Hitting Reboot: Where Next For Climate After Copenhagen?

Alex Evans and David Steven
David Steven Former Brookings Expert, Senior Fellow, Center on International Cooperation - New York University

December 21, 2009


Copenhagen got us little further than Bali: a weak political declaration, with 2ºC as the only number. In some respects, the result moves us backwards: the politics are worse, while numbers previously agreed by the Kyoto club are omitted here. The conditions to turn a political declaration into a comprehensive deal appear absent.

Rather than hitting the brakes, deal-makers need to steer into the skid by building on unprecedented engagement by heads of state; ratcheting up pressure for U.S. legislation; revitalising strategy among those pushing for a deal; and fundamentally altering the politics of developing country engagement on climate.

To do this: they should build and diversify the support base for action on climate change, making tangible to elites and publics what a long-term solution looks like; create the ‘bandwidth’ needed to agree a comprehensive deal, while developing the institutions needed to build confidence that the deal can actually be implemented; and increase levels of trust in the climate policy debate, by showing a new willingness to talk frankly and honestly about how to manage climate risk. With these ends in mind, the paper offers 12 recommendations as follows.

Focus debate on solutions by:

  • Rebuilding trust in the science
  • Initiating a more mature discussion of climate risk
  • Creating a common language to help deal-making

Make the low carbon economy tangible by:

  • Pursuing quick wins alongside the post-Copenhagen process
  • Building low carbon into the fiscal tightening
  • Tightening the focus on disruptive technologies

Connect the dots between climate and other global issues by:

  • Getting ready for the next resource price spike
  • Recognizing and welcoming the inevitability of carbon tariffs
  • Focusing development strategies on building resilience

Correct the institutional deficit on climate change by:

  • Setting up a new International Climate Performance Committee
  • Creating incentives for developing countries to take on binding targets
  • Using the forthcoming UN High Level Panel on Climate and Development as a key avenue for progress