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Cancun Conferees See Poor Public Understanding as Key Obstacle to Strong Action on Climate Change

Press Release 
December 3, 2010 
Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146

Cancun Conferees See Poor Public Understanding as Key Obstacle to Strong Action on Climate Change

CANCUN, MEXICO– Nearly all those gathered for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun believe that real international action on climate change will not happen without strong public support, yet most also believe that the general public doesn’t understand the meaning of “climate change,” according to a survey this week by the Government of Mexico and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

More than 500 accredited COP16/CMP6 attendees from around the world – including government delegates, nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives, experts, journalists and business leaders – participated in an iPad survey of attitudes on climate change.

The results were presented at the Climate Change Communication Forum co-sponsored by the Mexican government and the Pew Center, which took place at the Hotel Grand Velas of the Rivera Maya, on Friday, 3 December, 2010.

“Quite clearly, effective communication is one of the keys to mobilizing a strong global climate effort,” said Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources.

“We need to better understand how the public views the issue, and how best to communicate both the urgency and the practicality of strong action. We believe this new survey and today’s forum will contribute to a clearer understanding of the communication challenges we face.”

Survey participants included roughly equal numbers from developed and developing countries. Nearly all (94%) agreed that “without strong public support, real action on climate change will never be made at the international governmental level.” When asked what constituencies need to be more involved, respondents ranked the general public number one, ahead of heads of state, business, NGOs and UN organizations.

Yet 58% said that the general public does not understand the meaning of “climate change” well or at all. Only 5% said the public understands it “very well.”

“These findings underscore the tremendous gap between the critical need for action and the public’s limited understanding of the issues at hand,” said Pew Center President Eileen Claussen.

“All of us – governments, experts, advocates and business leaders – need to do a much better job of explaining to the public both the stakes and the opportunities presented by
climate change,” stated Ms. Claussen.

The survey also revealed mixed views on the role of the mainstream media. Respondents ranked mainstream media like television, newspapers and magazines as the most effective means of communicating to the general public the need for global action. Yet when asked to identify “the most trusted voices on the scale and impact of climate change globally,” only 24% named the media. A strong majority (87%) blamed unskillful media and opinion leaders for a lack of public understanding of climate change science.

Despite recent controversies over climate science, most respondents (66%) identified scientists as among the most trusted voices, well ahead of global organizations like the UN (42%), NGOs (41%), governments (24%) and business leaders (13%).

Additional key findings from the survey:

Running out of time

When it comes to the human impact on climate change, COP16 attendees say that we are already suffering some irreversible impacts.

  • The majority (56%) believe that irreversible harm has already been done to the planet.
  • Over half (54%) say that we are currently at a standstill in our efforts to limit human influences on climate change.
  • Eight in ten conference participants (83%) believe that countries will only undertake ambitious efforts to address climate change once they are actually suffering from the real consequences.
  • Nearly nine in ten (88%) agree that if we do not address climate change now, it will eventually become a trigger for global conflict and possibly war.

Perceived economic impact viewed as top barrier to increased engagement

  • Nine in ten conference participants (90%) agree that the global recession has made nations less willing to invest in addressing climate change, with over half (54%) saying that they strongly agree.
  • COP16 attendees report that the biggest barriers to governments taking effective joint action on climate change are the unwillingness to jeopardize industrial growth (64%) and take political risks at home (63%).
  • This sentiment is more prominent in developed countries than in developing countries.

More action needed from all stakeholders

  • The overwhelming majority of conference participants (94%) agree that climate change initiatives can only be effective with broad support from governments, business, NGOs, scientists and the public, with a full seven in ten (70%) strongly agreeing with this statement.
  • Conference participants report that there needs to be considerably more involvement by all parties, particularly the general public (84%), local community leaders (83%), and country leaders (83%).
  • Participants from developing countries are significantly more likely than those from developed countries to believe environmental NGOs and global organizations (UN, World Bank, WHO) should be more involved in climate change initiatives.

Key to effective change

  • The majority of conference participants believe that the most compelling cases for the need to address climate change are stories of human suffering due to extreme weather such as drought or floods (65%) and evidence that climate change will negatively affect the economy (54%).

