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‘We need to rebuild trust ahead of next climate summit’

17 April, 2020
Isabel Hilton, chinadialogue

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Hand holding tree
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The former lead climate negotiator for the UK and the EU, Peter Betts, welcomes the decision to move COP26 to 2021 and discusses what is needed from the postponed climate summit.

On 1 April the UK government and the UN made a widely anticipated announcement: that the critical climate conference scheduled for November 2020 in Glasgow would have to be postponed because of Covid-19. Postponement, and the wider effects of the pandemic, have set back the timetable for the effort to raise global ambition planned for the coming conference.

For six years, Peter Betts was the lead climate negotiator for the UK and the European Union, capping more than 20 years’ experience in climate change and environmental policy. As leader of the EU negotiations in Paris in 2015, he helped to drive the parties towards the historic Paris Agreement, which successfully established a universal framework to tackle climate change. What it did not do was deliver an action plan to meet its own targets: that was to be advanced this year, at COP26, when countries were to bring more ambitious plans to the table.

“Postponing COP26 is absolutely the right decision,” Peter Betts told China Dialogue. “It’s not just the risk of bringing in tens of thousands of people from all over the world to sit in closed rooms in Glasgow. Even if that had been possible it could not have been inclusive because the preparatory work would not have been done.”

The scale of the challenge

Since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force in 1994, the Parties to the Convention have come together in an annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to find ways to operationalise the agreed goal of limiting dangerous climate change. Arguments rage around who does what and who pays. Progress demands that nearly 200 countries with widely differing levels of prosperity and vulnerability, different political systems and interests agree on the means to achieve an unprecedentedly challenging set of objectives. The process is both driven by the understanding that failure would bring catastrophe and hindered by the complexity and scale of the effort required.

The COPs are vast – attended by up to 40,000 people who include political leaders, civil servants, negotiators, businesspeople and civil society actors. Months of preparatory work in the world’s capitals set the stage but achieving a meaningful outcome in the two weeks of negotiations at the conference remains a dauntingly complex proposition.

“There are 195 countries and at least 30 parallel streams going on,” Betts explained, “so as the lead negotiator you are trying to track all those – seeing what’s going on in all the rooms, getting reports from your frontline negotiators, trying to discern a pattern.”

Failing to monitor multiple conversations closely, he said, could allow a small issue to blow up and derail the negotiations. Keeping things on track demands an ability to maintain a strategic view of the objectives amid a constant barrage of diverse information. “I spent half my time doing process,” he recalled. “You have hundreds of people doing technical negotiations, thinking that what matters is getting to the next trench. But what’s really important is to think about how to bring pressure to bear in the room.”

The delay playbook

Some of that pressure comes from external groups such as the NGOs, think tanks and reporters who follow the negotiations and who could sometimes be recruited in support of an argument. As the EU’s chief negotiator, Betts was not allowed to talk to the press, a constraint that did not apply to his Chinese counterpart, Su Wei, or other national negotiators. Betts remembers his Chinese counterparts as a formidable negotiating team.

“I used to think of Xie Zhenhua (formerly China’s most senior climate official) and Su Wei (China’s former lead negotiator) as playing good cop, bad cop,” he said. Xie Zhenhua would be beaming in the bilateral talks, friendly and extremely charming. Then in the negotiations Su Wei would play every procedural game in the book, like blocking things or suddenly re-opening deals that had been agreed.” The Chinese team was not alone in deploying procedural tactics. Inside the negotiations, Betts explained, many negotiators use them to gain advantage or to block measures they disagree with.

“They do it because it’s much easier to mess up the procedure than to admit that you don’t want to make progress,” he said. “The result is that we spent huge amounts of time trying to frustrate these procedural devices. An example might be that one party says that they are committed to the agreement, but they insist that it must be fully transparent. That sounds fine, but what full transparency means is operating only in the plenary session with all the parties present. Negotiating everything on the screen, it means, of course, that nothing can happen.”

“Another trick is to say this must be a ‘party-owned text’. That is also a code. It means that instead of having the chairs put a compromise together, or produce a text that you can actually negotiate, you have to take all the countries’ submissions and stick them together in one document. The result is a 500-page document that is simply not negotiable.”

