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Legislators must hold governments accountable on climate

Nordic parliamentarians describe the climate agreement adopted by 195 countries at the Paris Climate Change Conference as the best possible outcome of the international climate negotiations. It is now up to parliamentarians around the world to ensure that each country lives up to its climate commitments, but also to take more drastic regulatory measures to limit the average global temperature rise. The Nordic Council has opted to to serve as a platform for increased co-operation between the Nordic parliaments.

Universal agreement based on individual national climate pledges

“The COP21 agreement is a huge victory,” says Hanna Kosonen, member of the Finnish Parliament and chair of the Nordic Council’s Committee for a Sustainable Nordic Region. “For the first time, we’ve reached a universal agreement, supported by 195 countries.”

The agreement is structured differently from previous international climate treaties. While the Kyoto Protocol introduced mandatory targets on greenhouse gas emissions for some of the world’s strongest economies, the Paris Agreement is based on the countries’ INDCs – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – which outline their intended targets and actions to reduce emissions.

“The nations behind the agreement have acknowledged not only the problem, but also their obligation to resolve it,” says Steen Gade, a long-standing and passionate climate advocate and former member of the Danish Parliament, Folketinget. “However, we already know that the INDCs are not nearly enough to limit warming to 2°, let alone to reach the more optimistic 1.5° goal.”

The submissions of INDCs before the COP21 Conference reflected the ambitions of 187 countries, covering around 95% of global emissions. The overall aim is to keep global temperatures to “well under 2° C” above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°. This latter objective was introduced during the negotiations in Paris in December 2015.

“What’s crucial now is that all countries revisit their commitments and adjust their 2020 and 2030 climate goals to this new ambition,” says Ola Elvestuen, Member of the Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget, and Chair of the Norwegian Standing Committee on Energy and Climate. “This systematic effort to catalyse more ambitious climate action must be anchored in the national parliaments.”

Fantastic opportunity to influence the global agenda

The five Nordic countries, including Norway and Iceland, both of which are outside the EU, have aligned themselves to the EU goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

“Parliamentarians in all countries have a responsibility to keep their governments on track and hold them accountable for the promises made in Paris,” says Ida Auken, member of the Danish Parliament and former Minister of the Environment. “It’s obvious that we need to change tracks to speed up climate development and decouple our economies from emitting CO2.”

According to Auken and Elvestuen, Nordic parliamentarians need to do more than just ensure the collective delivery of the EU targets. They should also use their political influence and the region’s strong environmental reputation to encourage Europe and the rest of the global community to take more drastic measures to prevent climate change.

“Parliaments will play a decisive role in maintaining pressure, ensuring the legitimacy of the climate action among the population, and creating a legal framework strong enough to achieve the goals,” says Elvestuen. “This calls for courage, political craftsmanship and continuity of policy.” “The COP21 agreement provides a fantastic opportunity for Nordic parliamentarians to influence the global climate agenda and the bigger international processes,” agrees Gade.

Nordic Council encourages international co-operation on climate legislation

At its annual January meetings, the Nordic Council agreed to serve as a platform for increased co-operation between the Nordic parliaments to ensure efficient implementation of the agreement. The Council intends to invite all relevant committees in the national parliaments to participate in a dialogue about the legislative assemblies’ role in forming future climate policy. The Council is also encouraging the five Nordic countries to upgrade their INDCs by 2018 to exceed the EU’s current ambitions, as well as to push for further climate action by other EU countries.

The Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers have also emphasised the need for more knowledge sharing between countries when it comes to climate regulation. The Global Climate Legislation Study by GLOBE International and the London School of Economics indicates that, since 2007, the number of climate change laws and policies has doubled every five years. The 2015 edition covers legislation in 99 countries that account for 93% of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to Tryggvi Felixson, Senior Advisor at the Nordic Council, the study is a great source of inspiration for parliaments considering climate change legislation.

“It’s evident that government directives alone will not deliver the necessary climate action,” he says. “Legislators must implement a wide variety of legislation aimed at reducing emissions. We want to encourage them to collaborate and draw on climate legislation that has brought good results elsewhere.”

Vested interest in climate development

Kosonen emphasises that Nordic investors and businesses need to stay at the forefront of the development in order to benefit from the massive change in investment patterns that will now occur. The agreement sends a clear signal to companies to shift investments from fossil fuels to low-emissions development.

“It’s our duty to take responsibility, export our sustainable technologies, and support developing countries in their climate efforts, and also to prevent carbon leakage, where carbon-emitting industries move their production to the third world,” says Kosonen. “Moreover, we need to make sure that the emissions trading system works as it was intended when it was created back in 2005.”

“The agreement shows the world’s investors that we’ve taken a new turn towards sustainability,” says Auken. “This will bring many investment opportunities, as well as opportunities to attract investments to emerging markets and developing countries. However, it’s important that we further clarify and improve the regulatory framework for climate investment.”

The parliamentarians agree that the Nordic countries should maintain their high levels of climate and development aid. Here too, the national parliaments will be instrumental in ensuring public support for long-term climate policies.

“Development aid is not only about helping people in other countries out of poverty,” says Auken. “It’s also a way to ensure that we won’t be faced with new waves of migrants and climate refugees of a magnitude that we cannot manage. We need to show people that it’s in their own interest to help other countries addressing climate change.”

According to Gade, Nordic co-operation already has an institutional infrastructure for climate development in place, suitable for scaling up the countries’ climate work outside the region. “These institutions have a proven track record, notably the Nordic Development Fund, which has had great success in facilitating climate change investments in low-income areas,” he says. “The Nordic development finance institutions will be a major asset in the work ahead.” For more information, see

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