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Janos Pasztor at the at the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn, Germany.
Carbon Brief
26 June 2015 17:30

The Carbon Brief Interview: Janos Pasztor

Leo Hickman


Leo Hickman

26.06.2015 | 5:30pm
InterviewsThe Carbon Brief Interview: Janos Pasztor

Janos Pasztor was appointed Ban Ki-moon’s assistant secretary-general on climate change in January 2015. He will serve as the UN secretary-general’s senior advisor on climate change until the climate conference in Paris in December. Previously, he was director of policy and science at WWF International in Switzerland. From 2011 to 2012, he served as the executive secretary of the UN secretary-general’s high-level panel on global sustainability.

Pasztor on how much time Ban Ki-moon is dedicating to climate change: “There is not another subject that he spends as much time on as climate change.”

On the importance of tackling climate change: “If we don’t fix climate change, all the development advances that we have achieved will go backwards again.”

On the role of Ban Ki-moon: “[His] role…in all this is to keep reminding ourselves of what the science tells us and what the science tells us where we need to be and where we are now.”

On the importance of climate finance: “We need a lot of trust in this negotiation process. To have a finance package be resolved…this would be very helpful for the overall negotiation process.”

On whether the world could tackle climate change without the UN: “Change…is not happening fast enough…We need a global agreement that clarifies the direction in which we are going and, therefore, accelerates the whole process. Who else can do this other than the UN?”

On whether the 1.5C target is still politically possible? “It is possible. The feasibility is more difficult, let’s be honest.”

On the need for a ratchet mechanism in the Paris deal: “We have to be sure that in the agreement there is a good system of monitoring and review…ratchet up the ambition over time, correcting and adjusting as needs be, to make sure that we can move off the 4-5C pathway.”

On the need for a long-term goal in the Paris deal: “The long-term goal also has to address adaptation and address the financing  of developing countries.”

CB: What proportion of Ban Ki-moon’s working week is he dedicating to climate change?

JP: Wow, it’s a lot! He has consistently, since his first term, been very much focused on climate change. It’s hard to say how many hours. We don’t count the hours when your secretary general; the days and the weeks and so on. But I can tell you that I don’t think there is another subject that he has to deal with – and there are many – there is not another subject that he spends as much time on as climate change.

CB: And at what point did it become this intense? At the summit last September in New York? Has this been a dominant theme for the last two years? Or was it particularly 2015?

JP: No, no. It goes back to his first term. He’s been there now for eight years. And his interests and his engagement in climate change was from the very beginning, shortly after he became secretary-general. And the first major event where he was in action was at the Bali conference and this was in 2007. That’s where he was then he spoke very engagingly and then he left and the negotiations were not going well so he came back and got the people together and said, “You’ve got to agree on something”. That’s how the Bali agreement was finalised. That was his first real interaction and after that he formulated a strategy that he really needs to deal with this particular issue as it was so important to everything that the United Nations does. If we don’t fix climate change, all the development advances that we have achieved will go backwards again: the impact on poverty and food security, and all the things of the UN stands for.  So he recognised it quite early and he said this is something I have to focus on. Then he went on and has been focused on this ever since. It’s not just this year or last year. It’s a long-term, eight-year project.

CB: Can you describe how he will intensify the diplomatic efforts in the run-up to Paris? Can you just map out the next six months, please?

JP: The secretary-general is looking at different areas of climate change. All of the areas will help the agreement and its implementation after the agreement is done. First of all is the political work, that is to say, the negotiations taking place here [in Bonn] in the UNFCCC context. That’s right, there are negotiators dealing with it and that’s right. They are trying to overcome some very difficult issues. And the negotiators cannot resolve, even the ministers cannot resolve all of them and that’s why the secretary-general has engaged heads of state and governments in different fora, bilaterals, multilaterally, and tried to address issues that stand in the way of others here in the negotiations. This will happen more later this year, but now we are getting closer to that part of the year. But first the negotiations need to get going and we need to resolve the difficult issues that come out of that. First, the political. The second has been referred to here as the “action agenda”. While we need the agreement to be absolute – and we are working towards it – at the same time, there are a lot of good things going on in the real world. Renewable energy: the prices are going down and the investment in renewables in China and India and elsewhere are skyrocketing and that’s fantastic. There is a lot of good development and we need to not only recognise this, but encourage it and get it back into the negotiations to demonstrate what’s possible. So the second area for the secretary-general is encouraging the action agenda as soon as possible and push for more. The third is climate finance. We know that without finance that this will not be possible. The secretary-general has been very engaged on both the political side to make sure the Green Climate Fund gets operational, and make sure the $100bn that has been promised from the developed to the developing country’s gets there. But he has also been engaged on the private side and engaging with private sector and institutional investors, pension funds, to make sure that they shift their assets from high-carbon to low-carbon assets. And actually that generates much more than $100bn in real support for low-carbon development. And, of course, the secretary-general is engaged in mobilising and talking about climate change with other groups, with civil society, private sector organisations, to spread the message. And, finally, the secretary-general is also, as the head of the UN system, he is engaged with the whole UN system to make sure the UN has a coherent response, both in terms of supporting the member states this year to develop their national contributions, but also next year to implement this in a coherent manner.

