The choices leaders make this week will determine whether the world achieves a tipping point. A tipping point into a new era of cooperation and solidarity, or a disastrous tipping point in the climate system leading to direct conflict about the remaining environmental space.
The world demands nothing less than a Fair, Ambitious and Binding (FAB) deal. Three major gaps can and must be bridged in the remaining time: the gap between current emission reduction pledges and the science; the gap between the finances on the table and the need in developing countries; and – perhaps most critically – the gap between nations where trust must be forged. We clearly need a radical transformation.
ECO has written before about the “gigatonnes gap.” Put simply, the emission reductions currently on the table, from developed and developing countries, will fail to meet the challenge posed by the science. Independent experts ranging from Lord Stern to McKinsey for Project Catalyst and Ecofys/PIK, show that we are way off track for staying well below 2°C, not to mention 1.5°C, which the latest science and most vulnerable countries demand.
At the heart of the problem lie the industrialised country targets (particularly the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). So far, the industrialised countries’ targets are proving much more effective at capping ambition and innovation than they are at capping emissions. The picture gets even bleaker when the huge loopholes – notably “hot air” allowances and bogus LULUCF accounting – are taken into account. Under the current approach these would lock economies and the planet into a costly high carbon future and undermine a green new deal that could pave the way out of economic recession. They render mute any shared vision referring to keeping warming below 2°C. Without urgent triage, there is no prospect of a peak in global emissions before 2020. Without a radical departure in Copenhagen, the world risks staying the course for warming of at least 3°C, very likely 4°C or more – even the prospect of “Venus” conditions on Earth.
The second huge gap is the finance gap. Again, there is a crisis in ambition. The EU has put forward figures for long-term finance, but these fall far short of the need. Norway and Mexico have proposed a new green fund. But, collectively, developed countries have failed to quantify the scale or to commit to a specific contribution.
Closing these two gaps will be even more difficult without clear action to close the trust gap. In these complex negotiations, fear, mistrust and suspicion have come to rule – particularly between industrialised and developing countries. The reality of historic responsibility, the vast disparity in per capita emissions, the legitimate development needs of countries whose populations struggle with the crisis of poverty and the existential threat posed by climate change must be faced.
Without trust the discussion has persistently returned to legal architecture – drowning out discussion of substance. Each side is afraid to be taken advantage of by the other, prefering to debate who will be bound to what, instead of what they will do. Challenging times require creative solutions, demonstrating real action and sowing seeds for a new spirit of international cooperation.
The most obvious step that would change this dynamic is for the US to offer a more ambitious target and deliver on climate finance. Everybody in Copenhagen recognizes this as “the elephant in the room”, while understanding the challenging political situation the US administration finds itself in. The good news is: studies show the US can reduce its emissions by 18% below 1990 levels by 2020 – it’s probably easier than to go back to the moon.
Parties could embrace a large number of hard-edged practical measures that can wipe out gigatonnes to make a FAB deal. Here are some creative ideas to spur the transformation. Why not take: Action on a global feed-in tariff for renewable energy? Ambitious global standards to improve energy efficiency and drive forward clean technology? An accelerated phase-out of HFCs and other potent greenhouse gases in consumer products? A targeted fund to address non-CO2 industrial greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries instead of relying on an expensive offset mechanism? Clear measures to strip out the hot air and LULUCF loopholes? New and concrete agreements on key technology IPRs, now?
There are similarly innovative ideas to plug the public finance gap and mobilise complementary private money to fuel the transformation. Decisions could be taken in Copenhagen to reduce emissions and raise money from international aviation and shipping or the auctioning of allowances. The USA recently proposed to the G20 to agree to redirect fossil fuel subsidies by 2020. George Soros last week here in Copenhagen suggested better utilising Special Drawing Rights. Some of these ideas may need more work, but without vision they will remain orphans.
As Lord Stern said: “If we assume people and politicians will be irretrievably short-sighted, quarrelsome and narrow in their judgment of their interests and act accordingly, then our pessimism will be self-fulfilling.” Now is the time for politicians to show that such an assumption is unfounded. Fight for the FAB deal!