About the Survey

The government of Mexico and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change commissioned a survey that gathered insights from COP16 attendees from around the world on their attitudes toward climate change. The study of 503 COP16 participants who completed the survey was conducted via iPad and paper surveys between November 27 -30, 2010. Survey respondents included NGO representatives, government delegates, business leaders, bloggers, climate change experts, and think tank representatives who attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. Only credentialed COP16 participants were included in the survey.

About Pew Center on Global Climate Change

The US-based Pew Center on Global Climate Change brings together business leaders, policy makers, scientists, and other experts to bring a new approach to a complex and often controversial issue. Our approach is based on sound science, straight talk, and a belief that we can work together to protect the climate while sustaining economic growth. Over the past ten years, the Pew Center has issued more than 100 reports from toptier researchers on key climate topics such as economic and environmental impacts and practical domestic and international policy solutions. The Pew Center plays an active role in bringing people together to discuss policy frameworks and workable solutions to climate change.

Nearly all those gathered for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun believe that real international action on climate change will not happen without strong public support, yet most also believe that the general public doesn’t understand the meaning of “climate change,” according to a survey this week by the Government of Mexico and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Beyond Binding or Bust

This post also appears in National Journal's Cancún Insider blog

CANCUN – We’ll see tomorrow here in Cancún whether countries are ready to move past binding-or-nothing in the international climate effort.

For the past five years, negotiators have deadlocked over whether and how to extend a legally binding climate regime beyond 2012, when the first Kyoto targets expire. In that time, over countless sessions, the U.N. climate talks have produced little in the way of tangible results.

Cancún is an opportunity for a more sensible approach.

Evolutionary Progress in Cancún

This post also appears in National Journal's Cancún Insider blog.

CANCUN – We need a new paradigm – one that recognizes the importance of a binding treaty, but appreciates that getting there will take time. 

For 15 years, the primary thrust of the UNFCCC negotiations has been establishing and extending a legally binding regime: the Kyoto Protocol.  This preoccupation has probably precluded more modest steps within the UNFCCC. Worse, it has produced a perennial state of stalemate.

In a new report we are releasing today, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change calls for a more “evolutionary” approach. Looking at other multilateral regimes, the report shows how most have evolved gradually over time: incremental steps build parties’ confidence in the regime and one another, leading to a greater willingness to take on stronger obligations.

Cancún Side Event: Towards a Binding Climate Agreement

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
Presentations and discussion of new a Pew Center report exploring the evolution of multilateral regimes and implications for the future of the climate change regime.

Cancún, Mexico
December 6, 2010

8:15 – 9:45 pm
Cancunmesse, Room MONARCA

Presentations and discussion of new a Pew Center report exploring the evolution of multilateral regimes and implications for the future of the climate change regime. Presenters include:

  • DANIEL BODANSKY Professor, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University
  • ELLIOT DIRINGER Vice President, International Strategies, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Download the presentation slides

Discussants include:

  • HARALD WINKLER Associate Professor, Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town
  • SEBASTIAN OBERTHUR Academic Director, Institute for European Studies
  • JOAN MACNAUGHTON Senior Vice President, Power and Environmental Policies Alstom Power Systems 

Access the Report

Related Press Briefing Webcast

Back to Cancún - COP 16 page

New Report Urges Evolutionary Approach to Strengthening Global Climate Effort

Press Release
December 6, 2010

Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146

New Pew Center on Global Climate Change Report Urges “Evolutionary” Approach
to Strengthening the Global Climate Effort
Sees Progress Through Incremental Steps Within & Outside UNFCCC

CANCUN, MEXICO– Governments should affirm the goal of a new legally binding climate change agreement, but focus for now on incremental steps that can deliver stronger action, resources and transparency even in the absence of binding commitments, according to a new report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change released today at the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico.

The report, The Evolution of Multilateral Regimes: Implications for Climate Change, examines why and how most international regimes evolve gradually, rather than through dramatic step-changes.  It outlines evolutionary pathways within and outside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that can promote stronger near-term action while building a sturdier foundation for a future binding agreement.

 “The big-bang approach isn’t working and it’s time for a more pragmatic paradigm,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.  “We need to accept that many major economies aren’t ready for binding commitments and won’t be for some time.  An evolutionary approach lets us move forward now with concrete steps that strengthen the global effort and make a binding agreement more likely down the road.”

