Lord Stern: Climate change treaty should be dynamic, not binding

Economist and academic Lord Nicholas Stern has become the latest prominent figure to push for global Governments to be ambitious and collaborative in their negotiations over a new international agreement on climate change.

Speaking at the beginning of the second week of the United Nations climate change summit in Lima, Lord Stern also stressed that Governments should not insist that an agreement due to be signed at a summit in Paris in December 2015 be a legally-binding treaty.

He said: “International agreements on climate change should be structured so as to facilitate the kind of collaboration needed to achieve mutual confidence and equitable access to sustainable development. They should be dynamic in the sense that countries’ ambitions for emissions reductions can be encouraged by, and captured in, international processes and in ways that promote increased ambition over time.

“Some may fear that commitments that are not internationally legally-binding may lack credibility. That, in my view, is a serious mistake. The sanctions available under the Kyoto Protocol, for example, were notionally legally-binding but were simply not credible and failed to guarantee domestic implementation of commitments.”

Acknowledging risks

Lord Stern suggested that the discussions between Governments should be founded on an understanding of four key elements including that the Paris treaty must ‘explicitly acknowledge that the risks from unmanaged climate change are potentially immense and delay is dangerous.’

“It should also recognise that the path to a low-carbon economy can be highly attractive, embodying strong and high-quality growth, investment and innovation, in the context of rapid global structural transformation,” he added.

“The agreement should be based on a shared commitment to creating equitable access to sustainable development. And it should be structured to facilitate dynamic and collaborative interactions between countries.”

Substantive steps

Lord Stern advised that the journey to Paris must be ‘constructive and creative.’

He said: “We are already seeing promising signs such as the joint announcement by the United States and China in Beijing in November 2014, and the adoption of the 2030 climate and energy package by the European Council in October 2014. Together, these commitments cover about half of annual global emissions of greenhouse gases.

“These decisions are important and substantive steps in a sensible direction and suggest seriousness about a strong agreement in Paris in 2015. However, taken together, they do not add up to being on track for an emissions path that would mean a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous global warming of more than 2C above pre-industrial level.

“All involved are now discussing the possibility of raising ambition on emissions reductions. That is a task of great importance.”

In September, Lord Stern co-authored a report suggesting that ‘tackling climate change can be a boon to prosperity, rather than a brake,’ ahead of the UN climate summit in New York.

Lois Vallely

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