IPCC Launches New Climate Change Report - What Next for Parliaments?

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change launched its latest report on November 2nd.  As expected, the report reasserts the critical importance of urgent and decisive action on climate change, in particular the need for substantial cuts in carbon emissions.  

The summary for policy-makers is based on the reports of the three Working Groups of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including relevant Special Reports. It provides an integrated view of climate change as the final part of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, and posits that it is extremely likely that climate change is a man-made phenomenon

"Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century."

Future projections paint a bleak picture of the climate reality we are likely to face in the coming decades: "Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise." 

Moving forward: what to do next? 

Looking at what's next, the report underlines the importance of strategic and swift decision-making on climate change, which is most effective when it is well-informed and comprehensive.  It also points to 'common enabling factors' that underpin successful adaptation and mitigation responses, including effective institutions and governments, innovation, and investments in environmentally sound technologies and infrastructure, among others.  Critically, it asserts that decision-making must translate into policies that deliver results: 

"Effective adaptation and mitigation responses will depend on policies and measures across multiple scales: international, regional, national and sub-national. Policies across all scales supporting technology development, diffusion and transfer, as well as finance for responses to climate change, can complement and enhance the effectiveness of policies that directly promote adaptation and mitigation."

How, then, can MPs act on this?  

In most countries policy-making rests largely with government, but parliamentarians play an important role in building political support and in strengthening legal and regulatory frameworks in support of climate change action.  Doing so, however, comes with many challenges.  Firstly, climate change is inexorably linked to many other issues and development goals.  Agriculture, fishery and food production, energy access and production, health, disaster risk management and water security are only some of the issues on which climate change will have a profound and lasting impact.  Climate change legislation therefore needs to be part of a wider policy framework that promotes equitable, sustainable and inclusive development.

A second challenge is that climate change legislation must be shaped in the face of considerable uncertainty.  Scientific progress in recent years has greatly improved our understanding of climate change and its likely impacts, but a good deal of projections - including those of the IPCC's report - is much less exact than policy-makers would like.  Therefore, it is important that the legal framework accommodates a degree of uncertainty and is able to adapt to changing conditions and scenarios.

Thirdly, for all the media and policy attention it receives, few people – including policy-makers - grasp the science behind climate change or understand the processes at work.  While parliamentarians do not need to be experts, it is difficult to engage with a subject that is so complex and that, for a number of reasons, continues to be contested by a small but vocal part of the public.

Facilitating Parliamentary Action: The AGORA Climate Portal 

To facilitate parliamentary action on climate change and energy, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank Group offer the AGORA Climate Portal for Parliaments, available at www.agora-parl.org/climate.  The Portal points MPs and parliamentary staff to resources, best practices and suggestions on law-making, representation and oversight on climate change and energy.  

While the examples and case studies listed cannot provide all the answers, they do offer MPs - and policy-makers more broadly - much food for thought.  There are fantastic examples of innovative and effective climate change action that has a real and lasting impact, and an increasing number of parliaments and MPs are taking these issues forward.  To keep up to date on what's happening, stay tuned on the Climate Portal.  

This is a blog post by Lotte Geunis of the United Nations Development Programme.