Commentary

Giving specificity to the General Assembly

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2015 is the year when major decisions on managing climate and development coincide. The string of events taking place in New York at the end of September will underline the understanding that without climate stability, poverty eradication and prosperity are impossible.

With such a packed month ahead, events to watch out for in New York include:

  • 21-28th September – Climate week, hosted by The Climate Group bringing together influential global figures and new voices who are leading the low carbon transition.
  • 23-24th September – ‘Under One Sky’ will take place, a mass citizen mobilisation calling for climate compatible development
  • 25th September – Pope France will open the UN Sustainable Development Goals Summit aiming to adopt the post-2015 development goals
  • 25-27th September – UNSDG post-2015 negotiations will conclude with the adoption of the 17 goals
  • 28th September – the UN General Assembly opens and Leaders/Foreign Affairs Ministers will make their interventions

So with such fanfare, how can the events in New York beef up the outlook for Paris?

Since the disappointment of Copenhagen, the climate community has been anxious about Leaders’ involvement in international climate negotiations. But Copenhagen was not the result of too much attention from Leaders: it was a failure in diplomacy that prevented agreement on a binding and ambitious deal.

With a problem as big as climate change, we need Leaders to be a proactive part of the conversation. If Paris is going to send any signal to the real-economy that fossil fuels’ time is up, this will have to come from the mouths of Leaders. Only Leaders can get across the level of political intent needed for the Boardrooms of the Investors, Finance and Extractives companies to listen up and take the issue seriously.

With only a few weeks of negotiating days left before the final weekend in COP21, our negotiators and Ministers desperately need guidance from Leaders on the key questions at the heart of the new climate agreement. With development and climate inextricably linked, the events in New York this month can create a shared political understanding of what Paris can achieve and the components it must contain. Once the contours of the landing zone are clear, detailed textual and technical negotiations for Paris can proceed smoothly under the guidance of ministers and their negotiating teams.

So what do we need to hear from Leaders this month? How about something like…

Without climate stability, poverty eradication is impossible – the SDGs will only be met if Paris delivers an ambitious plan for the international community to manage climate risk

We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change and we must embark on a serious assessment of what it means to be exposed to these impacts and prepare ourselves adequately

Paris creates a fairer, managed transition from fossil fuels. Without a multilateral agreement the transition would be disruptive and the effort spread unfairly

We should not only dwell on the details in the room, but the impacts on world. Paris should accelerate the shift in investments from brown to green

Paris is not a one-off, time-limited deal. Paris must establish a durable regime to manage climate change and keep coming back to the table until we get the job done.

Leaders speaking to these elements can give the necessary drive for Ministers and Negotiations to get more specific and focused for Paris. But for specificity and precision to happen, Leaders in New York have to step up, map out the contours for Paris and drive forward the direction of travel.

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