Avoiding a COP-out: The Climate Agenda Beyond Paris

by Caroline Ott on February 19, 2014

UN Climate Talks 2010Thank you Professor Moomaw for this thoughtful response on how the international community ought to frame the next climate treaty.

Drawing on the topic of this forum—the top global risks for 2014—I would suggest that the risk posed by the current climate negotiations is that we are investing too heavily in a process whose outcome is not essential to the goals of emissions reductions and climate adaptation. As I see it, the risk is less that we will fail to reach an international agreement as Dean Stavridis suggests, or that we will fail to reach the right agreement as Professor Moomaw suggests, but that this failure will discourage continued action on the part of the international development community. The risk is that we are putting all of our eggs in one basket, and this may very well be the wrong basket.

Rather than looking to the 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris as the finish line for a climate treaty, we should be using this meeting of leaders to incite action from a range of bilateral and philanthropic institutions. Progress on emissions mitigation and climate adaptation can—and in fact has—occurred in the absence of multilateral agreements. According to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, developed countries in 2011 contributed $18.1 billion in bilateral, climate-related aid, while contributions made via multilateral agreements totaled just $3.4 billion. Bilateral contributions have long dwarfed those of multilaterals, and there is little reason to expect a change in the next round of negotiations.

In addition to bilateral contributions, there are a number of international nonprofits and alliances making serious headway in the effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Take, for example, The ClimateWorks Foundation, which as of 2011 had contributed approximately $500 million to support mitigation efforts in the highest emitting sectors and regions of the world. Turning to efforts to reduce emissions from urban centers, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have demonstrated the ability of domestic policymakers worldwide to combat adverse climate effects. As former mayor Michael Bloomberg stated at a meeting of the C40 in early February, “While international negotiations continue to make incremental progress, C40 Cities are forging ahead. Collectively they have taken more than 4,700 actions to tackle climate change, and the will to do more is stronger than ever.”

It is easy to turn to the COP outcome as our barometer of success for international efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. However, rather than relying too heavily on multilateral negotiations, we should ensure that bilateral development agencies, international nonprofits, and private donors alike continue to pursue a rigorous climate agenda, regardless of the outcome in Paris.


This piece is part of The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs’ 2014 Global Risk Forum. The Global Risk Forum is an effort to convene conversations around some of the most pressing issues we face as a global community in the year ahead: the breakdown of climate change negotiations; the spread of sectarian violence in the Middle East; the credit crisis and economic slowdown in China; the growth of cyber espionage; and the unraveling of Africa’s economic boom. We encourage you to read the conversations, participate with written responses or on social media, and help us work together to produce constructive ideas that will reduce the aggregate risks we face. 

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