AFPThe now empty conference hall in Dubai
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 10:13
70,000 participants are expected at the climate summit in Dubai. The host country boasts that the two-week event is the world’s largest climate summit ever.
That sounds like good news, but it is not, experts tell NOS. It is good that there is a lot of attention for the climate, but the growing complexity of the negotiations is becoming an inhibiting factor, says Richard Klein of the Stockholm Environment Institute.
70,000 visitors is unnecessary, unsustainable and counterproductive, says Luis Gomez-Echeverri. He worked for more than thirty years on international climate cooperation for the UN Climate Treaty and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. When Gomez-Echeverri heard the expected number of participants, he decided not to go.
Dropped out of shame
All those people come not only because of the increasingly complex agenda, but also because of the explosion of ‘side events’, all kinds of meetings that are separate from the negotiations. Companies are clamoring to show how green they are, and countries are erecting increasingly impressive pavilions to convey that they are certainly not part of the problem.
“If radical reforms are not urgently implemented in the UN climate negotiations, many people will turn away,” says Gomez-Echeverri. “They will drop out in protest, or out of shame, like I am doing this year.”
Call for ‘boringness’
“Make the climate summits boring again,” sighs Klein. He refers to another UN agreement, intended to protect the ozone layer. At the end of the 1980s, a very serious ozone crisis threatened, which was effectively tackled at UN level.
Summits are also still held every year based on this Montreal protocol. “Earlier this month, 600 people showed up in Nairobi,” says Klein. “They made the necessary decisions in a week and moved on. Have you seen anything about it in the news?”
Klein’s conclusion: “600 people is apparently enough.” The problem is not comparable, but the law is: you can do business effectively with a small group of people.
The follow-up negotiations on the 2015 Paris Agreement, such as this year in Dubai, are becoming more complex every year. Old commitments for financial climate assistance have not been fulfilled, nor are they sufficient.
In parallel, a new fund is being set up for damage compensation. Who pays and who receives? The thirty-year-old division between rich and poor countries needs to be revised, but that is not in everyone’s interest.
Then everything becomes barter. Lack of progress on one file often blocks all others. To move forward, some countries will make agreements among themselves.
Design error for the first climate summit
Actually, it all goes back to a 1995 design error, says Klein, of the first climate summit (COP1) in Berlin. It was proposed there to decide by majority. But everyone had to agree to that rule – and that was not possible in 1995. Since then, 198 countries have had to agree on every full stop at all climate summits. If one country doesn’t want to move forward, that puts the whole thing at a standstill.
The proliferation of negotiation lines also creates a difference between ‘procedural progress’ and actual climate gains, Klein warns. It will be easier for countries that want to hold back progress to take a covert position and cooperate a little, as long as this does not lead to concrete obligations.
Rhetoric can also hinder progress. For example, the frequently heard call for ‘climate justice’ appears to have different meanings for many people, including in the negotiating rooms.
While Western countries ask Saudi Arabia to help pay for climate aid for poor countries, the rich oil state claims that it is itself a victim of climate policy and is entitled to financial compensation if the world consumes less oil.
More efficient buds
How can it be better? Last year, Benito Mueller, professor at Oxford University and an advisor for poorer countries for many years, suggested that from now on the climate summits should always be held in Bonn, where the secretariat of the UN Climate Convention is located.
In any case, it can only accommodate a maximum of 5,000 participants, Gomez-Echeverri adds. For those who need a traveling circus, a ‘climate action week’ can also be organised, Mueller suggests.
Former UN employee Rachel Kyte also thinks that major conferences are no longer necessary. “We are now at ‘peak pledge'” – the rules of the game have been agreed and the most important commitments have been made. Now it’s all about execution: “The buds should be smaller, and the work should continue all year,” says Kyte.
Christiana Figueres, who led the UN negotiations at the time of the Paris agreement, proposes sticking to two-week summits but splitting them up thematically. In the first week, countries should report their progress, with week two for agreeing next steps.