Ban Ki Moon’s change on climate

by Paolo Cozzi

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has determined that tackling climate change will no longer be his top issue. He has instead decided to focus principally on sustainable development. What does this mean for the movement for a global climate agreement?

At first blush, it’s not good. When he took over from Kofi Annan as Secretary General in 2007, Ban said that climate change would be the main goal of his administration. It is easy to see Ban’s retreat from the issue now as not boding well for the prospects of a climate agreement. For one, it looks like a defeat. While his staff has insisted that Ban is not completely disengaging on the issue, given the failure of the Copenhagen accords to produce anything meaningful as well as revelations that a successor to the Kyoto protocol will face serious obstacles and perhaps hitherto unexpected opposition (Japan), the Secretary General’s shift in focus looks conspicuous.

It is also the withdrawal of a voice that speaks to the issue from a rather large global bully pulpit. The loss of this voice may mean that the time spent discussing the issue diminishes,, as a voice with the authority to call for responses has been withdrawn from the game. Ban’s refocus puts the onus on United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretary General Christiana Figueres, who, while an important voice on climate change, does not enjoy the worldwide recognition of the United Nations Secretary General. When Ban speaks, the world listens (sometimes). When Figueres speaks, sometimes even misses it.

There may be a positive side to this development, however. As Secretary General of the UNFCCC, Figueres has pushed states to focus on achievable goals, which may have in part been responsible for the modest success of the Cancun climate talks. Given the recent stalemate on climate agreements, largely due to disagreements between some of the industrialized nations and China and India on responsibility for emissions reductions, focusing on other areas of possible support may present the most potential for advancement of negotiations.

It will be interesting to see how negotiations shake out. Anyone expecting a big play downfield at COP 17 in Durban will likely be sorely disappointed. But if nations listen to Christiana as QB, at least we can aim for the gaps, and make positive yardage.

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