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Michael Jacobs
19 October 2015 11:56

The Carbon Brief Interview: Michael Jacobs

Sophie Yeo

Sophie Yeo

Sophie Yeo

Sophie Yeo

19.10.2015 | 11:56am
InterviewsThe Carbon Brief Interview: Michael Jacobs

Michael Jacobs is a senior advisor to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. He is also a visiting professor at both the London School of Economics and University College London. He spent six years as special advisor on climate and energy policy to the former British prime minister Gordon Brown.

  • Jacobs on the new UN draft text: “Negotiators like to create difficulty and I don’t think it’ll be easy to get this text adopted. I don’t think there are very many alternatives.”
  • On time constraints: “The risk is it becomes a lowest common denominator agreement because that’s the easiest thing to do in the time.”
  • On leaders’ roles at Paris: “I think that cannot do any harm and may help the process.”
  • On finance: “I think a very specific number for a specific year will be harder, but a commitment to scaling it up beyond 2020 I think is likely.”
  • On raising ambition over time: “What we haven’t yet got, and will be one of the negotiating issues in Paris, will be can we get a requirement of progressivity.”
  • On loss and damage: “Symbolically, it was very important I think for many countries that it went into the main text and it was recognised as a concept.”
  • On compliance: “We are simply not going to see major economies putting themselves in danger of being non-compliant with an international agreement.”
  • On equity: “We need to find language that acknowledges CBDR, acknowledges the critical requirement of equity in this agreement, but doesn’t create two rigid kinds of countries and prevent the transition of countries from one group to another.”
  • On rules: “We’re still working out how to calculate land use emissions, and for those countries for whom land use emissions are an important part of their inventory and their reduction commitments, that’s going to be very important.”
  • On changes since 2009: “Overwhelmingly, the difference between Copenhagen and now is the economic case for action on climate change…Countries are saying there’s a better path of development than the old high carbon one.”

CB: Almost all countries have come forward with their intended nationally determined contributions now. Do you think this means that the hard work is done before Paris?

MJ: Well, the hard work of getting countries to commit to reduce their emissions and also to take action on adaptation has been done. The interesting thing about the Paris negotiations is that they’re not negotiations about what countries will actually do to mitigate climate change. That’s been left for countries to do themselves in a nationally determined way, a bottom-up way, if you like. And we now have 147 countries, 90% of global emissions being covered by commitments made at national level by the individual countries. So, in that sense, a lot of the work has been done. But, of course, it’s not enough work because, as we know, when you add all these INDCs up in terms of the total emissions reductions that are being projected for 2030, it isn’t enough to hold the world to a 2C path. So even though the work, in a sense, this year has been done, a lot of work is still required in the following years.

CB: OK, while we have had a lot of the bottom-up pledges come in, there’s still a noticeable gap of the OPEC countries, countries like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, yet to come forward and pledge. Do you think we have underestimated the challenge of getting these petro-states on board?

MJ: I think it’s a very interesting question as to when these countries will decide to report their own commitments, whether this is, in fact, some organised resistance to this process, or is simply the conditions of each individual country. But I think that process will happen after Paris if there is an agreement, because once it comes into force, a legal obligation on every country to produce an emissions reduction plan, and then I think the OPEC countries will fall into line.

CB: So, you don’t think they cause a threat for the Paris negotiations themselves?

MJ: Well, the Paris negotiations are going to be difficult, we know that, and the oil producing countries have in many ways the most to lose. This is going to be an agreement that is going to set the world on the path to the progressive decarbonisation of economies. Now, that’s going to take a long time. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to produce oil in the meantime. But it is in a sense a challenge to them and to their model of development. So nobody should think the Paris negotiations will be easy. Every country, not just the oil producers of course, every country wants something out of the agreement, and getting an agreement that gives everybody something while compromising on other things is going to be difficult, and they should not be taken for granted by any means.

