The UNFCCC climate summit in Paris will be an important test for the international community’s commitment to the global partnership.
Less than three months ago, global leaders converged on New York to agree a new sustainable development agenda. Included in the list of 17 aspirational Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was a call to revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development (Goal 17).
As leaders gather in Paris this week for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21), that commitment to a global partnership will be put to the test.
Leaders in New York, of course, also signed up to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, acknowledging that this action should be negotiated through the UNFCCC (Goal 13).
But while almost all governments appear to be committed to the notion of a deal in Paris, it is the nature of that deal that will put the global partnership to the test.
It was this failure to build a global partnership that led to the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 – when global leaders met to agree a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol but failed.
A bottom-up approach
Huge efforts have been made since 2009 to build support. Almost all countries have submitted plans setting out the actions they intend to take - their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs).
But the global partnership is about more than having everyone on board. It is also about putting the global interests above national interests and acting for the global good. Because climate change is not playing out on a level playing field. Its effects are already being felt hardest in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries – and these countries do not have the resources that they need to adapt to this challenge.
Their needs are articulated clearly in a new series of interviews commissioned by IIED’s Least Developed Countries Independent Expert Group (IEG).
In Lesotho, drying river systems, mean a shortage of drinking water for livestock and an increased risk of disease; in Uganda, where 85% of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, floods and drought threaten food security; and in Bangladesh, rising sea levels are driving rural populations to the city, with a growing population of urban poor.
Finance is key
The Least Developed Countries depend on support to finance adaptation and that support has been slow in coming through. So a commitment to finance is key for global partnership in Paris.
But the Least Developed Countries also need rich and middle income countries to act at home to reduce the levels of greenhouse gas pollution driving climate change.
It is nine years since the UK’s Stern Review (pdf) spelt out the economic advantages of addressing climate change, but action on this front has again been slow. Economic dependency on fossil fuels has made governments across the rich world reluctant to intervene at the level needed to curb emissions.
Lack of leadership
The UK, despite being the first country in the world to introduce a Climate Change Act committing it reduce emissions, is expected to fail to meet its EU renewables target – as the government cuts subsidies supporting a transition to renewable energy supplies. Ahead of Paris, its low carbon polices were said to be “in tatters”.
Instead, it is the Least Developed Countries who are looking to develop low carbon economies, leapfrogging the dirty energy infrastructure on which the West depends.
The global partnership does not of course only apply to governments. If an agreement to act on climate change is to become a reality then it will involve action from everyone at all levels of government, and across the business community. It will also require action and support from individual citizens.
Businesses have been an increasingly loud voice at climate conferences (pdf) – but while public-facing campaigns highlight their support for climate action, some sectors have lobbied behind closed doors to protect their vested interests.
Some within the business community have taken a more progressive stance – but as Mike Barry from UK retailer Marks & Spencer told a recent conference, governments must provide the policy framework to guide business action.
And then there is the role of individual citizens – as voters, as consumers, and as individuals with a vested interest in the future of the planet. This is a challenging issue, for who is responsible or capable of engaging the public on this issue?
Nobody said this was easy. Climate change poses an enormous global challenge. But it is also a challenge that can only be met by everyone working together. Let’s hope that leaders have travelled to Paris with a commitment to working in partnership at the front of their minds.
Helen Burley is IRF2015 communications officer
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