Action on climate change is a top priority in the Nordic countries, as are the ongoing international climate negotiations. The Nordic contributions to the UNFCCC negotiation process include scientific input, outreach activities, innovative climate financing and development work – all combined with ambitious emissions-reduction targets.
By Páll Tómas Finnsson
International climate agreement at COP21 in Paris
After failing to sign a legally binding global climate agreement at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the international community has worked intensively toward reaching such an agreement at COP21 in Paris in December. In the meantime, more and more scientific evidence emerges of human impact on the climate, including the release of IPCC’s extensive fifth assessment report of the state of knowledge on climate change.
“The key objective of this agreement is to keep the world on a trajectory towards low-carbon development so that we can keep the global temperature rise as far as possible below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels,” says Anna Lindstedt, Swedish Ambassador for Climate Change and Sweden’s chief negotiator.
One of the key differences between the negotiations in 2009 and now is that all countries involved have committed to delivering their own emission-reduction targets – the so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The EU countries, including Denmark, Sweden and Finland, have pledged to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by 40% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. Iceland and Norway have aligned themselves with the EU targets.
“It’s encouraging that so many countries are preparing or have already presented their INDCs,” Lindstedt says. “Even the smaller, more vulnerable countries, such as the Marshall Islands, are aiming for considerable emissions reductions and climate-resilient development.”
She explains that although the INDCs are promising, they alone will not suffice to put the world on track to keep global warming below 2°C.
“What we need now are ambitious INDC targets and an agreement that works as a mechanism to raise ambition over time,” she says. “We have until 2020 to sort out the details before the agreement enters into force, but it’s very important that we have a core agreement in place that can be signed and ratified as soon as possible.”
Complex issues call for reliable scientific input
The climate negotiations are based on research into observed climate change and its causes, the risks and impacts of climate change in the future, and ways in which the global population can react in order to ensure sustainable development. Two working groups under the Nordic Council of Ministers have played a key role in feeding scientific findings and Nordic climate-change knowledge into the negotiation process.
The Climate and Air Pollution Group (KOL) has funded a range of projects that have produced input into the IPCC reports, which are key documents in the negotiations. Projects funded by KOL include research on very specific scientific themes, e.g. emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, peatlands and climate change, and comparison of CO2 fluxes in Denmark and the Arctic.
“One of the main benefits of our work is that we bring together Nordic and international researchers from different scientific environments in order to analyse important questions pertaining to climate change,” says KOL’s chair, Katja Asmussen of the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. “Our approach fuels knowledge sharing and strengthens the scientific findings. That’s the reason why so many of our projects have fed into the IPCC work that forms the scientific basis of the entire COP21 negotiations.”
KOL also supports initiatives aimed at raising public awareness of climate change. A good example is Global Weirding (www.globalweirding.is/here), an interactive platform that visualises the findings from the latest IPCC report in an innovative and entertaining way. In addition to the project’s more serious aspects, Nordic stand-up comedians spice things up with jokes about global warming.
“This demonstrates the great variation between our projects’ target groups,” says Anna Maria Gran, KOL’s co-ordinator. “Some might only be of interest to a narrow group of specialists but can potentially have a great impact, for example when they’re used by experts involved in international negotiations, while others address the general public.”
Outreach to other nations and negotiating groups
The negotiations also involve the Nordic working group for global climate negotiations (NOAK), which was established in the lead-up to COP15 in Copenhagen. The group commissions studies on climate issues of mutual interest to the Nordic countries that could also be beneficial elsewhere. NOAK has addressed issues such as forestry and climate, public and private climate financing, international co-operation on the third world, and so-called flexibility mechanisms, i.e. carbon-emissions trading and investment in emissions-reducing activities in other countries.
“NOAK has a very clear and specific mandate, which is to support the global climate negotiations and contribute to an ambitious and binding new agreement,” says Outi Leskelä, co-ordinator of the NOAK working group. “This means that our work should not only benefit the Nordic countries, but also the international community.”
With COP21 approaching, outreach activities have become an increasingly important activity for the group. At each negotiation session, NOAK hosts outreach events together with the Nordic chief negotiators, allowing them to enter into direct dialogue with other countries, e.g. China, Russia, Brazil and the USA, as well as some of the key negotiating groups, e.g. the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Least Developed Countries (LDC) and the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC).
“We’ve focused our efforts and resources on working more directly toward other negotiating groups,” says Peer Stiansen, chair of the NOAK working group. “This includes commissioning studies to better understand their negotiating position and organising bilateral outreach meetings with the Nordic negotiators. We now see that these groups approach us to discuss specific issues, which goes to show that these activities advance the general talks.”
Trust in Nordic co-operation
According to chief negotiator Anna Lindstedt, the Nordic contributions to the negotiations are based on close co-operation between the countries’ chief negotiators, who report regularly to each other on the progress of the UNFCCC negotiations and other relevant international meetings and events. Lindstedt agrees with Stiansen that the Nordic countries enjoy the trust of the other negotiating groups, which is vital in the complex negotiations.
“We’re transparent, we have no hidden agendas and we serve as a good example in terms of our own policies and the transformation of our energy systems towards renewables,” she says. “Moreover, there’s the solidarity aspect – we support countries that are poorer and more vulnerable in their efforts to fight climate change. The Nordics are among those that have pledged the highest amount per capita to the Green Climate Fund, which will be instrumental in the implementation of the INDCs and the climate agreement.”
“A key part of moving forward is acknowledging and demonstrating that you can develop your economy and still choose low-carbon and climate-resilient development,” Lindstedt says. “This is where the Nordic countries can lead by example.”
“We’re transparent, we have no hidden agendas and we serve as a good example in terms of our own policies and the transformation of our energy systems towards renewables”
Anna Lindstedt, Swedish Ambassador for Climate Change
Decoupling of environmental pressures, gross energy consumption, ressource use and generation of non-mineral waste from economic growth