CB: How will the secretary-general play a role in ratcheting and delivering the INDCs  in the year ahead and this idea that beyond Paris ratcheting up of ambition? How does that process play out? What is the personal input that he can do?

JP: So, again, the formal process of the UNFCCC is to agree what is their baseline, what are the rules of the game, or reviewing and monitoring the cycle and looking at these and ratcheting their ambition and, generally, the willingness to do that. And that’s what the countries want to do and they are working on that. The role of the secretary-general in all this is to keep reminding ourselves of what the science tells us and what the science tells us where we need to be and where we are now. We have some way to go. He has been very consistently saying that. That doesn’t mean that the secretary-general has a solution on how we go from here to there. That is the job of the negotiators and of the countries, of course, and all the work that is behind it. But the one person who keeps reminding the world is the secretary-general.

CB: Coming to September at the UN general assembly. You will have some heads of state in New York, how will the secretary-general focus attention and maximise that moment in terms of delivering in the run-up to Paris?

JP: So there will be, indeed, some heads of state – there will be over 100 heads of state in the general assembly in September – and the main focus will be the agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, including the sustainable development goals [SDGs], so one could say that that’s not climate but sustainable development. But climate is sustainable development and the sustainable development goals – there are 17 of them and 12 of them have very strong climate related targets, because they are all about energy and transport and agriculture – that’s what sustainable development is and that is what the implementation of the climate agenda is. In terms of implementation, there is one agenda. And so in a sense, what is happening in September at a general level is the right overall framework to prepare for what happens in Paris at the end of the year. At the same time, with the heads of state being together, it will be an occasion and it will be, certainly, that they will be discussing some of the tricky issues that are evolving. By that time, we will have a better picture on the road to Paris.

CB: So there will be a dedicated moment on the agenda, formally or informally, where the heads of state will talk about the UNFCCC?

JP: There will not be a formal agenda, but there will be some event where the heads of state will be addressing this issue, yes.

CB: You mentioned the SDGs. Currently, they have a climate goal and energy goal, and you mention how it reaches into other goals as well. How do you keep the UNFCCC and the SDG processes apart and yet complementary?

JP: There are these two processors, but there are others. They have technical and other reasons, historically, why there are different processes. Climate is a treaty, a formal treaty, one that needs to be negotiated in a very concrete way. At the end, every word counts. The SDG process is not a treaty, it is international soft law. It is important, very important, but a word in the SDG package does not have the same meaning as a word in a formal, legally binding treaty. These are some of the technical reasons why there are different processes. Now, also the SDGs is about the totality of sustainable development. We’ve been saying quite a lot that climate has an impact on pretty much everything and pretty much everything has an impact on climate. That doesn’t mean that the climate agenda equals the sustainable development agenda because it is broader. But climate is clearly part of it. And you mention the goals. It is not just the two goals. OK, the climate goal is there, but it’s not the one that matters. What matters are the other 12 goals, the ones that link to ocean, energy, transport, the whole lot, because when we talk about climate, what are we talking about? We are talking about energy policy. We are talking about transport systems. About different cities. About different ways of living: agriculture, forestry, etc, etc. That’s what we are talking about so you can be pretty comfortable saying that when it comes to implementation, implementation of the climate agenda is clearly implemented in the sustainable development goals and the post-2015 agenda.

CB: Given where the UNFCCC process is here in Bonn, what will ministers now have to achieve at the ministerial meeting in Paris in July [20-21]?

