The negotiation of climate change agreements has been the major focus of inquiry to date leading up to the fifteenth Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, which should agree on the successor to the Kyoto Protocol. But, once this is agreed, what will happen next? Here the issue of managing climate change comes into play, and with it the role of the international public sector. Policies to address climate change – through mitigation and adaptation – will require implementation agencies. Clearly, this is an area where a multi-stakeholder approach is needed. But what are the roles of governments, the private sectors, civil society and international secretariats? And are they compatible? And more importantly, can they be implemented?
As the major industrialized powers in the world, the countries in the Atlantic Community will have a major stake in the process, but unlike other areas, they will have to play their role together with the rest of the countries on the planet.
An on-going task will be maintaining the evolving climate change management regime. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change continues to be the core of the regime, but it was agreed with the assumption that the rules for addressing climate change would be negotiated later. The first stage of this process was the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol and the next stage will be the agreement on the replacement of that protocol. There is no doubt that further rules will have to be developed depending on changes in scientific findings about success. This will be built on the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which will have to maintain its quality and consensus-based presentation of the facts.
Built into this is the need to monitor the extent of state compliance with obligations. These will only be known after Copenhagen, but there is no doubt that they will be extensive. The success of any regime is based on whether states comply and this can be encouraged by effective monitoring based on the information received, processed and disseminated by a neutral international organization.
One of the agreed mechanisms that will emerge is mitigation, the process of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Conceptually this is easy: states ensure that their private and public sector enterprises, as well as individuals and households, reduce their emission profiles. In practice, it will be very difficult: many industries, as well as energy and transportation infrastructure, cannot be readily changed. It can be expected that temporary arrangements like emissions trading (including cap and trade) will have to be set up. Some of these already exist at the regional level, while there have been experiments globally such as the Clean Development Mechanism. The option of having mitigation managed by market forces is not realistic, since self-policing is unlikely to work. There will need to be a broad international mechanism to manage the mitigation system, and this has yet to be designed.
For most countries, the main focus will be adaptation, since many of the consequences of climate change – such as sea-level rise, drought and increasingly severe weather conditions – are already inevitable. In that sense, adaptation will replace economic development as the main focus of North-South transfers. This will, in turn, require a strategic reorientation of national public investment policies and regulations and, consequently of the policies and practices of international development agencies like the World Bank, UNDP and bilateral donors. How this is to be done, including consolidating the many funds and programs currently underway, still has to be worked out.
The international public sector, consisting largely of the secretariats of international organizations, has been evolving slowly. Originally established on the basis of a civil service model that characterized the United States, the United Kingdom and France in the mid-twentieth century, it has undergone periodic “reforms” that may or may not have improved its capacity. Clearly if these organizations are to perform their expanded global tasks, their structure, functioning and financing will have to be reviewed along with the new tasks. This is not yet happening on a global basis, but will be one of the key factors in addressing the climate change situation.
John Mathiason, Ph.D., is professor of International Relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of Syracuse University. He was a career staff member of the United Nations Secretariat for over twenty-five years.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Dale Madearis: Local Authorities are Key to Transatlantic Climate and Energy Cooperation
- Michaele Schreyer & Ralph Fuecks: The Next Big Project for the EU is Energy
- Casey S. Butterfield: For Transatlantic Future, Look Beyond Heads of State