Luke Humphrey, Leeds University International Development student, blogs about the CGD annual lecture
In the wake of the tragedy of the Paris attacks comes perhaps a world changing two weeks of negotiations at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference held from November 30th to December 11th. I say perhaps because as proven by the previous meetings in Rio and Copenhagen, the outcome of these talks are usually hampered by diplomatic inaction and failure to reach any universally binding agreement. However there is reason to be hopeful this time around as the geopolitical spectrum of the globe has changed greatly since the last talks in 2010. Key speaker Timmons Roberts – Professor of Environmental Studies at Brown University, USA speaks optimistically about the ‘Structured Voluntarism’ of the Paris Moment which hopes to be the first UN Climate Conference that reaches a legally binding and universal agreement on countries climate efforts. Roberts points out where decades of climate conferences have previously failed since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
He notes five promising signs for progress with the Paris moment including the dropping price of renewable energies, the growing unity between the developing economies (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) and America, and the surprising support from Pope Francis with his June Encyclical calling for action on climate change. But Roberts also cites what he calls “the Crunch” in his latest book ‘Power in a Warming World’ – the $22 trillion Carbon bubble that he and fellow academics David Ciplet and Mizan Khan predict will have to stay unburnt and unused if we are to keep below 2°C global temperature.
Whilst there are reasons to be optimistic, there are also structural issues that still stick like a thorn in the conferences side. In light of the tragic Paris attacks three weeks ago, protesters have been banned from the talks, causing uproar from many Environmental Organisations and academics alike. But this also draws attention to the continued lack of voice given to low income countries – who are the most vulnerable from increased global temperatures. “The microphone is dominated by governments and large, well-funded green groups” argues Naomi Klein in her recent Guardian article on the news that protesters have been banned from the upcoming talks. However there is a budding unity between the most vulnerable 20 countries such as Afghanistan, the Philippines and Bangladesh who have recently urged more action to be taken in terms of investment in Low-Emission Development and Climate Resiliency. The 700 million people in these countries are 5x more likely to die from climate related disasters to the global average. They estimate their financial damages to be up to $400 billion by 2030 if current climate estimates are correct.
It is impossible to predict the outcome of these latest climate talks. A lot of people are indicating a positive result due to our changing perceptions towards climate change – even the most fervent deniers of climate change admit something needs to be done. However like so many other talks before it, the threat of the talks being marred by diplomatic squabbling and a lack of commitment to legally binding, universal agreements.