JP: Progress. [Smiles.]  No, it’s hard to say. Now, even at this moment, we don’t yet see all the outcomes and outputs of this session. [NB. This interview was recorded on 11 May in Bonn. See endnote.] We are not quite sure what will happen between now and that time that the ministerial event will take place. And even now it does appear that the document that might be produced will come after the ministerial session. So there isn’t even a concrete document around which the ministers can put their heads together and say let’s solve this issue or that issue. On the other hand, it’s fairly clear what some of the difficult issues are and I’m sure that the French hosts will be able to work out an agenda for those informal ministerial discussions to really dig into some of the difficult issues and, if not solve them, perhaps have an exchange on them. That’s what an informal sessions are for. They are not there for solving the issue. That needs to be done here. At an informal level, they can exchange about them and try to better understand the other side and somehow come to a solution.

CB: Is it finance? Differentiation? The issues we’ve known and loved for many yearsâ?¦

JP: They know what they are. Differentiation, finance, those are very important ones. And there are some that are, perhaps, not in the big league, but are just as important. I think, generally, people know what the difficult issues are.

CB: When it boils down, though, is it finance? Is that, ultimately, the ticket to solving this?

JP: I would say that finance is one of the key ones, really, if not the most important one. Partly because, and this is something that the secretary-general has said repeatedly, the availability of finance is in addition to the fact that it is available and used is because it is very, very important to create trust. And we need a lot of trust in this negotiation process. To have a finance package be resolved, or at least have some clear signals of how it will be resolved, I’m pretty certain that this would be very helpful for the overall negotiation process.

CB: The papal encyclical, the divestment movement, the growth of renewables, some evidence coming through that emissions might be now decoupling from economic growth. Given these external events, could the world tackle climate change without the UN?

JP: OK, that’s a very interesting question. My short answer is no. You mention the papal encyclical, we haven’t seen it yet, but I look forward to seeing it, too. But we haven’t seen it yet. The secretary-general met the Pope and they had a very encouraging discussion in this regard. So I anxiously wait to see that. The world is moving forward and the renewable energy revolution is taking place. Yes, it is all happening, so you could say that we don’t need the UN, but the reality is that, first of all, the change, whilst happening, is not happening fast enough and we need the negotiations and we need a global agreement that clarifies the direction in which we are going and, therefore, accelerates the whole process. Who else can do this other than the UN? It’s the governments that have to do it. Some do not like the United Nations and say that it is not efficient and so on, but it has to be intergovernmental. If it’s not the UN, then you take the same governments somewhere else and it is still the same governments. The issue is not the UN, the issue is the governments. They have to make the agreement. So I am convinced, yes, things are happening in the world, and they are good and some of them are going to go definitely in the right direction, and the speed has to increase. That’s the other thing, the changes are happening in the world, but not necessarily in an equitable manner. Equitable between countries and equitable even within countries. That is, again, something that a global agreement can work towards.

CB: I think it has been discussed or even proposed that in Paris the French presidency of the COP would like the heads of state to arrive at the beginning of the process as opposed to, say, in the last few hours of the process to, maybe, avoid the chaos of Copenhagen. What’s your view of this? Is this likely?

JP: I wouldn’t like to suggest what is likely or what is not. In the end, the host country is France and they will do what they think is the most appropriate thing. But having heads of state upfront giving clear direction on where they want the final part of the negotiation to go is not a bad idea at all.

CB: Can you explain the diplomatic reasons why it might be a good idea?

JP: It is because at that point either we will have resolved all of the issues and they can just celebrate. That is one scenario. And it would be nice if we had that. But the much more likely scenario would be that a lot of good progress had been made and there will still be some difficult issues on the table for discussion and agreement. At this point, the way these things usually happen is that those difficult issues are way beyond simply climate issues. They are about the big picture economic issues. And that’s where the heads of state can consider them and give clear direction about this is, where we want to go, and this is what we want to do. Work it out. There is still a week or 10 days for the negotiators to work that out. That is the idea of potentially having the leaders at the beginning and, indeed, apart from that idea has been discussed, there are other, not ideas, but there are different fora and different events where different heads of state will be present and they will all be used in different ways to move forward on the climate issues. There will be the G20, there will be the Commonwealth heads of state, the latter just the weekend before the COP starts. The G20 will be a few weeks before and there will be the September summit. There are all these different opportunities where heads of state are present and the idea of the COP presidency and the secretary-general is to make the best use of all of these together.

