International Climate Treaty : A Pipe dream ?

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I was invited by New York Times to give my expert remarks on ” Should we give up on the idea of a strong international treaty on global warming as a pipe dream, or should we continue to pursue it despite the long-running difficulties?” My remarks appear below.

When industrialized countries agreed in Kyoto way back in 1997 to produce 5 percent fewer greenhouse gases in 2008-2012 than they did in 1990, it was clear that would never lead to a stabilization of global warming, which nearly all countries had pledged to seek in the 1992 Rio summit. Indeed the objective of But coming out of the Kyoto’s magnificent conference hall, I consoled myself that this small step would lead to a giant step later.

That giant step never came, though. After 17 years, emissions are 60 percent greater, not 5 percent less.

The international climate agreement also failed miserably in meeting its pledge to provide developing countries with $10 billion a year until 2010-2012, rising to 100 billion per year later, to mitigate the effects of climate change and help them deal with their own rising emissions as a result of needed development.

The Kyoto Protocol’s tenure is over and negotiations for the next protocol, to be agreed to in Paris in 2015, have started. The world would be better with an alternative approach.

I witnessed the emergence of promising protocols — albeit of different nature — during the United Nations Climate Summit.  Not only the march of hundreds of thousand of people from all the strata of the society, but also the innovations that communities, businesses and coalitions are taking up without any international agreement.

The Rockefeller Foundation announced that it would disinvest all its assets in fossil energy starting with $100 billion. Over 180 institutions, organizations and pension funds have begun to follow. The first ever Global Agricultural Alliance was launched to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture by 2030. Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a voluntary group of nearly 100 states and non-state actors pledged to reduce short-lived greenhouse gases such as black carbon, methane and hydrofluorocarbons.

But to stabilize greenhouse gases and limit the earth’s temperature rise to 2 degree Celsius, we need a third way to help communities, businesses and coalitions acting on their own agreements. We need the United Nations, with its multilateralism, to be a coordinator of all activities, to provide an early warning alarm to growing dangers, to identify the gaps between actions undertaken and actions needed, to prevent conflicts and inspire all to act and act as of urgency.

International agreements, like the Montreal Protocol, were needed to save the ozone layer. But that was an exception. Without international agreement the life expectancy all over the world has improved, many discoveries were made to fight diseases, digital technologies were developed and democracies are spreading steadily.

All this occurred without international agreements, but with the United Nations playing an active role.

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