The world prepares to strike a comprehensive agreement on climate at the UN Climate Convention summit in Paris later this year. (Photo: Moyan Brenn; Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)
2015 is a vital year for international climate negotiators. Jennifer Morgan, Global Director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute, discusses the reasons and the difficulties with host Steve Curwood, in light of last year’s Lima Climate Talks, and the need to agree to a strong new treaty at the Paris summit in December.
CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Boston and PRI, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Since the turn of the century we’ve seen fourteen of the hottest years on record, with 2014 registering as the hottest yet. As global warming progresses, more and more political and economic institutions are taking notice, including this year’s world financial summit in Davos, Switzerland. And while many are talking about climate disruption, the one international institution charged with doing something about it is the UN Climate Convention, which has set a summit session in Paris this December as the moment for all nations to agree on a meaningful new climate treaty. Jennifer Morgan, global director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute explains.
MORGAN: This a big year for the climate. By the end of the year all countries need to agree on a new treaty to reduce emissions and help the most vulnerable deal with the impacts, and part of that is for all countries by March to put on the table what they're going to do at home to reduce emissions.
CURWOOD: So what happened in Lima at the most recent round of negotiations?
MORGAN: There were a couple of important steps that were achieved in Lima. First of all, they agreed on a draft negotiating text so they can really get started right away at the next session in February. They agreed on what kind of information countries have to use when they table their offers - so they need to be clear this time about what sectors and gases, what assumptions - and they also agreed that all countries needed to put forward that information. So, there's new coalitions emerging between developing and developed countries. It's not this old north-south debate as much anymore.
CURWOOD: Talk to me about these new coalitions, and talk to me about the fact that for the first time every nation at some level or another has to commit to some sort of reduction.
MORGAN: Well, what you saw in the Lima meeting which I think is representative of what's happening is from Latin America, heads of state coming and announcing their actions, what they are doing, because it is in their interests, whether it be restoring degraded lands for forests, whether it be putting in place bus rapid transit because of air pollution and climate change, and they even put money on the table for the Green Climate Fund. So in the real world, they're acting; they want support but they're acting and working with the European Union and with the United States, and I think the fact that all countries are putting forward their offers for what they need to do is an important milestone. This should be truly global for the first time, so it's a new form of international cooperation which is emerging, and that is the opportunity in 2015.
CURWOOD: Why do you suppose we're seeing this now?
MORGAN: I think there's a couple of reasons. First of all, the impacts are happening. I think in the city of Lima, people there are aware of the fact that their glaciers are melting and that has an impact on their water supply. People in Africa understand food security so the impacts are much more prevalent. But I think also you hear a lot about the fact that the responses are beneficial. So if you want to grow renewables, that helps both on climate but also to reduce air pollution. You want to shift away from coal, there's all kind of reasons to do that, so I think countries are connecting the dots, they're being smart about their cost-benefit analysis.
CURWOOD: Now, where does the Lima accord fall short, do you think?
MORGAN: It falls short in that countries will put forth their offers to the world, but they will not have to come in front of the United Nations to say what they're doing and answer questions about it. That was blocked in the final hours of the Lima meeting, and is now something that will require civil society and business and others to be more engaged because that official platform was not created.
CURWOOD: Now, one of the phrases that came out of this is "common but differentiated responsibility". What does that mean, both legalistically but in intent as well?
MORGAN: Well, "common" I think is that every country needs to act, and that's agreed. "Differentiated" is that countries are different in their capacities domestically, whether they are poorer or richer means whether they're able to respond, whether they have a lot of renewable resources or a lot of coal has a big impact. The other piece that's in there is “responsibilities” and there are many countries like India that have focused on historical responsibility. It certainly is a fact that developed countries have been emitting a lot longer than developing countries and therefore, some see that they should be held historically responsible for those emissions.
CURWOOD: You said that the traditional north-south tension seems to have changed, that there are different alliances now. What do you mean?
