On August 23 in the Senate Room of the University of Sydney, the Sydney Democracy Network convened a roundtable meeting with Connie Hedegaard, former EU Climate Commissioner and President of the 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen.
The meeting was chaired by Nick Rowley, Adjunct Professor with SDN, and included a wide cross section of academics, advocates, policy makers and others with a deep professional interest in climate change. Following an introduction from Hedegaard revealing her perspective on the opportunity presented by the United Nations climate summit in Paris this December, the dialogue included numerous insights on the challenge of communicating about the climate problem; making international agreement ‘real’ by getting public finance to encourage private investment and build the low emissions infrastructure required; how Australia’s commitments might be viewed internationally, and whether the politics of climate change now needed to be clear on what it was against, as much as what it was for. This is an edited transcript of the discussion.
Nick Rowley: Welcome everybody. It is a damp and grey day in Sydney but we are in an historic and beautiful room in an historic and beautiful building at the University of Sydney. It is great to see so many friends and associates of the Sydney Democracy Network, around a table to hear from and engage in debate with Connie Hedegaard. She is one of the most significant people anywhere who has been working to tackle climate change and establish good policy at a national, European and international level and we are honored to have her here.
Duncan Ivison, Deputy Vice Chancellor Research, University of Sydney: Let me begin by acknowledging that we meet on the land of the Gadigal people, one of Australia’s first nations. We are Australia’s oldest university but this has been a place of learning for more than 50,000 years. I acknowledge the traditional elders of the Gadigal both past and present. It is a legacy and tradition that we are very proud of and one that I want to honour here this afternoon. I also want to welcome Connie very warmly to the University of Sydney and to all colleagues who’ve come to visit us from across the city, across the state or across the country. It’s wonderful to have you here.
This university is absolutely committed to being a partner in discussions around climate change, not only this year but for many years hence. The Sydney Environment Institute and the Sydney Democracy Network are just two of the groups in the university helping to drive those discussions along. At times it may be uncomfortably for all kinds of different parties but that’s the way it should be, and it’s something I am really delighted support. So, a very warm welcome on behalf of the University to Connie.
Nick Rowley: Thank you very much Duncan. I stand here as someone who has the grand title of Adjunct Professor at the Sydney Democracy Network so I should say a few words about the Network. John Keane who established SDN unfortunately is trapped in Shanghai. But one of the things we want to do with what open, convening power we might have, is to organize more discussion on complex, important matters in a forums such as this. Some people might call it “a talking shop”, but it always important to recognize what people are talking about and who is doing the talking.
Looking around this room I am reminded of a quote from Lord Stern of Brentford: with climate change we have what he describes as “a complex, inter-temporal, international, collective action problem, under uncertainty”. Working in isolation, and without speaking with each another, economists, politicians, academics, public servants, lawyers, people who understand investment, and advocates cannot seek to address a problem of this complexity and magnitude. So the more chance we have to deliberate in open forums, to discuss the sort of changes that need to take place to reduce the risks of climate change, I say: all the better.
Given you are all here, I assume you are all familiar with Connie Hedegaard’s background. I first came across Connie when I was working with the Copenhagen Climate Council prior to the 2009 meeting. This was before The Killing and Borgen but having seen both there are some very intelligent and classy women in Scandinavia. And they are more than well portrayed in television drama: in people like Connie, they exist! Her perspective is without fail, interesting and relevant. With that, I hope I haven’t built you up too much Connie, if you could keep your opening remarks to no more than 10 minutes, that would be great.
Connie Hedegaard: Thank you very much Nick for this effusive introduction. It is very good to be here and to see familiar faces. Tim Flannery it is very good to see you. What on earth can I tell you that you do not know?
Firstly it’s very good to know that there is a knowledge base of this kind in Australia because sometimes, if you only follow the Australian climate debate from a distance, you would think that there is no such thing. But there is, and that Australia is a country with such a wealth of knowledge and understanding is extremely encouraging.
Let me share just a few observations about Paris 2015. The dynamic is different from Copenhagen. We have China and the US now “playing ball”. That means a lot. Though we should not underestimate how multilateral processes work, and what it means if developing countries and low-lying island states really start to question how sure they can be that the US under a new administration will actually deliver on its pledges. There are some big question marks there that one should not underestimate.
Now Nick said we met in the run-up to Copenhagen. If you go back six years to August 2009 you will know that the whole world really thought “now the world will get its act together”. We have a similar atmosphere now around Paris. I believe there are better chances and there are also many lessons learned.
