Leadership on climate?
In early May, ministers and advisors to leaders will come together in Abu Dhabi to discuss the preparations for the Climate Summit hosted by Ban Ki-moon. The Summit will take place on September 23rd this year, and will be the first time that world leaders have come together to discuss climate change since Copenhagen.
Those of us who can bear to recall the shenanigans of the Bella Centre in Copenhagen might draw breath at this very thought. Engaging leaders is a high risk strategy: if under-prepared, they can undo the delicate diplomacy painstakingly built in advance. But engaging leaders is vital. Successfully addressing climate change requires the transformation of energy systems in 194 countries. Our leaders will have to make tough cross-cutting decisions to achieve ambitious outcomes.
Risks and opportunities in the Climate Summit
The Summit is our chance to ensure that leaders understand the implications of inaction upon the societies and economies they represent. It should make leaders aware of the personal, political and economic costs of failure. Without this understanding, they cannot make meaningful decisions based on fairness and ambition.
What is critical is that the Climate Summit does not mirror the politics or the rhythm of the formal negotiations, but empower it. Negotiators work upon a mandate that is fixed by their political ‘masters’. The Summit should inject agency and expand the political space around the UNFCCC, broadening the negotiating mandate, not replicating it.
Instead of focusing on the minutiae of policy, our leaders should articulate the value and functions of a 2015 agreement. They should recognise that it must send a compelling signal to decision-makers in the real economy that decarbonisation is inevitable. They should vocalise the importance of the agreement in restoring trust and confidence among governments regarding the implementation of their obligations. And finally, they should acknowledge that the agreement must manage and limit the risks associated with climate change. In reflecting these functions, our leaders can provide a convincing case back home as to why 2015 matters.
Understanding the consequences of inaction
The recently published IPCC reports highlight the devastating consequences to our economies and societies if climate change goes unmanaged. Many companies and institutions are internalising what this compelling evidence means for their business models and, in some cases, existence. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, recently stated, “we recognise for the first time that, purely in monetary terms, the cost of inaction is starting to become bigger than the cost of action”.
A growing cacophony of voices is emerging to challenge the levels of climate risk to which our governments are exposing us. The development and humanitarian communities have restated the obvious: namely, that climate change will wipe out existing and future development achievements. 2015 is a significant year for decisions on development, energy, humanitarian efforts and climate change. Politicians often have a narrow bandwidth, but with such a profusion of multilateral agreements, it is crucial that they appreciate the consequences of inaction and listen to the voices of respected practitioners to help inform their decisions.
As with any Summit, the most intriguing conversations will happen behind closed doors. And it is there that our leaders will be expected to talk openly and honestly about their room for manoeuvre. In Warsaw, governments agreed to put forward their planned contributions by early 2015. This is their chance to divulge their views on their own and each other’s progress.
Proposals to unravel the politics of climate finance are also expected to be discussed. Finance has long been a complex puzzle, with no clear vision to its resolution. It is hoped that the Summit will begin to relieve tensions, and start to clear the air regarding how to reconcile the challenges facing climate finance.
Summits are used to showcase exciting and innovative initiatives that will only go some way to addressing the climate challenge. Whilst the initiatives that are likely to be announced will not be enough to achieve 2 degrees, they are nonetheless important. They demonstrate agency and momentum, a ‘can do’ state of mind, and show what is possible, all of which is critical to achieving more ambition in Paris.
But finally, what really matters is that NGOs, mayors, CEOs, faith leaders and many others pose a credible political threat to our leaders, sounding a warning shot that alerts them that their personal and political reputation is on the line in 2015. Faced with mobilisation on the streets of New York, online and around the world, leaders will have nowhere to turn but to each other to begin the complex and challenging negotiations that can secure ambition.