CB: The co-chairs have just delivered the first draft of the text that could be signed eventually in Paris. The EU commissioner Cañete has said that it lacks specificity and ambition. Do you think that the text could form the basis of a successful outcome later this year?

MJ: Yes, I do. I think that the new text that the co-chairs have produced is quite cleverly constructed. So, the first thing to say is that this is the first time we’ve had a properly constructed agreement which is short enough to be something we could imagine adopting, and the various ways it has been set out, in its various sections, provide quite a helpful structure. But it’s a minimal agreement at this stage. What the co-chairs have done is put in all the basic things they think will constitute, or should constitute an agreement, and it’s for parties to add further ambition in the various ways that they want. So, from a European point of view, Cañete is absolutely right to say it doesn’t contain the things that Europe wants, and most countries can say that. So, that’s a point of negotiation. This is, after all, only a text. And what we must remember is this is an informal document at this stage. The official negotiating text remains 90 pages long, and negotiators are going to have to move from the official negotiating text, which is still extremely long, towards a much shorter text in Paris, and this provides a good basis for that. So, I think this is a good start.

CB: Do you think it’s pretty much taken as read that this text will be accepted by the parties as the basis for negotiations in Paris, or do you think there’s going to be some difficulty about getting that to happen?

MJ: There’s always difficulty. Negotiators like to create difficulty and I don’t think it’ll be easy to get this text adopted. I don’t think there are very many alternatives. If we go into Paris with a negotiating text that is still 90 pages long, then we run into a real problem, which is that there won’t be time to reduce it. So, I don’t think there are very many alternatives to this text, and, therefore, I think it is likely, but it will still be difficult to get it accepted in Bonn.

CB: There has been a lot of talk about the urgency and the need to get something slimmed down. Do you think just the pressure on parties to have something could lead to a lowest common denominator, despite the fact they’ve had several years to get something?

MJ: This is the problem, I think, now. Although many, most countries have made it clear they want an agreement, and the leaders, after all, are saying this, not just the negotiators, or not even just the environment ministers, many of the leaders met in New York recently and they committed themselves to an agreement, so this is moving up the political agenda. So, there’s a lot of momentum now towards getting an agreement. More or less every country wants it. The problem is the time we have to negotiate an agreement which everybody’s happy with. And the risk is it becomes a lowest common denominator agreement because that’s the easiest thing to do in the time. So getting a text in Bonn which provides the basis for that, and then making sure that the key agreements that are already beginning to emerge when the minister meet, when leaders meet, get embodied in the text in the negotiations, is still very important, and there’s a lot of work to do now in a relatively short space of time.

CB: You mentioned having the leaders, and the French COP presidents have said that the leaders are expected to come now at the beginning, rather than at the end of the Paris talks. Do you think that’s a good idea?

MJ: I think it’s probably inevitable now. The French, unsurprisingly, want to make sure this is a moment that succeeds, and they think having leaders there committing to it at the beginning is a way of ensuring that it can’t fail, because leaders will be committed to it. Unfortunately, we know that’s not absolutely necessarily true. In Copenhagen the leaders came, again with the intention not of negotiating the agreement — that was never the intention in Copenhagen — but merely signing it at the end, and we hadn’t got there. So, that’s the reason for having them at the beginning rather than the end, so that they are not involved in any messy negotiations at the end. I don’t think it can do any harm. I think it’s important that leaders don’t set out in their speeches at the beginning hard negotiating positions which would be difficult for their negotiators to row back from and to compromise from, but as long as they’re sensible and they make general statements, I think that cannot do any harm and may help the process. One of the things leaders could do, for example, is acknowledge the fact that when you add all the INDCS up, all the national climate pledges, they don’t add up to guarantee a 2C pathway, and commit to doing more in the future. That would be a very useful thing for them to do at the beginning.

CB: But do you think their negotiators can be trusted? Do they have the authority at the end, and the ministers, to wrap things up themselves? Or, with such an important deal, do you need the strength of leaders to come in and wrap things up?

