Could a New ‘Bretton Woods’ Conference’ Prompt Global Climate Change Policy?

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A new report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which calls for a new Bretton Woods Conference to revamp global climate change policy, has resurrected the debate around the Paris Climate Accord.

The proposed conference would mirror what the original Bretton Woods Conference was in 1944 in Bretton Woods, N.H., which set up the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The summit of 44 different countries created a framework on how to regulate international monetary systems after World War II. 

The UN Report suggests holding a similar conference to create a ‘Global Green New Deal’ to create a framework that ensures long-term consistency on climate policy.

“The way to deliver the public goods we need to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 is to create a healthy, democratic and inclusive public realm at the global as well as the national level. Much as it was for the architects of Bretton Woods…” writes Mukhisa Kituyi, secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s report Financing a Global Green New Deal.

The proposal mimics the Green New Deal proposal championed by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), alongside Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) 

“If we want to reverse the polarization of income within and across countries, create a stable financial system that serves the productive economy, mitigate the threats and seize the opportunities associated with new technologies, and undertake massive investments in clean energy, transportation and food systems, we need a Global Green New Deal,” writes Kituyi.

According to the Progressive climate news publication Climate Home News, outgoing special representative Rachel Kyte said the possible landmark climate proposal would be ‘a bit bigger’ than the Paris Climate Accord. 

The new Bretton Wood Conference would create a much larger budget and framework than the Paris Climate Accord, which calls for $100 billion per year of contributions through to 2025 with expected further contributions beyond that. The UN report acknowledges in order to reach some success a Global Green New Deal would cost “trillions, not billions, of dollars per year.”

In May 2017, in the Rose Garden, President Donald Trump announced that he intended to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. 

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Mr. Trump said to reporters. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto quickly rebuked the President’s remarks, noting that Pittsburgh stands with the Paris Climate Accord.  

The United States cannot officially pull out of the accord until November 2020, fueling climate change as one of the most pressing issues of the election cycle. The issue of a partially non-binding policy is that action is largely dependent on the positions of leadership. 

A Bretton Woods Conference framework could protect environmental policies from political platform shifts that could easily undo reverse progression.

“Due to the scale and urgency of the problem, an institution with global reach such as the Bretton Woods system would be much more effective than piecemeal actions by individual nations that could continually change due to domestic political considerations” says Dr. Peter Beck, professor of environmental science and policy at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas.

On the same token, Dr. Beck also has some reservations to such a proposal. Funding this organization sufficiently would require buy-in by the industrialized nations, which would be difficult in the current environment, Beck says.  

Leading environmental activist Bill McKibben and founder of echoes Beck’s concerns. 

“The rich world has profoundly broken its promise to the global south that there would be finance forthcoming to help cope with climate change. That’s one of the biggest obstacles we face to planet-scale progress on climate,” McKibben says. 

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