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UCL Energy Institute Blog


Blogs by staff & students of the UCL Energy Institute


Paris – outside looking in

By ucqbpsm, on 30 November 2015

Throughout COP21 our staff and students will be blogging on climate change and energy.

With COP21 upon us I must admit to being a bit of a Framework Convention outsider, which is, perhaps, a bit strange for the editor of Climate Policy Journal. In 1990, as a civil servant I worked, peripherally, on the Berlin Mandate. I was at COP 7 in Marrakech, but at the margins. Some of the 1995 IPCC WG1 report is mine. But mostly I have been outside the COP process looking in.

This is partly through choice. Having explored the foothills of international climate diplomacy I wanted to see how it was actually going to work on the ground. So in 1997 I moved into what was still called the Energy Efficiency Office, working on the UK’s first proper climate change programme.

Now, as an academic, I spend a lot of my time looking at why mitigation programmes succeed, and translating this into a set of principles that policymakers can use. So I see Paris through the lens of national climate policy. And there are a number of interesting parallels that help me frame my view of the next two weeks.

The most important one is the remarkable degree of convergent evolution between national and international processes. Both set out reflecting the first instincts of a bureaucracy faced with a big, messy, pressing problems – impose a top-down, regulatory approach. In the UK and elsewhere, responding to the oil shocks, we developed a set of energy conservation programmes that were astonishingly interventionist by today’s standards.

The Framework Convention process made the same mistake with Kyoto: mandatory, top-down targets on developed countries. My guess is that it did this because that was how other multilateral treaties worked, notably the Montreal Protocol, on which many climate diplomats of the time cut their teeth. But carbon dioxide is not like CFCs: it is a commodity as well as a chemical. Removing it from national economies was simply not going to fly, as we found out in Copenhagen.

As a country we have learned from our early policy mistakes[1]. Research has led to new technologies and a better understanding of mitigation and markets. We have learned from 40+ years of experience pulling the policy levers: both ours, and that of other countries. Political capital has been accrued. The end result is that today’s national programmes are sophisticated – and generally more effective – because they work with the grain of markets rather than against them.

Treaties can learn from experience too, and indeed the hope is that Paris will exorcise the ghost of Copenhagen. From the top-down of Kyoto, Paris takes us more or less completely in the opposite direction to a new world of Pledge-and-Review, INDCs and Clubs. Others have spoken far more eloquently[2] that I can about whether this will work or not.

But my national policy antennae are jangling. If we have learned anything in the last 40 years, it is that delivering the change that we need must have some sort of FCCC-push as well as country-pull. At the moment I can’t see that happening. I hope I’m wrong.

Watch this space…


[1] Peter Mallaburn & Nick Eyre Lessons from energy efficiency policy and programmes in the UK from 1973 to 2013.” Energy Efficiency 7, 23-41, 2014.

[2] Michael Grubb, Heleen de Coninck & Ambuj Sagar “From Lima to Paris, Part 2: injecting ambition.” Climate Policy 15 413-416, 2015.


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