Reconciling diverse interests

To achieve a successful outcome, many competing interests must be traded or reconciled, including the sometimes-divergent interests of vulnerable, developing countries and their richer counterparts. As the negotiator for a set of developed countries, Betts was acutely aware of potential conflicts over finance. “Success requires the support of vulnerable and developing countries who might share some, but not all the interests of the forward-leaning developed economies like the EU. They might agree on mitigation, for example, but not on questions of money. You are constantly thinking about when to put concessions on the table, especially if you only have a limited amount to give,” he said.

In the closing stages of a COP, he said, the process becomes more focused and intense. “Everybody knows that sooner or later you need a small room and a presidency or a chair’s proposal, simply because you cannot negotiate a deal of that complexity issue by issue or line by line with all parties.” But at the same time, it was important not to ignore the interests of those who were not in a room at any time: the French hosts worked hard to ensure that no party felt neglected or unhappy enough to block progress, and to bring compromise proposals back to all in the plenary.

The Paris conference had been well prepared over a two-year period by French diplomats, but the result was not guaranteed, and the COP was full of drama and tension. Then, almost as soon as the agreement was ratified, the many favourable conditions that had enabled the agreement began to change. Looking forward to COP26, Betts sees a very different set of conditions.

“Victory has many fathers,” Betts explained. “The French did a great job in Paris and they benefited from uniquely favourable geopolitics. The United States played a huge role, with John Kerry and President Obama both visiting China and Todd Stern playing a forensic role in the major economies’ forum. India had the solar alliance and I think we played a critical role putting the coalition with the vulnerable countries together. All these factors played a part.”

The ambition and trust gaps

But in 2016, Donald Trump was elected and announced that the US would leave the Paris Agreement. Not only is the US failing to deliver on its own commitments, but its capacity to mobilise others in favour of greater ambition is no longer available. Today there is more tension than harmony in global geopolitics and China has yet to demonstrate its potential for climate leadership.

Since 2015, global emissions have continued to rise, and in the five years since the Paris Agreement, the impacts of climate change that scientists have predicted – severe storms, fires, floods, typhoons – have increased in frequency and severity. The IPCC has warned that collectively we have just a decade left to bend the emissions curve down, if we are to achieve the Paris goals, underlining the urgent need for increased ambition.

Clearly there has been a huge loss of political momentum around climate, and that will have to be rebuilt somehow.

Delivering that ambition remains the key objective of the postponed COP26, but the pandemic has brought the diplomatic preparatory work to a halt and Betts has no illusions about the scale of the task. There is a yawning gap, he points out, between current pledges and the reductions needed to reach the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global average temperature increases to well below 2C or even 1.5C.

“We are currently emitting around 55 Gt,” he said, sketching out a simple graph and referring to gigatons of CO2 equivalent per year. “Business as usual would take us to around 64 Gt. UNEP says that to be on track for well below 2 degrees, we should be at 41 Gt, and to be on track for 1.5 degrees we should be at 24 Gt. That leaves a gap of 30 Gt to close. The Paris commitments take us to about 54 Gt. Paris wasn’t nothing,” he said, “but it’s clearly not enough.”

“I think that the very best we could do in COP26 is maybe 5 or 6 Gt? Maybe I’m wrong and it’s 8? But it’s not 13 and it’s certainly not 30. And maybe half of that 5 or 6 could come from China.”

“If the EU goes to a 55% reduction from 40%,” he continues, “that would be about three quarters of a gigaton. Maybe you could get a gigaton out of India if they double down on renewable energy. China could contribute 2-3 by bringing forward its peaking date. But if China was prepared to be radical, we could do a lot more.”

The real question now, he said, is at what point leaders will have the space to focus on anything other than the pandemic. “Clearly there has been a huge loss of political momentum around climate, and that will have to be rebuilt somehow,” he said. “The delay might see a change in the US presidency and perhaps a chance to reset the US-China and the EU-China relationships. We shall need to rebuild trust, and to do that we shall need an honest reflection about what this crisis has meant, how to come out of it and how to ensure it does not happen again. We must use the extra time we now have to do that because in this situation, China becomes even more important. Without a serious step forward by China, it is difficult to see how we get to success in COP26.”

 

[This article originally appeared on chinadialogue.net]

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Source
Topic
Climate Diplomacy

Region
Global Issues

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Cities

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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