Only one road leads to Paris: it goes through Lima and there are five clues to get there safely
By Isabel Cavelier Adarve*, Team Leader for AILAC
One week away from the official start of the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the world wonders if yet another round of UN talks on climate will add some value in our attempts to face humanity’s greatest challenge. The Lima COP20 has the difficult task of laying the right foundations for the new climate deal, which we agreed to sign next year in Paris.
After twenty COPs and over twenty years of negotiations, the UN’s climate Convention has without a doubt produced a singularly complex international regime with a life of its own. Yet, it is widely criticized for not producing the necessary results to tackle climate change. We are now set to do better – but how?
The 2015 agreement has to fundamentally do better at providing the necessary certainty on the world’s ability to address the global challenge of avoiding climate change and with it, its negative impacts on the world’s ecosystems, economies, and societies.
In order to reduce the current level of uncertainty, we will need at least five aspects covered:
1) Legal form (not legal formalism): Legally binding obligations under international law reduce the uncertainty of implementation; when States are legally bound they are more likely to comply with their commitments than when action to be undertaken is formulated through voluntary political declarations. In international environmental law, where strict enforcement is still utopia, making things “legally binding” imbues them with the strong symbolic sense of being truly obligatory. However, legal doesn’t mean inflexible: the law can evolve over time, and the forthcoming regime needs to be future proof: it must allow for a constant increase in the level of ambition of every country’s climate action over time and be able to cope with changing climate reality.
2) A global compass: Clearly defined global goals should set the direction for the international community, reducing the uncertainty generated by uncoordinated action; they mustdeliver results oriented towards a common vision, where all efforts point in the same direction. Any community that faces a common challenge requires a clear goal post that defines where it needs to go to collectively overcome the challenge. Without this, chaos will ensue and all players will pull in different directions.
3) Individual responsibility: A dimension of individual action reduces the uncertainty of who will take on what part of the required action, generated by the “free-rider” phenomenon. When no one knows who does what, or who is supposed to do what, it is easy to sit back and wait for others to take action–in the end, no one does it, or no one does enough. Collective goals need to be paired with a clear avenue for the players in the system to define what each one of them will do to achieve those goals; it ensures that effort is distributed, and that everyone actually does something, rather than everyone waiting for everybody else to step up.
4) Science and numbers: The main objective of the scientific discourse is to reduce uncertainty in our understanding of the reality that surrounds us. A strong link with the latest scientific findings is at the core of a Paris agreement that reduces the uncertainty about the scale of the response, whether it is consistent to what is required to avoid a catastrophe, and about the magnitude of climate change’s negative impact on the world. For this, quantification is essential: the scientific language counts, and numbers provide certainty about the scale of required action and of impacts.
5) Transparency: Only through transparent information provided by States on what they are committed to do and are actually doing can science assess if we are on track to comply with the goals set for ourselves, and when the time comes determine whether the goals were – or not – achieved. Transparency about what each individual State is committed to do and is actually doing is the only way to reduce the uncertainty of what all players are doing, potentially created by lying to ourselves about what we actually achieve.
Next week we will be trapped for long, sleepless hours, trying to find the right word at the right place to achieve consensus on the Lima decisions. As negotiations get more and more complex we will entangle and disentangle details and technicalities. But this winding road can only lead to a success in Paris, if, starting next week in Lima, we bear in mind thatin the big picture map that will take us there these five clues are fundamental, and that we need them all if we want to be sure that we are making progress together in the right direction, in the most urgent and desperate race we have ever run as a global community: the run to secure the possibility for life to thrive on Earth.
*The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not compromise the AILAC Group or any of the countries that are part of the group.