MJ: I think there may be one or two issues that require leaders’ approval, but that doesn’t mean they have to be there. We have phones. And the ministers, who will be doing the final negotiations, most of Paris will be done by ministers, not by the officials. The ministers will have a lot of authority, but they will be on the phone back to their capitals saying, “This is where we think we’re getting to”, and if there are difficult final decisions, I’m sure there’ll be phone calls made back to capitals. It doesn’t need the leaders to actually be there.

CB: Moving onto finance, how specific do you think the Paris deal needs to be? We had Rachel Kyte reported in the Guardian yesterday saying that the $100bn figure at Copenhagen was picked out of the air and that Paris doesn’t need to be that specific. Where do you stand on that?

MJ: So, I think there are different parts of the finance agreement in Paris, which it’s worth distinguishing. So, the first part is that the governments of the developed countries need to show how they’re going to reach the $100bn they pledged in Copenhagen. And we’ve had a useful start just now when the OECD and Climate Policy Initiative have published a paper which sets out how the $100bn should be counted, because we’ve never been properly able to count it before because there were disagreements on what should count towards the $100bn. So it’s helpful to have that paper now out, and the evidence shows from that that developed countries are about halfway towards providing enough towards the 2020 $100bn per annum figure. They now need to show how they’re going to increase those sums to achieve that, and I think that’s a really important precondition for the agreement, and that, I think, will happen in Paris. And then the second part of the agreement will be what are the commitments beyond 2020, and there the text suggests that finance should be scaled up from the $100bn, it sort of takes $100bn as the floor in 2020, and that seems the kind of territory that we’re likely to land on. I think a very specific number for a specific year will be harder, but a commitment to scaling it up beyond 2020 I think is likely. The third part of the agreement, which is also very important, is that is has to give confidence there will be more money than just public sector money. As everybody knows, we don’t need billions, we need trillions going into clean energy and other forms of decarbonisation and adaptation, and most of that is going to come from the private sector. And most of it is not going to be international flows, it’s going to be domestic flows. So, the agreement needs to indicate that countries are willing and able and want to improve the environment for getting domestic and private flows, as well as the international public ones.

CB: The OECD report that just came out said about 70% of the $60bn pledged in 2014 was from public money, and there’s the private money as well. How do you distinguish the private money leveraged from the $100bn from the private money being leveraged outside of the $100bn?

MJ: So, the OECD paper makes this very clear. There’s got to be a clear link between any private money and some public finance and public policy which has helped generate it. So, this isn’t private flows that are unrelated to public flows. These are private flows of finance that have come about because there’s been some risk taking, or some capital put in from the public sector. So, it’s quite a tight, conservative definition of what counts on the private side.

CB: And what gives you confidence that this gap will be closed before 2020?

MJ: Well, I think that’s what developed countries have to show now. They have to show the sort of money they’re committing now will be increased to reach the $100bn figure overall by 2020. Now some countries have begun to do this. So, Germany and France and the UK, for example, have all now pledged to increase and, in some cases double, the amount of climate finance that they’ve got in the period to 2020, so that’s very helpful, and I think it now requires other major developed countries to do the same. And I think, probably, we’ll need some kind of mid-point assessment to see how far we’ve got in 2017 or 2018, to give confidence to the developing countries that it is going to happen.

CB: Off the back of this new report, people have said that finance could be a deal breaker. Do you still think that’s true?

MJ: Well, everything could be a deal breaker. This is a very complicated agreement with lots of different elements, and countries and the different groups of countries, are set on getting some things out of this. So finance is one of the deal breakers, but there are others, and we’ve got to find an agreement that allows every country to say we’ve got something.

CB: OK, great. On the ratchet mechanism, there’s been a lot of discussion about need for a means in the agreement for raising ambition, because obviously the INDCs at the moment are not enough. How do you see such a mechanism working?

