UNFCCC Boss Says Private Sector Key to Climate Success

Molly Peters-Stanley

As the first week of the COP-16 negotiations comes to an end, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres offered some insights in to the UNFCCC negotiations.  She also spoke of the private sector’s responsiblities in changing comestic policies.   We have the full transcript and transcript of the comments.

As the first week of the COP-16 negotiations comes to an end, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres offered some insights in to the UNFCCC negotiations.   She also spoke of the private sector’s responsiblities in changing comestic policies.     We have the complete transcript and audio of the comments.

Click to hear the complete Address

4 December 2010 | Cancun | Against the backdrop of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico (COP16), a broad coalition of some of the world’s most influential business, finance and government leaders took the stage to inaugurate the World Climate Summit – a global 10-year framework to support its 300+ stakeholders’ bottom-up solutions to climate change.

As the tie that binds the UNFCCC’s negotiators with those who feel the firsthand impacts of their decisions – what decisions may actually arise from COP16 – UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres offered words of wisdom to launch the first day of activities at the World Climate Summit.  

Figueres’ comments not only spoke to the private sector’s responsibility to step up the plate to affect change in domestic policies, but seized the platform to benchmark progress at the end of the COP’s first week of negotiations.

Luckily for the general audience, she opened with a birds-eye-view of the negotiations’ “tracks,” what expectations should be considered reasonable and what she expects will be the outcome of talks in Cancun. Read the full transcript below or listen to audio of the address for details.                  

Kyoto or No? A Two Track Mind

“Right now there are two tracks: [the first being]the Kyoto protocol, which means ‘What is going to happen to the regulatory framework that already exists beyond the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol which ends at the end of 2012?’ This is where developing countries are expecting developed countries that are under the Kyoto Protocol to go into a second commitment period that will start in January 2013 with deep, economy-wide reduction targets.

Let me be frank and say that that is the track that has benefitted the least from compromise. There are diametrically opposed positions on that issue. The developing countries are completely unanimous (and they seldom are) that the developed countries must take on these commitments under the Kyoto Protocol track and inaugurate a new second commitment period.

And there are at least some industrialized countries, although that is not unanimous, that are completely opposed to that – and in fact have even inaugurated the week with very clear statements that are not news but that confirm the national positions that they have had for a while – that they cannot consider a second commitment period.

I would say to be very honest that Cancun will not guarantee a second commitment period, but it will also not kill the hopes of a second commitment period. What is very difficult is that in order to reach an agreement here, countries are going to have to go beyond their national positions and they’re going to have to explore the grey area that exists between the ‘yes’ and the ‘no.’ The Germans have a very wonderful word which is ‘jein,’ which means both ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

So that is the conceptual space that countries have to explore and I’m encouraged to see that some countries are already exploring that space with each other in order to find some resolution – at least to what would be the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, at least for Cancun, which will not be a conclusive resolution, but will allow the very important step of attention being paid to the other track, ‘LCA.’

Demystifying LCA

Because it is absolutely clear that unless we have a result that is agreeable to all… nobody is going to be happy with the results. We have to at least be able to live with what comes out of that and only if that is reached – and if that is reached very soon – can countries then turn their attention to the other track, which actually is much farther ahead. That is the long-term cooperative action (LCA) track, the action that would occur under the convention in complement to the Kyoto Protocol.

To demystify LCA for you politically, that track was put together because the US is not in the Kyoto Protocol and hence developing countries were very firm several years ago about the US needing to come in and assume its responsibility that it had been debating for so many years. And of course in response to that, the US and other developed countries insisted that if they’re going to go ahead, at least the large emerging countries also need to assume some of their responsibility which is not historical but is in the future.

So that is the reasoning behind the LCA track – where are we with that? That is a much more complex process, in which you have an emerging decision on how countries would support developing counties in meeting their adaptation challenges – which is ‘how will they reduce or live up to mitigate their vulnerability to the effects of climate on their soil both in agricultural and coastal zones?’ In other words, all the vulnerabilities that developing countries are already experiencing although they did not cause this problem.

There is also a part of that decision that will refer to technology transfer, which aims at allowing the sharing of technology both North-South as well as South-South. There is also a chapter in that decision that has to do with promoting the reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation, from whence we have approximately 20 per cent of global emissions and most of them – if not all of them – coming from developing countries, a lot of them from Latin America. This is an important sector that was left out of the Kyoto Protocol.

Those are the three areas that, to be frank with you, are not completely sewn up. There are still some issues that are being negotiated, but they are quite ripe for political adoption.

Thank you, Copenhagen

[This is] to be contrasted with the other two chapters in there that are still lagging behind, and that would be finance – how are the developed countries going to support both mitigation and adaptation in developing countries – as well as ‘how do you capture the mitigation pledges that have been put on the table thanks to Copenhagen?’

Thanks to Copenhagen. Every day I say, ‘Thank you to Copenhagen – our greatest teacher – for everything that you gave us, Copenhagen.’ Please know that in my book – not only now but even as I left Copenhagen – yes, it was full of problems but has given us all the material that we needed to do the further work this year. In fact, everything that we’re doing under the LCA is thanks to the results of Copenhagen.

