Brussels: Artur Runge-Metzger, director, international and climate strategy for the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action, spoke in an interview on whether the world will be able to avoid a 2 degrees Celsius increase in temperature, the prospects of international climate talks this December in Cancun, Mexico, and on the relevance of the United Nations in climate action. Edited excerpts:
How important is fast-track finance for success at Cancun? Will it decrease the lack of trust?
It’s a commitment we have taken (fast-track finance for climate action in developing countries) last year in Copenhagen where there was a big lack of trust on the part of different parties. So, showing how we deliver on fast-track finance will be key and that’s what a lot of developing countries also tell us—that you need to be very transparent.
How the money is moving, how much you are going to commit, where the projects are going to take place, with whom you are working. We are also accountable to our constituencies at home. We have to be transparent with what we do with our tax payers’ money anyway.
There is no big deal in putting the details on the table. Do you see danger with the Copenhagen Accord (CA), reaching the same stalemate as the Kyoto Protocol (KP) when it comes to burden sharing of emission cuts?
In terms of the 29 countries (who negotiated the accord), those were the ones in the small room negotiating and now when it comes to association with the CA, it’s almost 140 countries and I think that’s remarkable. Whether it will lead to a dead end...I hope not, because it is a commitment taken at the level of the heads of state. It is in the end a political agreement but also it is a political commitment at the highest level. And I would find it very hard for individual countries to run away from the CA. You can, on one hand, say look under KP we have much more detailed provisions on implementation. The CA is just a two-and-a-half pages, so it is a skeleton but there are a lot of important decisions in there. And those commitments we would like to see put into practice. As other countries expect us to deliver on fast-track finance, we would expect the countries who made some pledges to really implement them right now.
The CA shifts the argument towards a pledge-and-review system, which the US is pushing. Does that derail talks on the KP?
For us, definitely. We would not like to see it as a pledge-and-review process. We still hope that there will be a point in time when we would discuss those pledges one by one. The way it is done, the matrix of those commitments is very different in one country from the other. That’s the beauty of the KP. You talk of one base year, 1990, reduction in emissions in terms of percentages etc. It is much clearer in KP. Still we would hope that on the CA, it is not the last word.
It is the start for a discussion and debate but it was very difficult in the last months to really put it on the agenda. A lot of hesitation to come back to those pledges and discuss them. And a particular number of developing countries who seemingly have difficulties explaining that in the official setting of the UN.
Does the EU leadership feel slighted about the climate agenda being turned towards what the US wants?
Maybe we are a bit sad. At least when we came out of Copenhagen. We were sad that okay, it is not going in the very structured way of the KP. On the other hand we also know that maybe in the present point in time, in terms of what is possible in terms of a political compromise is not more than what we have in the CA. Even the Accord is something that is not agreed to by everybody. If you seek consensus with all parties, it might be watered down further. So there is a trade-off.
For us, what is important is that it takes the fight against climate change further. There is recognition of actions by developing countries. We believe that is important. In the current system, you do it in an irregular manner in the form of national communications, which come too late. With the CA, we can have that on a more regular basis. So hopefully this is a start for gaining further momentum. Not to be seen as an end point at the very rock bottom. The good thing is that the CA sets an aspiration, a target of 2 degrees (Celsius). It also sets out the process.
How optimistic are you about Cancun?
I am still optimistic. I hope there is a realization that this process needs to show the rest of the world that this can deliver. If not, then I think we have seen the public reactions after Copenhagen and what was in the media. To have a similar reaction again is going to undermine public confidence in the UN process. It’s not about just confidence and trust between parties. It’s really the men and the women in the street who want to know if this will get us anywhere. They are the ones who pay for the process. And they want to know what’s the value for money. If there is no progress, then they will say it is just useless guys, sitting there, talking to each other.
Has the UN outlived its purpose in climate negotiations?
I think it can deliver and there is a way forward. Maybe we have to look at a kind of a flexible approach. Of course, the UN system is such that everyone has to be on board. But maybe this is something we need to reflect on. And I think we see some international initiatives such as on REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) and the partnership. Not everyone is involved because not everyone is a stakeholder.
And also if you look into the convention, there is a particular paragraph dealing with saying the UN should encourage regional action. It should encourage limited groups to take the agenda forward.
Isn’t a smaller group taking decisions for everyone unfair to the rest of the countries?
As long as you keep an open structure, if you want to contribute to the same objectives, then please come on board. That is where we have seen the 29 countries in the small room agreeing but then afterwards other countries saying that we also want to associate with the CA. As long as you keep an open structure, I don’t think one could say it’s not fair. It’s not about an exclusive club. It will be more difficult if some countries want to do the opposite. Because then you would have the same stand as in the UN system.
What is the balance between the amorphous nature of the CA and the structure of the UN?
You see, at the end, what counts is as they say, “proof of the pudding is in the eating”. So what is going to happen after you commit, whether in the UN or in the context of the CA. Let’s be frank. If you look at KP, in terms of what it has delivered, we cannot say everyone is on track to meet commitments under Kyoto. So, despite the fact that you have a compliance system in place and enforcement provisions, there is no 100% guarantee that people will comply. So, when we say one is wishy washy, I think one has to look at the end result. After the end of the commitment period, you have to ask where we stand.
Will the world be able to avoid a 2 degrees Celsius increase in temperature?
There will be effects of climate change. That is inevitable. Even if we talk about managing to reach the 2-degree objective, there is still something that will happen within the 2- degree framework. Future generations will have to cope with that.
That is the legacy we will give them. The question is, will it be 2 or 4 or 6? I am still confident that we can make it. Because the voices of the younger generation will be more numerous. And they will put more weight in the political process.