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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Climate Change: Security, Resilience and Diplomacy


Chatham House 15-16 October 2012
The 16th Chatham House Climate Change conference, this year themed around questions of security, resilience and diplomacy, took place in a mixed atmosphere of urgency, hope and frustration. It is a striking fact that global greenhouse gas emissions have remained on a steep upward trajectory since 1990. Global energy demands are increasing and a growing global population looks set to intensify these pressures still further. In this context, there was consensus on the need for drastic action to control emissions if there is to be any chance of limiting global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial rates.  There was hope of the promise offered by new technologies such as carbon capture and storage; hope too of a new determination amongst states to tackle emissions through the UNFCCC process by 2020, but also a tangible sense of frustration at the further lost years this timescale implied and a lingering fear that it might already be too late to make a difference. As one speaker put it, ‘the boat left a while ago’, but the sheer scale and urgency of the challenge is such that we still cannot afford to get left behind. 

Rising global temperatures will have a profound impact on the security of many populations and countries in the world. Certainly, climate change has the potential to open up new areas of competition and dispute between state actors, with several presentations making reference to the potential for geopolitical competition for newly accessible arctic resources. Others suggested the emergence of novel governance challenges and the inadequacy of existing international regimes and structures to deal with them. The consequences of sea level rise for the 200 mile exclusive economic zones which exist off states’ coastlines is just one example of these new challenges, with coastal retreat and the submergence of low lying islands threatening to reshape the geopolitical and geoeconomic contours of maritime sovereignty and the resource claims (fisheries, oil and gas) which go alongside them. 

Yet the global insecurities that seem likely to be impacted by climate change are necessarily – and perhaps fundamentally – about much more than competition between states for resources, or even armed conflict per se. Extreme weather events have already caused global increases in food prices in 2008 and 2011, exacerbating underlying human insecurities amongst vulnerable populations; most likely contributing to famine in East Africa and perhaps even to the events of the Arab Spring. These vulnerabilities seem likely to intensify in the coming decades and similar challenges seem probable with regard to fresh water resources and increased migration away from unviable areas as existing coping mechanisms prove unable to adapt to new circumstances. While such insecurities may be intensified by the pressures of climate change, the challenges they induce are ultimately rooted in the social and political context of the countries in which they unfold. Not all states and political systems (or groups within these states) will be equally exposed to and able to cope with climate change-induced insecurities, with the greatest impact likely to fall those regions and populations which are already most vulnerable and face the greatest challenges of development and governance.  

Indeed, for many speakers, issues of governance were at the heart of the climate change challenge, both in terms of national and local preparedness, vulnerabilities and resilience, but also internationally in terms of the steps required to restrain it. There was consensus that the geopolitical context has also changed profoundly since the signing of the Kyoto protocol in 1997. Most significantly, the continuing rapid economic development of the BRIC states (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and of others such as Indonesia, have not only intensified the drivers of global emissions through their rapid industrialisation, but also introduced significant new and influential interests into global climate governance. The dilemma of how to deliver on the twin goals economic growth on the one hand and emissions controls on the other has thus if anything become more complex and contested than in previous years, as the failed UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen so clearly illustrate. 

Even so, a number of presenters warned against making simplistic distinctions between so-called developed and developing worlds in this respect. China may now be the largest greenhouse case emitter, but the interdependence of the global economy means that so much of the manufacturing activity which drives its industrial growth is itself a response to consumption in the United States and Europe. While some western countries (such as the UK) may have been able to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, in many cases, this has been a consequence of effectively transferring polluting activity elsewhere. The UK still consumes plenty of steel for example, but most of this is now imported from China rather than manufactured indigenously in south Wales.  In this spirit, a number of speakers called for a shift from targets based on greenhouse gas production to targets based on consumption, a more punitive global carbon pricing scheme on the same basis, the pressing need for investment both current and future renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency and the hope that developing countries may be able to leapfrog the mistakes of the west in their own industrial growth. 

Tim Edmunds
Yet throughout the conference, there was a sense of a ghost at the table. Despite all the political and financial efforts that have been put into tacking climate change and all the political exhortations to change, consumption continues to rise,  global emissions continue to increase and firm global commitments to change remain elusive. In this context, there remains a real question over the extent to which technical solutions to climate change – rather than more fundamental changes in global patterns of consumption – will be able to arrest these changes in time to make a difference.  In the absence of more deep-seated change in the underlying drivers of global emissions and in the face of continuing structural inertias in the global governance of the climate, an increase in global temperatures of over 2°C  seems to be shifting from possibility to likelihood, and the consequences of this are both uncertain and potentially vast in scale. In this context, efforts to mitigate climate change remain more pressing than ever, but the pressures of more radical adaptation may soon become overwhelming too.  

Professor Tim Edmunds
Global Insecurities Centre, University of Bristol
16 October 2012

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Negotiating climate change politics in Parliament


Blog post by Karen Bell, Bristol School for Policy Studies

The All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group (APPCCG) is a coalition of 150 MPs from all parties, as well as almost 200 representatives of a variety of businesses, NGOs, academic institutions, and embassies.   Its registered aim is ‘To raise awareness of the threat of climate change and to promote policies to counter that threat’ (Register of All Party Groups, 2012).  This involves discussing the practical strategies, at national and international level, for enabling the UK and the rest of the world to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  The current Chair of the Committee is the Labour parliamentarian, Joan Walley MP, who also heads the Environmental Audit Committee. The Secretariat of the APPCCG is the Carbon Neutral Company, a business which has ‘…pioneered the carbon offset industry’ (Carbon Neutral Company, 2012). 

