Climate talks at national and sub-national levels

Sorry. That has to be my least inspired blog title ever.  Chalk it up to being immersed in UN-speak all day. But read on to find out where the more positive discussions are happening...

Dec 8th. The morning plenary dealt with two newly tabled documents --  a draft decision from the co-chairs of the ADP working group (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Plan of Action) and a draft text of potential “elements of the draft treaty.”

The initial response was a pile-on from the developing world (“the G-77 and China”) pointing out that they had not expected a “clean text” (that is one without bracketed sections presented as alternatives.”) There was push back over the notion that this approach appeared top-down, and delegates want to build consensus bottom up.  

The co-chairs responded that they do not expect the parties can come to consensus on Elements here in Lima.  It will happen in Paris.  Their proposed draft decision is what they believe the parties have said  need to be taken in Lima.

Slightly tongue in cheek, the co-chair suggested that if the negotiators want more time to debate the “elements,” then just accept the draft negotiated draft decision on ADP as is and “we could spend the next four days on Elements.”  Not likely.

Meeting of the minds by non-federal entities

While the plenary only allows national governments to hold forth, off in the side events, more positive discussions occur at what is described as the sub-national level, a term encompassing cities, provinces and states.  A love fest took place with the environment ministers from BC, Ontario and Quebec with the Environmental Secretaries (or their senior staff) from California, Oregon and Montana.  

All agreed that sub-national governments can move faster than national governments.  As the California’s Secretary for Environmental Protection, Matt Rodriguez, put it, “When you link half of the economy of Canada to the economy of California, it is certainly something very real.”

Carbon taxes work

Although BC Environment Minister Mary Polak discredited her position in claiming fracked LNG exports would be good for climate, she did a good job knocking the myth that a politician can never get re-elected after bringing in a carbon tax.  Her government has been re-elected twice since the tax was imposed.  She shared as a lesson learned that it likely helped that the tax was carbon neutral.  $1.2 billion was collected with the tax last year and $1.2 billion was returned to British Columbians in tax cuts and low income credits.  

Climate change is an economic issue

Quebec’s minister David Heurtel was strong in arguing for more ambitious action as was Ontario’s Environment Minister Glen Murray.    Murray listed the increased costs in real life due to ignoring the climate crisis.  Three years of drought in California have driven up food prices in Ontario, while climate change impacts have made waterworks and sewer systems obsolete, driving up the looming cost of the infrastructure deficit.  

On staying positive

All six North American political leaders were positive about the progress so far in Lima, describing themselves as optimistic a deal would be reached in Paris.  Those of my colleagues longer in the tooth at these meetings are far less sanguine.  The extent of work remaining to be done reminds climate COP veterans of where we were the year before Copenhagen.  And we know how that turned out.

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