Every country needs to understand green growth is possible and can lift people out of poverty: Yvo de Boer

Yvo de Boer, Special Global Advisor on Climate Change and Sustainability, KPMG International, explains the need of green growth for the world and how the DSDS acts as a platform for Southern perspectives in an interview with OneWorld South Asia.

Swati Sahi/OneWorld South Asia

Yvo de Boer, Special Global Advisor on Climate Change and Sustainability, KPMG International, explains the need of green growth for the world and how the DSDS acts as a platform for Southern perspectives in an interview with OneWorld South Asia.

Yvo de Boer was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2006-10, the body responsible for a multilateral response to the climate change challenge. In 2011, he was appointed to chair the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Climate Change.

Prior to the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2012, Yvo de Boer talks to OneWorld South Asia.

Excerpts from his interview:

OneWorld South Asia: You have been attending the DSDS for the past many years. How, in your view, has DSDS contributed to the global climate discourse?

Yvo de Boer: In my experience many international events tend to be very northern oriented. One of the good things about the DSDS is that it manages to attract a large number of participants from developing countries who very often do not have the opportunity to present their perspectives at international events.

Secondly the event, which is the eleventh one I have come to, has really been growing in terms of level of attendance. We have more heads of states, governments and former heads of states attending, which gives a very good political perspective on issues.

And thirdly, I would say the growing focus on the business community. In recent years, the business component of the CEO Forum has been growing and strengthened, which gives a very important private sector dimension. So having a strong representation from the South, a good political engagement, and a big business presence is very interesting.

OWSA: The theme of DSDS this year is in keeping with the upcoming Rio+20 Summit. Do you think the DSDS outcomes will impact the Earth Summit in any way?

YB: I think the outcomes can impact the Summit. The agenda for the Rio+20 is still relatively open, there seems to be growing consensus that it needs to deliver a new series of sustainable development goals. To get a perspective from the South on what those goals should be is very important.

We have at the moment the so called Millennium Development Goals – it`s very easy for an international process to just replace one set of goals with another – but the question really is how can we add value; how can we ensure we get an outcome of Rio+20 which is more in line with the priorities of today.

I think it is fair to say sustainable development has three pillars – economic, social and environmental. The first Rio conference 20 years ago was very strongly focused on the environmental pillar, and not so much on the social and economic. I think this is an important opportunity to bring more balance into that debate.

If out of this event there can emerge a better understanding what Rio+20 should focus on, what would be useful sustainable development goals, and how can we bring issues that relate to economic and social development more strongly into the agenda, that would be important.

OWSA: Do you feel that the voluntary measures to reduce emissions by 2020 by the big polluters will pay off?

YB: It`s going to pay off but in a variety of ways. If you look at the voluntary measures the countries have proposed so far, those are not nearly enough to get dangerous climate change under control – they are nowhere near enough in terms of global peaking of emissions by 2020, let alone the reductions that we need. So the voluntary measures are not good enough to deliver in terms of what we need from a scientific point of view.

I do think they are a very significant starting point. We are now in the situation where over 80 countries have submitted targets or plans to limit the growth of their emissions. Those countries together account for more than 80% of global energy related CO2 emissions. So that I think is a very significant commitment in the sense that nearly all countries are now engaged in this topic, putting plans in place, and beginning to understand the issues much better from the perspective of their national interests. So, the answer is both yes and no.

OWSA: The progress on the green climate fund has been slow and the issue of technology transfer is yet to be resolved. Will they continue to derail the talks?

YB: No, I don’t see those issues derailing the talks. The green climate fund was first announced two years ago at Copenhagen, then shaped further in Cancun. In Durban, just a few weeks ago, the green climate fund was formally launched; so now they are in a position where they can begin to form an international board and actually structure this fund.

I think it is important to bear in mind that the fund is mainly intended to manage finances from the year 2020 and beyond, and of course anything to do to get it started earlier will be significant, but I don`t see it derailing the process. The major challenge confronting the fund is how it can really become a mechanism that capitalises private investments.

If you look at the investments in the energy sector, about 85% of those investments are private rather than public. So why should anything be different on climate policy? Clearly there we are going to have to engage major private sector investments.

One of the things the green climate fund can do is also to capitalise investments in the context of technology sector so that we ensure we have the finance vehicle that actually mobilises technology for greener growth.

I certainly believe technology transfer doesn’t happen all by itself; technology transfer happens in the context of an investment and the green climate fund can be very significant in mobilising those kinds of investments.

OWSA: What is your view on the progress made so far on a global climate change deal since you were at the helm of UNFCCC. What is your best hope and worst worry in this context?

YB: The process certainly is not moving fast enough. If you look at the window of opportunity that you have to change global emissions, from going up to going down, then we are clearly running out of time and the politics are too slow. I think the fundamental reason for that is that although everybody is talking about green growth, more sustainable growth, very few countries truly understand how they can realise that, how they can make that work for themselves.

The world is very much in an old economic model whereby you assume energy intensity is the way to grow your economy; perhaps because that`s the way the West set the example, the way western economies have grown.

I think until each and every country in the process truly understands that green growth is possible and can be a way of lifting people out of poverty; until we get to that point, it`s going to be very difficult to see the real advances we need.

OWSA: China and India have big plans on industrial development. They have also been suspicious of the climate talks. Is it possible for these countries to keep pace of their industrial development while adhering to the present requirements?

YB: I sometimes wonder if the climate talks don`t get in the way of climate action, in the sense that many developing countries feel they are being pressurised to take on a commitment target which they don’t believe is in their national interest. At the same time, you see those same countries taking a great deal of action at the national level because they recognise climate change is going to affect them and they need to change their model of economic growth.

For example, China has one of the most ambitious plans in place, it is one of the biggest investor in renewable energy, it has its renewable cities programme. The issue is not one of lack of willingness to act at the national level. The issue is one of perceived international pressure to take on some kind of commitment which might not be the national interest. And there lies a major challenge to transform the process of climate change negotiation from one that is focused on targets to one focusing on helping countries to act towards a greener growth model which is in their national economic interest.

OWSA: Anything you would like to add at end?

YB: The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit being a successful endeavor comes at a very important moment in time in the run up to the Rio+20. I think the thing we all fundamentally need is a deeper understanding on how we can combine economic growth and action to address climate change, and in that sense, a very Southern oriented forum like this can be important in helping that process to progress.