MJ: So, one of the most interesting parts of the negotiations now will be around how we create a process which encourages countries to do more. We can’t force them to do more, but we can create a process by which they are under pressure, as it were. So, the first thing we have to do is get a five-year cycle in place. Now that looks like it’s going to happen. Most countries now seem to be reconciled to the idea that every five years they have to come up with new mitigation pledges for a further five years. So, most of the pledges now are for 2025 or 2030, so we’ll be looking in 2020 to have another round of nationally determined contributions coming forward for 2030 and 2035. We’ve also got well established now a principle of no backsliding, which means that countries can’t produce future emissions pledges which are worse than their current ones. What we haven’t yet got, and will be one of the negotiating issues in Paris, will be can we get a requirement of progressivity, which is the general term now being used for improving, strengthening your commitment. And the other thing we haven’t yet got, which will again be under discussion in Paris, is a provision to revise your existing targets. If you’ve got a target, as many countries do now, for 2030, that’s a very long way ahead, and if that remains fixed and unchanged all the way through to 2030, then we will not be on track for 2C. So, one of the issues will be, will countries be given the opportunity and encouraged to look again at their 2030 targets, perhaps in 2018 or 2020, or even 2023? So that we can keep the world on a progressive path to improving these targets over time? That’s going to be I think in many ways the key issue in Paris.

CB: We’ve seen in the recent co-chairs’ text the idea of this ex-ante review being replaced as a global stocktake, and it has lost a lot of the specificity of the options. Do you think that this is a suitable replacement?

MJ: I think what’s important is that when countries come to do their nationally determined pledges, which are nationally determined and, therefore, will be done in each country, they are doing so cognisant of the global situation. So, that every country is not just doing something with its eyes solely on its own issues, but is looking at what the world needs as a whole, because it is, after all, everybody’s emissions that count towards the climate. And that requires some sort of assessment or stocktake of the path of emissions, what the science is telling us about the impacts, what the science is telling us about the path of technology costs, because, of course, the costs of the technologies are falling rapidly, which gives countries some kind of basis from which to do their nation domestic processes. And that needs to happen a couple of years in advance of the timetable for the mitigation pledges coming forward. So, for example, if we’ve got another round of nationally determined contributions being set up for 2020, we’d want a stocktake in 2018. Similarly if there’s another round in 2025, a stocktake in 2023. So, that sets, in a sense, the timetable. Whether that’s done as an official review by the UNFCCC or, for example, we ask the IPCC, the body of scientists, to do that stocktake, I think that matters less, actually. In a way, you want it to be an independent, non-politicised process. So, I think there are various different ways to do it. The important thing is that there is some kind of global assessment of where we’ve got to, what the path ahead looks like, before countries do their national pledges.

CB: OK. Another talking point of the talks is loss and damage. That seems to have made it into the text, and people are a bit warmer about having that in. Do you have any idea of what’s been going on behind the scenes to get that into the accepted position where it is now, compared to the vitriol that was happening back in Warsaw?

MJ: Well, the interesting thing about loss and damage, which is a very important issue for developing countries, particularly for the small islands, some of whom, if sea level rise occurs as projected, will simply cease to exist in the second half of this century. So, loss and damage, which is the damage and loss that occurs even after you’ve adapted to climate change, is a very important issue, and many countries were insistent it should go in the main Paris agreement. We have a mechanism, the so-called Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage, which is looking at how this issue can be addressed, and one question for the agreement will be do we continue with that, or do we try and create something new? And this mechanism has not really got going. So there are practical issues about what exactly this means. But, symbolically, it was very important I think for many countries that it went into the main text and it was recognised as a concept. And then I think there has been a lot of lobbying behind the scenes to make sure the interest of those countries was taken into account.

CB: Do you think there have been any trade-offs involved to get to this position?