But still when I see discussions about the old “fire wall” between developing and developed nations; questions about the amount, and governance arrangements for climate finance we should appreciate that there are still many unresolved issues. And as we saw at Copenhagen, you can have people and nations reaching an understanding among themselves, but then the negotiations start and all sorts of parties have all sorts of unpredictable claims.
So we aren’t home safe yet with Paris. I believe that the Paris meeting can achieve a lot with additional countries presenting more ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) coupled with the resolution of technical details around adaptation financing. But in order for Paris to be a real success you will need some other elements. Some will not be for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiators to deal with. For example: the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. This must be a matter for the G20 or G7. The World Bank has established how this might be done and it would be a powerful signal from Paris if there were agreement that the world was starting on a path that would start to phase out fossil fuels.
That could be one important message from Paris. Another would be related to divestment: that as a result of the Paris agreement investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure would be seen as risky by mainstream investors.
The implications of divestment are potentially problematic. The symbolism is potent, and it is readily understandable and intuitively right. But it is also clear that if everybody divested tomorrow then companies like Glencore coal or others would have some very cheap shares in fossil fuel companies that they could buy. And there is a question whether divestment is at all effective as a means to encourage fossil fuel companies to start to diversify their businesses. Additional measures could include more “active ownership” with shareholders exercising greater influence.
But I mention divestment, because much could be achieved from Paris that is not in an a negotiated text or official communiqué. That would allow some of the larger emitters to potentially convince the most vulnerable states, the low-lying island states, and some of the poorer members of the G77 group, that there is an agreed text and these are the INDCs that have been agreed but beyond what has been formally agreed global investment flows are going to shift away significantly from fossil fuels towards low emissions alternatives. That could make up for some of the things that UNFCCC document will not, and perhaps cannot include.
Let me share with you some insights from Europe. We agreed a 2030 target last October: at least a 40% domestic emissions reduction by 2030. This compares to a 20% target for 2020 with offsetting (ie. counting emissions reductions achieved outside the EU). The commitment is now a 40% target, without offsetting, only 10 years later.
I am just mentioning this because I think that here you probably also have this debate about isn’t it better to offset where it’s cheapest in places other than Australia? I had thought as a European Commissioner when we presented this 40% domestic target, honestly I thought “now we will hear from business”. I thought they would really fight it. The odd thing was it was almost not debated. Initially I thought they might have missed the real ambition behind this commitment. But I now think it was because they understand that if you have to go for significant reductions by the middle of this century then you had better start now.
It really changes the dynamic in Europe that now major economies cannot just offset, they have to go into the energy efficiency of new buildings, and particularly agriculture and transport where it gets really difficult to achieve the change required to make measurable reductions.
Now to jobs. To be able to make an effective business case is key. In Europe, during the Global Financial Crisis 26 million people were made unemployed. It goes without saying that if you cannot make a convincing jobs case then you have lost it. So we very deliberately said it’s about growth, it’s about jobs and it’s about climate and energy.
You have to marshal your arguments in a positive way for three priorities: reducing the risks of climate change; investing in new low-carbon energy infrastructure, and delivering new jobs.
And to my final point. It is maybe especially true when speaking with the Americans. They are eager to point out that it is harder to achieve real policy ambition with a conservative Congress. But it isn’t easy in Europe. We have 28 governments and 28 parliaments. Developing and implementing effective climate policy is not a piece of cake: it’s not that easy. We also have the climate sceptics. Take the UK Independence Party: if there are two things in this world they don’t like, it’s the European Union and it’s climate change.
One should not underestimate that there are also forces in Europe that oppose serious action to reduce the risks of climate change. But what is different to Australian debates is that there is a tradition in most of our member states for having a broad consensus across the right of centre, centre and left of centre, that broadly agree on the need for policies that promote a more carbon efficient European economy.
So I would be keen to learn more about the Australian debate. But as long as it is as polarised as it seems to be, seen from outside at least, it is difficult to get the buy-in you need to develop stable and enduring policies and the support required from business.
In Europe we have huge business interests that are against any progressive climate and energy policies. Yet the main reason we managed in the end, on October 23 last year, to have all 28 heads of state to agree on this, including Poland (who is essentially a coal state), was the public. It is the European public who makes it almost untenable for a leader to ignore climate change. Environmental organisations have done a fine job keeping the issue on the agenda. In Europe any politician would be seen as rather extreme if you question the science of climate change and the need to pursue ambitions emissions-reduction goals.
