The 2015 Climate Conference Needs to be a Leaders’ Summit

Continuing with my inbox clean-up, I came across this very interesting commentary by Michael Jacobs from the Grantham climate institute at LSE. The Durban climate conference adopted a mandate to negotiate a new climate agreement by 2015 at the latest. In addition, it agreed to strengthen the level of ambition of the current emission reduction pledges, which are woefully inadequate.

Jacobs argues that decisions of this magnitude can only be made by heads of government and that 2015 must therefore be a leaders’ summit. Criticism that this strategy misfired in Copenhagen is in his view misplaced. First,

Copenhagen was badly undercooked: it became a leaders’ meeting only three months before it happened. For a summit in 2015 there is ample time to prepare.

Second, Copenhagen actually wasn’t all that unsuccessful. As the Wuppertal Institute has also argued, the deadline imposed by the Copenhagen conference injected a significant momentum into national discussions. One country after another elaborated domestic targets and actions, and presented them to the international audience. The run-up to Copenhagen hence resulted in a much better understanding of national mitigation potentials, available policy options and actions that countries are prepared to take. This momentum would hardly have materialised without the positive pressure exerted by the Copenhagen deadline. As Jacobs notes,

International agreement is limited by the feasibility of domestic policy in the major economies, but international pressure helps to determine national ambition. (…) Copenhagen must go down as one of the most successful failures in the history of multilateral diplomacy.

In addition, Jacob notes several reasons why 2015 may be an especially good year:

  • The next assessment report of the IPCC will be published the year before. The last report from 2007 galvanised public attention and greatly contributed to the breakthrough at the Bali conference.
  • 2015 is also the end date for the review of the 2°C target that was agreed in Copenhagen.
  • 2015 is the year in which China will set its next five-year plan, which will determine its emissions targets for 2016–20.
  • In Jacobs’ opinion, 2015 is the year that a second Obama administration, if it happens, would have the best chance of finally getting climate and energy legislation adopted by Congress.
  • The economic recession will hopefully be over and countries will have gained several years of experience of implementing the pledges they made in Copenhagen.

But even if present policies are successful, they are insufficient to meet the 2 °C goal. And it is implausible that, through solely domestic political and economic processes, every major country will simultaneously increase its targets by enough to close the gap. Only international pressure will do that. And that is why the focal point of such pressure needs to be a leaders’ summit.

The decisions required in 2015 will be momentous: to raise collective global ambi- tion for 2020–30 to meet the 2 °C pathway; to agree a new, legally binding framework; to identify the sources of finance that can meet the goal of providing US$100 billion in climate assistance to the poorest countries by 2020; and to agree a new international collaboration on the development, demonstration and deployment of low-carbon technologies.

These decisions are not within the powers of environment ministers, and they will not happen of their own accord. They require the direct engagement of heads of government, under the full glare of a summit spotlight. And that summit requires the kind of pressure that only the coordinated mobilization of global civil society — including the scientific community, businesses, non-governmental organizations and youth movements — can achieve.

So the first task of such a campaign is to persuade governments to hold a summit meeting in 2015. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil this June would be a good place for that to be agreed.

Related Posts

On the Road Again – Wuppertal Institute Assessment of the Durban Conference

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