MJ: Not yet, no. I don’t think there have been particular trade-offs that are obvious in the text here. Countries are talking to one another all the time, so in a sense those negotiations are going on all the time. They don’t just go on in the formal negotiations. So, countries are talking about this and how it can be dealt with, but there’s no obvious thing that has not been put in the text or has been put in the text has a sort of counterbalance. This is a balanced text that is trying to take into account the interests and positions of all the different parties, and that’s why it’s there.

CB: The latest version of the UN text describes the compliance mechanism as “non-punitive, non-adversarial and non-judicial”. So, do you think it will actually have any teeth?

MJ: I don’t think the compliance mechanism will be the strongest part of the Paris agreement, but there’s a very good reason for that, which is that if you have a very strong compliance regime, you incentivise countries to be less ambitious in what they put forward, because if a compliance regime is going to punish countries, as, in a sense, the Kyoto compliance regime did, then countries do not want to go there. They don’t want to be put in a position where they will fail to meet their targets and then be put into a regime. Even a naming and shaming regime looks very bad, and that would encourage countries to minimise their commitments, so that they had less likelihood of being non-compliant. So, in the real world that we inhabit in which countries are being asked to make really quite serious changes to the structure of their economies, which they’re not absolutely certain that they can achieve or how costly they will be, having a weak compliance mechanism encourages them to be more ambitious, and to be perfectly honest, it is the only realistic option. We are simply not going to see major economies putting themselves in danger of being non-compliant with an international agreement. So, I’m afraid that is the price we’re paying for having a universal agreement which is demanding a lot from countries.

CB: OK, considering it’s quite likely that Paris will overrun at least by a few hours, what do you think are the issues that will cause it to overrun?

MJ: So, I think finance is always going to be an issue, because, in many ways, it’s the thing that developing countries need most. The vast mass of the negotiating countries are poor countries who are suffering from climate change now and they want support to enable them to cope with it. So, finance in a sense will always be a tricky issue. I think the other big issue is the long term goal, which is a demand of many countries — European, Latin American, African, Least Developed Countries — who want there to be not just the general 2C goal, which we’ve had now for some time, but a more operational goal of the decarbonisation of the economy over the course of the century, during this century, which is what the science says is needed. We know that to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions at any temperature level, let alone 2C, we have to bring net emissions eventually to zero and that recognition, which was made by the G7 in June at their meeting, that it is where we will have to go is now the demand of many countries to put into the agreement — a recognition that, ultimately, we have to phase out greenhouse gas emissions altogether. Now, there are very many other countries which don’t currently accept that and I think it’s going to be one of the tricker issues that will go towards the very end of the negotiations.

CB: The new text has lost the option of absolute zero — it has only got net zero emissions. Do you think that’s a significant omission?

MJ: Net zero is the required amount, because, obviously, if you produce emissions, but then sequestrate them, or more than the emissions you’re producing, that’s acceptable for the climate. That’s still taking the greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere. So net zero is the ultimate goal. The text at the moment doesn’t have all the options, including the word “decarbonisation”. Now decarbonisation is a good word because it means, in the end, phasing out altogether, but it also means progressive reduction. But, on the other hand, it only refers to one greenhouse gas, which is carbon, and the Convention covers lots of greenhouse gases, so there are still big arguments over what kind of language might satisfy different countries and whether countries can live with this commitment into the long term. It’s regarded as so important because it sets the trajectory for investors and businesses, and this, in many ways, is what the agreement is designed to do — it’s designed to tell the actors in the real economy, “Look, the global economy’s only going in one direction now. We are going to progressively take carbon and other greenhouse gases out of our economies,” and that sends a really good investment signal, which is why people feel it’s so important.

CB: Another word that is missing from the new text is “equity”. And the notion of CBDR, common but differentiated responsibility, only comes up once. How do you think the thinking has progressed on this, considering two years ago we were still having really quite bitter debates about firewalls and Annex I/Non-Annex I divisions?

