Reframing the Climate Debate

  • Rei Tang
  • Vivan Sharan

The Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India and the Stanley Foundation, USA co-hosted an international workshop on climate change on February 25-27, 2014 in New Delhi. The central objective of the workshop was to unbundle the different policy responses resulting from the multilateral negotiations thus far and their impact upon the evolution of existing and future multilateral frameworks. This Policy Brief aims to capture some of the salient perspectives put forward by a diverse group of international stakeholders from government, academia, and the private sector.

There is perhaps only one broad certainty in the contemporary debate on climate change: not only does climate change affect different nations and communities differently, but the Tresponses of individual stakeholders and institutions are also quite different, primarily because of their different positions along the trajectory of economic growth and the resulting differences in consumption and production patterns, as well as natural resource use. History has shown that seeking any uniformity in response hinders universal action. Indeed, stakeholders at the workshop were of the opinion that all viable approaches for the mitigation of, and adaptation to climate change must be considered and appropriately implemented. Some of the main areas of consensus included:

(i) The idea of universalism is undergoing a change. On the overall climate regime and the Paris agreement targeted for December 2015, there should be recognition of its functional rather than normative value. The agreement needs to provide goals and expectations, means for monitoring and verification, facilitate the emergence of other appropriate future agreements, and give voice to all parties. However, the 2015 agreement is squarely within United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and thus based on its principles of equity and differentiation.

(ii) Outside of the UNFCCC process, climate action of appropriate types could be undertaken by groups of all kinds—a veritable universalisation of action. There are multiple platforms for coordinated action like the G-20, Climate and Clean Air Coalition, Clean Energy Ministerial, and the Major Economies Forum.

(iii) Sub-state actors such as local governments, corporations, investors, insurers and civil society, have a large role to play. Effective responses by sub-state actors facilitate stronger national actions.

(iv) Some major challenges include technology development and deployment and climate finance. The Technology Mechanism shows some promise. The Clean Development Mechanism has been shown to be unwieldy and is not effective presently. The Green Climate Fund remains an empty vessel. Countries need to work together on their intellectual property regimes to effectively enhance the ease of technology transfer. This could be done by providing a market environment that protects innovators and at the same time offers ways to speedily and effectively disseminate patents, such as through technology centres.

(v) The climate change problem is not simply a matter of emissions, but also of consumption and production patterns, particularly in the sectors of energy, infrastructure, and agriculture. Urbanisation will be a key front for innovative responses for climate change mitigation and adaption.

(vi) The ongoing actual and proposed changes in global governance need be taken into account.

South-South cooperation, as demonstrated by the developing countries that are members of the Group of 77 (G-77), is becoming a significant factor in global growth and development. The Human Development Index is becoming more mainstream as an alternative measure of national success as compared to the existing stress on Gross Domestic Product (GDP).