Over 120 senior government representatives, UN decision-makers, NGO leaders, scientists and business people, met in Geneva, to focus on key issues which must be addressed at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.

Over 120 senior government representatives, UN decision-makers, non-governmental organization leaders, scientists and business people, met to discuss key issues which must be addressed at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. The top-level environmental discussion and debate was organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and held at the organization's headquarters in Morges, Switzerland, on 1 and 2 July 2009.

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General: "We have to seal to deal, or at least make real and solid progress, in Copenhagen in December, and we have to ensure that by 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, everyone understands the importance of nature, our life support system."
The event will also celebrated the work of environmental trailblazer, Maurice Strong, who turned 80 last April. As the Secretary General of both the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, which launched the world environment movement, and the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and first Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Maurice Strong has played a critical role in globalizing the environmental movement.

Welcoming participants, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General, said: "For all of us, this is a crucial and pivotal year. We have to seal to deal, or at least make real and solid progress, in Copenhagen in December, and we have to ensure that by 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, everyone understands the importance of nature, our life support system.

"And, of course, 2009 happens to be the 80th birthday of Maurice Strong, who has touched so many lives – all of ours in this room, and thousands of others, with his incredible vision and foresight both about the challenges we face and the solutions that we must put in place.

"Maurice did not want a birthday party, but rather a chance to meet and discuss key issues with those who have been with him on the journey that has brought us to this pivotal year.

"In this room, we have many who contributed significantly to that journey which began, nearly 40 years ago, as well as those who have joined along the way and who will carry the torch into the future.

"This dialogue could not be more important or more timely as it addresses the issues that will literally determine the future of life as we know it."

Addressing participants, Maurice Strong said: "If you look at the agenda of the first world environment conference, the UN Conference on what we called the "Human Environment", which was held in 1972 in Stockholm, most of the issues we are discussing were there. Of course, they had varying degrees of priority and interest.

"In my opening speech at Stockholm, I cited climate change as one of the key issues. Nobody was really listening. It was not seen as it is seen now, with a sense of urgency. We thought it was a long term issue and we didn't get much action about the issue.

"After we established the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), one of the first things we did was to organise expert group meetings on climate change. After I left, UNEP joined with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in creating the inter-governmental panel on climate change.

Maurice Strong: ""The climate change issue and the economic issue come from the same roots. And that is the gross inequity and the inadequacy of our economic model. We now know that we have to change that model."
credit: UNphoto/Mark Garten

"Climate change was an early issue. A comment about the scientific community. It is easier sometimes to get consensus in the political community, rather than in the scientific community. But the overwhelming consensus among the scientific community today is that the risks of climate are much greater than we thought and more urgent than we thought.

"Changes in the climate are occurring more rapidly, and some changes are beyond the possibility of reversing. We have to be concerned with adapting to changes that are occurring within the system and also preparing for changes that are more acute -- by bringing the level of greenhouse gas emissions to roughly no more than 450 parts per million.

"And that means everybody has got join in this process. It is the biggest single attempt to get co-operation from the international community.

"Copenhagen is very very important. I have to say that so far we have not seen real evidence that the governments are prepared to do radical things that they must to in Copenhagen. If we just patch up the existing system, it will not work. It will come back and bite us even more strongly.

"Hopefully, Copenhagen will move us forward. I think it is too much to expect that the conference will produce the kind of agreements necessary. But the conference can produce some important agreements that it can provide the foundation for a continuing process.

"I would like to see agreement on an agenda of what is really desirable, one that everybody could work to achieve. We have to make radical changes in our existing economic system.

"The climate change issue and the economic issue come from the same roots. And that is the gross inequity and the inadequacy of our economic model. We now know that we have to change that model. We cannot do all of this in one stroke. But we have to design a process that would produce agreement at a much more radical level.

Keynote addresses

Dr Ashok Khosla, the founder of the Delhi-based Development Alternatives, and current President of IUCN gave the day’s first keynote address.  He outlined the links between poverty and environment and climate change and development, reminding all that the largest cause of the unsustainable pressure on the Earth system is uncontrolled population growth.   He stated that solving this issue would lead to smaller families who would require less energy and therefore be in a position to increase their living standards and get out of the poverty cycle.

Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute, USA followed with a speech entitled: “The USA says it is back, but is it really?”, sharing his views on progress made by the Obama administration under the leadership of a President who is truly committed to making a difference.  Mr. Lash referred to the political will that has recently been shown by the passing of the Waxman-Markey Bill in the House of Representatives. He was realistic however that there is still a need to obtain support for the Bill from the Senate and to gain true interest in climate change among the US public.

Panel discussion

The morning ended with a panel discussion on “Copenhagen negotiations: what can make it derail, what can make it work, what cannot be left out?” moderated by Simon Hobbs from CNBC Europe.  The invited panellists were:

  • Nitin Desai - Distinguished Fellow of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and member of Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, India
  • Paula DiPerna - President, Chicago Climate Exchange International and Executive Vice President, Chicago Climate Exchange;
  • Mohamed El Ashry - Senior Fellow with the UN Foundation and former CEO and Chairman of the Global Environment Facility;
  • Johan Schaar – Director, Commission on Climate Change and Development, Sweden and IUCN Councillor
  • Maurice F. Strong – Honorary Professor and  Honorary Chair, Environmental Foundation, Peking University

The debate in the panel and the active participation by the audience focused on the linkages between poverty and environment, climate change and development, as the fundamental issues that shape the discussions leading to  the Copenhagen negotiations.  Participants pointed out that world was facing such severe crises in poverty and in the environment.

The panelists discussed what was hoped to be achieved in Copenhagen, stressing that developing countries are also undertaking serious climate change mitigation actions with several examples provided from India and China.  However, it was also noted that climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries are primarily about development at national level, and that they should be seen as a means to increase resilience and reduce poverty within the country - not primarily as contributions to global green house gas emissions reductions.

The discussion recognized that the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which is scheduled to take place in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December this year,  was unlikely to reach a detailed agreement with numbers and figures and that all those concerned should strive for is political will and commitment and agreement on a vision and mechanisms to reach it.

Role of biodiversity and ecosystems in climate change

The afternoon commenced with a presentation by IUCN Deputy Director-General,  Dr. William Jackson, who reflected on the role of biodiversity and ecosystems in climate change. He pointed out that nature-based solutions to mitigation and adaptation, namely Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and Ecosystem-based Adaptation, can be rapidly deployable approaches that are cost-effective and provide benefits to local livelihoods, as well as conserving biodiversity.  These approaches should be considered alongside a broader set of adaptation and mitigation options in the Copenhagen agreement.

Working group discussions

Later in the afternoon, participants broke into four groups, to discuss specific aspects of the Climate Change debate.

Group 1 debated: “Linking development, climate change and the environment - business unusual”, under guidance of Andrew Steer from the UK Department for International Development (DFID)  and Poul Engberg Pedersen from the Norwegian Agency for Development (Norad).

Key points in this discussion were:

Development finance and climate finance must be integrated, as climate change adaptation is all about poverty reductions and sustainable development, but the Climate change negotiators have not yet shown strong support for this notion.

The Overseas Development Administration (ODA) promises (0.7% Gross National Income) must be kept, and climate finance should be additional.  However, funding arrangements and management must be re-thought, and more focused on people that are hit by multiple crises of poverty, climate and conflict.

New governance structures are needed for aid disbursement, rejecting both ‘entitlement’ and old-fashioned aid approaches.  Compact approach and/or budget support offers a way forward, and capacity building is essential.

Money should be used for transformation at several levels: promote a more integrated approach; follow the subsidiarity principle; create public-private-civil society partnerships and promote cross-country sharing of lessons learned.

Ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation can be helpful in breaking down silos but the approach must have people at the centre.  The focus should be on increasing livelihood resilience, and the role that ecosystems can play in this.

Imagination and innovation should be applied to create and develop new instruments, such as sustainable drawing rights, certificates for non-emission, and sharing agreements for public environmental goods

The second group discussed “Political will, scientific uncertainty”, under guidance of Dr.Bruce Alberts from Science Magazine and José Maria Figueres Olsen from Costa Rica

Key points in this discussion were:

There is great need to communicate the science and information on how we relate to nature more effectively.  We missed the opportunity when the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment came out and the reports from the International Panel on Climate Change could also fall under this category.   However, communicating scientific knowledge and information should take into account cultural diversity and specificities in regions and countries.  We also need to be clear what the message is that we want to convey.

We have to move forward on different fronts in parallel.  Targeting the public at large, and youth in particular, should run in parallel with negotiations at the global United Nations level.   To effectively reach out to young people, it is critical to use web-based instruments like Facebook, You-tube, Twitter, mobile phones, video games, virtual marches, etc.  Engaging celebrities as champions or role-models helps to bring attention to the urgency of the matter, as long as the celebrity is credible and well briefed.

