The Climate Summit has many moving parts; the sum of these parts will determine its success. The Summit will reinforce and complement the Paris 2015 agreement. Alone it is unlikely to be transformational but it can be bold and can demonstrate political intent. The Summit’s success will pave the way for Paris by:
Demonstrating collective political responsibility to fulfil the 2°C obligation
The variety of leaders attending across the political and geographic spectrum already provides a good talisman on this score. It is not any one country that has responsibility; it requires diverse and collective approaches from all corners of the world. A new crop of leaders is coming to the fore to include Italy's Matteo Renzi, Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina, Chile's Michelle Bachelet, Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete, Denmark's Halle Thornig Schmidt, France's Francoise Hollande and Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto. And as time goes by these leaders are being joined by the likes of Cameron, Zuma and Dilma, old-timers who took a while to get their diaries together. The combination of fresh faces and seasoned leaders hold promise for a new wave of climate leadership, a leadership that is shared and acted upon.
These leaders will need to deliver statements which emphasise the importance of 2015 and their collective responsibility to fulfil the 2°C obligation. Their challenge is to think long-term and spell out the vision of a 2°C world. Keeping warming to 2°C can’t be done in a short political cycle, but it does mean getting on track to zero carbon pollution and phasing in clean energy starting today. No country can single-handedly manage climate risk and in a bid to build trust amongst one another words alone won’t be enough. Success will manifest in the action announcements that contribute towards reducing emissions for 2015 and into the long-term.
Providing a public mandate for climate action
A credible mobilisation threat from the public is key to aligning the stars in favour of the climate in time for Paris. The People’s Climate March is set to be the biggest climate mobilisation in history stretching across the world and in key cities such as Rio, Berlin, London, Delhi, Johannesberg and Paris, with the biggest and most diverse destined for New York. These cities are located in countries that will both make critical inputs to the agreement and also have acute strategic interest in Paris’ success.
A Paris agreement will only work if it’s a collective agreement. The agreement, spelling out the political intent to decarbonise, will ultimately be delivered by publics, governments and the private sector. Any leader without a mandate from their community will be disadvantaged in delivery. In the past few years new forms of community leadership have emerged and dynamic NGO’s like 350 have helped catalyse action by supporting previously under-engaged communities. For example faith communities and health professionals have come forward as powerful advocates in the campaign to divest public institutions from fossil fuels. The diversity, geographic reach and size of the march is set to kick things off to a good start, leaving the promise of more from this growing movement hanging in the air.
The transition to a low carbon economy may have started but it’s a way off the scale and speed it needs to be. Today there is no such thing as business-as-usual. All countries face a choice between continuing on a high carbon development path with increasing costs from extreme events and climatic changes, and undertaking an orderly transition to a low carbon, climate resilient economy. The Summit will provide a space for a variety of actors to demonstrate ambitious action and articulate the multiple benefits of this orderly transition.
The recently launched New Climate Economy report will have its moment in the spotlight. The report finds that climate action will improve quality of life for citizens and benefit businesses. It highlights the need to rapidly bring an end to coal, invest in sustainable cities and make smart infrastructure investments today that avoid high-carbon lock in. Other announcements should provide on-the-ground examples of a switched-on approach to the transition, morphing emission reduction targets into community realities and further deepening this transition.
Building a compelling narrative on risk
The Summit is an opportunity to move beyond the common misconception of a form of climate action stuck exclusively in an emissions reductions box. We’re not talking about a casual deference to adaptation but a systemic approach to managing climate risk.
The variety of voices outlining the implications of failure of a 2015 agreement to their constituencies will carry the summit in the right direction. We are likely to hear the development and faith communities calling for an agreement by stressing that poverty eradication won’t be possible without climate stability. And from the retail and food companies that need a climate agreement to protect their threatened supply chains and those consumers who buy their products. For cities climate change is a mounting concern and whilst they are able to take some steps, they alone will not be able protect themselves against climate risk. The military communities will also share their own experiences, of their interaction with vulnerable landscapes experiencing rapid change.
The risks are multiple, and political wrangling over target setting will not delay the consequences of inaction. The level of emissions reductions we decide now have a direct consequence on the levels of adaptation and risk we will have to manage over the coming years. This is the reality check leaders sorely need.