A new age in global eco-politics or politics as usual?

Experts divided about the likelihood of a binding climate change agreement by 2015

The largest worldwide climate demonstration in history took place on Sunday. There were more than 2,700 events in 161 countries.  But will the People’s Climate March herald a new age in global eco-politics, or will the failures of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit return to haunt the delegates this week in New York when they go to Paris 15 months time?

Avaaz who?
Orchestrating worldwide events is no mean feat and according to Dorte Cathrine, the head of communications and marketing at Avaaz København, one of the event’s organisers, it takes more than just having a funky name. “Avaaz is a global online community that helps groups around the world arrange events,” she said. “It means a voice in several languages”.

With 2 million signatures on its latest petition calling on world leaders to address climate change, the international profile of Avaaz looks set to rise.

Fighting political deadlock
Demonstrators gathered in front of the courthouse at Nytorv on Sunday, adorned in anything green (think St Patrick’s day, minus the leprechauns) to demanded a new direction in the fight against global warming. “It was a very big success,” according to event facilitator Theo Askov. “Everything went according to plan, and there was a very positive atmosphere.” 

“We need change in how we approach the current climate crisis. Our focus is on 100 percent clean energy and sustainability. Our event was part of a much larger global event and it was important to us that Copenhagen was on the world map on Sunday,” he said.

Monica Frassoni, the co-chair of the European Green Party in Brussels, is however of the opinion that such demonstrations can’t solve the political deadlock over climate change.  “We have to face the fact that these kinds of mobilisations are key and indispensable, but are at the moment not able, by themselves, to create real influence when things are decided – they are the first step in a long march," she said.

Leading by example
Inspiring political change is easier said than done, but leading by example has cemented Denmark’s place at the negotiation table on climate issues. “Denmark is generally the leading country in Europe on climate issues, producing the largest share of electricity from solar power and particularly wind power – 30 percent in 2012,” Askov pointed out. 

“However, in the transport sector, which accounts for 20 to 25 percent of CO2 emissions, it is falling behind, as emissions are still rising.  Denmark is also one of the leading countries in district heating from waste combustion and bio-fuels,” he said.  With Copenhagen on target to become the first carbon-neutral capital in the world by 2025, Denmark looks set to be able to speak with some authority on climate issues.

EU – a leader no more
Frassoni feels however that the EU as a whole is losing its edge on green issues. “It has lost its ambition to be a leader by the side of the world, and that is because a lot of governments and the commission have lowered it as a priority, as they see it as being in competition with economic reform,” she explained.

“We have to link the fight against climate change and the problem of the economic recovery to a much greater extent.  There are a lot of very good examples that show the positive impact of green technologies and the green economy – they are very important,” she continued.

She reveals though that, while developments might enhance implementation of green technology, the political outlook is not encouraging. “In a political sense it will not be easier, it will probably be much more difficult,” she said.

Lessons from COP15
After the diplomatic debacle at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen – when a leaked draft text sabotaged confidence between key negotiators and the Danish climate and energy minister, Connie Hedegaard resigned, in the middle of negotiations – according to Fassoroni, a fresh approach is needed.

“The biggest lesson is that major pressure from NGOs and public opinion are not enough to make national and international governments change their minds,” she stressed.

“We have to make an impact from the inside, which includes working with parliamentarians and ministers, but also with companies and economic parties. The sad reality is that we need mobilisation that goes beyond the people.”

All eyes on Paris
The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki Moon, summoned delegates and a sprinkling of the world’s glitterati to a one-day summit in New York this week. Leonardo DiCaprio was named as the new climate change representative. In December delegates will meet again in Lima for the 2014 Climate Change 

But all eyes are on the 2015 Climate Change Summit in Paris, where it is hoped that a legally binding agreement can be reached. Askov is optimistic that recent developments could mark “a turning point leading to an agreement in Paris”. Frassoni, on the other hand, believes reaching a final agreement is possible, “but it is not a given”.