We should also understand the very serious risks of failure in Paris. If the meeting failed, if Paris flopped, then you would see a very different kind of debate globally and in Europe.
For example Poland – which is sceptical of the need for any effective climate policies – tried to get into the decision on the 2030 targets that they would have to be reviewed in light of what came out of Paris. That was defeated, but if the Paris outcome is perceived and reported as another failure, and that the world again cannot agree, then my guess would be that something relatively dramatic could happen in Europe. Fossil fuel business interests and others would say Europe must take stock and reconsider the strategy. The risks are real and it’s not the case that if Paris fails then things will just continue with “business as usual”: our response could go backwards.
I would be very keen to learn a bit more from you on the Australian debate because I know there are many nuances that I don’t get through the media.
Nick Rowley: Thank you very much, Connie. I am keen to avoid the Australian debate, but I think we will probably fail to do that. I just want to draw you out on something that you were very clear about on the stage down at the Town Hall earlier today. And this is this whole question about co-benefits and how arguments need to be made about the co-benefits of reducing emissions. If you look at what President Obama has been saying and doing in relation to his recently announced clean energy plan, he’s been framing it very much as an issue related to security and human health. Peter Sainsbury is here from the NSW Department of Health. He has been working on health impacts. And I know that Tim Flannery in his new book Atmosphere of Hope also emphasizes many of the upsides to reducing emissions. Maybe if you could elaborate on the point you made so well earlier and then we can open the discussion up to the floor.
Connie Hedegaard: Yeah, it’s obviously also one of the areas where we have many challenges in Europe. You know you end up, and you will know that better than anybody, very easily when you are debating this with the finance ministries in debates about the cost of a human life. Why should we be spending money on these priorities when there are so many others? It’s a rather hopeless debate, nonetheless I think that what we managed to do in the Commission was in every year the European Commission will have to come with recommendations to each individual member state, before they make their annual budget. It is called the Annual Growth Survey.
What we agreed was that these would not be only classical economic recommendations. They would also include recommendations on energy, on subsidies, on health, on potential jobs growth. It was an attempt to try and achieve a wider notion of “growth” with a broader way of measuring what is real growth.
We have also initiated in the European Commission work on “GDP+”. Also in some of our finance ministries they are trying to go beyond traditional GDP measures. This is also one of the areas where policymakers need input from academia. Because you have to be very precise and build a strong case on what the co-benefits of reducing emissions might be. It is difficult in the policy environment where there are separate ministries, and I know you have the same problem with separate university departments, but we really need rigorous cross cutting contributions in order to achieve a more sophisticated way of measuring what real growth is in the 21st century.
Nick Rowley: Thank you. Others round the table?
Jillian Broadbent, Chair, Clean Energy Finance Corporation: I was just going to share that on the micro level, from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s experience with every investment we have had in energy efficiency, the project owner has reduced their energy costs by at least 40%. I mean, you know you get really good stories from unlikely places like abattoirs, about what investment in energy efficiency has done to their productivity, not just in energy but in other activities: its almost as if they have suddenly found their salvation.
It has nothing to do with being worthy: it’s all about the investment and having the experience of reducing energy use and costs and finding the experience was very positive: both psychologically and for the bottom line. Down on the street level, it’s actually quite exciting what can occur, and the positive ways that businesses are willing to tell their story and spread the word.
Connie Hedegaard: But can I ask who is then spreading the word? Because the problem is that the company that has done something, changed their lighting and then education levels came up as we have seen examples with Philips and fitting schools with energy efficient lighting. Philips is telling this story but still the perception out there is “oh, it’s expensive. It does not pay off. It’s killing competitiveness.”
So who is it? Because you have to come out with the same message so many times and how do we get that story out? People also still, also in Denmark, would say “oh, renewables are expensive”. The cost of renewables has come down tremendously, but again there are so many myths out there to counter. And there are many who have vested interests in keeping those myths alive.
My question to you as researchers, coming from academia also, would be, I mean there is sometimes a time lag between what you have found as a scientist and then as a politician, when you have to take decisions, the material, the knowledge, the data, is not already always there. Not because it’s not there but it’s out, separated from the political reality because in the science community you would not normally feel that it’s your responsibility to take care of that, to provide this information to the policymakers. So we have a joint challenge there. How to take care that the knowledge out there is in front of policymakers when they need it and that the knowledge is spread out to the informed citizens to whom politicians listen.
