Q&A: Former UN Climate chief says Paris bar is low enough, might deliver agreement

Over the last two decades, Yvo de Boer has been involved with the climate negotiation process from all sides. First as a top negotiator for the Netherlands, then as the executive secretary of the United Nations climate secretariat, and now as the head of a nongovernmental group, the Global Green Growth Institute, working to promote low-carbon growth in the developing world.

But he is best known for shepherding the world community through its previous attempt to agree to a global agreement on climate change, six years ago.

That process, which ended at the climate summit in Copenhagen, did not end well, though not for a lack of trying. Now, as negotiators gear up for the next attempt at this year’s Paris summit, de Boer spoke with Bloomberg BNA’s Eric J. Lyman about why the Paris negotiations have a better chance to succeed. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Bloomberg BNA: Describe your work with the Global Green Growth Institute.

De Boer: We’re focused on fostering green growth in developing countries and what’s interesting about it to me is that the word “climate” seldom enters the conversation. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t about climate. Here’s an example: We were doing work in Indonesia where they were planning to build a coal-fired power plant and we figured out that if they ran it on biomass and did some solar as well, they could save an amount equal to 10 percent of the GDP of that province. That got their attention. Climate didn’t come into the equation, it was about energy and saving money. But the climate is a beneficiary.

Bloomberg BNA: Speaking of developing countries, how do you see the debate [in the negotiation process] about finance? Developing countries and most environmental groups want some clear commitment on finance written into some part of the Paris outcome. At the same time developed countries are slow to make good on even their promises from last year, let alone make commitments many years out. Is this a potential deal breaker for Paris? 

De Boer: You know, people in this process are so obsessed with the U.S., China, India and Brazil, that they forget there are 100 countries represented in this conference center that did nothing to contribute to climate change and that will be confronted by the impacts of climate change and will need help coping with those impacts. And all of those countries, even tiny countries like Tuvalu or Nauru with a population of 10,000, they each have one vote–the same as the U.S., China, India and Brazil. And if these guys get nothing out of the Paris process, why should they sign up for it?

Read the full article from Bloomberg BNA here.