The report examines well-established regimes such as the World Trade Organization, the Montreal Protocol, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to identify patterns and dimensions of regime evolution.  It traces the evolution of the climate regime to date, and outlines several lines along which it may evolve in the future.  

Within the UNFCCC, an evolutionary path would prioritize institutional development that would help set the stage for a later legal agreement, the report argues.  Key incremental steps include a stronger support system for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, and a more fully elaborated system for measuring, reporting, and verifying countries’ actions. Advancing these elements could greatly strengthen the UNFCCC’s role as an international forum for action, as opposed to negotiation.

Complementing evolution within the UNFCCC, the report outlines how the broader climate regime may also develop through forums such as the Montreal Protocol, International Maritime Organization, and International Civil Aviation Organization. By helping to diversify the portfolio of international climate change efforts, non-UNFCCC actions would help to reduce the risk of policy failure.  

The report is authored by Daniel Bodansky, professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, and Elliot Diringer, the Pew Center’s vice president for international strategies.   The full report is available at  New Pew Center policy briefs on the issues under negotiation in Cancún are also available at

# # #

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change was established in May 1998 as a non-profit, non-partisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Global Climate Negotiations: Possibilities and Pitfalls

Remarks by Eileen Claussen
Energy and Business Convention 2010
Tel Aviv, Israel
October 18, 2010 

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here. I always enjoy visiting Israel as my daughter and one and a half grandchildren live here.  So when I was invited to come and speak it took me exactly one second to say “yes.”    

But of course I am here to talk about climate change, and how the governments of the world are responding to it.   Given the consensus among scientists on this issue, as well as the clear evidence that the planet already is warming and that this warming, as it continues, will present a clear and present danger to human societies and the natural world, you might expect that the governments of the world would be a little further along in their response.

But alas, they are not. And in my remarks here today, I want to talk about where we are in the negotiating process, why we have not seen more progress, and what our priorities should be as we look ahead to the next major international climate meeting in Cancun  later this year, and beyond.

As the title of my remarks suggests, I see in the global climate negotiations both “possibilities and pitfalls,” and I want to explore these with you today. But before I do that, I want to step back and say a few words about some of this year’s events that place 2010 in the history books of extreme weather.

For me and my colleagues working to develop effective, practical policy solutions for climate change, it’s important to remember why, exactly, we do it. It helps to get some perspective by looking at real-world events and impacts that are already taking place and that we are likely to face more often in a warming world.

  • According to the U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the first eight months of 2010 tied the same period in 1998 for the warmest global temperatures on record.  The average global land surface temperature for the June-to-August period was the warmest ever. 17 countries set record-high temperatures this year.
  • Among the consequences of the record heat this year were the deadly wildfires and severe drought we’ve seen in Russia – it is the worst drought in that country’s recorded history.  We saw unprecedented high temperatures in Moscow and hundreds of wildfires burning out of control.  Together, these events destroyed a quarter of Russia’s crops and prompted the government to ban grain exports for the remainder of this year. 
  • Of course, it is not just in Russia where extreme weather caused problems. The flooding in Pakistan this year was the worst in that country’s history. Two million people are homeless, more than 6 million acres of cropland were flooded.  
  • In the United States, while the effects of extreme weather haven’t been anywhere near what we’ve seen in Pakistan and Russia,  we have had  our share of summer heat.  This was the fourth warmest summer on record for the U.S., and the warmest ever for many eastern U.S. states.  Los Angeles had an all-time high of 113 degrees last month. And here in Israel, a heat wave early in the summer drove temperatures in Eliat to a staggering 122 degrees and sparked wildfires and record electricity use across the country.

Of course, no reputable scientist is going to link a single weather event – or the weather events of a single summer season or even a single year – to climate change.  But the temperature increases and extreme weather events we are seeing are part of a clear trend. 

Global temperatures are on the rise.  And the heat waves, wildfires, drought and flooding we have seen this year are precisely the kinds of events that scientists have long told us we can expect to see more of as this trend continues. We are digging ourselves a very deep hole, one that will be even more difficult to get out of as the world continues to warm. Now we know what we need to do.  the question is will we reduce emissions to a level that would keep climate change in check.

