Climate negotiations speech by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, at a seminar at the Sciences-Po School of Political Science

Can political action succeed in the face of climate change?

Europe before Copenhagen – only three months left to find an international agreement

Thank you all for being here. I’d like to try and explain to you why my friends David Miliband and Carl Bildt and I are here before you to discuss what we can, what we have to do together, i.e. what all these countries’ diplomatic networks – and this evening we have with us Carl Bildt, European Union President-in-Office –, what together we can do to counter the negative effects of climate change.

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I. First, it’s urgent to act

We’re three months away from the Copenhagen Conference, the appointment the international community has given itself to decide on the future regime to fight climate change.

It’s an emergency. We’re recommending the concept of what French philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy calls "enlightened doom and gloomism". We are aware, maybe not sufficiently, that we risk disaster. What are we going to do? I’m not a "doom-monger". But that doesn’t make me any less clear-sighted: it’s already very serious and the situation risks getting still worse if we do nothing. There’s certainly no inevitability about it: we believe in action and political will, but we’ve got to act fast.
The challenge is colossal: we have to change our paradigms. There’s more mainstream awareness of the urgency of the fight against climate change. But we have to develop strategies against this change right across the world; obviously people in the developing countries don’t see the battle the same way as those in the rich countries.

On her side France has been working for two years on the subject – particularly in the Grenelle Environment Forum and today with her plan for a carbon tax. It’s also to reflect this new paradigm in our foreign policy that, as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reform, I have created the Directorate-General for Globalization, Development and Partnerships – and France is the only country to have this – which allows us to deal horizontally with subjects such as water, the environment, climate change, health, development aid and economic issues.

But in the international arena, Europe alone is genuinely mobilizing for this negotiation: by proposing among other things a 20% cut in emissions by 2020 from their 1990 level.

The stakes, which are eminently political and eminently international – I should say transnational – are crucial.

And we – three foreign ministers, including the representative of the European Union presidency – have come to talk to you since we think a political dimension has to be restored to these environmental issues: we need to give a sense of purpose to the scientific, technical and militant action, one born out of this urgency. This is the duty of the international community, it’s our duty to have a preventive approach to these changes. It’s our duty – vis-à-vis our planet and vis-à-vis you – to organize ourselves forthwith to address it.

II. An international challenge

An international challenge: why?

. Because our collective security is at stake;
Climate change is, as we know, exacerbating the existing problems. It’s worsening the threats hanging over international stability and is a direct source of crises, these "environmental wars" as they are called today:

- worsening tension in areas where natural resources are scarce: I’m thinking of the conflicts over land issues in Darfur and the conflicts over water in the Jordan river region;

- I’m thinking of the disaster threatening the peoples living on the banks of the great rivers of Asia fed by the Himalayas, a veritable time bomb;

- unprecedented impact on harvests and availability of food, particularly in Africa;

- massive population displacements: according to some reports, there could be more than 200 million climate migrants by 2050;

- extension of pandemics and their displacement to new areas, etc.
There are countless examples.

It’s an international challenge because climate change inevitably impacts on development:

The challenge is to give every world citizen the possibility of a decent standard of living without an ecological disaster.

Climate change is putting a brake on development. Efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals are being largely undermined by the threats it presents. It’s calling previous development models into question.

There can’t be development without access to energy or stabilization of the climate: the poorest countries, particularly Africa, are already the most affected by global warming and will be more affected still: populations most dependent on natural resources (agriculture, forests, etc.) are the most vulnerable. How can Africa be supplied with electricity? That’s a question we have to answer.

It’s an international challenge too because to fight climate change we need to establish new global governance machinery and adjust international regulation to the global challenges.

As the difficulties in the international climate negotiations show, we lack mechanisms and institutions to get policies, behaviours, firms’ strategies all to focus on the common goal of cutting greenhouse gases.
This is why a debate has been launched on recasting the system of international organizations (UN) and reducing the gap between the various parties’ expectations and fragmentation of the international system.

The financial crisis calls for a reform of global governance: it’s on the Pittsburgh G20’s agenda. We have to grasp this opportunity also to re-examine the international mechanisms governing development and the environment.

III. A political challenge

At international level, the fight against climate change is first of all a political issue.