CB: The IPCC says on current emissions trends the world will use up the carbon budget for 1.5C in under a decade. Is 1.5C target still politically possible?

JP: It is possible. The feasibility is more difficult, let’s be honest. If you read on in that same report, it shows what are the things that the world needs to do to make the possible into feasible and it’s a lot. It’s a lot, and that means that the discussions that we are having here in the negotiations have to focus really on the aggressive carbon reduction and adaptation, the financing. All those things have to come forward. Without that, it will remain just a possibility, but it is politically possible.

CB: How would you, or the secretary general, define success in Paris and what are the obstacles to success? The day after Paris, how will you judge whether it has been a failure or a success?

JP: I think it is still little bit too early to say that, but I do recall before the Copenhagen conference that the secretary-general had a set of criteria and made it public before the conference. I suspect that something like that will happen again this year. We’re not quite there yet, so it is a bit early, but one can still say that if the overall package of the conference – and I want to explain what I mean by that – the overall package does not help us to move towards a 2C pathway then it is not a success. We are on a 4-5C pathway at the moment under business as usual, so it is not a question of keeping on the 2C halfway. It is a question from moving from the 4-5C pathway, which is the current business-as-usual scenario, to one that would be less than 2C. Now what combination of actions that are being discussed here will help us to get there? Clearly, we need a better set of nationally determined contributions – the INDCs. Well, we know that in the most likely outcome, they will not be enough for 2C pathway, but that is what all countries are able to do today. We should not look at this as a failure, or that it is not good enough, but that is where we are in terms of all the countries. This is the first time that we’ve actually had all this information, so that’s a pretty important thing by itself. But if we recognise that that is not enough then we have to be sure that in the agreement there is a good system of monitoring and review, some kind of mechanism in a very specific set of cycles that allows the countries to look at the baseline and a ratchet up the ambition over time, correcting and adjusting as needs be, to make sure that we can move off the 4-5C pathway to a less than 2C pathway in the future. For that to happen, we also need some kind of clear direction of where we’re going, more than just a 2C pathway.

CB: Some kind of long-term goal?

JP: That could be a long-term goal. It’s about decarbonisation, but it’s also cannot just be about mitigation. The long-term goal also has to address adaptation and address the financing  of developing countries. It all of that together. If you focus all of it on mitigation then it becomes particularly difficult for some countries. It clearly has to be a package.

CB: If a scorecard is produced by the secretary-general, say, a week or month before Paris, so everyone knows what it is being judged against, the secretary-general will be prepared to say this is a failure if it doesn’t take the right criteria?

JP: Yes. That’s the purpose of the scorecard. But he will also be able to say that we have achieved it.

CB: But it sounds like the focus will be on the ratchet. We already know that the INDCs will not add up, currently, to 2C. You talk about the pathway, the road coming down, therefore the ratchet mechanism, from what you’re saying, will be one of the crucial and key elements.

JP: Another important element is this action agenda that demonstrates what is possible or is already happening and what we need to encourage it further. So it is the baseline of the INDCs of today and it is the mechanism to bring up the ambition later. It is the finance that will make it all work and it is the action that is already happening and encouraging and that we hope will grow. If that comes together, that begins to look like a successful package.

CB: Just finally, what is the latest word that you’ve got from some of the key missing and remaining INDCs? I think we’ve got China coming at the end of this month and, of course, we are still waiting for Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Australia. What is your latest intelligence or thinking on the delivery of some of these key ones?

JP: We don’t have intelligence on all of the INDCs. All of the INDCS are important. The secretary-general wrote to all of the member states a few months ago asking all of those that have not yet submitted their INDCs to do so. So he is concerned about everyone, but slowly they are coming in. It would be nice if they came a little bit faster, but at the same time, the secretary-general recognises that preparing an INDCS is challenging so he also has made sure that the UN system is available to support developing countries in the preparation of the INDCs. This is not an easy process.

CB: Would he be prepared to write another letter to chase it, if one is still waiting or delaying?

JP: At this point, I wouldn’t say that he would do this now, but if 1 October comes and we are missing some, then I think that would be a challenging situation.

CB: Thank you.

JP: Thank you.

Main image: Janos Pasztor at the at the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn, Germany.

(The interview was conducted by Leo Hickman on 11 June 2015 at the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn, Germany.)

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