Ms Tubiana, the international climate negotiations are being blocked by Corona, there are no meetings and the UN climate conference has been postponed by a year until November 2021. How can a momentum for more climate protection arise at all?
I am optimistic about this process. Even if 2020 started under bad political omens. Trump’s policies had a knock-on effect, prompting countries like Brazil, Australia and Mexico to stop worrying about climate protection.
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What gives you hope
The economy has taken over the idea of the Paris Agreement and has entered a phase of faster decarbonisation. That is of course not enough if politics does not fit in. But it is an important building block for the implementation of the agreement. This was also seen as a dilemma by the UK COP presidency team that I advised.
How important was the corona crisis for climate policy?
The EU had already developed a very clear vision of climate protection in advance. The Green Deal was accepted, but still had to be translated into a financial budget. Then the corona crisis exploded. In March, I still thought the two-degree goal could be forgotten.
After that there was an interesting combination of different developments. Europe was not doing very well at the start of the crisis. There was a Brexit and the difficulty of finding a common European answer to Covid-19. There was a lot of discussion about whether or not to drop the Green Deal and an ambitious climate policy. Ultimately, it was decided to strengthen it.
That is why, in the course of the crisis, Europe has taken a clearer position on the Green Deal and the net zero target for 2050. We now also have a financial budget to match that. Europe 2.0, so to speak. On the one hand, it was born from the citizens’ movement for a green transformation, which was reflected in the results of the European elections. All governments have felt this pressure. On the other hand, it was then clear that there was a need for a green response to the crisis.
This would have convinced the Chinese to announce a new climate target.
Europe has placed climate change and human rights high on our agenda. This positioning became increasingly apparent in the summer and subsequently led to China’s decision to no longer wait for the US elections, but to announce a new climate target in September. Especially with the prospect that Biden has a good chance of being elected. But above all, it was a response to the determination of Europe. We felt this at many conferences in China in June and July, and questions kept coming up. And when the Chinese understood that this was really the direction Europe was going to take, they understood the implications for trade. The EU is too important a market for China for that. That made her switch.
How good are China’s plans to become climate neutral by 2060?
This process has not yet been completed and has led to much discussion in the country. But the Chinese invest a lot in renewable energy sources and in new train routes. Planned investments in coal, which are very high, are a major problem. The question is whether the Chinese really do this. The rest is on its way to decarbonisation.
Do you think the recovery of the Covid incentive programs will be really green?
Of course, there is always a display policy. And not all funds are set aside for the climate. But at least 30 percent – you can see that not only at EU level, but also at national level, in Germany, France, Spain and Portugal. There is still support for the old part of the auto industry. But there is also the public demand for change.
How do you assess the commitments made so far in the field of climate protection, ie the Nationally Determined Contributions or NDC? So far, only a few countries have submitted an improved target to the UN.
So far not all countries have been able to submit plans at the level they should have. But a new positive dynamic can emerge. That also depends on the elections in the US. If we are lucky, we can eventually see a convergence between what is already happening in the economy and a motive on the part of governments. That is why I think that the climate conference in Glasgow will be a success.
How can you prepare for such a success?
The gist is: how many countries are submitting a new NDC? Some will come in December. It’s hard to say how much. Most major issuers have not moved yet. Depending on the outcome of the US election, some countries could pledge to end their coal investments – including export credits. This is especially true for Japan and South Korea. Other major emitters must and will come in May, June. There is a good chance for Glasgow that the major issuers will be present. The commitments of the EU and China will really do something there.
Was the postponement of the climate conference even a good thing?
It is good that we have an extra year. This allows the stars to be in the correct order. That was not the case in 2020. So I am more optimistic about Glasgow than I was at the beginning of the year. The only problem is it is still too slow. There is still too much resistance, especially from the oil and gas sector, but also from parts of industry and agriculture. We started so late that we are now running against the clock. But we have no other choice. And we now have a different political dynamic, also because people are feeling the effects of climate change.
As a special envoy for the French government, the economist Laurence Tubiana made an important contribution to the conclusion of the Paris climate agreement. She had previously founded the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations. Today she heads the European Climate Foundation.