It’s a challenge that countries have been grappling with for nearly twenty years, and if we’ve learned nothing else – we’ve learned that striking a meaningful global deal on climate change is no easy task.

Now, before I get into detail about where we are globally on this issue, and what the prospects are for a global framework, you should know that I’ve always believed that honesty is the best policy. So I intend to be honest with all of you today and offer what I believe to be a realistic assessment of the state of climate action. Be forewarned:  It’s not a rosy picture.

I am going to focus first on the two countries that are crucial to any global agreement, the United States and China, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

In the U.S, a step by step approach to national climate action is the only path forward.   Continued economic struggles and political changes expected after the U.S. Congressional elections next month are likely to make advancing climate policy an even tougher fight than we experienced over the last two years.  I think I speak for most of those working on this issue in Washington when I say the chances of passing a major climate bill in the next two years are nearly zero.

Does this mean we should simply wring our hands and wait in vain for U.S. lawmakers to come around on this issue? Of course not. Given Congress’s failure to act, the federal government actually has certain tools at its disposal to address this issue, and the marketplace has created two more.  First, a Supreme Court ruling obligates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the federal Clean Air Act.  And the EPA is currently taking steps to use this authority in reasonable ways, by breaking the problem down into its component parts and developing rules covering emissions from various sectors of the economy such as transportation and electricity..  Of course, opponents will surely raise hell about all of this, and there will be loud cries in Congress to delay the regulations and even cut funding for the EPA … but the possibility remains that the agency could conceivably begin to chip away at the problem in the months and years ahead.

Second, other EPA rules, such as those dealing with hazardous air pollutants, will also have the effect of reducing emissions.  For example, as many as one-third of all existing coal-fired power plants may be shut downby 2020 due, in large part, to EPA air pollution rules.  And we also have put in place more stringent standards for automobile efficiency – now requiring 35.5 miles per gallon on average by 2016. And these standards are likely to become more stringent, increasing by 3 to 6 percent per year after 2016 – which means achieving up to 62 MPG by 2025.

Third, we have recently discovered large finds of shale gas, which we are beginning to see enter the marketplace at low prices.  While this is not “the answer,” I believe most new power plants will be gas fired, and this will reduce emissions in the near term. 

And finally, we have seen tremendous growth in the use of renewable energy, particularly wind.  In the past several years, wind power has increased by more than 40 percent per year.  Of course it is still a small portion of total energy generation, but it is growing, and growing quickly.  

All of this suggests that U.S. emissions, which are now 2.5 percent below 2005 levels, will either hold steady or even continue to decline.  But this is not something we can be sure of, and this has implications for our ability to agree to an international agreement with binding targets.

Now let me turn to China.  A few years ago, China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.  This summer, it was announced by the IEA that China has also overtaken the U.S. as the world’s largest energy consumer. And Chinese energy demand is only expected to surge – by more than 100% over the next 25 years – more than what Europe and the Middle East combined use today. This means China is hugely influential in shaping our global energy future.

There’s also no getting around China’s reliance on coal, which makes up more than 60 percent of its energy supply. Therefore technological breakthroughs will be critical to reduce the climate impacts from burning coal in China, because remember – it doesn’t matter where the coal is burned – the effectsare global.  

But clean energy presents emerging opportunities, and China is moving aggressively in that space.  It outspent the United States nearly two-to-one in clean technology investments last year.  Recently, the government announceda 10-year, $400 billion program aimed at solidifying its place as a global clean energy leader. Already, China is the world’s largest solar panel and wind turbine manufacturer, and now dominates the export market for renewable energy. More than 95 percent of its solar production is exported, while over 1 million workers and growing are employed in the renewable energy sector.  This growth is not simply market-driven.  It is the result of deliberate strategic choices backed by strong renewable energy policies and incentives.

China is also taking other steps at home.  It has set very aggressive targets to improve energy efficiency, and progress on that front is now one of the criteria considered when relevant party officials undergo performance reviews.  Its automotive fuel economy standards are tougher than those now in place in the United States.  It has moved aggressively to shut down old, inefficient factories and power plants.  And it is actively exploring the possibility of creating carbon markets to help bring down emissions.   

