator eye until the ‘grand finale’, often resulting in considerable levels of frustration for those of us who track the COPs and intercessionals.
Whilst it’s the informal processes (underpinned by national actions) that help shape the politics of the international climate regime, these fora receive less attention and management than their more formal counterparts. The run up to Copenhagen was a prime example where climate was woven into a variety of informal venues only to create confusion about how to capture the momentum.
There will be lots happening in the run up to Paris. Choreographing is required to construct and prioritise the right dialogues, with the right audiences and venues at the right time.
Two critical audiences are Leaders and Real-Economy decision makers. In the run up to 2015, Leaders will deal with many issues and trade-offs relating to climate change. In order to secure more ambition, there are some critical issues Heads of State and Government must internalise in order to inform the trade-offs and ambition. It is essential that Leaders understand their strategic interest for a successful 2015 agreement, and critically understand the consequences of failure. What would failure mean for the future of multilateralism, their bilateral relations and for their prosperity? Several informal processes throughout 2014 provide an opportunity to craft this understanding. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report’s (AR5) outcomes will synthesise the climate impacts and drive home the reality of climate change and its impacts upon national interests. The post-2015 development agenda will also intensify its efforts in 2014 to negotiate an outcome and integrate the vital importance of climate stability to delivering poverty reduction. Leaders have not engaged seriously on international climate change since Copenhagen. Unless there is momentum around the Ban Ki-moon Summit in 2014, the default position will result in the lowest common denominator accompanied by attempts to ‘manage’ expectations. These discussions need to be actively managed early to maximise ambition.
There are a variety of moments which aim to animate real-economy decision-makers throughout 2014. Notably the New Climate Economy, which is aimed to bring together leaders in the field of economics, business and finance to help real-economy decision makers become better informed on the choices ahead and their political economy ramifications. These decision-makers are critical to engage given their ability to undertake structural reform and secure their support for implementation of decarbonisation and building resilience beyond 2015. Warsaw has prompted many countries to begin the process of considering their contributions for the 2015 climate agreement. Until these real-economy decision-makers become more proactive, this process to develop offers will remain trivial to development models, and Leaders will be ill-informed to make the appropriate trade-offs.
In addition to the multiplicity of informal processes, 2014 also hosts a range of domestic elections in Brazil, South Africa, India, European Parliament, European Commission and Indonesia which provide an opportunity to shape the national interest debate on climate change, and create more political shifts internationally. The potential for political dynamism in 2014 makes next year distinct. A plan to harvest the politics will be essential, as it will not happen organically.
The politics of the climate agreement are front loaded in 2014