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2015: the choreography


How is 2015 panning out for you so far, I wonder? Most people, when asked this question, respond in one of three ways.

First option: everything is going swimmingly. The SDG negotiations are well underway in New York. Preparations are in hand for the Financing for Development meeting in Addis Ababa. And the UNFCCC is making stately progress towards a new climate deal, most recently agreeing a negotiating text in Geneva. Come December, and we will be able to celebrate.

Second option: 2015 has ‘disaster’ written all over it. Yes, negotiations are proceeding; and, yes, of course something will be agreed in Addis, New York and Paris. But the SDG framework will be incoherent, there won’t be enough new money to declare a breakthrough in Addis, and as for Paris, well, the most likely outcome is a weak agreement subject to five yearly review. That, by the way, is an optimistic version of the pessimistic point of view. Some people think that the G77 and the rich countries will end up so polarised that no agreement is possible. ‘Have you seen the negotiating text?’, they mutter to each other, ‘this feels like a Copenhagen in the making’ . . .

Third option: a world-weary shrug. ‘Yes, everything looks pretty gloomy just at the moment, the G77 and the rich countries are busy digging embankments and building emplacements, but it’s OK, this always happens, there is bound to be a last-minute breakthrough, and we will all live happily ever after’.

Personally, I think that the first position is unduly optimistic. The second and third positions are both plausible. What predisposes to one outcome or the other will be the skill with which countries negotiate the complex, simultaneous equation that links the SDGs, FFD and climate. There is a solution, but it will require careful choreography.

Just to be clear about the problem, it makes no sense to negotiate these three elements of the 2015 agenda in isolation from each other. There are many links between the negotiations, not least that the SDG framework refers to climate and that achieving goals in one sphere is contingent on them being achieved in another. One key link is money: ‘development’ finance as well as ‘climate’ finance, offering proof that richer countries are serious, as well as an assurance to poorer countries that it is safe to sign up. However, there are other links, for example through the FFD emphasis on wider ‘means of implementation’. Technology transfer would be an example. I will come back to that.

Are countries all aware of the linked nature of the negotiations, I wonder? Is there a common strategy? I worry that these various negotiations are being conducted by different people in different rooms. In the UN context, there are separate institutions responsible for each, though accountability eventually coalesces in the person of Ban Ki Moon. That is why I wrote about him fifteen months ago as Ben Hur, needing to hold in harness a chariot drawn by a team of sometimes headstrong thoroughbreds: not Ban Ki Moon, I suggested, but ‘Ben’ Ki Moon. Below that level, you often hear observers comment that the climate and SDG communities live in separate worlds. I don’t know to which world the FFD belongs. Are national governments well-coordinated? Some are, I’m sure, but not all.

Understanding the context

As countries focus on the choreography of 2015, there are some key elements of context:

First, all the agreements in 2015 are under the UN umbrella, so require the unanimous support of all 193 members of the UN to achieve consensus.

Second, both the SDGs and the climate agreement are universal, i.e. global in scope, requiring action in all kinds of countries, rich and poor.

Third, the division of the world into two big blocs, viz G77+China on the one hand, and the developed countries on the other, still seems to hold. At least, the G77+China seem to work hard to hold the group together.

However, fourth, there are many different interests within the blocs, as between: Least Developed Countries, Low Income Countries, Lower and Upper Middle Income countries, and High Income Countries; or climate negotiating blocs like the Small Island Developing States; or informal groupings like the Cartagena Group of 27 developed and developing countries seeking an ambitious climate deal; or the 17 members of the Major Economies Forum; and, of course, within regional blocs like the EU.

Fifth, the actions required are ambitious for all countries, but especially for developing countries. Some are low income and genuinely resource-poor, and can expect continued aid flows. Others are in the process of graduating from aid and cannot expect to receive development aid in the medium term. All, however, will expect assistance with mitigation, adaptation and other adjustments required in a warming and decarbonising world. Hence the emphasis on ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.

Sixth, the climate talks are complicated by notions of historic responsibility (‘why should developing countries pay for a problem they did not cause?’) and by the idea of compensation for ‘Loss and Damage’. There is no agreed algorithm for allocating future rights to emit CO2.

Seventh, there are real limitations to the cards available to different players. On the developing country side, the main tool is moral suasion, most evidently seen in the plea by island states that are likely to disappear if sea level rises. On the developed country side, the main tool is probably money, but in limited supply post-crisis, and with no enthusiasm for thinking of climate finance as additional to aid. That poses special problems at a time when oda is being concentrated on the poorest countries, whereas climate finance is needed equally by less-poor parties. Additional tools will need to be found.

Eighth, the timing is awkward, with concrete outcomes expected from the financial talks at the FFD conference in July, two months before the final negotiation of the SDGs in September, and four months before the opening of the climate talks at the end of November. Further, the SDG text will need to refer to climate, not knowing what the Paris outcome will be.

In this context, ninth, it is not helpful that the timetable for analysing the contributions countries expect to make to emission reductions, their so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), has slipped, with the UNFCC expected to produce a synthesis only by 1 November, just a few weeks before the Paris talks open. The current indications are that ‘contributions’ (technically not ‘commitments’) will fall well short of those needed, putting great pressure on negotiators.