Despite all this, as I’ve already noted, China’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar.  And, when it comes to addressing this issue globally, China is not distinguishing itself as a leader.  The Chinese have shown an aversion to being transparent about what they are doing, and subjecting their efforts to international review.  Nor are they willing to accept any kind of binding commitment, or even allow the world to agree to a global emissions goal since that would have implications for their own emissions. So now, let me come directly to the subject of the international negotiations, and what can and cannot be done.  I want to begin by saying clearly that there cannot be a binding international treaty without the United States and China, and neither are now able or willing to negotiate a meaningful binding agreement.  This is not to say that some steps toward that objective are impossible, nor that we should abandon the negotiations.  It is really to put our hopes into perspective, and allow us to take actions that will help us to get to that objective as soon as it is possible.

And this leads me to reflect on what was learned and achieved at last year’s Copenhagen climate summit.

First, we learned how much expectations matter. In Copenhagen, the nations of the world came together for the latest in a long series of international climate talks. Unfortunately, expectations going into the meeting were unrealistically high … The expectation created by many governments and others outside the process was that Copenhagen would produce the binding comprehensive agreement that had eluded us over so many years, even though a cold analysis made clear that that simply was not in the cards. Even apart from the immense uncertainty about the global economy, key players simply were not ready to take on binding commitments – including the United States and China.   So when the summit instead produced a nonbinding political agreement, the Copenhagen Accord, it was viewed around the world as a failure. But when judged against more realistic expectations, I don’t believe Copenhagen was a failure.

I am not going to stand here and say this was a landmark agreement, but in its three short pages the Copenhagen Accord does plant the seeds for continued progress.

  • The document establishes a goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
  • It calls for a balanced but differentiated approach to reducing emissions, with economy-wide targets for developed countries and quote-unquote “nationally appropriate” actions on the part of developing countries.
  • It reflects agreement in principle on how to verify that countries are meeting their commitments.
  • It sets clear targets for dramatically scaling up assistance to developing countries.
  • Finally, the Copenhagen Accord has served as a vehicle for eliciting quantified emission pledges from all of the world’s major economies.  Mind you, these pledges are not legally binding.  But this is the first time we’ve had explicit numbers from all of the major economies.  That’s a big step.

To date, more than 130 nations have associated with the Copenhagen Accord, and 84 countries accounting for more than 80 percent of global emissions have identified specific targets or actions for reducing their emissions, including Israel.  Collectively, these pledges fall far short of what’s needed to meet the Accord’s goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, but they are an important start.

That does not sound like failure to me, although we still have a long way to go. The true test of the Copenhagen Accord is whether the political understandings it contains can be translated into real action.   I continue to believe that ultimately, we will be best served by a new treaty with ambitious binding commitments from all of the major economies.  But we need to be honest – it’s going to take us time – a number of years – to get there.  When we look at other international challenges – take trade, for instance – we see that strong multilateral systems aren’t created all at once.  They’re built over time.  And that’s what we need to do here.

Moving forward from Copenhagen, we need nuts-and-bolts decisions that begin to build out the climate framework.  As the regime takes shape, and as  countries move forward in implementing their pledges, we all will grow more confident – confident in the multilateral system, confident in our own ability to deliver action, and confident that others are acting too. As that confidence grows, it will become more realistic to think about transforming the multilateral regime into one with binding commitments.

So what does all this imply for the upcoming UN climate conference in Cancun?  Thinking realistically – and I’m glad to say most parties do seem to be thinking more realistically this time around – the best plausible outcome in Cancun is a set of decisions on the broad architecture of the new institutions and mechanisms called for in the Copenhagen Accord, and a process for filling in the details.

To get agreement, this needs to be a balanced package – it needs to contain something for everyone.  It should include a new mechanism to help the neediest vulnerable countries adapt to climate change.  It should include a new mechanism to help promote the diffusion of climate-friendly technologies.  And it should include a new mechanism to help build capacity in tropical countries to reduce deforestation. 

But to be truly meaningful and balanced, I think the package must also include two additional elements.  It must include steps to strengthen finance to developing countries.  And it must include steps to strengthen transparency – steps toward a robust system of verification that will enable us to see whether countries are doing what they’ve promise to do.  Those two issues, I believe, will be the crux of the deal in Cancun.  So let me focus a bit more on them.

