LONDON, Oct 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The process of countries building their own national plans to use more clean energy and cut climate-change risks - the basis for a new global climate deal - has kick-started genuine action in many of those countries, climate experts argued on Thursday.
Putting together credible climate action plans has required countries to open up consultation beyond environment ministries and bring in finance officials, urban planners, businesses and other players, a gathering in London heard.
Discussions about climate change "have really opened up at the highest levels of government" and have included a range of vested interests, said Laurence Tubiana, the top climate diplomat for France, which will host negotiations beginning on Nov. 30 in Paris due to produce a new global climate deal.
The result of the process has been plans that "show what is actually going to be happening on the ground in years to come", said Celine Herweijer, a climate change and development expert at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), a global accountancy and consulting firm.
The national efforts pledged under a new deal are expected to drive action by businesses, and influence how an estimated $90 trillion in new private and public infrastructure is built over the next 20 years, she said.
Plans so far submitted by some 150 countries, if carried out, would hold global temperature increases by the turn of the century to 3 degrees Celsius, below the current 4 degree Celsius trajectory, according to a PwC report released this week.
That is still just half the change needed to keep average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, the current goal of international talks on a new climate deal, the report said.
Still negotiators do expect any new deal will include a mechanism to ratchet up the ambition of national plans over time - and some experts believe falling prices for renewable energy may drive faster action than expected.
Right now "countries are doing what they think is possible, not what is necessary", said Nick Mabey, the head of E3G, a European organisation pushing for a faster transition to sustainable development.
But "we think all the major countries will over-deliver on their promises", he added. Many are today cautious about setting targets related to fundamental shifts in how their economies work and are powered. "But we think as they go forward, they will find they can do more," he said.
Tubiana noted that a year ago, it was unclear if many developing countries would put together so-called "intended nationally determined contributions" (INDCs) to feed into the Paris climate talks.
But commitments from large-scale emitters such as the United States and China - which has said it will begin reducing its emissions by 2030 - have spurred hope that political support for a low-carbon shift in the world's economic system is growing.
"The idea that we didn't have to do much because these two big polluters weren't engaged is over," said Monica Araya, the executive director of political strategy group Nivela and a former climate negotiator for Costa Rica.
And as more countries see clearer evidence of climate change impacts at home, such as recent flooding in Costa Rica, they "are realising it is in their best interests to be proactive", she said.
The view is no longer that "we have to do this because there's a Paris agreement", she said. Now countries are saying, "we have to do this anyway. That is a shift."
Pete Ogden, a former White House head of climate change and now with the Center for American Progress, agreed that countries will continue to negotiate in their own interest - but that interest now includes faster action on climate change.
"At the end of the day, countries are going to pursue these (national climate action plans)... because they're in their full economic interests," he said.
But strong mechanisms will be needed to ensure countries live up to their promises, said Jairam Ramesh, a former Indian environment minister who led India's climate negotiating team at the Copenhagen talks in 2009.
"Paris has to deliver a credible system for monitoring, reporting and verification" as countries will be left to carry out their climate plans on their own, he said. (Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and corruption. Visit www.trust.org/climate)