MJ: Everyone [believes in] common but differentiated responsibilities. That is universally accepted and I think will be in the text because it’s an important part of the Convention and everybody accepts it. The issue for the developed economies is whether we persist in describing the world as consisting of two kinds of countries, developed ones who have some kinds of obligations, and developing countries that have different obligations. As developing countries develop, and many of them, after all, are now middle income countries with very significant emissions of their own. Naturally enough, the developed countries feel that responsibilities need to be taken much more widely than just the group of developed countries. That is also now increasingly accepted, so we’ve got to find a balance between the common but differentiated language which everybody agrees with. Nobody expects even China to be doing exactly the same thing as the US, but on the other hand, as countries develop they should take on the same kinds of responsibilities as developed economies. So, we need to find language that acknowledges CBDR, acknowledges the critical requirement of equity in this agreement, but doesn’t create two rigid kinds of countries and prevent the transition of countries from one group to another. And, so, in the mitigation commitments, in the monitoring and measurement and the transparency, reporting provisions, we need to see a much more fluid system in which countries do what they can now, but can move to different forms of commitments over time as they develop. So, I think we can balance all of these different factors and things that different countries want.

CB: A lot of the technical details of the new agreement look like they’ll be delayed until after Paris. There’s a lot of talk of the first meeting of the CMA [Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to this Agreement] in the text. How do you see 2016 and 2017 playing out?

MJ: Well, the negotiators are not going to do all the work in Paris. We’re going to have an overall agreement which sets out the broad structure of a post-2020 regime, and then we’re going to have a lot more negotiation on the details, and that is going to occupy a lot of time in 2016 and 2017, not least because countries are going to want to ratify this agreement over the next two years and they’re going to want to know what some of those details are to ensure that they feel comfortable ratifying. So, for example, on land use, we’re still working out how to calculate land use emissions, and for those countries for whom land use emissions are an important part of their inventory and their reduction commitments, that’s going to be very important. So, there’s a lot of detail to be done in the following two years, in particular, in order to flesh this agreement out. The negotiators are not going to retire, we know that.

CB: OK. Carbon markets are one of the issues that have fallen out of the latest version of the text. How do you think Paris needs to deal with that subject?

MJ: So, carbon markets were a very important part of the Kyoto framework, because every country was given its emissions allowance, and then you wanted the possibility of trading those in order to get the most efficient reductions globally. This system is going to be different. We’re not going to have a system of allowances which each country is given by the agreement, because each country is nationally determining its own emissions pathway. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to trade between countries. It just means that system is not essential to the structure of the agreement as it was. So, I think we will have some provisions for trading, but it will be much more about what countries are able to do, and we need to embed in that some core rules on what counts as as tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, so trading is not a means of evading your responsibilities through creative accounting. It is a means of getting more efficient reductions and sharing responsibilities between countries. But it isn’t going to be a global system in the way that we had after Kyoto, and that’s why it’s not quite as important this time round as it was last.

CB: OK, just a few more questions then. Since Copenhagen, what would you say are the three biggest developments in the world outside of the talks that could influence the world inside the talks?

