With the Doha summit now concluded, with only very modest achievement, there is growing consensus that a faster response to climate change is desperately needed. This is especially so when the science and physical impacts of global warming are telling us that the urgency to act is increasing.
To be sure, formal international negotiations, especially the UNFCC process, remain vital. However, creeping forward at a snail's pace (witness the difficulty in Doha, for instance, of formalising the decision to agree a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed last year Durban) is no longer enough.
Tellingly, it was Christiana Figueres, UNFCC Executive Secretary, who re-asserted at Doha that national and sub-national government policy is key to the accelerated response to climate change that is needed. As is increasingly recognised, it is only by implementing such national and sub-national frameworks that the political conditions for a comprehensive global agreement in 2015 will be created.
Unlike at the international level, domestic climate change legislation and regulation is advancing at a rapid pace.
This is particularly so in developing countries which will provide the motor of global economic growth in coming decades. Many of these nations are concluding it is in their national interest to cut greenhouse gas emissions and better prepare for the impact of climate change.
This is a crucial, and under-appreciated, change in the centre of gravity of the climate change debate. And, it mirrors a broader crossroads in international relations, with continuing economic malaise in the West being counterpoised with an increasing rapid shift of power to emerging economies.
In the last year alone, as a study to be released in January by the Global Legislators Organisation (Globe) and the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics, documents:
- Thirty-two of the 33 surveyed countries have progressed or are progressing significant climate and/or energy-related legislation.
- China, after the publication of its 12th Five Year Plan in 2011, has proceeded with more detailed implementation guidelines including rules for its emissions trading pilots, progress with drafting its climate change law, publication of an energy white paper. Moreover, at the end of October, sub-national legislation was passed in Shenzhen to tackle climate change the first such legislation in China.
- Hugely significant too is the passage of Mexico's General Law on Climate Change _ a comprehensive legislative framework to tackle climate change, together with the first REDD+ readiness legislation to tackled deforestation.
- South Africa proposed introducing a carbon tax in its latest budget.
- There has also been some progress in the developed world. For instance, the EU passed a new directive on energy efficiency, and Germany strengthened legislation relating to CCS and energy efficiency.
This national action is triggered by an increased understanding of risks associated with climate change, and the significant co-benefits of taking action. Those co-benefits include increased resource efficiency, with its associated lower costs and increased competitiveness; stronger energy security through diversifying away from the insecure supply and price-volatile fossil fuels; improved air quality through reducing use of coal and electrifying transport; and securing early mover advantage in the green technologies of tomorrow.
Despite this sea change, there nonetheless remains a significant gap, right now, between the cumulative level of ambition of national action and that required to limit global average temperature rise to the agreed UN-ceiling of 2C.
Yet, if the pace of national action is maintained, the gap will close. Moreover, the framework now being put in place to measure, report, and verify emissions is a prerequisite for a comprehensive international treaty.
Indeed, it is these domestic advances that will, ultimately, help to create the political ground for a comprehensive post-2020 international agreement to be, potentially, reached by 2015.
Such a comprehensive international deal will only be possible when enough countries are committed to taking action on climate change because of recognition that it is to their advantage to do so, rather than out of perceived altruism. In other words, any eventual deal will only reflect domestic political conditions, not define them.
Given this outlook, and as difficult negotiations continue post-Doha, a danger is that some countries might lower their long-term ambition. At a time when the climate change debate is undergoing profound change, this would be spectacularly ill-timed. Indeed, now is exactly the right time for countries to invest more in climate diplomacy and practical international cooperation to help expedite the creation of conditions on the ground that will enable a comprehensive global treaty to be reached.
The article is co-written by Rt Hon John Gummer, Lord Deben, President, Global Legislators Organisation (Globe International); Lord Michael Jay, Former Head of the UK Diplomatic Service; Graham Stuart MP, Vice-President Globe International; Barry Gardiner MP, President Globe International and Leader of the UK Opposition's Special Envoy on Environment & Climate Change; Tim Yeo MP, Chairman of the UK House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee; Joan Walley MP, Chairman of the UK House of Commons Environment Audit Select Committee; and Adam Matthews, Secretary-General, Globe International