Action should also be geared towards up-coming major meetings like the Conferences of Parties of key conventions, Rio+20 and the World Conservation Congress in 2012, the MDG review in 2015.

Group 3 grappled with the question: “The Financial Crisis meets the Climate Crisis – can valuing nature build a green economy?”.  The Co-chairs of this group were Camilla Toulmin from the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED)  and Pavan Sukhdev, the leader of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study.

Key points in this discussion were:

The road towards a green economy is largely determined by fiscal policies.  There is an urgent need for a more even playing field – fiscal policies often result in very inequitable, unsustainable and inefficient distributions of income.  As such, there is an urgent need to rethink taxation and incentives. The burden of taxation should be increasingly shifted towards resource use – what societies ‘take’ from the environment.  Such measures are particularly important when considering the need to reduce the budget deficits in national accounts that have resulted from the recent financial crisis. It is also important to allocate an equal focus on incentives and to strive towards greater convergence between regulators and entrepreneurs.

It is essential to base greening efforts on meaningful indicators, as societies can only manage what they can measure.  The expertise is available, and governments should follow existing and emerging standards to apply more appropriate metrics to their national accounts.  We need to integrate elements such as carbon footprints and strive for a fuller life-cycle analysis of supply chains, highlighting ‘embedded carbon’ in products.  The establishment of performance-based labeling of goods and services would be another step forward.  It is also important to focus greater attention on consumption, and recognize that a green economy offers a strong potential in terms of employment generation.

Greater investments in natural capital are essential, and REDD represents a unique opportunity to stimulate green growth through greater investments in the preservation and restoration of natural ecosystems and the services they provide.  Governments and business leaders should embrace this significant investment opportunity, but the simple ‘local is better’ maxim is a flawed argument which needs to be carefully nuanced.  An urgent need to help get REDD off the ground is to invest in developing and disseminating appropriate technical expertise, and promoting a stronger link between information technology and environmental technology.

Whilst it is important to work on global policies and national taxes and incentives, there is equally need for the creation of a bottom-up social movement that deals with equity, with job creation, with empowerment.  The environmental community needs to align its agenda with the interest of those who depend on natural resources for their survival, and not operate in isolation.

The trade implications of ‘green’ policies are both very significant and highly complex.  There is a question of equity between developed economies and developing countries and between different groups within nations.  We are missing a sense of urgency, as for many people environmental issues are a matter of survival, or even life and death.

Governments are not doing enough, and many private companies are ahead of the game in planning and thinking ahead.  However, the private sector is waiting for governments to give them the rules of the game.  Regulations should not be overused, and governments should be wary of excess protectionism as a result of the financial crisis.  The current crisis offers an unprecedented opportunity for governments to fast-track regulatory measures to encourage greater investments in natural capital.

The fourth group looked at ways to secure our energy futures, under guidance of Irene Freudenschuss-Reichl from Austria and Marco Dunand from Mercuria Energy Trading

Key points in this discussion were:

Many aspects of energy need to be addressed but - while focusing on individual actions - an integrated approach across the following issues is needed for optimal results.

Energy efficiency is the number one priority for low-hanging fruit to reduce carbon emissions. A range of complementary drivers from regulation and financing, matching incentives and innovation in materials are required.

Information access on sources and technologies is required. Education and awareness should be focused on key groups including children, architects and engineers.

Renewable energy sources that are currently available should be promoted widely, accompanied by continuous investment in innovation for new energy technologies.

Political will is required to help push through necessary energy reforms and investments. The creation of jobs through renewable technology is synonymous with this approach.

Carbon pricing is an effective way of stimulating investment in the right areas. Pricing on other natural assets such as oceans, water and forests will also encourage investment in the energy services they can provide.

Subsidies should be eliminated for polluting energy technologies, to create a level-playing field with renewable energy technologies.

2 July 2009, plenary sessions

After further discussions in groups, the four co-chairs reported back to plenary.  The report of their discussions was used to frame the statement about the meeting which IUCN will share with its Members and partners, and which is attached to this report.

The plenary session was concluded at midday with a message from emerging environmental leaders from The Global Environmental Governance Forum, lead by Professor Maria Ivanova.

Related links: The International Union for Conservation of Nature