Nick Rowley: There might also be a mismatch in some of the examples used. If you are looking at the detail of what a three degree or a four degree world might mean by the end of this century you are dealing with a potentially existential problem. And one has fine examples about real things that are measurably reducing emissions creating efficiencies and potentially profits as well. But when it is abattoirs and comparatively small businesses, I fear people then think “I’m glad the abattoirs are doing a really good job, but I’m not quite sure if that is really going to save me from what I have just been told by the climate scientists about is occurring”. Hence the change is seen as being significant and potentially overwhelming, making people resist it.
Martijn Wilder, Head of Global Climate Change, Baker McKenzie: The challenge that I see at the moment is the significant gap between the public and the private sector in terms of working together to address climate change and with no obvious means to bring the two together. I am not sure the policymakers understand what is required to engage the private sector to lead major policy change.
At the moment there is billions of dollars of public climate finance that is committed to addressing climate change. But very little of those funds are actually being deployed into real mitigation efforts that could be scaled up through private sector engagement.
Let’s just take forests. The World Bank has close to US$600 million to invest in forests. However, to date very little if any has been spent financing the protection of individual forests. So there is a lot of public money spent, plenty of high-level thinking and theory, but precious little if anything is actually invested or used to leverage finance to achieve protection of such forests – or more broadly on fundamental shifts in the economy. Take a country like Ethiopia: their INDC basically says we’ll commit to a reduction of 60% if you invest in hydroelectricity. So there’s an opportunity for a major economic transformation in an economy if the public sector working with the private sector support such vision.
I was in Indonesia last week and the term they kept referring to was NATO which I thought meant the defence alliance, but they were actually referring to “No Action Talk Only”. There’s constant talk about wanting to do things, but precious little on delivery.
I think one of the real challenges in all of these international negotiations is bringing back in markets and the processes of investment and actually trying to match public and private funds and ensuring it is deployed.
Between 2005 and 2010 there was a huge amount of private sector engagement in the climate change space. That has basically almost completely gone. Back in that period there were probably around 20 to 30 banks and financial institutions engaged in the market. Now there is probably only one serious player remaining.
So I think it’s a really important that negotiators and policy makers better understand money flows and how to ensure there is investment in the climate change outcomes.
Nick Rowley: Doesn’t it need confidence as well, Martijn? That’s where an outcome from Paris, even it is symbolic, could achieve a lot.
Martijn Wilder: Yes. At the moment the INDC’s are fairly high-level, but they are a real opportunity to develop economic growth plans for countries. If you look at some of the work of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, they’re talking about how different economies could and should be readjusted. INDCs are really a platform to articulate that, and then post-Paris, how you implement those INDCs by getting public and private sector finance into some of those countries to really make a difference. If one country gets it right, then other will, I am sure, follow.
Nick Rowley: Other contributions? Then I will give Connie an opportunity to respond. Gabrielle.
Gabrielle Kuiper, former advisor to Prime Minister Julia Gillard: Just back on the point about co-benefits, how we communicate in order to get the political action is one thing, but also how we communicate more broadly.
In 2006 the then Leader of the Opposition Kevin Rudd commissioned economist Ross Garnaut to undertake his climate change review. I was very critical of it. It was presented as classic, dry and unengaging economic analysis which didn’t take into account any co-benefits.
And now the International Monetary Fund, hardly seen as a progressive “green” organisation, has presented excellent work on the role of co-benefits. They conclude that it is worth taking climate action just on co-benefits alone. I think that there’s real potential to talk less about climate change but raise awareness of the health co-benefits of reducing emissions from comparatively old, “dirty” infrastructure. In Australia how many people know about the respiratory illnesses experienced by children living in close proximity to coal-fired generation? It’s just not on the agenda as a public health issue, but it should be.
I am not saying you shouldn’t engage people about the risks of climate change. We just have to do more than that.
Nick Rowley: Others? Mitchell.
Mitchell Hobbs, University of Sydney Department of Media and Communications: If it was me and I had a nice treasure pot I would be going with advocacy advertisements between now and the Paris meeting. We really need a strong information campaign in order to shift public perception.
