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Parliaments and Climate Change

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“Climate change policies cannot be the frosting on the cake of development; they must be baked into the recipe of growth and social development.”

– Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank Group President

Climate change is today’s single most important challenge, yet most countries are still quite poorly equipped to deal with its undeniable and increasingly profound impacts.  Climate change requires a good deal of foresight and medium to long term planning; this, understandably, does not come easily when political rewards are often reserved for those who deliver quick wins and bite-sized success stories. 

As large parts of the world are leaving the worst of the financial crisis behind them, however, the mood has started shifting.  More and more people are aware of the dangers of climate change, and those looking to address it are slowly but surely being given more political support, time and resources to do so.  As the issue moves up on people’s priority lists, political parties, parliaments and parliamentarians should embrace the momentum and build on the work that has been done.    

GLOBE Climate Legislation Study

The GLOBE Climate Legislation Study seeks to provide an authoritative and comprehensive annual audit of climate change-related laws in the 66 country chapters.

The aims of the GLOBE Climate Legislation Studies are threefold. First, to support legislators advancing climate-related legislation by providing a detailed summary of existing legislation to identify best practice and help peer-to-peer learning. Second, to document the broad progress on climate change legislation at the domestic level in both industrialised and developing countries to provide positive momentum to the international negotiations. And third, to highlight the fundamental role of legislators in any effective strategy to tackle climate change.

To read the GLOBE study, please click here.  

Challenges

Acting on climate change poses many complex challenges for legislators.  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 continues to be less reliable and exact than policy-makers would like.  As science progresses further, projections will become more accurate; however, 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.

BLOG: Climate Change: How Parliamentarians Can Turn Down the Heat

Scientists, with near total unanimity, project that we are moving towards a 4°C temperature rise by the end of the century, the effects of which will impact us all. Some nations or regions will be affected more profoundly or more quickly than others, but considerable consequences will be an inescapable reality in all corners of the globe.

The recent “Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided”  report by the World Bank illustrates what a 4°C warmer world would look like, and pits that picture against one of a 1,5°C to 2°C rise – a scenario that is still well within our reach, if we act now and commit to strong and sustained policy action.

Legislators at the national level can act by shaping policy frameworks that allow for adaptation and mitigation, and that encourage considerable curbing of carbon emissions.  Parliamentarians in high-risk countries that are already facing the effects of climate change, perhaps unsurprisingly, tend to be more prone to taking action.  Small Island States, South-Asia and Oceania, for example, have experienced extreme weather events of such a devastating nature that skepticism towards climate change is increasingly less fashionable in these parts (Australia, unfortunately, is bucking this trend with increasing and quite inexplicable fortitude). 

To read the full blog post, please click here.

Despite these notable challenges, parliamentarians are well-positioned to take action on climate change and to deliver much-needed, lasting results.  For concrete parliamentary action points, please visit the relevant sections on legislation, representation and oversight  on climate change. 

Joining forces: cross-party action on climate change

Finally, parliamentarians can facilitate parliamentary action on climate change by joining forces with their peers through cross-party groups and networks.  Such groups can build considerable political clout, giving them a much stronger bargaining position when pushing for proposals or calling on ministers and government officials.  Cross-party work also tends to be more sustainable: initiatives or projects launched by cross-party groups are less likely to be reversed following elections or a change in leadership, as they are underpinned by broad-based political support. 

For an example of cross-party work, visit the Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy (PARE) pages.