Mexico City — Passing strong national laws to combat climate change is the surest way to take effective action against the problem, and will increase the odds that a 2015 international climate deal will be effective, world legislators said at the close of an summit in Mexico Sunday.
Lawmakers from more than 100 countries called for emission-cutting promises made as part of UN climate negotiations to be passed quickly into national law to boost the odds they are kept, and for a review of those promises, to make sure they add up to sufficient global action, in advance of the 2015 U.N. climate negotiations in Paris, where a new global deal is expected to be agreed.
Legislators said they recognised that the classic model of international negotiations by government officials was not working to reach an effective deal to curb climate change, and that getting lawmakers involved might provide a boost.
"We have common mission to press governments to take action so that every single country will be improving their legislation in order for the UN climate deal in Paris in 2015 work," said John Gummer, former Secretary of State for the Environment in the UK, a member of the UK House of Lords and president of GLOBE International, the organiser of the Mexico World Summit of Legislators.
"Our role is to keep governments going in terms of combating climate change and we are going to do it through effective implementation of domestic laws," he said.
Legislators at the gathering said that they believed that, as well as curbing climate change, "well-informed climate legislation could bring significant national and local co-benefits, including strengthened energy security, improved health, reduced disaster risk, increased access to sustainable energy and investment into clean and domestic energy sources, as well as the creation of new jobs and better air quality."
The summit comes as the pace at which domestic climate change climate laws are being passed is increasingly rapidly. In 1997, at the time when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, only 47 climate change-related laws existed in 66 countries reviewed in a GLOBE report on climate legislation around the world. At the end of 2013, those same countries had 487 climate-related laws, the report found.
Terry Townshend, GLOBE's deputy secretary general and head of policy, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that while many countries have made advances in passing climate-related legislation in recent years, governments and international institutions need to move faster before the 2015 deadline for a new global climate deal.
"We need to create an extra underpinning of commitments by national governments," he said. Climate laws need not only to be passed but effectively implemented, with sufficient resources, he said.
It will also be important to see how effectively the laws work "to encourage more countries to learn from each other and to develop more effective legislations," he said.
Gummer said that increasingly extreme weather around the world is gradually making climate change a higher priority in many countries.
"It is more and more clear to people that the weather patterns which we were warned about turn out to be happening," the UK legislator said in Mexico City. "We have to deal with this worst threat which faces mankind. We can't go on arguing amongst ourselves about who should take the lead, who has bigger responsibility and what should these nations do. We can't do that while the climate is changing."
"We need to look into our own nation, our own needs and do it our own way," he urged. "Our common view is that climate change has to be fought."
MAKING 'DURABLE' LAWS
Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief, agreed that domestic climate laws will be needed to underpin any international agreement in 2015.
"National-level climate laws open political space in the international climate talks at a crucial moment towards a new climate agreement. Climate change legislation, when ambitious and applied across all economic sectors, puts countries on a path to a stable and secured future for their citizens," Figueres said in a video address to the legislators.
"Make these laws so durable and that they are not the subject of shifting winds of politics," she urged. "When you do that, you give business and finance a clear signal for developing long-term growth strategy. You point investment towards energy and innovation solutions, you put the architecture in place to implement the outcomes of an ambitious agreement of your country."
She called domestic legislation "the linchpin between action on the ground and the international agreement."
COSTS OF INACTION
Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice President and special climate envoy, also urged legislators to push up political ambition in cutting emissions, and to ensure that effective laws support efforts at low-carbon and resilient development.
"Implementation of climate laws remain a big challenge. The cost of inaction far exceeds the cost of inaction. We needs to speed and scale up and show that there is a momentum in addressing climate change," Kyte said.
She called climate change not just an environmental issue, but a fundamental challenge to economic growth and financial stability in many countries.
"It is imperative that governments also put resilience to climate change at the core of development plans," she said. "We need to see much more investment in adaptation and the resilience of communities, cities and countries because we have already put so much pollution in the atmosphere that it is inevitable that we will warm more than today."
"If the science is clear, if economics is compelling, I ask you to build a strong political stand," she urged.
Some developing world participants at the weekend summit, said the world's focus should be firmly on reducing emissions, particularly as the world sees sobering signs of worsening climate impacts, from fiercer typhoons to more intense droughts and rising seas.
Some of the most climate-vulnerable places in the world, from low lying deltas to small islands, now have strong laws to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change in place, but those may not be effective without big emitters stepping up with both emissions reductions of their own and more money to support poorer countries, they said.
"We are seeing many climate laws in place already in various countries, mostly on adaptation and mitigation. But there is a limit of these laws even when implemented effectively," warned Bangladeshi parliamentarian Saber Hossain Chowdhury.
"We need to look beyond climate laws and look into adequate funding and oversight for adaptation-based projects, investment in disaster risk reduction and resilience as these are something that people can understand in most developing countries including small island states," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Many of the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts are those that have contributed least to the problem, said Susan Yap, a lawmaker from Tarlac Province in the Philippines and chair of the Phliippines chapter of GLOBE.
"The most critical aspect now is the cooperation of the international community. Climate change is a worldwide phenomenon. The Philippines and other developing countries are considered negligible relative to the emissions of such powerful countries like China, the U.S. and India, and yet it is us that bear the brunt of climate-induced disasters," she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Legislators agreed at the close of the summit that lawmakers should play a role in scrutinising the negotiating positions of governments and ministers ahead of the U.N.Secretary General's 2014 Climate Summit in September and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) negotiations in Lima in 2014 and Paris in 2015.
"While nations are establishing climate legislation at a rapid pace in the run-up to the United Nations negotiations, there is a need to strengthen our oversight of government implementation and approving national budget for climate legislation," Gummer said.
Imelda Abano is a freelance contributor for the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Manila. AlertNet Climate editor Laurie Goering contributed additional writing.
This story is part of a series of articles, funded by the COMplus Alliance and the World Bank, looking at progress and challenges in developing nations' efforts to legislate on climate change, around the June 6-8 World Summit of Legislators in Mexico City, organised by the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International).