To cries of ‘now you tell us,’ Yvo de Boer, the man perpetually dubbed ‘former UN climate chief’, has reportedly said ‘Discussions about [emissions] targets have become largely irrelevant in the context of the Copenhagen outcome.’ And, has reportedly also said,’ I don’t think that we’re going to see a dramatic increase in the level of ambition.’
His argument is one that will be familiar to regular readers of politicalclimate.net: Countries have made their best offers in the annexes to the Copenhagen Accord and are unlikely to revise upwards until political and economic conditions change. As we pointed out over on the Open Democracy website prior to Copenhagen, targets do not inexorably lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (although if there’s a process like the UK’s Climate Change Committee in place, they certainly help).
‘What matters, however, is not a new UN treaty annex full of “targets” – but actual policies, plans, programmes, measures, actions and national impetus to stop the growth of emissions.’
So, while it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have frequent reminders of the potential consequences of delivery against inadequate targets – although even that looks a tall order at the moment – it’s not likely to be a game changer. By that token, there must be better ways to use valuable time and resources than continually reinventing the same intractable targets debate or producing further analysis to show how inadequate the Copenhagen Accord targets are.
Instead, why not focus on ‘actual policies, plans, programmes, measures, actions and national impetus’. Winning the high and low politics means demonstrating that a country, region, city or community can decouple its prosperity and people’s quality of life from emissions growth. Citizens need to see the benefits of low carbon; governments need to be more confident that the green arrows don’t only point to the exit.