In public relations there’s a theory called inoculation advertising: basically getting your message out to the public before your opponent does. I would go through the public relations tactics used by the Minerals Council and similar lobby groups: attack the messenger, shift blame, and manufacture doubt. With previous meetings like Kyoto and Copenhagen there was an orchestrated campaign against greater policy ambition and agreement. It muddles the message. I would be surprised if there weren’t similar efforts before and around the Paris meeting. The public needs to be prepared for that now.
Nick Rowley: The way you have described the discussion in Europe is very recognisable. The cost of the failure of Paris would be very high. And I understand just how hard it is to get 28 governments, including Poland, to agree with you. We feel for you on that.
So do you think the French government have done the sorts of advocacy that they’ve needed to?
The recently announced Australian government emissions reduction targets have been the result of quite a long bottom-up community discussion. The net result is that, if achieved, emissions reductions would double between now and 2030 and per capita emissions reduced by half.
What would you look to for European governments and others to do in the lead-up to Paris? I mean, the Danish government really put in the work in the three years leading up to Copenhagen. I’ll never forget it. But I think the last couple of international climate meetings have given bad governments a place to hide.
Connie Hedegaard: Yes, this is complicated. How to respond to the Australian INDC? You have a Prime Minister who is an open climate sceptic; did not want to climate change on the G20 agenda; stating that the future is coal-fired power; stating his personal dislike for wind turbines and so on and so forth. So it is very difficult for others to assess the bona fides of any stated policy when the political will seems lacking.
And if it’s not ambitious enough, then the question is how vocal should you be in your criticism? It is a dynamic that played out with the Americans and the Chinese. Certainly in the lead up to Copenhagen I think that the consistent naming and shaming of the US is part of why the US is now moving.
How might the French respond to the Australian INDC? I don’t know. Might they say “oh, Mr Abbott, this is too weak, could you do a bit more?” Might that make any difference? I doubt it. I think the French inclination would be to say “thank you, Australia for finally doing something”. Because they know that without all developed countries delivering at least something, then there is less a chance of developing countries coming forward with anything.
Let me respond to some of the points that have been raised.
On Mitchell’s point, I agree 100% with what you said. The only challenge is what kind of media campaign could be sponsored that would have the same impact that those we are up against could sponsor. And I mean in the run-up to Copenhagen millions were put into international campaigns, yet when Climategate emerged the IPCC had almost no one employed to take care of communications. They did not even have a communications team!
To be frank, the fossil fuel industry can outspend whatever can be done. So you have to engage a broader network of concerned citizens creatively in some of the ways mentioned by Gabrielle. I understand in the US when they really started to calculate the health costs and be articulate about them that really changed things. Even in the mining States. So what works in communications terms is different in each place and context.
Let me respond to Martijn on financing. I share your frustration. I’ve even heard there is about US$50 billion sitting in the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative. And when I ask them what they have financed, it becomes very silent.
It’s not because the projects are not out there to be financed. We need to link the UN world and the World Bank world to private investors. That is one of the areas where Paris can, and I believe will, make a positive difference. In recent years, there has been a greater understanding it’s not about public money it’s about how you can spend public money in a way that leverages private investment. Martijn is right: we are not going to make this.
Nick Rowley: Thanks, Connie. Lets have a contribution from Chris, and then a quick question from Giovanni, and from Simon.
Christopher Wright, University of Sydney: Connie you mentioned that if Paris fails; if there is no agreement, something dramatic might happen. Is that nation states going their own way? Is it multinational companies and businesses acting independently of an international policy signal?
From my perspective it just seems like Groundhog Day, we seem to have been banging on about this issue for 25-odd years or more. I keep thinking: as a species when are we going to take firm action to avoid the clear and frightening consequences of climate change?
Nick Rowley: Giovanni
Giovanni Navarria, Sydney Democracy Network: Let me be devil’s advocate. Why should we have faith in political process? Speaking as a political scientist, climate change is an issue where the clock is ticking. And yet it is a long-term problem. And politics is short-term with serious issues of memory. Take the US presidential elections. They won’t mention climate change. In the US it’s almost a lost cause. Perhaps the Chinese are better placed because they can actually do things if they want without asking anybody. I wonder what you think as a politician.
Nick Rowley: Thank you. Simon and then we will go to Amanda.
Simon Bradshaw, Oxfam: Thanks, Nick. Connie I’d just like to come back to the financing question briefly for a moment. We couldn’t agree more that when it comes to transforming energy systems and building clean energy economies (the whole mitigation side of the equation), it is clearly about shifting the trillions in private investment and using public funds towards that. However, with adaptation, particularly in the very poorest countries, there are obviously very different funding challenges.
