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Good COP / Bad COP: Parliamentary Perspectives from COP18

Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent of The Guardian moderated a discussion on COP18 by providing some broad perspectives of its outcomes, noting that there continued to be significant divisions and debate about the pace of progress and the effectiveness of the COP process as an international mechanism able to adequately address the challenges of climate change.  She noted that Doha was never intended, in any case, to progress significant advances on the international agenda and was seen to be more a caretaking effort, albeit with the important task of confirming a second period for the Kyoto Protocol from 2013 to 2020 (more detail on COP outcomes follows below).

BGIPU Executive Committee Member, Mr John Robertson MP, also a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, provided a report on his perspectives on COP18 saying that while ambitions had been admittedly low, progress made was sufficient in setting up a way forward which maintained momentum for global action and encouraged governments to continue to focus on how best to find agreement on areas to be progressed.  Mr Robertson said a key constraint on policy makers would continue to be the need to balance high-end aspirations against the political reality of what voters would bear in a time of economic downturn and continuing financial pressures on households.  It was part of the democratic process to openly debate the changes required to address the effects of climate change without losing the political will and electoral mandate to advance such measures.  This was always going to be a dilemma for parliamentarians and governments alike and we needed to keep open minds, based on the best available information, and use all appropriate mechanisms at our disposal, including the COP process, to advance and implement global solutions.

Mr Graham Stuart MP, GLOBE President in the House of Commons and Vice President of GLOBE International, focussed on the efforts of legislators to encourage comprehensive global action to address the impacts of climate change.  He noted significant national-level climate change efforts in developed countries such as the EU and Australia along with new efforts by China, Mexico & South Africa.  Mr Stuart said parliaments would be just as important as governments in ultimately creating a political climate conducive to advancing global outcomes.  Mr Stuart admitted, that while the international process was slow, political capital invested at national level would greatly assist in driving the entire process forward.  Indeed, although the international process was imperfect and slow in achieving comprehensive global consensus for action, no one was suggesting the COP process be totally abandoned.  Indeed, when criticising the level of achievement, we needed to be careful to think what alternative solutions would exist if this UN process was not being pursued and recognise just how beneficial it was for there to be an existing process in place where the full diversity of views, concerns and experiences could be considered by all parties.

A question and answer session following the presentations explored aspects of the discussion including, among many key points, the importance of all views in the debate being aired and understood to fully appreciate the complexity of the issue.  There was recognition of the difficulties of maintaining political will behind the process when other complicating factors, particularly economic pressures, were in play.  There was also discussion on how the international process succeeded or failed in accommodating the diverse needs of both developed and developing countries, differing perspectives in civil society, addressing the evidence being provided by the scientific community and in accommodating economic developments needs.  There was acknowledgement that there were competing but vital interests involved in maintaining sufficient energy supplies and economic resources for national growth and prosperity still being demanded by our populations.  Overall, the response needed to balance short to medium-terms economic and social needs with long-term sustainability goals, including in efforts to better embrace the “green economy”.  Overall, it was acknowledged that there was an important role for parliamentarians to encourage debate at all levels, scrutinise and review national and international effort and ensure that political will and mandate was maintained in supporting appropriate local, national and global responses to the threats of climate change.