As negotiators look to next year’s UN climate conference in Paris, there is increasing discussion of a new way forward that does not depend on sweeping international agreements. Some analysts are pointing to Plan B — recasting the climate issue as one of national self-interest rather than global treaties.
The United Nations Climate Summit in New York last week passed with many promises, but no firm pledges. Most notably, China’s vice-premier Zhang Gaoli promised his country would peak its carbon dioxide emissions “as soon as possible,” and President Obama said that next year he would publish a plan to cut U.S. emissions after 2020. On the fringes, major corporations trading in agricultural commodities grown on former rainforest land joined with governments in signing a declaration promising to halve net deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030.
The summit was never intended to conduct detailed negotiations for a new climate treaty. Those talks will take place between now and the UN climate conference in Paris at the end of next year, which is intended to deliver the legally binding national commitments that a similar event failed to deliver in Copenhagen in 2009.
But behind the scenes, some are asking what happens if there isn't a deal in Paris. Or even how much it matters whether there is such a deal. Failure is possible, after all. The political winds are even less propitious today than they were five years ago.
Economic stasis continues in Europe, previously the most vocal advocate of action on climate change. Earlier this month, the European Union decided to do away with a stand-alone climate commissioner in Brussels, merging the post with the energy portfolio. The new post-holder, Miguel Arias Cańete, holds shares in an oil company and, when he was agriculture minister at home in Spain, sat in a government that cut spending on renewables, in defiance of EU policy.
Meanwhile, Germany, once Europe’s climate tub-thumpers-in-chief, is in a messy transition on climate policy as it burns ever more coal, while shutting down its fleet of low-carbon nuclear power stations. Japan's emissions are rising post-Fukushima. And Russia, the world’s second largest oil producer, is not about to cozy up to anyone on climate policy.
It sounds bleak. Yet, strangely, all may not be lost. The answer may lie in Plan B — reframing the entire climate issue as one of national decision-making and self interest, rather than global treaty-writing. A close reading of national policies shows that many countries are taking action on climate not because they have made legally binding international commitments, but because they want to.
For the complete article, please see Yale Environment 360.
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