Today, unlike with Kyoto, the challenge primarily lies in the developing and emerging countries whose emissions are catching up, or even overtaking those of the industrialized countries, and which fear having to bear the brunt of the emissions reduction if the industrialized countries don’t make really serious commitments.

In his book, "La prospérité du vice, une introduction (inquiète) à l’économie" ["The Misfortunes of Prosperity, An Introduction to Modern Political Economy"], Daniel Cohen pinpoints the heart of the problem in a few figures: if China had the same number of cars per capita as the United States, she would on her own consume total global oil production. If the Chinese per capita paper consumption equalled the West’s, they would use up all the world’s forests. The same calculation can be applied to India, whose population exceeds 1 billion.
Figures which bring us on to the demographic challenge.

The conclusion is simple: quite simply, the earth hasn’t got the resources to "support" a Western-type development extended to every country. Does that mean we are going to deny the developing countries their aspirations to modernity?

Climate change is a global challenge which concerns us all. Only if we all act together will we be able to meet the challenge of reducing greenhouse gases.

But here’s the nub of the matter: the effort isn’t the same for everyone, any more than the consequences of climate change are the same everywhere. And it’s from the poorest that we are asking the most costly effort.

How do we persuade our partners to "share the burden" at the very time when in this climate arithmetic, the famous game theory is unfavourable to them? Some have less to do if the others increase their efforts.

But above all how can we ask the poorest not to pollute just when they are fighting for their survival?

IV. What needs to be done?

What political and diplomatic initiatives can we take before, and above all after, Copenhagen?

Two international meetings scheduled before the end of the month are of capital importance for reaching an agreement in Copenhagen:

. The UN Secretary-General’s climate summit on 22 September in New York;

. the G20 summit in Pittsburgh on 25 September.

We have to seize these opportunities to move forward.
The Copenhagen summit is itself a crucial milestone: it has to inject the requisite momentum for the creation, on France’s initiative, of a World Environmental Organization, a veritable "linchpin for coordinating all the instruments, today dispersed", as President Sarkozy said (at the Ambassadors’ Conference on 26 August).

But besides getting an agreement and bringing about a real change in behaviour, we must, with our southern partners:

1/ Develop trust in order to engage together as soon as possible in low-carbon and energy-efficient development, one which makes innovative use of alternative non-polluting sources of energy, and is fair because resources are shared equitably;

2/ Give assurances: the developing countries will take up this challenge only if the developed countries have done so themselves, set the example and commit to maintaining a positive approach (by keeping their markets open and strengthening financial and technological support so that developing countries can speed up their transition).

3/ Bolster trust: recognize developing countries’ efforts and make clear their rejection of new conditions;

4/ Refocus discussions on the impact of climate change on the poorest, and the principles of fairness which are too often forgotten.
Within the European Union we must all mobilize together to prepare the Copenhagen negotiation, especially with our key partners: your countries, David and Carl, and Denmark and Spain, in particular.
Vis-à-vis our other partners we need to undertake resolute diplomatic action:

With the United States and all the other developed countries, we have to remain exigent on the medium-term emissions reduction targets. The Obama administration’s decision to make a priority of this issue must, let me add, be welcomed. It’s absolutely essential for the European Union and United States to engage in a substantial dialogue on the institutions and regulatory standards.

We must also send the emerging countries a clear message. The fight against climate change is pointless without a significant commitment on their part: they are already – as has been said – among the main greenhouse gas emitters. We must encourage them to pursue and amplify their efforts to develop low-carbon growth. The forthcoming EU/Brazil, EU/India and EU/China summits must be the opportunity for frank discussions with our partners and for launching concrete projects.
At bilateral level we have, with our Brazilian friends, defined common positions on climate change.

We must also send a strong signal to the poor countries, particularly to Africa. Energy poverty and adapting to climate change must become a priority area for our cooperation policy particularly at European level. In North-South climate negotiations, it’s vital for the industrialized countries to support the most vulnerable in their sustainable development choices. France attaches great importance to ensuring that developing countries aren’t forgotten in the international discussions on the climate and access to energy.

So today we are on the eve of what could become a historic summit; one which could be the first stage in establishing global environmental governance – this governance we so want to see and which future generations, your generation are "compelled" to work for to protect our planet from a grim future.

It’s pure politics.

publie le 23/10/2009

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