Elwin: Climate Negotiations Leadership

My name is Elwin, and I’m a third year environmental studies major from Yale-NUS College in Singapore. I’m extremely excited and honored to get the chance to attend the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) in Katowice this year. I hope to use these blog posts as a way to share my reflections and learning points from my experience there.

The topic that I will be focusing on while I’m at COP24 is climate negotiations leadership. On June 1 2017, President Trump announced his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, even though the rules of the agreement mean that the earliest date that the U.S. can exit from the Paris Agreement is November 4, 2020 (far enough into the future that there is no guarantee that Trump will remain U.S. president by then). My curiosity in the future of climate negotiations leadership comes from how the U.S. has been seen as one of the leaders up until the 2017 announcement. Parker & Karlsson (2018) argue that U.S. leadership was key to the success of Paris – Obama went in with clear negotiation objectives that included having an agreement that required action from all major emitters, as well as bottom-up national pledges instead of the top-down structure of the Kyoto Protocol. This shaped the Paris Agreement as we know it today. Will Trump’s move create a leadership gap that will be filled by other nations, groups of nations, or other actors? Alternatively, does it demonstrate the flaws of the agreement, paving the way for other highly-polluting nations to shun prior responsibilities? COP24 is the deadline for the “Paris rulebook” – a set of implementing guidelines for Paris Agreement that may create ‘lock-in’ for future pathways of action. Hence, this is a crucial point where strong leadership would benefit our collective futures.

Most of the academic literature on climate negotiations leadership has focused either on European countries or the U.S. To make the most of my opportunity of being at the conference and having inside access to events and information, I will focus on two less-studied potential sources of leadership: (1) BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India & China) countries, and (2) non-state actors.

Earlier this year, BASIC countries released a joint statement where they expressed a “determination to complete and adopt the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP)” at COP24 – could this represent a form of leadership from developing countries? My area of academic specialization within my environmental studies major is environmental justice, and so I’m interested the implications of developing country leadership in climate negotiations – will international norms play a part in influencing cooperation and increased mitigation action from developed countries? However, I see two obstacles to this. Firstly, the BASIC countries statement also urges developed countries to honor prior commitments to reach US$100b per year in climate finance by 2020 – which the U.S. was a big contributor to. Secondly, I wonder what China’s direction will be in their commitments, given that former-President Obama and President Xi announced their climate action goals in a joint announcement in 2014.

Secondly, I also want to examine the potential for leadership by non-state actors. There will be a range of side events as well as talks at the Action Hub that focus on climate action. For instance, the We Are Still In initiative in the U.S. brings together a wide range of non-state actors in support of continued climate action leadership by the U.S. By attending side events, asking questions, talking to leading experts in their respective fields and doing my own research through journals and emerging news articles, I hope to get insight into these areas of interests that I wouldn’t be able to access without being there in Katowice.

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