“We Must Stay True to Spirit of the Paris Agreement with Genuine Actions”: Interview with European Climate Foundation CEO Laurence Tubiana
August 11, 2023
Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation (ECF) and a CCICED Council Member, calls for more ambitious nationally determined contributions (NDCs) at the 38th Conference of the Parties (COP 28) later this year. As one of the architects of the landmark Paris Agreement, adopted at COP 21 in 2015, Tubiana highlights the urgency of ambitious climate action.
In this interview, Tubiana—a professor at Science Po in Paris with many years of engagement in CCICED behind her—discusses the importance of nature restoration to climate change mitigation, how China can take the lead on South–South partnerships, and how CCICED’s research can best support crucial international processes.
Tubiana on the 2023 CCICED Annual General Meeting:
“The AGM is a unique forum for the open exchange of ideas. It provides a platform for in-depth discussions on critical global issues and for leaders to receive feedback from experts around the world. CCICED brings a unique cooperative approach that integrates ecological transition with trade policies and technological innovation.”
COP 28 is only 3 months away. What should be the top priorities for this year’s climate talks?
The implementation phase should be a primary focus for COP 28. We are only seven years from 2030, and the ongoing Global Stocktake shows we are clearly not on track to meet the global goals set in the Paris Agreement.
Countries must redefine the next round of NDCs and come up with concrete sectoral targets. The process should involve local actors, such as provincial and municipal governments and industries, to ensure stronger accountability and trust.
COP 28 must also develop a strategy for a pathway to reduce fossil fuels. It is a great thing that the world is already ramping up renewable energy. Still, without addressing the contradiction of fossil fuels in the economy, it will be hard to achieve the climate targets. Extra attention should also be given to critical raw materials required for the energy transition.
What core challenges do you see for the adoption of the Paris Agreement and for sustainable development in general?
Some governments still prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability. The hope is that as more and more people realize that inaction has become too risky and costly, governments will come forward.
Governments must be realistic, acknowledging that tackling climate change is a fundamental prerequisite for economic progress. The climate has changed, and it has made impacts everywhere. Simply put, we cannot have sustainable development, let alone growth, if we do not take climate action now.
There are too many, not too few examples. Least developed countries like Chad are experiencing repeated and alternating floods and droughts, which make it impossible to build an economy; even middle-income small island countries are now indebted because of the impacts of extreme climate events…And we are only seeing the beginning of extreme climate impacts!
And G20 countries have a chance. They should send a strong signal to the world that climate action is not a trade-off between development and environmental protection.
How can China best contribute to a successful COP 28—and to other international climate forums?
We need global powers like China to be the torchbearers of global climate action, and we need that role more than ever. China can show the way by reaffirming its commitment to sustainable growth and ambitious climate action.
Ahead of COP 30, China can play an especially powerful role by teaming up with Brazil, the Presidency, to advocate for restoring nature, preventing deforestation, and protecting the ocean as integral elements of the climate talks.
China can also make a difference by actively participating in the multilateral financial system, including the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and its own initiatives, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund. These institutions should be at the forefront of supporting the Global South in climate action, nature protection, and sustainable development.
“I have been involved with CCICED for almost 15 or 20 years. It has been precious in linking local and global perspectives, addressing crucial topics such as trade and value chains. Other countries are now trying to emulate the innovative CCICED model – this is something we should promote!”
You mentioned the Global South—what recommendations do you have for China’s engagement with developing countries with respect to climate change?
China can support the green transition of developing countries and the Global South via the efforts to green the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China’s strong trade and investment relations with developing countries also put it in a good position to incentivize them to avoid deforestation, accelerate clean energy and green industries, and develop sound mining management.
China can engage in open discussions with developing countries where it’s a significant investor or lender. The focus should be on demonstrating how long-term development pathways can be designed to consider nature conservation and climate action, highlighting the concept of “Ecological Civilization” that China advocates for itself. Presenting scientific evidence of the immediate consequences of climate change, such as lower yields in food production, can be compelling for these nations.
Promoting a different type of discussion that empowers developing countries to own their sustainable development strategies and understand the risks of neglecting nature and climate is likely to lead to better outcomes on both economic growth and environmental protection.
What are the priorities of the European Climate Foundation (ECF) leading up to COP 28 and beyond?
The ECF has two primary priorities. First, we aim to strengthen the implementation of the European Green Deal at the regional, national, and local levels, including potential new EU members like Ukraine and the Western Balkans. This involves advocating for climate change action and mobilizing support across all levels of governance in Europe.
The second priority is to prevent the Paris Agreement from being undermined by tactics that delay or dilute climate action. The ECF promotes accountability among all stakeholders, including governments, financial institutions, private banks, and companies. We emphasize the importance of being truthful in commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
In particular, I am concerned about quick technological fixes, such as carbon capture and storage, carbon removal, and even more so, solar radiation management, as a substitute for transforming the economy to meet climate goals. We must stay true to the spirit of the Paris Agreement and take genuine, substantial actions rather than symbolic gestures.
Nature, climate, trade, and green technology are important topics of CCICED’s Special Policy Studies (SPS). How can CCICED’s research support international efforts in each of these areas?
We now have a good sense of decarbonization endeavours in the main economic sectors, thanks to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency. Yet, we face new challenges in linking nature conservation with climate action. On top of that, we must enhance our capacity for climate resilience, as we are merely starting to witness the disastrous climate impacts on society, from food security to water accessibility.
Anchoring these critical emerging global challenges—and the main international processes to tackle these challenges—in the SPS research groups could be impactful. We could have a work program that is closely linked to these discussions, providing research and a space for dialogue. And the outcomes of the different working groups should be promoted in various formats on the global scene.
Beyond this idea, how do you see CCICED’s role in international sustainability and development in the years to come?
I have been involved with CCICED for almost 15 or 20 years. It is an open platform for discussions between Chinese leaders, experts, and international participants on global environmental and development issues. It has been precious in linking local and global perspectives, addressing crucial topics such as trade and value chains.
Moving forward, CCICED can have a crucial role in strengthening the relationship between nature conservation and climate change action—advocating for nature restoration, protection, and enhancement as fundamental elements of climate action. With its dialogues, CCICED can also lead the implementation of commitments on finance and renewable energy targets.
Other countries are now trying to emulate the innovative CCICED model—I think this is something we should promote!