International Action on Global Warming: Where is it headed in 2011?

Coming out of the successful global warming negotiations in Cancun, Mexico this past December a key question is where are things headed now?  Three words capture where international action on global warming needs to head: implementation, strengthening, and widespread.  On each of these there are important discussions about to occur as countries are meeting in Bangkok, Thailand for the first preparatory climate negotiations before the high-level meeting in Durban, South Africa (December 2011).  Beginning in Bangkok countries will have to show that the new spirit of working together that emerged in Cancun can produce tangible results that will spur and reinforce actions in all key countries.

Implementation: Making the Cancun Agreements operational on-the-ground

In Cancun, countries made important progress on four key issues:

  1. Commitments by countries to take action to reduce emissions;
  2. Improving transparency and accountability;
  3. Creating a “Green Climate Fund” to help mobilize significant investments in developing countries to address climate change; and
  4. Making progress on efforts to reduce deforestation emissions, speed up the deployment of clean energy, and assist developing countries in adapting to the impacts of climate change.

For each of these elements, the Cancun Agreements resolved a number of the key sticking points by defining how these issues would be implemented – basically they agreed to the detailed principles and structures.  But now these agreements need to be translated into operational guidelines so these actions can help deliver effective change on-the-ground in key countries.  So in Durban countries will need to:

  • Show that they are taking real steps at home to reduce their emissions and be more explicit about the types of actions that underlie their targets;
  • Commit to phase-down “super greenhouse gases” under the Montreal Protocol so that we can begin to close the gap between existing commitments and what the science requires;
  • Agree to a detailed set of guidelines for the enhanced monitoring, reporting, and verification of developed country emissions reduction actions and assistance to developing countries (as NRDC recently outlined in a submission);
  • Adopt a detailed set of guidelines to improve the international transparency and accountability system to track the progress of developing countries in reducing their emissions (as NRDC recently outlined in a submission);
  • Implement the “Green Climate Fund” in a manner which will make countries confident in mobilizing large scale resources towards the new Fund and that will deliver real action on the ground;
  • Launch new regional networks to help developing countries speed up the deployment of clean energy; and
  • Define further operational guidelines which help mobilize large scale resources to help developing countries reduce deforestation emissions and increase resilience to the impacts of global warming.

By taking these steps countries will continue to show that real action can be spurred by the international global warming negotiations.  Lack of progress would raise doubts in capitals around the world.

Strengthening: Deepening commitments to reduce emissions and mobilize needed investments

Countries accounting for over 80% of the world’s global warming pollution have made specific commitments to reduce their emissions.  And countries have begun to mobilize needed resources in the short-term to help developing countries reduce deforestation emissions, deploy clean energy, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.  Delivering on these near-term commitments will be essential. 

But we know both of these existing efforts aren’t sufficient to address the challenge.  We need more action to create low-carbon economies, deeper cuts in emissions by the major emitters, better use of the investments that are already flowing to developing countries, and more resources to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to the impacts of global warming. 

In Bangkok the spotlight will once again focus on what each country is doing to meet their emissions reduction commitments and the need for deeper steps.  At two separate sessions each country will be expected to outline details on the actions that they are taking to build low-carbon societies.  These sessions will be important, but not sufficient.  And countries will need to begin a serious discussion about how we are going to dramatically scale-up resources to assist developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of global warming.

But each of these issues will not be resolved simply by debating them in international negotiations, but by countries taking the necessary steps in their capitals, with their corporations, and amongst their citizens.  The efforts that we take now will build the momentum for these deeper emissions reductions actions as they’ll prove that low carbon investments are good for the country as they’ll reduce pollution, create jobs, and drive economic opportunities.  The steps we take now to make smart investments in developing countries will prove that the countries making these investments will directly benefit.

So we’ll need countries to leave Bangkok and take even greater action in the coming months to deploy low carbon energy, energy efficiency, deforestation reduction, and other global warming solutions.

Widespread: Making sure we are “throwing the kitchen sink” at efforts to address global warming

Addressing global warming will also require that efforts are made at all levels, in every venue possible, through every opportunity provided, and through new opportunities that must be created.  Basically, we need to “throw the kitchen sink” at solving this challenge.  That means taking advantage of opportunities provided by the Rio+20 Earth Summit next year, urging companies to make low carbon investments throughout their supply-chain, pushing global institutions like the World Bank to invest in truly low-carbon investments, taking advantage of bilateral engagements, etc.

In the last couple of years we have seen global warming discussions filter through a wider variety of venues.  This is a welcome development, but these wider discussions need to be pushed to deliver tangible actions.  These steps will need to blossom in 2011 and begin to bear fruit to a much greater extent. 

Climate negotiations in Bangkok can help advance each of these critical pieces of the 2011 agenda.  In Cancun there was a new spirit of working together that led countries to find common ground.  I hope that spirit continues next week in Bangkok, Thailand when climate negotiators meet again.  They’ll have a chance to set the tone and expectations for the rest of the year.  Will they roll up their sleeves and start implementing the agreements reached in Cancun, while still pushing for strengthened action?  Or will they throw up new roadblocks to international action by insisting on rehashing old debates? 

I’ll be there urging them to roll up their sleeves.

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