I was at the Vienna Energy Forum when the long awaited High Level Panel Report (HLP) on the Post-2015 development agenda was released. In Vienna, one of the sessions was on "Energy in the Post-2015 Agenda" and was moderated by Nisha Pillai of the BBC. She painted a vivid picture of three approaches for the post-2015 development agenda she had heard pundits speak of: "the Christmas tree", "the bull's eye target" and "the jigsaw puzzle".
For those of you not steeped in policy wonkdom, here are my thoughts on what to make of these approaches. The "Christmas tree" approach refers to many baubles being added to weigh down each branch of the tree. For "post 2015" that means adding goals for every problem, with no prioritisation. This is the approach governments took at Rio+20 where they identifi"ed no fewer than 26 priorities, making the whole agenda very messy and difficult to communicate. Then there is the "bull's eye target" approach, favoured by those who want to focus on "getting to zero" on a handful of human development goals. In this context, this usually means an "MDG2 approach" – continuing to focus on a small set of targets, such as reducing child mortality. This approach is attractive for its focus, but fails to deal with the devastating human impacts of climate change. Already today climate change is set to undo the limited gains made through the MDGs. And this approach continues the absurdity of focusing on the poor alone. Like the original MDGs, this approach fails to expect the developed world to change their lifestyles (what in UN speak is called consumption and production patterns). Finally, there's the "jigsaw puzzle" approach, which refers to the different sectors or pieces of the puzzle and their inter-linkages, such as the links between water, food, energy and land and the human impacts of climate change on already poor and vulnerable people, pressure on natural resources, and conflict. This is the approach many at the Vienna Energy Forum thought made the most sense for energy and which offers the possibility to get at the underlying drivers of poverty.
However, the long awaited HLP Report – co-chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia – doesn't follow any of these approaches. Like many reports before, it mainly recycles fine words, while failing to set out who needs to do what, by when, to deliver the transformation we need. Indeed, the ritual repetition of the right concepts without clear action guidance brings to mind a different analogy: "the magnetic poetry kit". This is a kind of App that creates a story for you out of carefully chosen words and word fragments. Or maybe the High Level Panel was playing "wordle"? This is where you create an image of the words which appear most often in a text and those that appear most often are thought to be most important? Regrettably, though, just saying "we also agreed on the need to manage the world’s consumption and production patterns in more sustainable and equitable ways", for example, isn't going to change anything.
The HLP correctly says "we must act now to halt the alarming pace of climate change and environmental degradation, which pose unprecedented threats to humanity". But then they fail to say what is needed.
There is not one concrete proposal for moving off the current paradigm. Suggesting five shifts which "can, at long last, bring together social, economic and environmental issues in a coherent, effective, and sustainable way" begs the question of how when the UN Member States spent two years discussing and debating these very issues in the run up to the Rio+20 Summit, only to deliver an epic failure.
When the report was presented to the UN General Assembly on Friday I was surprised to hear a member of the HLP say that the panel in turn was surprised to be criticised for too little attention to the issue of inequality, "which they had discussed at length". Well they should not have been surprised – as the CEOs of 18 International NGOs, including Kumi Naidoo, made it clear in a letter that addressing inequality effectively would be one of our benchmarks for assessing the report.
The HLP is absolutely right in stating that "the infrastructure investments they make today will lock-in energy use and pollution levels tomorrow", but is silent on putting a decisive end to unsustainable practices such as phasing out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020. They are a tad over generous in stating "many of the world's largest companies are already leading this transformation to a green economy". Some, like Unilever, may have started on that vital journey, but where are the others? I particularly liked the recommendation "as more industries develop sustainability certification, it will be easier for civil society and shareholders to become watchdogs, holding firms accountable for adhering to industry standards and worker safety issues and being ready to disinvest if they do not". But where is the call for governments to ensure corporate accountability through regulation? And can we read the document to say that David Cameron and other leaders feel so unable to act themselves that they instead endorse the 350.org divestment from fossil fuels campaign? Now that would be interesting …
The panel is justifiably proud of having been consultative and thanks the "5,000 civil society organisations and 250 chief executive officers of major corporations who shared their valuable ideas and views." Consultation is good, and in marked contrast to the way the MDGs were developed. Sadly, it’s not apparent how all that talk and consultation influenced the final product. I, for one, asked the HLP at several consultations to focus on the need for transformational change, and on clear and concrete actions such as finally using the over $1 trillion fossil fuel subsidies a year to address poverty, inequality, climate change and to deliver clean energy for all.
I don't see answers to any of my questions in the "magnetic poetry kit" box of words or in the "wordle" word cloud of the report. The transformation we need is still waiting for a clear road map. Luckily, on energy, we do have one. So if you haven´t read the High Level Panel report yet, you may just want to read our Energy Revolution instead.
Patricia Lerner is Senior Political Advisor at Greenpeace International