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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 17th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

Outcomes of the Climate Summit of the Americas 2015

By Melissa Harris and Philip Gass of the IISD

From July 7th to 9th, the Government of Ontario, Canada, convened more than 300 leaders from government, businesses and civil society at the Climate Summit of the Americas. The idea for the event was borne out of a discussion at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York last September, among the leaders of Ontario, Quebec and California. They recognized the crucial role that subnational, or ‘infranational’ jurisdictions play in responding to climate change. The summit set out to foster and strengthen partnerships among jurisdictions for global climate action and build motivation and support for carbon pricing. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard delivered opening remarks, emphasizing that the solutions to climate change are already known, what is needed is the mobilization, motivation and political will to implement them. This message was echoed throughout the summit.

Carbon pricing is a must

The summit saw widespread support for the necessity of putting a price on carbon, and served as an opportunity to share lessons on the wide variety of approaches being undertaken at sub-national levels.

A morning session on July 7th chaired by the International Emissions Trading Association included speakers from TD Bank Group, ArcTern ventures, the law firm Latham & Watkins and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. With a general consensus that carbon pricing must be at the heart of a response to climate change, panelists discussed investment models, financing tools and ways in which funds raised by carbon pricing can further reinforce the transition to green economies. Reinvesting the funds raised by pricing back in transition to low-carbon economies was the preferred approach of the panelists, noting that this new revenue stream presents the greatest potential for investment in this area. An additional area of convergence was also the potential role of Green Bonds as a way to develop capital that can then leverage private financing for low-carbon development.

On an intergovernmental panel hosted by Bill Ritter, former Colorado Governor, Ministers from Ontario, BC, Quebec, Mexico and government officials from California and Brazil shared best practices and lessons learned from their climate policies. Panelists discussed coal phase-out, carbon tax, cap and trade, REDD+ and reducing short lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). While each region has taken a different approach to policies and pricing, panelists expressed an interest in working together.

At a morning panel the second day on successful carbon pricing models, participants addressed the questions of why and how pricing has worked in their jurisdictions, and how they have faced challenges to ensure a lasting impact. Speakers from Vermont, Duke University, Great Plains Institute discussed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), allowances, carbon taxes, the experience of the Midwest Governors Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (MGGRA) and the importance of decoupling economic growth from emissions. While they noted that the failure to pass national legislation in the U.S. in 2010 was a setback, the groundwork laid during that period in many states and regions has prepared those jurisdictions to better respond to new climate change approaches emerging from the EPA.

The cost of inaction

There was a reoccurring message from both government and businesses that action on climate change makes economic sense.

During a lunch keynote address, California Governor Jerry Brown explained how action on climate change is cheaper than inaction. He noted that we already have the tools, the question is whether or not we have the political motivation. A call to action for all levels of government, Governor Brown spoke to the need for federal support while recognizing that the most significant source of climate action will come from provinces and states.

On a similar note, Felipe Calderón, Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, and former President of Mexico discussed the false dilemma between economic growth and environmental improvement on day two of the summit. He provided an overview of the Commission’s new report which shows it is possible to have economic growth and a better climate at the same time. In 2014 for the first time in 40 years GDP grew by 3% while emissions did not increase. He outlined a number of actions in the areas of cities, land use, clean energy, energy efficiency, carbon pricing, efficiency, innovation, business, shipping and aviation, and HFCs with the potential to help ensure global emissions do not exceed 2C.

The issue of climate change policies and productivity was the topic of a green economy focused session with representatives from General Motors, Uniliver, the Cement Association of Canada and the Ecofiscal Commission. The importance of policy alignment and certainty was emphasized by all parties, as well the need for international perspective on how local policies effect international competitiveness for the private sector. The Cement Association use the example of cheaper imported cement taking the place in Canadian markets of domestically produced, carbon-priced product as an example of the concern of carbon leakage. As in other sessions, speakers noted that many private sector companies are increasingly seeing the inevitability of carbon pricing and called on governments to act coherently with long-term vision.

Role of forests and land stewardship

A panel on land-use and sustainable development was moderated by IISD President Scott Vaughan. Speakers from CIGI, Environmental Defense Fund, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, and Organization of American States discussed the critical role of land stewardship, forestry management and protection based on partnerships with indigenous peoples that protect human rights. Ontario was invited to join the IUCN Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares by 2020. Examples of innovative finance to reflect the values of forests, including their role in carbon sinks, were explored, as was the critical importance of advancing integrated policies to support sustainability.

