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A number of factors in combination make the issues of global climate uniquely challenging:
- residual uncertainty over fundamentals, and limited public and political consensus
- the central and pervasive importance of energy to modern economies
- the cumulative and largely irreversible nature of CO2 emissions in particular
- long time lags between cause and consequences
- intrinsic dependence on global action to tackle a global externality
- strong vested interests, and conflict with other short or medium term policy objectives
- the limitations of existing political institutions, national and international, in achieving effective concerted action
This seminar focused on the negotiating and diplomatic perspective on energy and climate related issues.
Prospects for a Climate Change Agreement
Joan MacNaughton reviewed the history of international efforts to reach a climate change agreement and looked at the prospects for global agreement in the future.
On prospects for global agreement, she took the view that
- negotiations for a global agreement will continue to be extremely difficult
- the ‘loss and damage’ issue adds to tensions
- emission reduction pledges are far short of what is needed for 2 degree goal
- but many more countries now have mitigation plans,
- and many countries looking at carbon pricing (including Korea, seven pilot schemes in China, California and Kazakhstan)
In terms of the overall prospects for global agreement, there were a number of serious issues and a real risk of the 2o goal becoming unattainable. If it happened at all, then December 2015 in Paris (COP 21) would be a critical event. Prospects were not strong, at least in the absence of either a cataclysmic event or strong political leadership.
Lavan Mahadeva’s presentation Getting Global Agreement on Climate Change Issues covered an important but particular aspect of the search for global agreement, namely the question of burden sharing. He began by discussing some of the criteria that should be considered necessary to develop acceptable methods of estimating ability to pay (respective capabilities in UNFCCC language), including objectivity, simplicity, fairness on at least some measure, and reliance on available data. His conclusion was that the design of any international climate finance scheme should take into account GDP, GDP per head and poverty. His slides illustrate these points with supporting information and some carefully argued comparisons with analogous but more fully established concepts such as income tax.
EU Aspirations and Policies on Climate Issues
Peter Vis discussed some of the current concerns in Brussels. Three important topics under discussion in Brussels were the implementation of the single market, infrastructure and energy prices. An underlying concern was competitiveness within the EU.
In spite of some of the very positive contributions of the EU towards action on climate issues, one had to recognise that the EU was now only 11% of global emissions and a falling share. However the second round under Kyoto was evidence that the EU was continuing to take its obligations very seriously, although “leadership” was not necessarily the most appropriate term in this context..
Widely regarded as the centrepiece of EU policy, the carbon trading arrangements had been established as a sound mechanism. The well known problems with the excess of allowances, and the resulting very low prices, were a consequence of the system being misprogrammed. Efforts were under way to correct these problems.
He reminded the seminar that EU policies were not confined to the EU ETS. Other significant instruments included CO2 standards for cars, the phasing out of HCHCs, and the regulation of bio-liquids according to sustainability criteria.
Anupama Sen drew some lessons from the presentation of EU issues, and in her presentation Perspectives on India proceeded to describe some important features of the approach to the climate change debate in India. The Indian narrative could be described in three parts: the recognition of the facts and the need for a national action plan, the parallel concerns with energy security, which related to growth objectives but had also led to some contrarian and unsustainable policies, and the poverty alleviation and distributional objectives.