On the issue of finance, the Copenhagen Accord does three things.  First, it sets a long-term goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year in public and private finance to help developing countries confront climate change.  Second, it sets a near-term goal: $30 billion in fast-start finance between now and 2012.  Most of those funds have now been pledged, and many developed countries are working hard to actually deliver on the ground, so we’re making some progress there.  Third, the Copenhagen Accord called for the establishment of a new multilateral climate fund.  That is where we need to see progress in Cancun. 

Operationalizing a multilateral fund on the scale envisioned is no easy task.  We need agreement on the basic structure of this new climate fund; its relationship to other financial institutions like the World Bank; and systems for tracking and verifying financial flows. We need clear guidelines about what types of projects can be financed with these monies, and there need to be systems for making sure that funded projects are delivering results.  Many of these decisions will come later.  In Cancun, we need agreement on some of the basic governance issues and a clear process to have the fund formally established as soon as possible.   

On transparency, countries agreed three years ago in Bali that their mitigation actions – and that support for developing country actions – should be measurable, reportable and verifiable.  The Copenhagen Accord took it a step further.  It said developing country actions would undergo quote-unquote “international consultations and analysis.”  These are all good words.  In Cancun, governments need to decide what they mean.  Here, too, we need agreement on the fundamentals and a process to fill in the details.  We need agreement on what information countries must report, how frequently, and how it will be reviewed.  We have a system in place already for reporting by developed countries, and other international regimes offer plenty of examples to draw from.  So we’re not starting from scratch.  We just need to move forward. 

So far, I’ve focused strictly on the U.N. negotiations, and that is the right place, I believe, to continue strengthening the multilateral climate framework.  But important international efforts also can and should be undertaken outside – or, more precisely, alongside – the U.N. process.  One good example is the forestry partnership launched recently by the governments of Norway and France.  It has brought together developed and developing countries to agree on approaches to reducing deforestation, and has begun to mobilize significant resources for those efforts.  The hope is that the agreements reached within the partnership will be carried over into the negotiations and form the basis for a new forestry mechanism within the U.N. system.  But if that doesn’t materialize, then the partnership can continue on its own. 

I think it’s worth exploring whether it might be possible to organize similar coalitions of the willing in other areas – renewable energy, perhaps, or energy efficiency.  We need to make progress on all of these fronts.  Each of these efforts would be important in its own right, and each could contribute ultimately to the comprehensive binding deal we want.

I understand that gradual and incremental approaches like these can be hard to get excited about; this is hardly the stuff of rallying cries. But this must be our cause right now in the climate fight. It’s time to put one foot in front of the other and take the steps that will keep us on track to our ultimate destination: an effective global climate agreement. 

As I reflect on the current state of affairs, I am reminded of the Woody Allen quote about relationships in the film Annie Hall. He said a relationship is like a shark. It has to keep moving forward or it dies.  “And I think what we’ve got on our hands,” he told Annie as their relationship was falling apart, “is a dead shark.”

When it comes to moving forward to address global climate change, we are far from having a dead shark on our hands. There is a lot of good discussion on this issue leading up to the Cancun meeting in December, including at this conference.  We are beginning to see activity that will reduce emissions in both the United States and China, as well as in the European Union, in Israel and elsewhere.  This activity must continue.

And so now is the time to keep moving forward.  Whether or not we can forge comprehensive solutions at the international or domestic levels is not the test of progress at this moment in time. Rather, the true test of progress is whether we can arrive at workable solutions that begin to add up to something bigger, and that bring new credibility and new support to the broader cause we are working towards, which is reduced emissions across the board and, ultimately, a safer global climate. 

There are still plenty of pitfalls before us, but a great number of possibilities as well.  We must do this, if not for ourselves, for our children and grandchildren. 

Thank you very much.

The Evolution of Multilateral Regimes: Implications for Climate Change

December 2010

By: Daniel Bodansky and Elliot Diringer

Download this paper (pdf)

Press Release

Press Briefing Webcast

Cancun Side Event



The 2009 Copenhagen climate summit may in retrospect prove a critical turning point in the evolution of the international climate change effort. For a decade and a half, the principal aim under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had been to establish, and then to extend, a legally-binding regime regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Despite late efforts to temper hopes for Copenhagen, the general expectation was that the summit would carry forward this process by producing a legally-binding outcome. The result, instead, was the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding agreement that captured political consensus on a number of core issues but in the end was not formally adopted by the official Conference of the Parties (COP).

