The UN conference in Cancún next December needs to set the basis for a new climate change treaty in 2011, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
Yvo de Boer is executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He has announced that he will leave his position in July in order to become a consultant on climate and sustainability issues at KPMG, a global accounting firm.
He was speaking to Susanna Ala-Kurikka.
The failure of the Copenhagen climate talks has been analysed thoroughly, but what is missing is a roadmap for moving forward. Could you outline one?
First of all, I wouldn't agree that Copenhagen failed. It's true that Copenhagen failed to deliver a formal agreed outcome, but I do believe that the Copenhagen Accord represents a very important political statement.
120 heads of state and government came to Copenhagen. The Accord sets a long-term goal in the bounds of a maximum two degree temperature increase. Since Copenhagen, we have received national targets from 43 industrialised countries and action plans from 32 developing countries. Together those countries account for more than 80% of energy-related CO2 emissions, so the world is moving. And Copenhagen agreed on the provision of short-term finance and long-term finance for developing countries as well as new approaches to reporting, monitoring and verification.
So I think you can argue that while Copenhagen failed in a legal sense, it was a success in a political sense. The question is now how you take that forward.
We will be having our next meeting in a few weeks time in Bonn starting on 9 April, basically to plan out the rest of the year: to decide if additional meetings are needed and if so, how many, to decide what the format for negotiations needs to be, and I hope also to identify a number of priority issues that need to be addressed in order to get the process moving.
Could the negotiations take another format to the two-track approach of the Kyoto Protocol, where developing countries negotiate in a separate bloc?
No, I think we'll continue on the two-track approach. In fact, that was the decision in Copenhagen: that we will continue on those two tracks. But I think that the draft decisions in Copenhagen and the Copenhagen Accord give us important substance to reinvigorate the process.
What can realistically be expected of the Cancún climate conference at the end of the year? The EU, at least, would like to see a legally-binding agreement there.
Many developing countries want a legally-binding outcome, including all the small island states, Africa and many countries in other parts of the world as well. It's a question of when do we get a legally-binding agreement and what exactly is going to be the nature of that legally-binding agreement.
For me the first challenge for Cancún is to turn the Copenhagen Accord and turn the other decisions which were near agreement in Copenhagen into a functioning architecture on adaptation, mitigation, technology and finance, a functioning architecture that really gives developing countries the confidence that it's going to be in their interest to move forward.
What format should this architecture take?
First thing, we need to get the substantive building blocks agreed on adaptation, mitigation, technology, finance and capacity-building and then decide what legal form that architecture should be given.
I don't see a treaty being agreed in Cancún.
So when do you think it's feasible to expect a deal?
First of all, I think we need to develop a deeper and common understanding of what legally-binding actually means. Is it a treaty that's binding at the international level, is it a treaty that's binding at the national level, or is it a treaty that's binding through the implementation rules that it's given, or is it all three? That needs to be clear first.
I think it is possible to reach a final agreement in 2011 in South Africa.
Do you think the UN process was a problem, requiring unanimity? Would the G20 have a better chance of clinching a deal?
It might be easier in a G20 setting, but the problem there is that the one hundred developing countries, who have contributed nothing to the cause of climate change but will have to deal with many of its impacts, are not members of the G20.
The importance of the UN process is that it tries to accommodate the interests of all countries, of rich, of poor, of islands, of oil producers. That's not easy, but it does [so] when you succeed at the end of the day.
We succeeded in Rio with the Climate Change Convention, we succeeded in Kyoto with the Kyoto Protocol, we succeeded in Bali with the launch of negotiations, so it's not easy but the process has shown that it can work.
There were many complaints from industrialised nations in Copenhagen about the fact that there was unanimity decision-making instead of majority decision-making. I think that many of those nations have forgotten that at the first conference of parties they are the ones that objected to majority decision-making, because they were afraid to be voted down on finance. So you can't have your cake and eat it.
Do you think a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol is possible if no agreement on a new treaty is reached?
If there is no agreement whatsoever on a new approach under the Convention, then I don't think a second commitment period of Kyoto is possible, because I don't see the US joining the Kyoto Protocol and I don't see the rich countries that are party to Kyoto taking a second round of targets without the US.
So clearly we need to see an advance, both under the Protocol and under the Convention.
How could you bridge the divide between the rich and the poor countries?
First of all, by industrialised countries showing real leadership and by reducing their emissions at home. Secondly, by providing the prompt start finance in a way that developing countries will see as being directly in support of their needs. And thirdly by creating the financial architecture around the $100 billion in such a way that developing countries really are confident that this is going to help them on adaptation, mitigation and technology.
Do you think the EU's emphasis on market-based emissions trading to provide climate finance is reliable, considering that there are few examples of such schemes available today?
There are a number of states in America that already have emissions trading legislation in place or are working to establish it. Mexico is planning to do emissions trading, India is creating a scheme of tradable energy efficiency certificates. I think that different kinds of trading mechanisms are beginning to emerge.
What I think is important is that those different trading systems are harmonised in a common approach so that you can really let the market have the maximum effect.