In the context of Paris, a way forward to break that deadlock around finance might be to give confidence that there will be adequate public funding for adaptation. That is likely to be the greatest concern among the governments of developing countries. So you could have a separate goal for public finance for adaptation that was distinct then from the larger flows of mitigation finance, accepting that they are somewhat interrelated. Combined with what you were saying earlier about Paris creating very strong signals about shifting investment and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies – the combination of those, perhaps, would achieve the confidence that is needed.
Nick Rowley: Amanda.
Amanda McKenzie, Climate Council: I just wanted to build on what others had said around communications. One thought about what Nick had said earlier: people hear about this huge crisis but then the solution is something more modest.
I think in the past we have done too much to define climate change as a problem that’s in the future, it’s global, it’s about complex science, it’s about the environment and the solution has been these small individual things that you can do on your own which seems like you’re the only one in the street turning off the lights and you’re trying to solve the global crisis.
It’s not going to do much. So we almost need to flip it around: the problem needs to be about now, it needs to be highly relevant to people in their local area, it needs to be about the impacts of that experience, it needs to be about people. In Australia, it’s going to be about Australians. But the solution on the other hand has to be at scale: and we need to be talking less about renewable technology and more about renewable power. We never talk about “coal technology”: we talk about coal power. So let’s start talking about renewable power as if it could power the economy.
My second point is just on Paris. Particularly for advocacy organisations there is a risk that we walk into the same trap we walked into in Copenhagen: we define what the media wants to know at the end of the conference as “did it succeed or fail?” And if it failed, who is to blame? And success means that there’s a legally binding treaty that leads to a two-degree goal. And if we don’t get that then we’ve failed.
If success should be more pragmatically defined: we made progress and countries are doing more than we expected. The advocacy organisations globally need to coordinate how they are going to communicate, because ultimately for the media story we know what the outcomes are going to be: there’s going to be some movement but not enough.
Paris is a moment in time and it needs to be used to build further momentum. That’s what didn’t happen in Copenhagen. We all went home and had a big sleep after Copenhagen. Everyone was exhausted: we’d been seeing it as the end goal. Paris needs to be seen as just one point on a broader journey. We need to focus now on the political, policy and communication goals.
Nick Rowley: Thank you, Amanda. Lets just take a couple more contributions and then hear from Connie. Tim and then to Blair Palese from 350.org.
Tim Flannery: I just want to return to your opening comments where you said are there things we should be doing outside the COP, even outside the UNFCCC, that would make a difference and might change the dialogue. Over the last few years I’ve come to the view that we’re missing some big elements in the climate solution, we’re concentrating on a few big things perhaps at the expense of others.
I think that Amanda’s correct that no matter what happens at Paris we’re likely to go through the two degree barrier eventually. There’s just so much inertia now in emissions trajectory and the Earth’s system that at some point we’re likely to be going through the two-degree barrier.
I also sit as a judge on the Virgin Earth Challenge which was set up by Richard Branson to look at technologies with the capacity to draw a gigatonne of carbon out of the atmosphere. We’ve had 11,000 submissions in 11 major streams. I’m sort of across most of that technology now and it seems to me that there really is some potential there to be drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere at the gigatonne scale, perhaps the multi-gigatonne scale by 2050. Now these technologies are immature. But do you think it is possible that we may somehow introduce a third stream to the discussion so we address: emissions abatement, adaptation and “third way” technologies as I’ve called them: the technologies and activities that will get the CO2 out of the air.
Of course, we can’t take our eyes off the strong focus on emissions reduction, that’s the very first job, but in 20 or 30 years from now we will, I think, be needing those technologies. They are about as far off from maturity probably as wind and solar were in the 1970s.
If these third-way technologies were supported I think we could achieve a couple of benefits. One is that they offer hope. It’s going to be hard to sustain hope if we’re committed to go through the two degrees and there will be a thread of argument without doubt at the end of the COP that will be saying that we’ve failed to keep within two degrees. Secondly, G77, all the developing countries and poorer nations need something to hope for, beyond adequate emission reductions.
So I suppose it’s a suggestion and a question really, is it worth thinking about this? If so, how can we possibly get this sort of thing on to the political agenda, not at this COP but perhaps in the future.
