x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Forget the sceptics, accord on climate change is attainable

Many governments and companies have recognised that a race has started, and they are determined to compete.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a comprehensive study on global warming last week.

The report concluded that if the world continues to emit greenhouse gases at current rates, we will face warming of more than 20C within as little as two decades.

This is significant because all countries have agreed that temperature rises should be restricted to no more than 20C.

The study also concludes that it is “extremely likely” (at least 95 per cent probability) that human activity has caused most of the increase in global temperature in recent decades.

The report downplays the fact that average surface temperatures have risen more slowly than expected in the past 15 years, contrary to earlier IPCC predictions, saying there were substantial natural variations that masked a long-term warming trend. This point will nonetheless be seized upon by climate change sceptics.

Despite the controversy it will cause with those sceptics, the IPCC report will be welcomed by many, and comes during a period when it may seem hard not to be pessimistic about the global battle to manage the huge risks of climate change.

Moreover, climate change sceptics appear to be winning the battle for public opinion. Earlier this month, for instance, one study showed that the percentage of British people who do not think the world’s climate is changing had increased four-fold in less than a decade.

However, if one takes a step back and examines what is already happening at national and sub-national level across the world, a relatively encouraging picture is emerging.

Domestic laws and regulations to address climate change are being passed at an increasing rate.

In 2012 alone, as described in a report published by Globe International, 32 of 33 surveyed countries (which account for more than 85 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions), including the United States and China, have introduced or are progressing significant legislation and regulation related to climate change.

After the publication of its 12th five-year plan in 2011, China has proceeded with local legislation to tackle climate change. Mexico has passed a comprehensive legislative framework to tackle deforestation. South Korea approved legislation to begin a nationwide emissions trading scheme by 2015. South Africa has proposed a carbon tax. The European Union has passed a new directive on energy efficiency.

As these examples underline, it is mainly developing countries – those who will provide the motor of global economic growth in coming decades – who are leading this drive.

They see that expanding domestic sources of renewable energy not only reduces emissions but also increases energy security.

Reducing energy demand through greater efficiency also increases competitiveness. Improving resilience to the impacts of climate change makes economic sense.

Many governments and companies have recognised that a race has started, and they are determined to compete.

It follows, therefore, that advancing domestic legislation on climate change, and experiencing the benefits of reducing emissions, is a crucial building block to help create the appropriate conditions to enable a comprehensive, global climate agreement to be reached. Domestic laws give clear signals about direction of policy, increasing confidence and reducing uncertainty, particularly for the private sector which can drive low-carbon economic growth.

With negotiations on a post-2020 comprehensive global deal scheduled to conclude in 2015, it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached unless more domestic frameworks are in place in key countries.

Given this outlook, and as negotiators prepare for the next annual UN climate change summit in Poland in November, a potential danger is that some countries might lower their long-term ambition.

This would be ill-timed. Indeed, now might be the right moment for countries to invest further in tackling climate change, in order to help expedite the creation of conditions on the ground that will enable a comprehensive global treaty to be achieved.

Andrew Hammond was formerly a special adviser in the UK Government, and a senior consultant at Oxford Analytica