Copenhagen’s “failure” has led many in and outside governments to begin rethinking the best way to mobilize an effective international response to climate change. To be certain, many parties remain fully committed to achieving new legally-binding commitments as quickly as possible; some are looking to do so at the 17th Conference of Parties (COP-17) to be held in 2011 in South Africa, or at Rio+20, the summit to be held in 2012 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. But many others are coming to believe that the path to a new legally-binding agreement will be longer and more incremental. In this view, the process of constructing a post-2012 international climate architecture will involve a gradual process of evolution.

An evolutionary path is, in fact, quite common in multilateral regime-building. While the progression of every regime is unique, reflecting its particular policy needs and political constraints, broad patterns can be seen. Few regimes spring forth wholly formed. Generally, they grow over time, becoming broader, deeper and more fully integrated as parties gain confidence in one another, and in the regime itself.

What a more incremental approach would imply in the case of climate change is not necessarily clear, however. Short of a legally-binding agreement, what types of international arrangements are most urgent or effective? Which of these can or should be pursued through the UNFCCC and which might be more productively pursued in other international forums? Is it critical that we know now the form of legally-binding agreement we aspire to—must it, for instance, include the Kyoto Protocol—or can that unfold over time?

This paper starts to explore these and related issues. It argues that a comprehensive and binding global agreement has strong virtues, and should be the ultimate goal, but that in working toward that end, parties should focus their efforts for now on concrete, incremental steps both within and outside the UNFCCC. The paper proceeds as follows: First, it examines why international regimes often evolve gradually over time, rather than emerging all at once. Next, it unpacks the various dimensions along which international regimes evolve. Then, it examines how the climate change regime has evolved to date. Finally, it outlines several different lines along which the climate change regime might evolve in the future.

Of course, an evolutionary process is by definition gradual and will take time. Given the urgency of addressing climate change, there is no guarantee that this process will reduce emissions quickly enough to avert catastrophic climate change. If a more rapid process were possible, it would be worth pursuing. The paper does not argue that an evolutionary approach is best; rather, it concludes that, at present, an evolutionary process is politically the most promising way forward.

Back to Cancun - COP 16 page.

Daniel Bodansky
Elliot Diringer

Cancún Climate Conference - COP 16

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UN Climage Change Conference
COP 16 & CMP 6

Cancún, Mexico
November 29-December 10, 2010

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New Publications

  • The Evolution of Multilateral Regimes: Implications for Climate Change
    This report examines why and how most international regimes evolve gradually, rather than through dramatic step-changes.  It outlines evolutionary pathways within and outside the UNFCCC that can promote stronger near-term action while building a sturdier foundation for a future binding climate agreement. Read more

  • Strengthening International Climate Finance: Key steps include: establishing a new multilateral climate fund with an independent board under the guidance of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP); a new UNFCCC finance body to advise the COP and promote coordination among funding institutions; a registry mechanism to link finance to mitigation actions; and stronger procedures for reporting and verifying flows. Read more
  • Strengthening MRV: This brief describes and evaluates existing requirements under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and outlines recommendations for building on these mechanisms to establish a more robust MRV system. Read more
  • MRV: A Survey of Reporting and Review in Multilateral Regimes: To move the climate MRV system closer to the norms set by other multilateral regimes, the next stage in its evolution should entail significantly strengthening the existing system of reporting and expert review, and establishing an additional layer of peer review. Read more
  • Cancun Article: Steps to Meaningful Action, by Eileen Claussen
  • The Challenge to Change: COP16 Survey on Climate and Communications: A survey released by the government of Mexico and the Center reveals COP16 attendees’ attitudes on key issues when it comes to climate change, including the biggest barriers to action, the most trusted and effective sources for information on the issue, and the need for activating the general public.

