“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
– Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report 2013
This key finding of the IPCC’s report provides a damning indictment of the influence of anthropogenic activities on the climate system and a reflection of the challenges ahead for human systems globally. In this backdrop, the Ditchley Conference (16th to 18th April, 2015) held at Ditchley Park on ‘Climate and Energy Risk’ provided a forum for some leading thinkers and practitioners to come together and discuss aspects related to climate mitigation through the transformation of global energy and governance systems.
The beautiful palace and grounds provided a perfect setting to the intense debates taking place on the different characteristics of the climate problem and the need to find a common ground. Climate change being a defining problem of our times, the need for urgent and collective action is immense. The presence of disparate national as well as international priorities make agreements challenging. This has been witnessed in the fragmentation of stakeholders as well as the gradual dilution of global commitments towards climate mitigation, from Kyoto 1996 to Paris 2015. At the same time, the realization of first-mover advantages and the likelihood of opportunities for business has been instrumental in guiding responses in the private sector.
The first day of the conference focussed on establishing the context of the conference and the climate debate in general. Speakers spoke about how the problem is perceived at large, the likely challenges and opportunities that will dominate discourse globally and the differing realities existing in developing as well as developed countries regarding the extent of actions undertaken for climate mitigation and adaptation.
The participants were then divided into 3 groups focussing on 3 different but inter-connected areas – the politics of climate and energy, the economics of climate change and the role of technology in guiding effective responses (the group I was in). We all came together on the third day to discuss the issues that came up in the discussion and to share perspectives.
The politics group discussed, among other issues, the public perception of the climate problem, the roadmaps of future climate change policy vis-à-vis the Paris climate summit to be held in December 2015 (but for which consultations have been going on for more than a year) and the role of geopolitics in defining energy security in the next decades.
The economic arguments regarding climate change centred on de-Carbonizing global economies while maintaining a sustainable growth path. The influence of carbon pricing in influencing economic policy was discussed, and its successes and failures were evaluated on the basis of initiatives like the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. It was appreciated that regulatory initiatives as well as market instruments would be pivotal in guiding the responses of the private sector and to incentivize a reduction in emissions.
In addition to emissions reductions, climate policy would also be guided by the ability of technology to revolutionize how energy is used globally. In this context, national realities would have to be taken into account when designing responses. A country like India, with more than 500 million without access to clean cooking facilities, would need to focus on providing low-cost solutions to positively impact both public health as well as climate mitigation. On the other hand, global technological solutions like carbon capture and storage and geoengineering have been actively considered but have been held back by issues related to financing, ethics and the absence of overarching agreements.
The Conference was thus able to merge common interests but differing perspectives into a collective call for action. Personally, the Conference went a long way in providing me valuable insights into how such interrelated problems are perceived in the real world. The interactions with the other delegates was key in providing a well-rounded discourse and the means to move forward. Thank you, Ditchley!