Finally, tenth, there are only limited incentives to reach a deal, certainly on the SDGs. It will be embarrassing to have a weak outcome document in September, but in the end the world will continue to turn on its axis. The same, actually, may be true of the climate talks, since other drivers of change may be as influential - national and regional carbon trading schemes, for example, or technical change.

Negotiation options

Faced with this level of complexity, my first call would be to the specialists at the Harvard Negotiation Project. I have admired their work ever since I first read Getting to Yes, but also since I attended one of the best-ever workshop sessions at Davos, back in 2003, with a team from Harvard and a small group of participants, including the chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, a senior general from NATO dealing with Milosevic, the head of the WTO, and some key environmental negotiators. If they could help with those varied and high-stake negotiations, then now is the time to start handing them retainers and consultancy contracts to work on the 2015 agenda.

Maybe Harvard is already on the case. On the off-chance that they are not, here are some personal thoughts of my own. No retainer or contract required.

There is, of course, a literature on brokering global deals. I have contributed myself, as have many others – Ngaire Woods, Ian Goldin, David Victor and Robert Falkner all spring to mind. My own eight point programme, rooted in work on UN reform, and I know, sorry, that I am always citing this, is as follows:

  • Keep the core group small.
  • Develop trust-building measures from the beginning.
  • Use the same core group for as many issues as possible, in order to keep transactions costs down and benefit from what economists call economies of scope.
  • Make it awkward or embarrassing not to cooperate. Leaders themselves can do this, but civil society plays an important role.
  • Choose the right issues. These are the ones where all the players have something to gain and something to lose. Genuine global public goods look like a particularly good bet.
  • Now start to think about positive incentives.
  • Perhaps as a last resort, the lesson that collective action is often most successful when the costs of defection are high. More aid may be a carrot, less aid a less palatable but equally effective stick.
  • Set up the institutions to manage these interactions and relationships.

In practical terms, here are some specific ideas for 2015. The initial points are about leadership and management, but the substance follows.