MJ: Overwhelmingly, the difference between Copenhagen and now is the economic case for action on climate change. And this is the reason why people are reasonably confident now about there being a Paris agreement. Six years ago in Copenhagen, we didn’t really know whether it was going to be possible to reduce emissions radically in a cost effective way, in a way that countries felt was consistent with their paths of development and growth. This was particularly true for the big emerging economies who were seeing themselves growing very considerably over the following 30 years, their emissions, therefore, naturally tending to rise, and they really didn’t know whether there was going to be enough carbon space, as it were, in the atmosphere for their own growth. And, therefore, they were reluctant to take on significant and certainly long term emissions reductions, and, to be perfectly honest, the developed countries weren’t confident about it either. Over the last six years, the technologies and the cost of the technologies have radically transformed. We’ve had this massive reduction, 80%, 90% in the cost of solar, and very significant reductions in the cost of wind, which now mean that solar and wind are at the same price as coal and gas, fossil fuels, in many countries around the world, even without subsidy. We’ve now got storage technologies coming in which are going to radically change the business model for producing energy. In vehicles we’ve got clean vehicles, electric vehicles, hybrids now coming onto the market. We’ve seen in Brazil that it’s possible to reduce deforestation even while increasing agricultural production. So, in many areas the technologies have completely transformed, the costs have transformed, and countries can now see reducing emissions really quite radically is now consistent with our economic growth and development goals. And you’ve got a whole new discourse of green growth that has emerged which is capturing the evidence for that and the projections for this. And this is no longer just a claim for green growth or green development made by environmentalists. This is now the World Bank, the OECD, the IMF — everybody is acknowledging this is possible, and it was all captured in the report of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which came out last year, with its report Better Growth, Better Climate. And that term “better growth” is very telling. What we’re now seeing is that a low carbon path of development, a climate resilient one, is not just possible, but it’s actually a better path of development for many countries. So, you look, for example, at what’s happening in the world’s cities, which are now clogged up with traffic congestion, people dying from air pollution caused by greenhouse gases, and, actually, countries are saying there’s a better path of development than the old high carbon one. And that understanding of the economics of climate action has transformed the politics, because, of course, now you’ve got many industries, businesses, which will make money out of reducing carbon, whose interests lie on the side of climate regulation and policy. And that changes the politics in almost every country, and that is why we have such a different context now for the international negotiations compared to a few years ago.

CB: So, considering you’ve got this momentum, this economic momentum, happening already, is Paris even necessary?

MJ: Paris will play a really crucial role in cementing the economic momentum that is now clearly visible because it will tell businesses and investors this is now the direction the global economy is going in, and every country is going to be doing it. That is the importance of these INDCs, which have been published over the last few years, which have only come about because of Paris. Although they’ve come about before Paris, they’re not being negotiated at Paris, we’ve only got every country in the world producing a national climate plan with significant emissions reductions because there was a Paris agreement coming up and they were required to do so. So, what the Paris agreement has already done, even before it’s signed, is ensure that this move towards decarbonisation, towards clean energy systems, towards land use strategies that preserve forests and so on, that these are cemented in every country and the agreement will now say this is only going in one direction. So, the cycle of commitments with the ratchet and improved commitments every five years tells businesses and investors the low carbon option is where the markets will be, where the money will be made, and high carbon investment are now risky, and that is what the Paris agreement will do. It’s already begun to do that even before it’s signed, but the signing of it will, I think, be a very significant turning point in investors’ expectations, and that’s what will really matter, because it’s in the real economy that progress will be made.

CB: OK, and finally a question on the media. Do you think they’ll be a help or a hindrance at Paris?

MJ: The problem with the media in Paris will be all the action will take place towards the end, but the journalists will go there right from the beginning, and so they’ll need to report on things during the first couple of weeks, and that always creates the opportunity for media to try and find negative stories. Now one of the interesting things is that Paris is not going to just be about the negotiations. Lots of businesses, cities, states and regions are going to turn up in Paris with their commitments to act on climate change. So, a lot of the action in the first week will not be taking place in the negotiating chamber, but around it as people in the real economy announce what they’re doing, and that I think will provide a good range of media stories. But I’m sure the story will come up that this agreement, after all that, is not going to be that great, because these INDCs don’t add up to enough. So, what’s going to be important, I think, in Paris is that countries show how the agreement is going to get further action beyond Paris. Paris is not the end. Paris is not a solution — it’s the turning point. It’s the point at which all countries commit to further reductions. So, the story which I think may well happen in Paris, which is the sort of slightly cynical, “is this really going to solve the problem?” The answer to that is it is not going to solve the problem, but it’s going to set in train the process by which countries finally tackle climate change over the coming years. So, it’s not the end point, it’s the turning point, and if the media understand that, that will be very helpful.


Main image: Michael Jacobs. Credit: Carbon Brief.

This interview was conducted by Sophie Yeo at the Overseas Development Institute, London, on 8 October 2015.

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