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What Is Ambition in the Context of Climate Change?

This post was co-authored with Kate DeAngelis, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

Ambition is a word often used in the context of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. While most people think of ambition as a strong desire to achieve something, the word has a more specific meaning when it comes to international climate action.

What Does Ambition Mean and Why Is it Important?

The UNFCCC’s ultimate goal is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a “level that would prevent dangerous, anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Scientists have found that in order to avoid devastating consequences such as mass desertification, glacier loss, extreme weather, and sea level rise, the international community must limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the climate negotiations, “ambition” refers to countries’ collective will—through both domestic action and international initiatives—to cut global greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the 2°C goal. Ambition further represents the actual steps countries are taking to meet that temperature goal.

Collective ambition is deemed to be lacking when the aggregate policies and actions of all countries are deemed insufficient to meet the 2°C goal. Countries are also judged on their own individual ambition levels, which are assessed based on their commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. In recent years, effective implementation of policies has emerged as an additional method for evaluating whether individual countries are sufficiently ambitious or not.

Experts Weigh In: How Can We Make Progress at the Doha Climate Talks?

“Two years ago at the UNFCCC conference in Cancun, negotiators agreed that the world would seek to limit global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius,” Andrew Steer, WRI’s president, said during a recent press call. “We are not on track for that. We’re a long way off, and the situation is very urgent.”

That’s why the upcoming U.N. climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar (COP 18) are so critically important. As sea level rise, wildfires, and devastating droughts showcase, climate change’s impacts are already being felt across the globe. Meanwhile, extreme weather events—most recently, Hurricane Sandy—serve as powerful reminders of what will likely become more and more the norm if action is not taken. When negotiators meet in Doha at the end of this month, they’ll need to figure out a way to make progress, both to finalize the rules of past decisions and how to come to an international climate agreement by 2015.

Listen to a recording of WRI's press call on the upcoming Doha climate talks.

What’s the Future of the Climate Investment Funds?

The committees governing the $7 billion Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) – the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) and the Strategic Climate Fund (SCF) – will meet in Istanbul this week. Alongside these meetings, a range of stakeholders from civil society, indigenous groups, and the private sector will participate in a series of events organized as part of the annual Partnership Forum, which takes place from November 4-7, 2012.

Decisions made at these meetings are critically important for the funding of climate mitigation and adaptation activities in developing nations. They’ll have important implications for meeting the immediate investment needs of developing countries, as well as for long-term global climate finance. The meetings will mark the start of discussions on how to sunset the CIFs and transition to a new global climate finance mechanism—the Green Climate Fund.

WRI Launches Project on Climate Finance and the Private Sector

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that our best chance of containing global temperature rise to 2°C is to keep atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide below 450 parts per million (we’re currently at 390 ppm). In addition to several other climate mitigation strategies, sticking to this cap will require significant new investment in low-carbon infrastructure and activities in developing countries.

Experts estimate the cost of funding this development to be about $300 billion annually by 2020, growing to $500 billion by 2030. The problem is, there’s a huge funding gap when it comes to meeting these costs—industrialized nations have only committed to mobilize $100 billion of new funds annually by 2020 to meet these needs. The world will need to figure out a way to come up with the rest of the funding if we’re going to prevent developing nations from feeling climate change’s most severe impacts.

Introducing WRI’s Climate Finance and the Private Sector Project

Tapping into the private sector is one way to bridge the climate finance funding gap. The World Resources Institute’s new Climate Finance and the Private Sector (CFPS) initiative has been designed to specifically address how the public sector can leverage private investment in a low-carbon future.

The Green Climate Fund Board Meeting: Highs, Lows, and a Host Country

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board wrapped up its second meeting on Saturday with a major decision: selecting Songdo City in South Korea to host the Fund. The decision, which was adopted by consensus of the Board, was greeted with joy by the Koreans, who spared no effort to provide an offer of the highest quality to earn the confidence of the Board. The UNFCCC Conference of Parties will have to endorse this decision at its next meeting in Doha later this year to confirm the selection.

The Host Country Will Play an Important Role

The GCF is expected to be instrumental in distributing the funds that will help developing nations adapt to and mitigate climate change. As the host country, South Korea now has the opportunity to play an important role in ensuring that the GCF fulfills this responsibility.

Why Is Choosing a Host Country for the Green Climate Fund Such an Important Decision?

The second meeting of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the institution that’s expected to become the main global fund for climate change finance, will take place tomorrow in Songdo, Korea. While the Board will discuss several issues—everything from criteria for its executive director to hammering out a work plan—one is likely to take center stage: choosing the Fund’s host country.

Six countries are currently vying for the role: Germany (Bonn), Korea (Songdo), Mexico (Mexico City), Namibia (Windhoek), Poland (Warsaw), and Switzerland (Geneva). The decision is an important one—the appointed country will be tasked with providing a home for one of the main vehicles to help the world’s most vulnerable nations mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Scaling Up Climate Finance: Why We Need to Invest in Institutions

Addressing global climate change requires huge investments. In order to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius and protect vulnerable communities from climate change’s impacts, experts estimate that developing countries will need between $110 and $275 billion annually to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The International Energy Agency estimates that for developing countries to transition to low carbon energy, approximately $10 trillion dollars in energy investments by 2050 is required. In addition, another $ 1.5 trillion per year will be required by 2030 for adaptation action.

Unfortunately, there’s a huge gap between the funding we have and the funding we need: According to experts, developing countries’ climate change financing needs exceed current and prospective flows by at least five to 10 times. While many policy analysts focus on the need for more money and a greater availability of technology to bridge this gap, there’s another issue that’s less talked about but equally important: investing in institutions and capacity development.

By “institutions,” I mean countries’ national structures, mechanisms, and related arrangements to effectively implement climate policy and administer climate finance, such as a national climate change commission, an inter-agency committee on climate change, a national climate change adaptation fund, or national climate change trust funds. “Investing” in these institutions means creating the necessary policy, institutional, industry, and financial conditions that can help scale up investments in climate action. Building these strong and effective institutions will also require capacity and knowledge-building.

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Progress Made at Bangkok Climate Negotiations, but Is it Enough?

It’s a long way from Bonn to Bangkok—literally and figuratively. It would be a great understatement to suggest that the June session of the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany were acrimonious. In Bonn, governments spent the week arguing about procedural issues such as the nomination of chairs and the finalization of agendas. At the Bangkok negotiations that took place this past week, they argued over substance instead.

These arguments actually represent progress. Because the 50-plus issues under negotiation are contentious and have real impacts on national interests, they are deserving of robust debate. But we still have a long way to travel to get to Doha, Qatar, the location of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) COP 18 summit, which takes place this November. Significant differences of opinion persist on each of the three key issues identified in our pre-Bangkok blog post:

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