On 11th September 2011, I attended an important meeting of this group on behalf of the Cabot Institute. The meeting began with Joan Walley MP explaining the importance of the meeting, in terms of contributing to the upcoming 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) at Doha.  She said that, in the past, the APPCCG had identified disconnects between policy, business and government and that it was necessary to look at how to close these gaps.  She asked us to consider how the aspiration to be ‘the greenest government ever’ was reflected in our policies.  Following this, she introduced the panel:  Gregory Barker MP, DECC Minister; Mark Simmonds MP, newly appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Ruth Davis, Senior Policy Advisor to Greenpeace UK; Pete Betts, Director, International Climate Change, DECC; and Mark Kenber, Chief Executive Officer of the Climate Group, a non-profit organisation.

Ruth Davis of Greenpeace, the first speaker, emphasised that climate change has structural causes and so international climate change negotiations are complex and need to be carried out over a long time period.  She spoke of the necessity for cross party consensus so that policy remains consistent over time. 

DECC Minister, Gregory Barker MP, said that, despite the difficulties in previous climate change negotiations, there was still a glimmer of hope for the upcoming Doha talks.  He said he considered the UNFCCC process was our best chance to deliver a global agreement by working towards a single, legally binding instrument to control climate change.  Praising Pete Bett’s negotiating skills, he remarked how difficult these meetings were, not only because of the influence of geo-politics, but also individual egos. However, he felt that the UK was held in very high esteem because of its role in the negotiations and was hopeful because, at the last major UNFCCC talks in Durban we ‘agreed to agree’ that there should be a global treaty by 2015.  However, he was concerned about the rift between developed and developing countries on these issues.  He spoke of the 100 billion dollars promised for adaptation and mitigation, stating that this should not be seen as a grant since some of this money would be a result of developing countries mobilising private sector capital.  Further, he considered that the transition to a low carbon economy should be seen as an opportunity and a spur to growth and innovation.

Mark Simmonds, MP, then went on to say that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was a significant player in bringing forward the climate change agenda around the world.  He considered that it was important to explain to developing countries that a low carbon economy can go alongside economic growth.  Supporting Greg Barker, MP’s view, he stated that the need to reduce emissions was an opportunity for UK business to help developing countries to transition, by exporting innovation, expertise and finance.  He said that the UK had been leaders in inspiring other countries.  For example the Mexican government had put in place a climate change act modelled on that of the UK and South Korea’s emissions trading scheme is a result of significant UK input.
Peter Betts emphasised that the window of opportunity to ensure global warming is kept to below 2 degrees (2C) is getting smaller.  This target was agreed at the 2010 Copenhagen UNFCCC talks in order to avoid runaway, and potentially devastating, climate change.  Peter Betts considered that the 2C goal was a ‘sensitive issue’ for China and ‘China is doing a lot but the numbers suggest they would need to almost do more than anyone else to meet that goal’.  He also stated that it was proving a challenge to mobilise private finance to help reduce climate change.
Mark Kenber  said there was huge enthusiasm about what could be achieved at the COP meetings but that negotiations continue to focus on cost.  The situation must be seen as an opportunity for business. 
After the panel had spoken, there was little time left for contributions from the other seventy or more attendees.  Four comments/questions made were in the remaining time:
·         Whether or not we are meeting our emissions targets depends if we are working on production or consumption based accounting.  Our emissions are moving elsewhere.
·         We need to monitor all sustainability issues and bring in across the board sustainability reporting.  There is an emphasis on carbon to the exclusion of other environmental issues and this risks policy responses creating problems in other environmental domains. 
·         One of the negotiating blocks was that developing countries were asking for historic emissions to be taken into account.
·         Its very important to talk about the science in the negotiations, because we now may be looking at 4 degrees warming (I think this meant we are headed for 4 degrees, not that the target should be 3 degrees).
The panel replied to these comments by saying it would not be practical to introduce consumption based accounting; that we ‘want to get into emissions trading’; and that we need to persuade developing societies that  growth economic and environmental protection were mutually reinforcing.
I did not contribute to the discussion, partly because there was so little time for comments from the floor, but mainly because my own opinions about the practical solutions to climate change are so completely different to those expressed that I could not see how I could begin to make a case within the one or two sentences that appeared permissible.   I found the emphasis on market solutions; ‘persuading’ developing countries; the dependence on private enterprise to find emissions reduction a profitable enterprise; and the insistence on the need to continue to pursue growth, ideas that are both disturbing and difficult to confront (being the dominant discourse in the UK). Continuing growth is not sensible, or even possible, because resources, in particular fossil fuels, are unlikely to last another 100 years and the capacity of the environment to cope with our waste is also reaching its limits.  Most of the panel members seemed intent on promoting climate catastrophe as a business opportunity, so increasing the focus on technical and market-based solutions.  Many of these ‘solutions’ have proved ineffective and/or potentially very harmful e.g. emissions trading, geo-engineering and nuclear power  The kind of policies that might actually help in the current situation where not mentioned or dismissed outright e.g. reduced consumption by the world’s wealthy; large financial transfers from North to South in order to finance adaptation and mitigation costs; safe, clean and community-led renewable energy; resource conservation that enforces Indigenous land rights; organic and sustainable agriculture; free public transport; and food sovereignty.  Further elaboration of these points can be found in my articles and conference papers, e.g.  http://montreal.degrowth.org/downloads/papers/S018_Bell.pdf

Though frustrating, it is important for those of us who are interested in socially and environmentally just solutions to the problem of climate change to continue to engage in these events.  We need to increase awareness of how damaging bogus strategies can be, and continue to propose a genuine project to increase the well-being of all.