Cancún Side Event Towards a Binding Climate Agreement
Monday, December 6 from 8:15 – 9:45pm
Cancunmesse, Room MONARCA

Presentations and discussion of our new report exploring the evolution of multilateral regimes and implications for the future of the climate change regime. Read more

Media Corner

Strengthening MRV: Measurement, Reporting and Verification

December 2010

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A central issue in negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is how best to provide for the measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of parties’ mitigation actions and support. This brief describes and evaluates existing requirements under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and outlines recommendations for building on these mechanisms to establish a more robust MRV system. This enhanced system should include: significantly strengthening the existing system of reporting and expert review, and establishing a new mechanism for peer review of mitigation actions. Peer review and expert review would together constitute the international “consultations” and “analysis” envisioned in the Copenhagen Accord.

Back to Cancun - COP 16 page.


Making Progress in Cancún

December 2010

Read full brief (pdf)

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún is an opportunity for concrete progress in the international climate change effort. Key elements of success in Cancún include: 1) operational decisions improving the transparency of countries’ actions, and strengthening support for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries; and 2) a clear declaration by parties that their longer-term aim is a legally binding outcome. A Cancún agreement also should reflect individual country pledges and incorporate the temperature and finance goals of the Copenhagen Accord.

One year after the Copenhagen climate summit, parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) face immediate decisions on strengthening key aspects of the multilateral climate system, and issues concerning the future direction of the international effort.

Copenhagen did not produce a legally binding outcome, as many had hoped. The Copenhagen Accord is a political agreement, which most countries have since joined, but which has no formal standing under the UNFCCC. In Cancún, the aim is not a legally binding outcome, but a “balanced package of decisions.” A well-crafted package can deliver tangible progress in the near term despite stalemate over longer-term legal issues. It can effectively open a new phase in the evolution of the climate regime: taking steps to incrementally strengthen key elements of the international architecture, while working toward the goal of a new legally binding outcome.

Key Operational Decisions
Strengthening UNFCCC mechanisms would promote stronger action in the near term, build parties’ confidence, and create a stronger foundation for a future legally binding outcome. Parties can build on both the Bali Action Plan and the Copenhagen Accord with decisions settling fundamental issues in key areas and launching work programs to elaborate the details. Priorities are:

Improving Transparency. Greater transparency around countries’ mitigation actions—and support for developing countries—will strengthen confidence among parties and in the climate regime. An enhanced measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) system should include:

  • Annual greenhouse gas inventories (phased in for developing countries); national communications every four years with improved reporting of policy actions and outcomes and of support provided or received; and biennial reports on implementation and support (with support for capacity building in all three cases, and longer reporting cycles for least developed countries).
  • Expert review of all reporting inputs for accuracy, completeness and consistency with UNFCCC guidelines.
  • A new system for peer review of mitigation actions: an in-session interactive dialogue, based on expert and party inputs, with public release of inputs and proceedings, and facilitative consequences.

Supporting Mitigation and Adaptation in Developing Countries. A stronger support system should include:

  • Finance—A new multilateral climate fund with an independent board under the guidance of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP); a new finance body to advise the COP and promote coordination among funding institutions; and a registry to link finance to mitigation actions.
  • Adaptation—A new adaptation framework to support adaptation planning and implementation in developing countries.
  • Forestry—A new REDD+ mechanism to build capacity within developing countries to reduce deforestation and emissions from other land use activities.
  • Technology—A new technology body to advise the COP on technology-related issues; and a climate technology center and network.

Aiming for a Legally Binding Outcome

Most parties voice support for the goal of new legally binding commitments, but they remain far apart on the specific form and timing of such an outcome. While some want it to bind all major economies, many among that group disagree; while some favor new targets under the Kyoto Protocol with a parallel agreement under the UNFCCC, others prefer a single comprehensive agreement. These differences cannot be bridged in Cancún. Parties should affirmatively declare their intent to work toward a binding outcome, while leaving open all options on specific legal form, including new commitments under Kyoto.

Additional Goals and Pledges

Decisions in Cancun also should:

  • Adopt the long-term goal of holding the increase in average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, with periodic reviews of that goal beginning in 2015;
  • Incorporate the Copenhagen Accord goals of $30 billion in fast-start finance for developing countries in 2010-2012, and $100 billion a year in public and private finance by 2020; and
  • Anchor individual country pledges (emission targets for developed countries, and mitigation actions for developing countries) like those in the Copenhagen Accord.

Other Center resources:

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