Nick Rowley: Blair.
Blair Palese, 350.org Australia: Thanks. Connie, you mentioned divestment. 350.org has worked to put it on the agenda and to get action happening in the finance sector. We started that campaign internationally as a way around government inaction, but now it’s picked up much more traction than anyone thought it would. I’d love to hear your thoughts about where your thinking is at on divestment and if you have any insights into solutions for the possible – and unexpected – problem of many highly polluting fossil fuel assets being dumped on the market by struggling companies, bought up cheaply and given new life to continue rather than seeing them permanently retired?
Nick Rowley: Nikola and then Emma and then we’ll go back to Connie.
Nikola Casule, Greenpeace: So one of the problems we have is the disconnect between the targets that countries will commit to and the actual actions on the ground with regard to fossil fuel projects. So for example, a country like Canada or Australia has stewardship over significant fossil fuel reserves. These continue to be exploited apparently irrespective of the positions taken internationally. They are clearly incompatible with a two-degree target on climate change.
Do you think there is space at Paris to look at commitments or agreements that address those actions on the ground specifically? Two weeks ago, Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati, issued a call for a global moratorium on new coal mines. Does that kind of specific focus have a role to play?
Nick Rowley: Emma.
Emma Herd, Investor Group on Climate Change: We represent around 60 institutional investors investing across the entire economy. I think one of the challenges of the discussion is that it is easy to define the problem in a very binary way. That business cause the problem, that government has to deliver the solution, that you either divest or you invest in 100% renewables. But the reality is it’s going to be lot messier and a lot more fragmented. It will be the accumulation of numerous actions in numerous places that will actually facilitate the transition to a low carbon economy: a catch phrase which sounds quite simple but means very different things to different people.
I think that that transition is occurring but it’s hard to define a simple and clear message because it is lots of accumulated activities: the lightbulb switching; the boilers and the insulation; the different types of new technology; closures of inefficient facilities, and the whole gamut.
In Australia over the last 10 years we have had a very binary public policy discussion, where you’ve either been a complete “sceptic” or a complete “convert” and that as a result investors and business have been caught in the middle. Increasingly what you are seeing is the desire for a more centrist policy design framework that allows for political discussion but which at least allows some parameters of public policy direction going forward.
I think you’ve begun to see that: everybody’s compromising and no one is particularly happy, but maybe that’s generally the way things actually get done. You are actually seeing capital begin to move as well.
One of the more interesting things, I think, in terms of leading up to Paris is highlighting how all the apparently fragmented actions will create a sum picture of change. A good example of this is the low-carbon investment registry which was launched at the end of last year. It includes 350 institutional investors with US$24 trillion worth of assets all investing in transformative clean energy technologies and initiatives. That’s a big number but there’s more small activities from small institutional investors all around the world. I think that kind of narrative around lots of incremental and diverse changes creating big change is the communications, political, policy and finance challenge.
Nick Rowley: Thank you, Emma. Just one final point from Rod and then I will ask Connie to do the impossible: respond to and do everyone’s contribution justice!
Rod Tiffen, University of Sydney: Connie, in Australia anyway, the Copenhagen meeting was viewed as a failure. This had quite a multiplier effect on Australian politics. I am wondering to what extent it was a failure in terms of expectations (that were perhaps always too inflated) and whether or not there were “Plan B’s” for failure? This is important, because as Amanda said, these things are heralded as either success or failure. And very few things in life are a complete success, not even my career!
So I am wondering whether there are “Plan B’s” for how to deal with the inevitable compromises. So that if the meeting concludes with less than complete success there are people ready to explain the progress that has been made. I am wondering whether you feel in retrospect that was lacking after Copenhagen.
Connie Hedegaard: It isn’t easy to respond to each of these points in the time we have available. Lets not forget that two months before Copenhagen, Commonwealth countries met and the prime minister from Denmark came home and said “they are all on board”. Prior to Copenhagen almost the whole world thought the timing was right for an agreement.
So the French are absolutely fearful of having expectations set too high. The only problem is that it doesn’t work the other way round: if expectations are low then you are guaranteed limited success. So it is hard to calibrate ones approach prior.
But I think that your focus, several of you have touched upon it, should be on assessing the meeting outcome in a constructive manner. It is vital that the NGOs, do not to “go home and sleep”, as Amanda put it.
