From Copenhagen to Cancun: Time to Scale Up from the Bottom Up

Katherine Sierra
Katherine Sierra Former Brookings Expert

December 3, 2010

Editor’s Note: This commentary was originally published by the

National Journal.

Last year, I participated in the Copenhagen climate talks as part of the World Bank delegation, advocating for policies that would protect the poor from the threat of a changing climate and showing how institutions like the World Bank could use its financial and knowledge resources to help countries move toward low-carbon and climate resilient futures. Many others were also showcasing bottom-up examples–the private sector demonstrating clean energy innovations; city mayors from the developing world outlining new sustainable growth paths; civil society showing that policies need to be people-centered; and researchers providing evidence to guide policy choices. While all proud of our work, we expected that countries would come together to provide the international rules of the game through a binding agreement that would transform these good examples into a new “business as usual.” This did not happen.

This year I am going to Cancun as a senior fellow from the Brookings Institution, again pushing for policies that serve the poor. Like other climate watchers, my expectations are modest this time. We will look to steps that move the bar–an agreement on reduction of emissions from deforestation and land degradation; new frameworks for technology cooperation; and a framework for adaptation. We will watch whether the delicate balance between the pledged emission reductions, financing and transparency achieved under the Copenhagen Accord will be maintained. And we will worry about the fate of the carbon markets without extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

So what is the forecast for Cancun and beyond? Perhaps there will be modest agreements in Cancun on some of the building blocks. With or without progress in Cancun, however, prospects for a near-term global agreement will remain poor. So instead of expecting much in the way of guidance from the international processes, it’s up to committed institutions and actors to continue to press, in parallel to the UNFCCC processes, from the bottom-up. This means taking the pilot examples to scale: by working with national and local governments to find opportunities for a low-carbon future; focusing on innovation, including through south-south cooperation and knowledge partnerships; building resilience into national economic and social development strategies; and developing innovative financing mechanisms that leverage the private sector. It means figuring out how to maximize the impact of disconnected regional and national carbon markets that may emerge. And in an era where creating green jobs will be critical to secure political support for change, more work on innovation, trade and competiveness will be needed.

Although the past year has been a sobering reminder that the issues will not be easily solved, it is important to also remember that just one year ago there was in fact substantial global support for action to address global climate change. The need for action has not changed. It is not time to retreat, but instead time to scale-up from the bottom-up.