Here's why we need a world climate parliament now

Dennis Tänzler, Director and Head of Programme Climate Policy at adelphi


Let’s remember: COP26 in Glasgow was a veritable fireworks display. The UK and other heavyweights launched numerous initiatives to finally implement and meet the targets of the Paris Agreement. They forged new alliances to stop the financing of fossil-fuel energies, advance technological innovations together with the business community, and secure the climate financing contributions already pledged for 2020.

One year on, in Sharm El-Sheikh, the Global South and others will likely ask those heavyweights: What has come out of this fireworks display? Sadly, not much. The gap between ambition and measurable results is still far too wide. One does not have to agree with the Fridays for Future movement saying, COPs are just "blah blah" to realise that we lag far behind the scale and speed of transformation needed to avert climate disaster.

So now that states have set the goals and launched the initiatives, COPs need to focus on implementation. This is not something the roving annual climate conference caravan can deliver. In view of tipping points getting closer and closer, we can no longer afford to wait for another year after deadlocked negotiations. We need regular reviews of mitigation progress. And for that we need a permanent assembly of the global climate community. It would convene the representatives of the UNFCCC Parties to deal with climate policy progress 24/7.

A world climate parliament could accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement in a representative, transparent, and accountable manner. It would focus global negotiations, which normally take place at different dates and locations, in one place. Negotiating groups could jointly clarify pressing issues of international climate policy that could not be solved at or between the COPs so far. Three examples:

1. Enabling joint mitigation efforts

At COP26, states have finally translated almost the entire Paris Agreement into a set of rules, so now implementation can actually move forward. But it took them six years to reach an agreement on Article 6, which stipulates how countries can implement joint climate projects. This question is essential for progress in emission reductions. The delay was completely inappropriate. And many countries were actually willing to move this forward. With additional and more efficient working procedures, states could make such essential decisions for global climate protection more quickly. In a permanent assembly, targeted committees could negotiate open questions, obtain additional advice, and tie in with existing work of the negotiating groups on individual dossiers to resolve such unfortunate deadlocks more quickly.

2. Financial issues

Over the past decade, the international climate community has committed to providing $100 billion in climate financing annually from 2020 onwards. To a certain extent, this sum is the main budget of international climate policy and will be increased again in the middle of the decade. COP26 has already taken many steps to close the gaps of the past years. Nevertheless, much remains to be addressed. For example, there are still uncertainties about how much money individual donors should actually contribute, what role the private sector will play, and to what extent these funds will be renewed. In addition, fundamental questions arise about the impact of these funds: Will donors actually distribute them fairly after running them through the various multi- and bilateral funding streams? Will they make sufficient resources available to strengthen resilience? Who is actually paying for the damage and losses of the climate crisis that can no longer be avoided? And last but not least: Will states use the funds in a responsible and transparent manner? The answers to all these questions will be decisive for an efficient and credible climate policy. Rather than looking at them only once a year, a standing committee should deal with them permanently.

3. Global responses to crisis events in real time

Floods last summer showed even a highly developed country like Germany needs immediate support in coping with extreme weather events. Floods in Pakistan now demonstrate the challenges for less prosperous and much more vulnerable countries. Already conflict-ridden regions are at risk of further destabilisation and repeated conflict. This issue pops up at the United Nations Security Council more and more frequently. Storms, floods, and droughts require experienced and internationally coordinated support services. A permanent assembly of the global climate community could coordinate these services accordingly. The parliament could function as a control body and quickly disburse funds. It would, of course, not replace the dense network of international aid organisations. Rather, it can serve as a compass to act internationally, early and decisively, and to instantly initiate multilateral cooperation for crisis management.

Will this ever happen?

Will states agree to transform the COP process into a permanent assembly? The never-ending debate over Security Council reform might not seem encouraging. But I do not think a world climate parliament is politically out of reach. The minimum requirement for the parliament would be to develop draft resolutions in committees that are ready for decision by the heads of government of the signatory states. Everything else is a matter of detail. Broad goals can still be left to an annual climate conference. It would simply mean that states are better prepared for negotiations and members of government are thus less likely to waste their time at COPs. Besides, the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its General Assembly (GA) already work like this. Delegates meet all year round and cabinet members join them once a year during the ECOSOC High Level Segment or the GA’s General Debate.

What should it look like?

In order to obtain legitimacy for binding decisions, all 193 parties from the United Nations need to be represented. The representatives in the parliament would be sent by the individual countries. Initially, a delegation of three representatives and their staff could be envisaged per state. On the one hand, this would make it possible to adequately organise parliamentary work on issues such as mitigation, adaptation, and financing. On the other hand, the size of the parliament would still be below that of the new German Bundestag, which now has 735 members—an acceptable size, considering the global dimensions of climate change. Representatives of civil society, science, and other non-state actors could be admitted as permanent observers. The location could be fixed in a city like Bonn, Nairobi, or New York or it could rotate every four to five years. Such questions are not necessarily deal-breakers.

Climate conference? Or climate parliament? No either-or!

World climate conferences have many useful functions. Yes, they raise global awareness. Yes, they are gradually turning into important trade fair events. And yes, they build up civil society pressure, which states need to bring about the necessary decisions. But especially in view of the positive signals from Glasgow, this is not enough. A world climate parliament would consolidate and expand momentum for global climate protection and strengthen the legitimacy of the process. The 2020s can set a transformative course that also adequately represents the interests of the Global South and future generations. Perhaps COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh will see an initiative for a world climate parliament to lead global climate policy into a sustainable future. Who wants to go first?

A shorter version of this article first appeared on Context on October 5, 2022.