But I disagree with those who say Paris is the first step in a long process. No I’m sorry, it’s called COP21 for a reason: it has been 21 years of thee meetings and the international process has grown up. In response to Chris, failure does not mean that there won’t be climate COPs in the future. There will be plenty more such meetings, but ministers will stop coming, the top people will not attend. The air will go out of the balloon. Europe would want to have the debate about reviewing the 2030 targets. And for Europe to abandon its targets would have a negative cascade effect across the global economy.
I have to be brief. In response to Emma, I agree. We need positive stories about tangible change. I think that’s one thing we were not good enough at before Copenhagen. The debate was too problem focused. You have to recognise the difficulty of the problem but you also have to have the solutions so that people can see tangible progress and tangible solutions.
To Nikola, and his point on a global moratorium on new coal. There are a lot of sideshows up to Paris and that is good but don’t start, I would say, at that sideshow if you do not have the endorsement of the big players. It doesn’t help to have a lot of non-coal states stating that we need a moratorium on new coal infrastructure. It must be some of the real players who say they want it. That is what the UN is trying to achieve.
Tim, asked me specifically about third-way technologies. I just have to say we have this dilemma now in the KR Foundation. We receive applications for all sorts of technologies. So far I have to say, I’m really hesitant. Not because I don’t think we will need all sorts of technologies in the future. I just think that, as we have seen today, it’s already more than complicated enough to get the message of urgency across and there is nothing that certain politicians and people would like more than to be comforted that sometime in year 2042 or ‘43 or '48 something fantastic, some new technology, will emerge and we don’t have to do too much until then.
Some of you have mentioned the problem of facing a long-term challenge when faced with the short-termism dominating our politics. Third-way technologies will not make that part of the job any easier. Take carbon capture and storage: five years ago Australia together with UK believed that CCS would be operating at numerous facilities by now. How many plants do we have? And did they cost what we expected?
So, the fear of such a strategy will also be that we hope we will have these alternative technologies, but what if we don’t get them?
On divestment I agree that as a means of political and public engagement it works fantastically. But an important question is what will the situation be in three to four years' time after such a concentrated period of divestment? I also work with the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment who are working to ask exactly what might happen in the future if all the money flowed out of fossil fuels. Potentially one business could purchase all the fossil fuel companies in the world. Would that be a better thing for the world or not?” We don’t fully understand the longer-term implications of divestment and we need to. Maybe the answer is if you are a small investor, like a Foundation, you should divest. But if you are a big investor maybe you should try active ownership and try and encourage the company to diversify.
We need to think of clever strategies and ceasing investment all at once might not always be sensible.
Simon, on the adaptation and how to administer and use public money, I completely agree. If the developed countries are not being seen to be delivering on their financial pledges from Copenhagen, then we are souring the whole atmosphere around the negotiations. Also overseas development aid is being cut in a number of countries: the Netherlands, Finland, and now Denmark. So it’s a general trend in Europe that overseas development aid is falling. It is very hard to construct a credible story around delivering climate finance when overseas development aid is being cut.
Just one final word. I think Paris will probably deliver. I think we all appreciate the importance of communication following the meeting. But if Paris is not perceived as being at least a partial success, I fear that we will see a radicalisation. One could say that after Copenhagen people sort of leaned back and asked “what now?”
If Paris is seen as failure I fear it will be different to after Copenhagen. There is a real risk of radicalisation. Not only from the NGOs but citizens: young people are getting impatient. And I think that unless the world community comes up with a credible narrative following Paris explaining how we are changing track now with our economy and our finances we may see a return to the politics of the 1970s: strong anti-growth, anti-capitalism forces. And the debates would get even nastier and more polarised.
What many of us have being trying is to say that we should work with business, with our societies as they are, and try to get this transition done sensibly and at least cost. The alternative is a lot of activity and anger, but participants in the debate will remain in their corners and not much will happen. I don’t mean to end on a negative note, but let me emphasize: there is really a lot at stake in Paris.
Nick Rowley: Connie, thank you very much: particularly for your candor. To end with a provocation is always hard because there are certain things I know that many of us will want to say on the politics of climate change and how itself might change: for better or worse. But I really just want to thank you so much for giving up an hour in a very busy schedule. Thank you to everyone around the table for giving up their time this afternoon: hopefully it was a useful use of your time. I also want to say thank you to Xueting Zhang and Lindy Baker at the Sydney Democracy Network for helping put this dialogue together.
Nick Rowley does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Authors: The Conversation