Stimson in the News

Yoriko Kawaguchi, Shyam Saran, and Erna Witoelar’s co-written Op-ed on COP21 Conference in Paris

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With every passing year, humanity’s impact on the global climate is ever more stark: a steady rise in global greenhouse gases emissions heating the atmosphere and oceans, melting polar and glacial ice, and raising sea levels and ocean acidity—all threatening to sea life and to the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people. A growing number of global actors now recognize the need for immediate action against climate change.

The prospects of success the next two weeks at the Summit on Climate Change have brightened, in particular, as a result of important pledges on mitigation made by major emitters, such as the United States and China. Developing countries, such as India and Brazil, have also committed to a significant expansion of renewable energy. While these pledges still fall short of the scale of effort required, the Paris Summit should put in place a template that enables more ambitious climate action. As members of the Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance, we are convinced that such action requires constant attention to climate justice, as well as security, to support vulnerable populations who will be the chief victims of climate change. The Paris outcome should be seen as a modest first step.

Addressing climate change through the lens of “just security” is a critical recommendation of the groundbreaking new report, Confronting the Crisis of Global Governance, issued by the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance, on which we are proud to serve. In developing our recommendations, we sought to ensure that global responses to climate change not only tackle rising emissions but help the most vulnerable populations better adapt to its effects. Our recommended way forward is three-fold: create more innovative climate governance, incorporate climate consciousness into the work of key global bodies, and encourage market-based incentives to reduce carbon emissions.

Co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Nigerian Foreign Minister Ibrahim Gambari, the Commission stressed that efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change are not solely dependent on “success” in Paris. States, non-state actors, and global governance institutions can undertake major reforms to complement the Paris outcomes. Commitments parallel to those pledged by national leaders in Paris would encourage deeper and faster action. Establishing a Global Climate Research Registry to collect and coordinate climate change research across the globe could further accelerate scientific research on climate change adaptation. Together with a Climate Action Clearinghouse to catalogue and share good practices on mitigation and adaptation efforts around the globe by governments, civil society and industry, the proposed Registry would help to avoid duplication, promote partnerships, and highlight gaps in knowledge.

Measures supporting emissions reductions and adaptation assistance to vulnerable populations should be built into global and regional trade arrangements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We further recommend that the Group of 20 leading global economies convene annual ministerial meetings on climate change to encourage members to align their policies on climate finance, risk disclosure, and energy development. The UN General Assembly could also request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on states’ obligation to mitigate climate change through domestic measures, thereby strengthening the legal basis for climate action.

Finally, to encourage market-based incentives to reduce carbon emissions, the Commission recommends establishment of a Green Technology Licensing Facility. The Facility would ensure technology is licensed on social terms to least developed countries, while protecting the rights of intellectual property owners. By boosting the transfer of environmentally sound technologies for climate adaptation, the Licensing Facility would help those least able to cope to adapt to climate change.

Climate change is a quintessential global governance challenge, with far-reaching effects beyond the abilities of any single state or small grouping of states to contain or redress. While the Paris talks have the potential to generate significant breakthroughs, mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change requires more than just a global agreement on reducing emissions. It requires just global governance and implementation: a proactive, inclusive, and multi-actor effort that combines global, regional, national and local initiatives spearheaded by states, intergovernmental bodies, civil society groups and the business community. Underpinning this must be a shared sense of joint responsibility, ensuring that the needs of those hardest-hit by climate change are not left out of proposed solutions. That is the least we can offer to those who had little hand in creating their climate-related plight, and the least that we owe to future generations.

Yoriko Kawaguchi served as Foreign Minister and Environment Minister of Japan. Shyam Saran served as Foreign Secretary and Chief Climate Change Negotiator of India. Erna Witoelar founded the Indonesian Environmental Forum. They serve on the Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance.

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