The accountability challenge for climate diplomacy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The current climate change summit in Bali could be “a milestone towards real progress on climate change” and therefore needs to identify ways to “link the emission reductions to incentives for cleaner, alternative paths for growth”, argues Alejandro Litovsky in an Open Democracy commentary.

“The principal challenge for climate diplomacy is to engage actors across energy-sector divides and ensure they support the climate process,” according to the author. 

The commentary cautions that “the climate problem cannot be solved without transforming the energy sector,” adding that “this is a difficult task, but also an urgent one.” 

“The diplomatic task is to make room for a large-scale transition to renewable energy,” the Open Democracy commentary argues. 

“The building of a ‘de-carbonised society’ is a huge challenge,” but “not unrealistic”, Litovsky states, referring to developing countries from South Korea to Algeria that “are showing practical solutions to champion renewable-energy competitiveness.”

Much depends on the direction China as the future world leader in renewable energy takes, the writer adds. 

Regarding Bali, the author hopes that these talks can initiate a process which might eventually lead to a new treaty. This new treaty should “set the world on the path to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050”, although the volume of emissions is “likely to increase steadily through to 2030”, asserts the commentary, quoting an International Energy Agency (IEA) report. 

From 2008 onwards, the UN climate system then needs to achieve the following three outcomes, according to Litovsky: 

  • Gain support from trade rules and the WTO for the climate agenda as the Kyoto dispute settlement mechanisms do not adequately consider trade-related disputes. 
  • Continue to build on existing initiatives from the private financial sector such as the UNEP “finance initiative”, the “HSBC climate partnership” or the “investor network” on climate risk, with the objective of developing an coordinated approach in which stronger commitments from private investors to finance renewable energy can strengthen “country commitments” to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Achieve stronger commitments from multilateral agencies to address emission reductions. Multilaterals should help decrease the dependency of developing countries on carbon-based technologies, not lock them into a technology-path dependency. 

Much depends on government policies: from lowering investor risks to new regulation, such as feed-in tariffs. “But individual governments can achieve little if the international patterns of investment in energy infrastructure, trade rules, and energy policy benchmarks” do not correspond with this goal, Litovsky says. “Here the climate diplomacy can make a distinctive difference,” according to the analysis. 

“Achieving the right economic incentives depends on getting accountability right,” Litovsky adds. So far, the proposals that have been made for the post-2012 climate regime “point in the right direction, but none offer guidance on how to improve this governance problem,” the article points out. 

Litovsky concludes by saying that 2008-09 is “a crucial period to re-engineer the global climate architecture” and “we will fail our targets for 2050 unless we act now”. 

The commentary cites the IEA, which said that “the next ten years will be crucial for all countries including China and India” and “we need to act now to bring about a radical shift in investment in favour of cleaner, more efficient and more secure energy technologies”. 

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