And one of the very important things that we have as a result of Copenhagen are the mitigation pledges that we have received over the past 11 months from all industrialized countries that have made pledges of mitigation, and the 32 developing countries that have made pledges of mitigation, which all in total are not enough to meet the maximum temperature rise that was suggested in the Copenhagen Accord of 2 degrees, but it is definitely much more than we have had in the past.

A High-Stakes Deal

So, do I think that there is a deal to be done here? Yes, I think there is a deal to be done. I think it is within the grasp of countries, but I have however two concerns about it. One is that we may clumsily let that deal escape us because of process. If the was anything radically wrong with the way we did it in Copenhagen, it was the process with which we tried to get an agreement.

The process was really not the process that obeys the principles and the practices of the UN. And we need to be exceedingly careful that the process is respected and that the transparency, the inclusiveness, the representation of all countries is actually respected here because otherwise we may bring down something that is very critical.

And my second concern around the deal here is its insufficiency. Yes, I remain optimistic, I am optimistic that we will have a deal in Cancun. But I must say it is only a step – it is only laying the foundation of a climate regime that we will have to work on for years to come. It is the basic, basic foundation – some people say it is not even the foundation, it is the basement.

So fine, I don’t care how far you go down. The point is we need to build the foundation, the basement upon which we’re going to then continue to construct. This is absolutely a minimal agreement, and an agreement needs to be carefully crafted, and needs to be firm, dependable and predictable in the long term. This minimum agreement is going to be – frankly – pathetically insufficient compared to what the science tells us. We are just barely, barely scratching the surface of what we need to do.

But that does not diminish the importance of this agreement. Without this agreement we will not be able to move forward for quite a few years. The expectations that we had at Copenhagen were I think much more realistic. Now, some people interpret that as lower ambition, but I say actually it’s healthier, it’s more realistic. But, the stakes are much higher because this time we really do have to come to an agreement, and there are many people over there [at Moon Palace] firmly understanding that and firmly committed to an agreement.

Up and Down the Value Chain

So having said that, where do you [businesses] come in? I hope I can assume correctly that all businesses who are here today are here because of this commitment to this topic and I thank you for that. I hope I can correctly assume that you are all already implementing the non-regret measures that you can implement in your companies – efficiency both in electricity and transportation, all of the non-regret measures that actually affect your bottom line positively. I hope that we can say, ‘Ok, that is a given.’ If I’m here as a company in Cancun, it is because I’m committed to this and I’ve already done all of the non-regret measures.  

So if that is the baseline as we like to call it over at the negotiations, what is your new and additional activity?   Your ‘new and additional’ is leveraging action on three levels: first of all, along your value chain up to all of your providers ensuring that the carbon footprint of all of the products that are delivered to you – in order for you to then deliver your product – that the carbon footprint is actually decreasing quickly.

And value chain down all the way to your consumers. I hope that you are joining all of those campaigns that make the carbon impacts of your product visible to your consumers so that you can help educate consumers on this. That’s the first way that you can impact your value chain. The second of your new and additional activities is to transform the sector in which you operate to invest in those pioneering technologies which can bring about the energy revolution that is needed and catapult the sector in which you operate to where it needs to be quickly.

Private Sector Call to Action

And the third, the most important from my perspective and the most difficult for you is leveraging the political constituencies. And let me very frank here.

The Mexican government throughout this year has had a very laudable initiative, the public-private dialogues. And they have had several dialogues. We in the Secretariat have been very supportive of those dialogues. We also, like the Mexican presidency, think that the voice of business is not organized enough, it is not loud enough, it is not coherent enough, it is not listened to enough in the negotiations.

So we have supported the Mexican government in that and I hope the next host country, South Africa, continues to do that. And I must say, once you’re here, once we have these public private dialogues in the space of the negotiations, the impact is limited – to put it diplomatically. What’s the impact? Yes, ok, it’s a nice conversation, but honestly? Countries already arrived here with their positions already made.

If you are not impacting the position of the countries in which you operate before they get to Cancun or Durban or Bonn or wherever they’re negotiating, frankly, there’s not that much that you’re transforming. You need to have your impact at the level of domestic legislation in the countries in which you operate, you need to make your impact that the level of domestic regulation. That’s where you can really help to move this process forward.

The reason why we’re stuck in the Kyoto Protocol and the reason why we’re stuck in some areas of the LCA is because the governments that are negotiating those texts are literally under the handbrake of the private sector in their counties. Not all of them, but many of those most critical. If private sector is acting as a handbrake to what governments can and should be doing, then we have a serious problem here.

So, my plea to you is: Yes, certainly, take a look at your quarterly results. Yes, implement measures that are very non-regret and helpful to your quarterly results. But honestly, just as I am asking countries this week to go beyond their national positions because it is the only way we are going to reach an agreement, with that same commitment, I am inviting you to look beyond your short-term corporate interest to look into your long-term corporate responsibility and to begin to act out of your corporate long-term responsibility to assume what I really want to call a more aggressive pose out there.

It is evident to me that there is a corporate battle going on here, that there is a corporate battle going on between those who perceive themselves as losers and those who perceive themselves as winners. And I don’t see the winners out there in the fight – I don’t see you winning the battle. And if you don’t win the battle, governments certainly won’t be able to. So my plea to you is if you really do see yourselves as stewards of the planet, step up to it and do it – because we need to.

Molly Peters-Stanley is the Voluntary Carbon Associate in the Ecosystem Marketplace’s Carbon Program. She can be reached at [email protected].

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