One of the issues that we will need to resolve on markets is that developing countries are saying, wait a minute, if we commit to taking a certain amount of action to limit our emissions and foreign countries invest in our efforts to do that, but then want to take the emission credits back home so that it looks as if we haven't done anything. That question needs to be resolved.
What role do you think the EU could play after it failed to show leadership in December?
I don't think Europe lost leadership. I know that I'm fairly alone in that opinion, but I was in those final negotiations, and Barroso was there, Sarkozy was there, Merkel was there, Zapatero was there, Brown was there, and they made significant contributions to getting the Copenhagen Accord agreed. Europe also made proposals which ultimately didn't make it into the Copenhagen Accord but maybe will make it into an agreement going to the future.
It's true that there was a final conversation between President Obama and Premier Wen, but I don't think that that meant the EU lost leadership.
I think the priorities for the EU is now to move its part of the $30 billion short-term finance in a credible way to support the priorities of developing countries. I think the EU can be instrumental in the further debate, which we absolutely need, on what does legally-binding actually mean and how we can get that real substance.
And I think the EU should be active to ensure that the conditions are met that will allow it to go from minus 20 to minus 30.
Do you think the finance should be administered centrally by the UNFCCC for example, or would a bilateral agreement work as well?
I think it's fine to have bilateral agreements, providing those bilateral agreements take place within the context of a common framework. For example, if there was a decision – and there was such a decision in Copenhagen – that the money needs to go to least-developed countries, small island states and Africa, if that's the decision and you then decide to give the money to a middle-income country somewhere else in the world instead, it doesn't meet the agreed criteria.
What we should be doing under the context of the Convention is setting the parameters for finance, identifying the countries that should receive priority support, identifying the issues that should receive priority support, identifying how support should be provided, for example within the context of nationally-approved adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Everyone as far as I'm concerned can provide climate finance, including the girl next door, providing it's in the framework of those parameters.
The concern of the developing countries is that yes, at the end of the day the finance will be provided but in line with priorities of donor countries as opposed to in line with their priorities, and that's the issue we have to tackle.
How do you ensure that this finance is additional to existing development aid commitments?
By solid monitoring, reporting and verification. The Bali action plan says that developing countries should take real, measurable and verifiable action in exchange for real, measurable and verifiable financial support and one of the ways to do this is to create a mechanism that will do the tracking.
There's already a huge concern on the part of developing countries that the €30 billion is to some extent going to be recycled money that's been promised before. We need good accounting to make sure that fear is addressed.
The US is preoccupied with a domestic agenda, with the healthcare bill taking precedence over climate change. Do you think they will be contributing much to the Cancún talks?
My sense is that the US at the moment is paralysed by the debate on the healthcare legislation, which a few days ago was adopted in Congress. If that makes it through the Senate, then the administration will be ready to turn its attention to climate change.
But clearly getting climate change legislation adopted, especially cap-and-trade legislation, is not going to be easy.
Will the US be a reliable partner in the global negotiations without domestic legislation in place?
I think so. I think it's important to remember that not a single one of the countries that signed up to a target in Kyoto had the national legislation in place. They all went back home after Kyoto to turn the target into legislation, submitted the legislation to their parliaments for approval, and on the basis of that approval, were able to ratify. The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997 and ultimately entered into force in 2005.
I think the first thing we need to do is negotiate an agreement but then to be very sure that that agreement will subsequently be acceptable to parliaments.
One thing that I've seen the US Administration, the Obama Administration do is make sure that the Senate and the administration are almost Siamese twins in this process. There is a continuous communication between the Administration and the Senate to ensure that whatever is agreed will meet the basic conditions which the Senate has.
If we were in Bali today and you had two years ahead of you, what would you do differently?
I said before Bali, Bali needs to deliver a formal launch to negotiations, agenda and an end date. It delivered all three. The problem is we didn't meet the end date in Copenhagen.
Isn't there a risk now that we won't have a new treaty in place when Kyoto expires?
Yes, there is that risk, but I do think we can have a new treaty agreed before the end of the commitment period. If that treaty is agreed, that should give more than enough confidence to business.
If you're a European company, you know that Europe is committed to minus 20 and you know that European leaders already in 2005 were talking about a mid-century goal of 80%. If you are a company in the US, you know that the US administration is also talking about an 80% reduction for mid-century. If you're a Chinese company, you know that the Chinese administration fundamentally wants to change the direction of economic growth because the economic model is not sustainable.
So if you're a company and you think that a lack of a treaty is going to mean that nothing is going to happen, you're in need of serious counselling.
Some European politicians have been talking about sectoral agreements as a plan B. What's your view on this approach?
I don't think that would work because developing countries already in the run-up to Copenhagen were strongly against sectoral approaches, because they saw sectoral approaches as a way to impose a target on a part of their economy as opposed to the whole of their economy. So I don't think that's going to fly.
Could you outline some specific areas where more work needs to be done?
I think that financial governance, how the money is going to be managed, and how we ensure that developing countries have a fair say in the use of the money that is intended towards their priorities is going to be critical.
And secondly, I think we need to deepen our common understanding of what we mean by legally binding. I think different people have different perceptions. There are some delegations who, when I asked 'is a decision of the Conference of Parties legally binding?' they say 'yes'. There are others who say 'no'.