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 Shifting the narrative about climate action 

First Hertie Futures Forum stresses the role of cooperation in tackling climate change. 


To launch the Hertie Futures Forum, a series of high-ranking events celebrating the Hertie School’s 20th anniversary, the Hertie School hosted a panel on international climate policy in collaboration with its Centre for Sustainability. The panel discussion was titled “Looking back to move forward: Exploring innovative approaches for international climate policy”. Exactly one week before the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, the panel explored lessons learnt and upcoming challenges in international climate policy.  

Looking back at the development of the international climate regime to draw lessons for international climate policy strategy at COP28 and beyond, Jennifer Morgan, State Secretary at the Foreign Federal office and Germany’s Special Envoy for International Climate Action; Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation (ECF); and Ottmar Edenhofer, Director and Chief Economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, explored innovative approaches for fostering international climate policy cooperation. The panel was moderated by Christian Flachsland, Professor of Climate Policy and Director of the Hertie School’s Centre for Sustainability. 

Hertie School President Cornelia Woll delivered the opening remarks, stressing the role of collaboration: “The spirit of the Paris Agreement remains an important lesson. This crisis will only be addressed if all the countries in the world come together.” She also commented on the importance of a truly just transition for achieving a climate-neutral economy.  

Looking back on lessons learnt to move forward 

In her keynote address, State Secretary Jennifer Morgan shared the six lessons she has learnt over her decades of work in climate policy: 

  • Collective and national rights must be balanced.  

  • It is critical that climate negotiations are linked to “the real economy”. 

  • The UNFCCC should not be the centre of climate diplomacy – other avenues should be used as well. 

  • Enforcement mechanisms need to be in place, supplemented by reporting and review. 

  • Social justice and equity must be implemented on all levels. 

  • We should not underestimate the role of civil society, which often goes unseen. 

Morgan then outlined the key challenges for the future of climate action: the need to rise above geopolitics, the financial aspect of climate policy, and the increasing pace and scale of change.  

Cooperation and resistance to transition


Opening up the panel discussion, moderator Christian Flachsland invited the panellists to speak about their biggest takeaways from the past 20 years of international climate policy and diplomacy, as well as about what they saw as the main challenges to achieving the Paris Agreement’s objectives.  

A key theme addressed by the panel was the need for all players to work together. This is challenging, because many powerful actors, such as the oil and gas industry, are strongly incentivised to continue “business as usual”, remarked Edenhofer. Tubiana also pointed out the disagreement among states on the right approaches to climate policy, exemplified by the “block against block” logic and the lack of multilateralism. She stressed that global cooperation can only work if there is reciprocity.  

Climate policy as a culture war 

In a Q&A session, Hertie School students and guests asked the panellists about states’ willingness to take on debt, the cost of mitigating the impacts of climate change and ensuring fair access to minerals and materials.  

Prompted by the recent election results in the Netherlands, one student asked how the rise of the far-right has impacted climate action. Edenhofer commented that climate policy has become part of a culture war and is increasingly becoming an identity issue. “As soon as [climate policy] becomes polarised, part of a cultural war, then we are lost,” he warned. In order to bring about effective change, the median voter needs to be brought on board – the support of the green liberal elite is not enough. Tubiana added that preventing this culture war requires a narrative shift from addressing climate change as a “climate issue” to addressing it as a “people issue”. The Dutch and other governments are currently paying the price for their mistakes, she noted, which include spending money on unnecessary subsidies and betraying the electorate’s trust.  

The panel’s climate wish list 

Before wrapping up the event, the panellists shared their wishes for climate policy, specifically on how it links to civil society. We need to shift away from a normative movement and place more emphasis on the democratic underpinnings of climate policy, for example by improving our community organisation, commented Tubiana. Morgan argued that campaigns should focus more on mindset shifts and solutions on the ground by “start[ing] where [people] are at”. Making the conversation about “how to create a good life” puts the communities in the centre of this conversation, she explained. Advocates of more progressive climate policy can learn from the campaign surrounding gay marriage, she argued, which went from being completely inacceptable to being embraced by the mainstream.  


Watch the recording here:  

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