MORGAN: Well, I think the first thing that occurred was the US-China announcement going into that Lima meeting which was quite historic just because of those two coming together, and China positioning itself with the United States instead of developing countries. It stated it has continued cooperation with those countries, but that was the first kind of major shift I think. You then saw developing countries both funding other developing countries through contributions in the Green Climate Fund and their intent to act unilaterally. And so, the conversation is what more they can do with support from developed countries rather than not doing anything unless developed countries provide support. It's fair to say that the poorest countries though, they still will need support, no matter what. So there, there's still a north-south question but as a whole it's much more diverse and dynamic, I think, and complex than it was before.
CURWOOD: Give me a couple of examples of developing countries that are helping other developing countries.
MORGAN: So you have the Mexicans, Chileans and the Peruvians coming forward during the Lima conference and putting funds into the Green Climate Fund which has been established to support the poorer developing countries to act, either to adapt to the impacts or to reduce emissions. You also have the Chinese actually creating their own fund with $100 million also for "south-south" collaboration. Unclear whether that would come in the agreement or not but there's a lot happening there. You have Brazil working with African countries often about biofuels where they have an advancement in technologies and having created an adaptation fund to support the poorest countries. So a number of places around the world is increasing that developing country to developing country support.
CURWOOD: One of things that seems new to me out of these negotiations was this call for schools to teach students around the world about climate change.
MORGAN: Yes, very interesting. I mean, there's always been this requirement in the climate convention to actually be doing education and awareness raising but I think the importance of engaging more and more voices in this debate came forward. So there is this new element to try and get climate change in curricula so that there can be more engagement in the national climate change strategies, national development strategies - a really important, on and off forgotten piece of the puzzle.
CURWOOD: So what happens this year? I understand there will be a summit in Paris.
MORGAN: By the end of year, all countries should hopefully support a new binding legal instrument to reduce greenhouse gases that they all participate in, and also an agreement that provides support for the most countries around the world and sends a clear signal that this is a turning point, that the future is going to be about low-carbon prosperity and that businesses and investors start accelerating the pace of change to solve the problem.
CURWOOD: So what needs to happen in order to get such an agreement by the end of this year? How well is the UN on track to achieve that?
MORGAN: Well, procedurally the UN is on pretty good track to achieve that. There's a negotiating session in February, there's another one in June, probably one in October where they come together and they actually talk about that draft negotiating text, but what really needs to happen is at the higher levels. So Secretary John Kerry came to Lima and gave a speech about the need for this agreement to happen in Paris. Hopefully, he will stay engaged and have the time to engage his counterparts - foreign policy ministers and heads of state. President Obama needs to stay engaged with other countries at that level. Because if you just leave it to climate negotiators, they often don't have the mandate to even make these type of big decisions. One of the big things that needs to happen is that type of engagement from all around the world - African leaders, European leaders, having a constant conversation for the next, well, 11, 12 months.
CURWOOD: In the climate negotiation business there can be a lot of fingerpointing, which do you think are important and which do you think are less helpful in this process?
MORGAN: I think it's quite important on the country level that those that do not come forward with any kind of offer or that come forward with a weak offer, particularly other developed countries, that they're questioned about that, that it becomes an issue in the global discourse. I think that's one of the few ways of trying to exert pressure on those countries. And I just expect the attention on the fossil fuel industry with the focus on coal but also on oil to grow. The divestment campaigns that are occuring, the focus on stranded assets for investment and new coal-fired power plants, I think that will just keep going, and I think that's a very important part of the discussion that needs to happen next year. Countries should not be putting forward offers that build out coal big-time in the future. They need to be making that shift and listening to the lower carbon interests that want to move more quickly.
CURWOOD: What do you see as the biggest signs of hope for 2015 in the climate?
MORGAN: I think the biggest signs of hope are the dropping cost of renewable energy and solar and it just becoming much more normal and regular for people around the world to be having their homes powered by renewable energy. I think the growing solidarity between some developed and some developing countries about working together to solve the problem, I think it's probably the biggest sign of hope I've seen on a global level. If we can move away from polarization of "he said she said, you're to blame, we're to blame" and find ways of working together that take care of the poorest but move forward in a collective fashion I think we have a chance for a turning point.
CURWOOD: Jennifer Morgan is Global Director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute. Thanks for taking time with us today.
MORGAN: Thanks so much for having me Steve.
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