There will be no new climate change treaty in 2015 unless more nations develop domestic legislation to address rising greenhouse gas levels, a new study concludes.
In reviewing countries' laws to reduce carbon emissions, researchers with the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE) argue that domestic goals must come before, not after, an international deal. Focusing on developing national laws, they said, should be the goal for the next two years as countries gear up for a U.N. conference in Paris, presumably to sign a new global deal.
"I don't see a deal in 2015 unless more countries move down the national legislative path, and those who are keen to see an agreement that is high in ambition are of the same view," said Adam C.T. Matthews, secretary-general of GLOBE and author of the report.
The report correlates climate laws in 11 countries with those nations' positions in the U.N. climate negotiations. Not surprisingly, it finds that those with what the group categorized as ambitious domestic legislation, like Mexico, South Korea and the United Kingdom, also have offered up stringent voluntary targets in the international talks. Those with "low" ambition on the home front -- the United States and Canada among them -- put forward correspondingly weak international targets.
"There is increasing recognition that a truly ambitious international agreement which sets binding targets for countries is impossible to achieve if it is purely top-down," Matthews and co-author Terry Townshend write. They point out that depending on what kind of deal is struck in 2015, it could involve formal recognition of countries' existing domestic climate laws.
Bottom-up rules spread the message
"This gives further impetus, should it be required, to the view that governments should actively support the advancement of domestic climate legislation between now and 2015," they argue.
These days, that point of view is echoed by top climate leaders, from U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres on down. But Matthews noted it wasn't that long ago that the conventional wisdom of climate negotiations was that legislation would follow a global treaty.
The rise in domestic laws -- 33 countries now have climate legislation, up from 16 when GLOBE first started examining the trend three years ago -- is significant, he said.
"What we're seeing is a different dynamic," Matthews said. "The clear lessons born from Copenhagen and from Rio are that these major international showpiece summits -- are they the events that determine the level of ambition? Or is it something else that determines the level?
"We see now that countries must move nationally first to enable the conditions for the international accords to be reached."
The report argues that economic competitiveness is the key driver behind domestic laws correlating to an ambitious international negotiating position. At the same time, it notes that domestic legislation breeds confidence and "creates the political space for leaders to go further and faster in the international negotiations."
U.S. needs a 'fundamental shift'
Finally, it points out that the legislative process itself -- developing, debating and passing laws -- is key to helping a country better stake out a global position.
Matthews pointed to Mexico as a leading example of a country that has passed ambitious legislation and also become a global leader. He noted that other countries in the region, like Chile and Colombia, are moving toward new laws, and predicted "a much more robust Latin American position and a greater self-confidence in positioning in the region on climate change."
China, India, Brazil and other emerging powers are not included in the study. Matthews said they will be in future reviews. China, for example, laid out new policies in its 12th five-year plan, but the legislation is not yet on the books.
The United States, he said, remains a disappointment. Matthews called Obama's climate plan "very encouraging" but said, "I still don't think it represents the fundamental shift that is needed."