There is not much good news when it comes to managing the global system. The euro is in crisis; trade talks are stuck; and then there is climate change – the greatest global challenge met by the greatest global short-sightedness. Or are we missing something?
Just before Christmas, the parties to the UN climate convention agreed in Durban that a global legally binding approach to controlling emissions would be undertaken, to be signed in 2015 and implemented from 2020.
Success in 2015 depends on several factors. First, we need to change the debate from being narrowly about climate to being about food, water and energy – all affected by climate change. Increasing our resource efficiency not only helps the climate, but will help our economy.
Second, Europe needs to show how low carbon contributes to our economic benefit not hardship. Third, we must build new political coalitions that align countries with common interests in a low-carbon future – and work out how to accommodate the US without excusing them.
We must also ensure that previous national pledges to act are fulfilled; structure incentives to drive investment and innovation in low carbon technology; and commit money for adapting to and mitigating climate change. Finally, the scientific community must rehabilitate itself. The communication and the strengthening of trust in climate science is critical.
We cannot let the age of austerity be the age of inaction – the climate will not wait. Low-carbon development raises issues of justice, security and prosperity. It is one of the hardest nuts to crack in the multilateral system. As leadership elections and transitions dominate politics in the next 18 months, this is a challenge the winners cannot be allowed to duck.