Germany’s energy transition (or “Energiewende”) is the most ambitious current effort to put a large industrial economy onto a sustainable energy path, recognizing the 21st century reality of a climate-constrained world. If the world’s fourth largest economy demonstrates that this shift is possible without undermining economic growth, it could be a major factor in enabling a global energy transition. And with climate change intensifying – 2012 was the 36th straight year of above-average global temperature, and 2011 and 2012 each produced more extreme weather events costing over one billion dollars each than any other year in recorded history – reducing greenhouse gas emissions is imperative for any future energy system. Thus, the Energiewende is critical to the ongoing fight against global warming.
international climate policy
Historically, the world has talked about climate change primarily as an environmental issue. We focus on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, rising seas, climbing temperatures, and other hard data. While this narrative is important, it’s missing a critical component — people.
After all, communities everywhere will be affected by climate change’s impacts. Those in impoverished, developing nations will likely be hit hardest. That’s why it’s necessary to talk about climate change not just as an environmental issue, but also as an issue of climate justice focused on the way in which people, especially the most vulnerable, are being affected.
This post originally appeared on WRI's ChinaFAQs blog.
This has been a big week for U.S.-China collaboration on climate change. Yesterday the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group (CCWG), which was established in April by the Joint Statement on Climate Change, presented their report on bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Not only does it lay out actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a close reading sheds light on important themes for the future of U.S.-China collaboration on climate change.
The report centers on five separate “action initiatives.” to address key drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in both countries. The U.S. and China make up more than 40 percent of global CO2 emissions, so significant collaboration between the countries is absolutely essential to addressing the problem. The five areas that the report singles out include: vehicle emissions; smart grids; carbon capture, utilization and storage; greenhouse gas data collection and management; and building and industry energy efficiency.
Although the report is built around these five initiatives, four big themes can also be seen:
Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), developed countries have committed to mobilize $100 billion to support developing country efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. This new and additional climate financing, together with technology and capacity-building support, will be made available by 2020.
Tracking these funds and ensuring that they are delivered effectively is a huge undertaking. Developed countries report their climate finance contributions in periodic national communications submitted to the UNFCCC. However, because countries use multiple methods for reporting and often provide insufficient information, the data gathered are of limited use.
WRI was one of the first organizations to emphasize the importance of transparency of climate finance as part of any new international climate agreement. In the lead up to the UNFCCC conference in Cancun, held in December 2010, our climate team assessed existing finance reporting systems, provided specific guidelines for improvement, and put forward a common reporting format. The team then helped mobilize coalitions to secure support. The result was a mandate at Cancun calling for revised and enhanced reporting guidelines. If fully implemented, these will help donors and recipients better assess and understand the flow and effectiveness of climate finance, and ensure its alignment with other development priorities.
WRI remains active in the UNFCCC process because we believe all nations must act to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions if we are to contain rising temperatures within the limits to which humanity can adapt. Our work on climate finance and in other key policy areas is making a difference in the international climate negotiations.
The world has been asking: How will the United States turn its climate change talk into real action? President Obama began to answer that question this week when he announced his National Climate Action Plan, laying out concrete steps to curb climate change at home and abroad, including a policy that would bar the U.S. from financing conventional coal plants internationally.
The concrete steps he described are vital--most importantly because they represent actions, not just words. But everyone should also take note of the starting point in his speech. It reveals the critical role the international climate change process can play in stimulating climate action.
Much like recent extreme weather events in Europe and the United States, this month’s intersessional in Bonn, Germany could be described as volatile. But despite some “stormy” discussions, rays of light could still be seen in some areas.
The low point that seems to be generating the most attention is Russia preventing a key UNFCCC working body from making any progress. Russia, along with Ukraine and Belarus, blocked the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), which works on both substantive and administrative implementation issues, from moving forward on its agenda. Russia appeared to still be upset about the process during a last-minute decision at COP 18 in Doha, when the rules for the next commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol were quickly gaveled through over their objection. Refusing to let the body take up its work unless it included an agenda item on procedural issues for the climate talks as a whole, Russia rejected numerous attempts at compromise.