  1. A cross-Government task force is essential, to lead, strategise and coordinate. In France, this function is carried out by a ‘Comité de Pilotage’ chaired by the Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius. In the EU, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, is playing a similar role, convening all Commissioners concerned with external policy, as well as ministers from Member States. Of course, it does not need to be the case that Foreign Ministers lead. The key requirement is that all ministries involved should be present, including finance.
  2. Each Government task force needs a negotiating strategy covering all of the 2015 negotiations. The standard approach, usefully summarised by E3G in a briefing on climate diplomacy commissioned by CDKN, is to ‘know yourself’, ‘know the other’ and ‘understand leverage’. The Conclusion is in Figure 1 for ease of reference. The EUEuropean Union has the beginning of a strategy, an action plan for climate diplomacy. Obviously, it needs to be broadened to take account of other negotiations. And, personally, I wouldn’t publish too much, certainly not the red lines.
  3. Task forces and strategies need to be resourced. This is a challenge for many countries, even within distinct pillars like climate, as CDKN has found in its capacity-building work. Climate envoys play a role in many countries. Should there be ‘2015 envoys’? And should Ban Ki Moon integrate his various envoys and advisers into a single team?
  4. Countries need to understand what negotiators call the ‘BATNA’ or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – in other words the outcome if no agreement is reached – and decide how much they care. I suppose for 2015, the BATNA is no SDG framework, no climate deal and no money, or perhaps very weak outcome documents in Addis, New York and Paris, somewhere between options 2 and 3 in my Introduction. I can’t imagine that any country would be satisfied if that eventuality were to materialise, but for my money, the biggest risk is a weak deal on mitigation. The deal would be weak even if this were recognised as a first step and if regular review periods were included. Read my earlier post on the UNEPUnited Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report for the numbers. As an example, and looking forward to 2030, the best estimate is that total GHG emissions based on current pledges will be up to 59 Gt. The maximum emission level for that year is 42GT. So, the gap is up to 17 Gt. That means further reductions of over a quarter are needed. Will they be offered in Paris?
  5. If I am right that a commitment to emission reductions is the main strategic and existentially important objective in 2015, then that suggests all other chess pieces on the board need to be subordinated and instrumentalised to that end. The other pieces include elements of the climate deal, but also other elements of the SDGs. Controversial, I know. And, of course, as subsequent points discuss, the objective should be to secure good outcomes across the board.
  6. I have said that money is likely to be one key link between Addis, New York and Paris, but also that money is short. Some people think that additional money will be available, or at least hope so. It may be possible to sweat the assets of the multilateral development banks, including the new BRICS bank and the proposed Asia Infrastructure  Investment Bank. There may be unexpected pledges, or new forms of innovative finance which generate new funding, especially for climate-related purposes. A Financial Transactions Tax anyone? Or a levy on revitalised carbon markets? I think it more likely that there will be pledges to 0.7 at some point in the distant future, an intensified conversation about the possibility of leveraging additional private sector finance, and about the need for developing countries to raise more money domestically. But a focus on money as the only instrument should not be allowed to derail the talks.
  7. In that case, countries should be thinking hard about what other elements they can throw into the negotiating pot, or ask their negotiating partners to throw in. Technology looks like a good bet. Professor Sir David King, now the UK’s climate envoy, has long argued for a major investment in R and D to capture the global imagination and deliver sustainable solutions, a kind of global Apollo Project costing 0.2% of GDP. Could this be a shared initiative, perhaps under UN auspices, with a high level of participation by developing countries?
  8. Other negotiating elements? Trade access, remembering that there will be a WTO ministerial in Nairobi in December 2015? Migration rules? Debt relief? These would need to be linked to the overall negotiation.
  9. Other points about money. First, reallocations within existing budgets might be put on the table. For example, I know that developed countries find Loss and Damage a difficult issue, because they worry about the legal repercussions. They may change their positions, and engage fully with the Warsaw Mechanism. As a fall-back, however, they could make commitments to building resilience and ensuring that humanitarian appeals are fully funded. This would provide a useful link to another important process in 2015, the Sendai conference on disaster risk reduction (WCDRR), as well as to the Humanitarian Summit planned for Istanbul in 2016. Can we have some kind of social protection guarantee on the table in 2015?
  10. Another point on money. My advice to negotiators from donor countries would be to coordinate well and aggregate offers into one large proposition over a number of years. One trillion dollars over five years sounds much better than twenty pledges of $10bn a year, renewable. I remember Gordon Brown at the G20 in London, at the height of the financial crisis, being able to announce a $US 1.1 trillion fiscal package for the world economy. In this case, the financial offer might provide an incentive to strike a deal.
  11. A third point on money is that timing is critical. The dilemma facing donors is that they will be expected to make significant commitments in Addis Ababa, but if they do so, then the locker will be empty when it comes to New York and Paris. One way to solve that problem is to make conditional offers. The EUEuropean Union did this in the climate negotiations back in 2007, when it offered to increase its reduction target from 20% (over 1990 levels) to 30% ‘if other major economies in the developed and developing worlds committed to undertake their fair share of a global emissions reduction effort’. Would it not be reasonable for donors (not just the EU) to make a financial offer in Addis Ababa in July, conditional on satisfactory emissions commitments in December?
  12. It goes without saying that for the climate negotiations, an ambitious INDC is essential. Every country needs to contribute, probably with additional pledges held in reserve for Paris. As I have argued before, there needs to be no ambiguity about what is being offered: that means a pathway for total GHG emissions, broken down by gas.
  13. In thinking about the progress of negotiations, it will be important to differentiate between countries, taking account of which are more progressive or ambitious, and what kinds of deals can be stuck. My own view is that India could be a swing state, not least because the new Government has a strong commitment to action on climate change. I can strongly recommend reading Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s book on the subject – I reviewed it here. The new accord between Mr Modi and Barack Obama may be especially important, focusing as it does on renewable energy. See the comment above about collaboration on technology acting as a driver of consensus.
  14. Building on this idea, the negotiations will be easier if climate action can be presented convincingly as a win-win option. This, for example, is the argument laid out in the report of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, whose report, published in September, makes the case that green growth pathways have become more affordable and also offer significant co-benefits like reduced pollution and improved health. I reviewed it here. My view at the time was that the argument was more convincing in relation to some places than to others, and that more work was needed to disaggregate the argument to particular places. The work continues, so perhaps that is happening.
  15. Even where the argument can be made, however, it is important to identify what policies and instruments will need to be deployed to achieve transition. Technological progress and on-the-ground innovation may well be becoming easier, as the NCE report argues, for example with respect to the rapidly falling cost of solar power. Still, Government incentives remain essential to underpin innovation, as Mariane Mazzucatto reminds us, in her book on The Entrepreneurial State.
  16. Referring back to my eight-point plan, I see that I have not said anything about trust-building measures. That is obviously important. Think-tanks have a role to play. In the SDG process, for example, negotiators are being supported by the Independent Research Forum, a group of think-tanks including ODI, IIEDInternational Institute for Environment and Development and WRI. This provides an opportunity for informal discussion. There are many similar opportunities. For example, CDKN last year convened a series of informal regional workshops on post-2015, summarised at an event in London in September. The Green Alliance, an independent UK think-tank, persuaded all the UK’s main party leaders to sign a letter pledging action on climate change. Does that inspire anyone else?
  17. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the importance of public campaigning, to raise public awareness, stiffen the spines of leaders and their negotiators – and actually, also, give them more room for manoeuvre in making difficult trade-offs. Action/2015 is the umbrella for such action this year. The letter to world leaders is here. I see that Harvard has been taken to court by its students for not disinvesting from fossil fuels, and that students have staged a sit-in in the President’s office. Naomi Klein will be pleased – read my review of her climate book here.


To conclude, the main point is that the 2015 negotiations are all linked and need to be treated as one. A successful outcome is possible, but only with careful, integrated planning. The alternative is grim, especially with regard to climate change.

You might be a Prime Minister or President reading this, or just a citizen. In either case, here is a handy cut-out-and-keep prompt sheet on how to handle 2015.



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