…. Meanwhile, back in the real world

…. Meanwhile, back in the real world

Durban, South Africa, December 8 – The one silver lining to the slow pace of the climate change negotiations is that it gives one plenty of time to attend “side events” to learn what is going on in the broader world of climate policy.  In the past couple of days, I attended side events on innovative climate finance, the “partnership for market readiness” (designed to assist developing countries in adopting market mechanisms), California’s new emissions trading program, and efforts to address non-CO2 aspects of the climate change problem (such as black carbon and HFCs).

Happily, a lot is going on (although unhappily it is not enough to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees).  For example, although China’s negotiating position may not have changed much, as Julian reported a few days ago, China is doing a lot domestically, including developing pilot emissions trading programs in a number of regions.  Brazil has made its international pledge to reduce emissions by more than a third (relative to business as usual) binding under its domestic law.  Australia just adopted a domestic emissions trading system.  California is in the process of finalizing the regulations for its new emissions trading system.  Financial institutions are developing new products to provide financing through the emerging carbon markets.   Efforts to regulate HFCs under the Montreal Protocol and black carbon under the Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution Convention are ongoing.  And so forth and so on.  (I recently wrote a report for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center) on climate activities in other multilateral forums that is available here.)

What is striking is the divergence between the virtual stalemate in the UN negotiating process and the progress that is happening on the ground.  Supporters of the UN process argue that, whatever its deficiencies, it provides the political impetus for many of these outside efforts to address climate change.  I think there is probably an element of truth to this view.  Many argue further that a new legally-binding agreement is necessary in order to continue to drive national action.  But there is also a counter view that the obsessive focus on legally-binding commitments distracts energy away from national and sub-national efforts, and that rather than continue to beat its head against the wall trying to develop a new treaty, the UNFCCC process should seek to play a more facilitative and less regulatory role.

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General, Trade & Economic Law
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