The blockage in the SBI discussions created noticeable ripples of nervousness throughout the negotiating hall. But in spite of the intermittent gloominess, there were also clear rays of light. What emerged most palpably was an insistence by nearly all the countries here that these kinds of tangles must be avoided, and that they are committed to moving forward on the key issues facing the UNFCCC negotiations and, not incidentally, the world.
Sven Harmeling, Takeshi Kuramochi, and Steffen Kalbekken also contributed to this post.
How are we going to deliver climate finance at a sufficient scale to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change? Parties to the UNFCCC--including those at this month’s intersessional in Bonn--are struggling to agree on the answer to this question. The UNFCCC established a Standing Committee on Climate Finance to take stock of global progress towards this goal, while a work program on Long-Term Finance will continue this year.
As these various groups debate the future of climate finance, it’s important to look back at progress and trends thus far. The fast-start finance (FSF) period offers important insights into how different developed countries are approaching the challenge of delivering international climate finance. These lessons can inform future efforts.
Major Insights from the Fast-Start Finance Period
Developed countries report that they delivered more than $33 billion in FSF between 2010 and 2012, exceeding the pledges they made at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009. But how much of this finance is new and additional? How has it been allocated, and what is it supporting?
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
When President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping meet in California this week, they will be seeking to build trust and chart a course for improved relations. While tensions abound over various issues, clean energy and climate is one area where cooperation can work.
Last month, the United States and China released a statement declaring that joint action on climate change can “set the kind of powerful example that can inspire the world.” These two countries have the opportunity to tackle this global challenge, helping keep the world within 2 degrees Celsius of temperature rise, and embrace clean energy on the path to a low-carbon future.
Given the stakes, business leaders should be paying attention.
Clean energy is one of the most important growth sectors in the global economy. It has been projected that $2.3 trillion will be invested in clean energy by 2020, reaching $269 billion last year. China was the number world’s top clean energy investor in 2012, with a record $68 billion. China’s investments are not only within its borders. China’s total overseas investment in 2011 extended to over 130 countries and topped $60 billion.
Delegates at the April UNFCCC intersessional in Bonn, Germany made some encouraging progress. As negotiators gather again this week, it’s important that they build on this progress and take action on two key topics: raising ambition, and establishing core elements of the 2015 international climate action agreement.
Indeed, there’s an even greater sense of urgency since delegates met for the April intersessional. The world crossed a perilous and alarming threshold, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels exceeding 400 ppm, a level that has not been experienced in at least 800,000 years and possibly not for millions of years. Plus, this may be the last intersessional before COP 19 in Warsaw in November. Negotiators must move forward on raising ambition and establishing the 2015 Agreement if COP 19 is to have a successful outcome.
Raising Ambition Now
The need for countries to make more ambitious emissions-reduction commitments remains self-evident—even more so, now that the world has exceeded 400 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In Bonn, negotiators are set to focus on the transformation of the energy system.
This post was written by Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile and a member of the high-level advisory panel for the Climate Justice Dialogue. The Climate Justice Dialogue project is a joint initiative between WRI and the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice. This piece originally appeared on Reuters Alertnet.
Global emissions just crossed 400 parts per million, an ominous threshold for the climate. Despite this marker, there are signs of new life for international climate action, including during the recent United Nation’s climate meeting in Bonn, Germany.
It’s become abundantly clear that in order for the world to reach an international climate agreement by 2015, the usual approach isn’t going to work. World leaders need to find common ground and work toward solutions. They need to engage their citizens and infuse new passion into the issue. Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it is one of the great moral tests of our times.
In Chile, we know all too well the impacts of climate change, marked in particular by more frequent droughts and increasing water scarcity. This affects people and our economy across sectors, from agriculture and manufacturing to mining and energy. Sadly, the people most affected by climate change are the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.
In the face of this challenge, we need a new narrative that engages people and presents the issue as a social and economic story rather than as just an environmental one. We need to create a world in which people prosper but without increasing pollution. This is not a distant dream, but a real possibility.