Leaders need to focus on the climate and not the politics

Following hot on the heels of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in New York in September, a couple of events this week should put climate change back in the headlines.

global warming

UNFCCC logoFirst up is the UN Climate Conference, a final preparatory meeting before the big annual climate talks in December, which begins today in Bonn, the sleepy German town home to the Secretariat of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). On the agenda are negotiations towards a landmark agreement on climate change in 2015, as well as initiatives to increase reductions of greenhouse gas emissions between now and the entry into force of the new overarching agreement set for 2020.

There is a crying need for countries to step up what climate policy insiders refer to as ‘mitigation ambition’, as demonstrated in a series of annual reports quantifying the Emissions Gap produced by the UN’s Environment Programme. The latest in the series puts the gap between emissions trends and what is actually required to keep the rise in global temperature at a level which does not spell catastrophe for the planet at between 8-12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) by 2020 – less a gap than a gaping chasm!

Doors on fridges at the Coop (c) EIA cropOne very straightforward way of reducing that gap, of course, is for countries to tighten their domestic emissions reductions targets (more on that below). An additional option involves taking action in areas which offer high mitigation potential. As we at EIA have repeatedly argued, one such action would be the conclusion of an international agreement to eliminate hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the super greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air-conditioning. In Bonn, we will be pressing negotiators to back the launch of formal negotiations on a global HFC phase-down under the Montreal Protocol at the upcoming Meeting of the Parties in Paris in November.

We’ll keep you updated on progress via our @EIAinvestigator twitter feed throughout the week.

Taking place in parallel to the UN Climate Summit on Thursday and Friday is the European Union’s two-day Summit on its 2030 Climate and Energy package, a set of measures intended to keep Europe on track towards the decarbonisation of its economy by 2050. At the Summit, EU Heads of State and Government must agree on three headline targets covering greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy and energy efficiency. To reach the 2050 objective, which is a non-negotiable scientific imperative, we need maximum ambition on all three of those goals, beginning with a major emissions cut.

The EU’s current working target of 40 per cent simply won’t pass muster, a fact acknowledged by some EU Member States, including Sweden which last week called for a 50 per cent target.

Now here’s a thought: if our leaders were able to leave the politics and vested interests aside for just seven days, we could come out of this week’s meetings in Bonn and Brussels with across-the-board support for an international deal on HFCs and a meaningful EU emissions target, inspiring other countries around the world to raise their game and opening the way for an ambitious global climate agreement in 2015.

Call me optimistic, but I’m hoping UN and EU negotiators go into this week with a strong sense of purpose and a determination to get the best deal possible for the climate!