"Ministers have been excited and have pushed us"

by Keith Collins - 26 August, 2014
Interview with Annika Markovic

Annika Markovic (pictured: in the middle) is leaving her position as co-chair of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition after the UN Climate Summit in September, to return to her “day job” as Sweden’s ambassador to the OECD and UNESCO in Paris.  She sat down with the CCAC for a few questions on how it all started.

How did the government of Sweden become so involved in the issue of short-lived climate pollutants?

It was sort of a coincidence, really. The Minister of Environment [of Sweden] wanted concrete measures on reducing emissions, to give fast results on the climate, and UNEP came out with its report on the 16 measures that can reduce temperature rise by a half a degree. The Stockholm Environment Institute had also been involved in this research, and it all brought short-lived climate pollutants to the forefront.

And so how did this evolve into the Climate and Clean Air Coalition?

A number of other governments were also looking at how to make a fast impact on climate change and asking what is possible. The US organized a workshop in Washington in August 2011, then Mexico held one where Sweden was also engaged on a ministerial level, and we started discussing things with Mexico, wondering if we could create something global to move things forward. Then Sweden organized a similar workshop with Bangladesh at a meeting in Dacca a few weeks later, and at that point our Environmental Minister was involved, and we talked with the Bangladesh Minister, along with the US, Canada and Mexico and we said, Let’s look at this to see if we can do something concrete and form something together.

We asked, How can we get, not just governments, but all stakeholders involved."

We started drafting framework documents, sent them back and forth. We asked, How can we get, not just governments, but all stakeholders involved. We had a meeting in Canada in January 2012, then a day of negotiating in Washington in February. By then we had agreements with six ministers. Secretary of State Clinton had organized a press conference at the State Department together with the other five Ministers and UNEP’s executive Director Achim Steiner, and we were sitting in the conference room just before, trying to fix the last things, and then we announced. So we got it all done between August and February.  What was really important at the time was that the ministers themselves were so involved. They understood it was politically interesting and they could really make a difference. They could do concrete things on the ground that could also benefit health and crops, and they could do it in record time. Our first real meeting [as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition] was in Paris in the spring of 2012, hosted by UNEP. We discussed what we were going to do, in what areas we would work.

The CCAC was a quiet little coalition at that point. Now every meeting is crazy with people and business. By almost any measure it has been a success. Why?

What has been crucial is that we have had political involvement at the ministerial level twice a year. Ministers have been excited and have pushed us. And at the same time we have a bottom-up approach. Things are happening at both the political level and the initiative level—push from the top and concrete work on the ground. Also, we have a voluntary approach, getting everyone involved who wants to be. It is also key that it is a Coalition that involves all stakeholders and not only Governments, even though Governments are making the main decisions. All opinions are being heard and taken into account.

2014-04-03 09.54.17.jpg

What do you think are the major challenges the CCAC has to overcome to keep growing and accomplish the huge tasks it has set out for itself?

The main challenge is that we are now 10½ initiatives*, and we don’t want them to stay at the level of pilot initiatives. It’s crucial to scale them up. We don’t need a long row of pilot projects. What happens in Bangladesh has to be useful in Africa and the rest of Asia. The other challenge is to get some of the key emissions countries involved. If we can work with China, get more involved in India, some of the African countries, and in Latin America, we can make a great difference in the future. We need to have the involvement of key partners, and to do that we need to continuously emphasize that the CCAC is not in any way trying to undermine the UNFCCC. We all want to see a strong agreement in Paris [in 2015]. We are complementing that.

Speaking of the UNFCCC . . . The process there has been challenged by the conflict between the countries focused on remediation as primary and those focused on the need to help developing countries adapt to climate change. What do you think is needed there to break the logjam?

The key is to look for partnership between the different stakeholders. Developing countries need assistance. You need to find a way to get the business sector involved, and you need to focus more on the benefits of actions. Investment can be expensive, but the benefits can be huge in the future, and there is enormous pay-back. We need to have a more positive discussion around the benefits of action. By acting now you can gain from the investments that are already in place. It’s clear to [the Swedish government] that if you continue to invest in a fossil-fuel economy, it’s not going to be the winning strike. There have to be other ways to invest, to move to a new economy that is growing much faster, an economy that takes into account climate but also economic growth. It’s possible to do both.

Investment can be expensive, but the benefits can be huge in the future, and there is enormous pay-back."

As co-chair of the CCAC you need to manage a very diverse and opinionated group. What is your key to being a leader of a group like this?

The key for any chairperson of a process is to know where you want to go. Already before the meeting I have in my mind what results I want to see on the agenda items. I try to be as open as possible to ideas. Sometimes you don’t know what will be the end result, but you have to be determined. You have to know how to move the room and when to break. I’m at the point where I know from experience what is needed. Sometimes people feel I’m allowing too many colleagues to speak, but I think we sometimes need to have a discussion, and then it’s easier to come to a conclusion. The support of the conclusion is stronger if everyone has been heard.

How does your work with the CCAC intersect with your work at the OECD and UNESCO?

Now the OECD is doing quite some work on climate and economic growth**. It’s a good angle to come from. After the financial crisis, all international organizations, especially OECD and the IMF, are looking for new models of growth. Old ways didn’t work. We need new ways of growing, ways that are multidimensional. The CCAC can help with that.


Annika Markovic is a business economist with a degree from Stockholm University. She began working with the Swedish government soon after graduation in 1990. By 2003 Annika was ambassador to the Philippines. In 2007  she became ambassador to Brazil, then came home in 2011 to help the government with negotiations on environment and sustainable development. “The Philippines and Brazil are very important countries,” Markovic says, “with biodiversity and climate change challenges from different angles. They need to combine economic growth and development and climate. In Brazil, for example, people need livelihoods, but they need not to destroy the rain forest in order to continue living there. [Being an ambassador has] helped me understand how important it is to combine economic growth with sustainable development and protection of the environment.”

Related partners