It’s just under a month before the start of COP21, the Paris climate change conference, at which global powers will try to achieve a universal and legally binding treaty to limit Green House Gas emissions. What can realistically be achieved?
What are the expectations for Paris?
I think the expectations are probably a lot better than people would have thought. The level of political momentum in the build up has been really very strong. A lot of leaders are going, so there will be an agreement, and it will be legally binding. It will really, in a sense, put the world on a new track, because rather than just being a single COP, this will be the start of a series of COPs that will roll forward, in which countries will come back and review their promises, and ratchet them up as we go forward. So I think we’re not expecting something that will get the world to 2 degrees on its own, but it will create a railway line that will take us in that direction.
How will it be policed? How do you make sure that countries keep their promises?
That’s exactly right, there is no policeman. There is nobody who is going to come in there and declare war on you if you fail to meet your commitments. But there are an awful lot of other pressures and means by which countries can be kept to their promises, not the least that this has now become a major economic and security issue, so the stakes are higher for countries which break their promises. You’ve also got the option now, that if there is a legally binding international treaty and countries don’t meet their obligations under it, then you’re entitled under the trade rules to begin to impose border tax adjustments on people’s goods and services. But much more importantly there is enormous internal pressure from countries to keep their promises.
From all countries?
It’s the Anglo-Saxon countries; the Australia’s, Canada’s, America’s and Britain’s, where there’s really any doubt anymore that this really is a problem that has very serious implications. In most of the rest of the world the opinion polling is overwhelmingly that people realise that this is a problem, and realise that something has to be done. So there are lots of pressures on people to keep their promises, and not the least because there are lots businesses that are setting out to build the low carbon economy of the future, that if countries don’t keep their promises, will find their interests are affected.
How does one actually check emissions? What are the practicalities of individual countries checking on individual businesses?
There will be a mechanism, not so much at the level of individual companies but at the level of countries to monitor their performance against their promises, to report regularly on that, and to verify that those reports are accurate. What we will have for the first time out of this treaty, is people agreeing to use the same process for monitoring, reporting and verifying. And that’s what will enable these other forces, much as they do in other treaties such and human rights and non-proliferation, as it were, the court of public opinion and political opinion, to keep governments to their promises. And remember under this regime, in a sense, countries have all promised what they think they can deliver, and what we have seen in the past is that most countries have over-performed. So what I expect we will see, is not so much a problem of countries failing to deliver, is countries actually being pressed to deliver more, because it is becoming quite apparent that they can do that.
That has been one of the criticisms, the main criticism, is that countries, perhaps for those reasons, have promised less than they could deliver, but not enough has been done.
I think that’s absolutely right, but what I think that we are beginning to see now is the debate that has been dominated by the fossil fuel industries and their customers, begin to be balanced by a lot of other voices coming in, particularly all those businesses worth a lot more to countries economies, beginning to come in and say “hang-on this is damaging our interests”. So what we are seeing around the world is that the political risk of failing to act is growing, as climate driven events come in on countries, but the political risk of acting is going down, as renewables and the low-carbon economy begins to gather momentum, and the cost of dealing with climate change goes down.