A strong dose of realism will determine the outcome of COP21


Climate, Energy & Natural Resources

Picture of Yvo de Boer
Yvo de Boer

International climate negotiations are now in much better shape than before the 2009 Copenhagen conference, and that’s partly because there is now less emphasis on a legally binding treaty.

The big challenge in the run-up to the Paris conference is to understand the political issues and find realistic ways to resolve them through dialogue.  The conference itself would then be about removing any obstacles and celebrating its success.

A successful agreement in Paris would need four key elements. The first is for all countries, whether rich or poor, large or small, to commit to clear action on climate change. The second is to ensure that they all pledge to incorporate their commitments into national law. The third is to regularly review their cutting of emissions, while the fourth is to agree on robust financing in support of developing countries’ efforts on commitments.

It will be crucial for the global community to meet every three years or so to review progress on the promises, and if necessary agree on further actions

Financial support for developing and emerging economies is important, and to increase their access to climate finance, international organisations and agencies, including ourselves at the Global Green Growth Institute, are helping to develop investment-ready projects. Finance will be key to reaching agreement in Paris, but even if all these listed elements are met, Paris is unlikely to deliver on the 2ºC target. It will therefore be crucial for the global community to meet every three years or so to review progress on the promises, and if necessary agree on further actions.

The whole climate problem will not be resolved in Paris, and expectations for further emission cuts before 2020 are not very realistic. Asking countries like China, India and South Africa to reduce their emissions in absolute terms from 2020 onwards looks unrealistic. It would be more sensible to ask developing economies to limit their emissions growth in an initial time frame, and then start to reduce them in absolute terms.

Expectations in Copenhagen were too high and were not too clear. Six years on, there is more clarity on what the Paris conference should deliver, and when expectations are more realistic there’s a better chance of achieving results.

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