A mood of optimism

The second day of the summit got off on the right foot with an opening address by Former US Vice President and Chair of The Climate Reality Project, Al Gore. He posed 3 questions to frame the climate issue: must we change, can we change and will we change? The answer to all was unequivocally yes. He explained that the science is clear and the stakes are high so the status quo must change, and it is our duty as experts to build broader public support. In response to the second question, Gore noted that industry, engineers and other experts are working together to provide renewable energy solutions to enable the shift to decarbonized energy systems. Finally, in response to the question of will, Gore took an optimistic tone stating that although challenges remain, through collaboration and innovation, he believes that we will change to address climate change, the issue is whether or not the willingness to change will come quick enough. Quoting Wallace Stevens, and drawing upon the example of the civil rights movement, Gore stated “after the last no comes the yes, and on that yes, the future rests.”

The afternoon featured a number of additional speakers representing diverse backgrounds and viewpoints on climate change, but all with the same ‘call to action’ theme expressed by Gore, Brown, Calderón and Wynne.

Bianca Jagger discussed the importance of infranationals pushing the United Nations process forward, and linking human rights challenges to climate change. Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell highlighted that enlightened leadership on climate issues has and will continue to emerge, but that practical groundwork on implementation must quickly follow. A panel discussion on planning led by WWF President David Miller highlighted the critical role of government support for innovation and research on climate solutions.

IKEA Canada President Stefan Sjöstrand noted his company’s commitment of US$1billion in funding for climate solutions internationally, as well as committing to install electric vehicle charging stations at all IKEA stores in Canada this summer. President of International Council for Science Gordon McBean, representing the scientific community, shared a statement on behalf of Pan-American climate experts noting what has to be done, and that they are ready and willing to assist policymakers and others in developing and implementing solutions. Many others also committed to lend their support in various ways through the two-day event.

The climax of the summit was when Ontario and more than 20 other states, cities and regions signed the first-ever Pan-American action statement on climate change. The statement indicates that limiting global warming to 2C requires all levels of government to take action and outlines commitment options related to carbon pricing, emission reduction reporting, ambitious targets and action in key sectors. The statement builds on other initiatives such as the Under 2 MOU, the Compact of States and Regions and Compact of Mayors. It is hoped that other jurisdictions will sign on to the action statement in the lead-up to COP-21.

Conclusion

Sheila Watt-Cloutier provided a sobering closing plenary address on the consequences of inaction, drawing from her prior experiences, including her book Right to be Cold about the challenges Inuit have faced to their way of life as the climate warms. Climate change is a challenge for families, communities, wildlife, and the environment, and she noted that there is no price that can be put on the cost of the loss of arctic ice and the well-being it supports in the north.

In the final closing remarks the Ambassador from France Nicholas Chapuis
remarked that he is buoyed by the motivation for action and the commitments that countries are making to the UN process. While these commitments not enough to maintain the two degree threshold, they are moving in the right direction. He noted this unique circumstance stating “not since 1992 have we had such hope of a universal agreement.… Paris is not the end, it is the beginning.”

The recurring message of almost all speakers was about motivation and political will. The solutions for climate change discussed at the summit were not necessarily new: carbon pricing, green procurement and transportation, urban planning, and other topics have all been discussed by environmental groups for years. What was new and readily apparent at the Climate Summit of the Americas was the overwhelming call to action from elected officials at the infranational level and their pledge to push their national counterparts to deliver at COP-21, while taking concrete steps to implement solutions themselves. Ten years ago it was scientists and environmental groups making the statements that Governors, Mayors and Premiers are saying now. Instead of just identifying solutions they are implementing them as well.

The theme of collaboration and collective solutions was also prevalent. Premier Wynne remarked that “Canada was founded on the idea that we have more to gain by working together than we can accomplish apart, it is in that spirit that we convene today”. This is highlighted in the broad range of signatories to the action statement, not just geographically, but in various levels of government. Minister Murray also noted that not only were governing parties present, but also members of opposition parties, in an effort to continue to drive climate change as a post-partisan issue.

The work of these jurisdiction is certainly not complete, and the press to drive agreement at COP-21 and beyond will be difficult, but as Gore noted, after the last no there is a yes, and the parties assembled at the summit all expressed their collective motivation to reach that yes in greater and stronger numbers than ever before.

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