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international climate policy

2 Big Issues to Watch at this Week’s Bonn Climate Talks

It’s been almost four months since the last UNFCCC negotiations in Doha, Qatar (COP 18). Countries decided in Doha to finalize the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, wrap up a series of decisions on the Bali Action Plan, and outline a plan to establish an international climate agreement by 2015. Countries will gather this week in Bonn, Germany, for the first formal conversations since the Doha meeting.

This week’s intersessional is a low key, but important session. Negotiators will discuss two critical issues: How to substantially step-up the level of ambition by countries, companies, cities, and civil society; and how to ensure a strong international climate agreement by 2015. Progress on these two issues could bring the world one step closer to strong, international action to curb climate change.

Increasing Ambition

The final decision by all countries at COP 17 in Durban recognized that current GHG-reduction pledges are not adequate to keep global average temperature below 2 degrees C (the limit science says is necessary to prevent climate change’s most disastrous impacts). In Bonn, experts will put forth new ideas on how to ratchet up ambition in the short-term. Country representatives will also highlight best practices and success stories, in particular, the role that land use could play for enhanced mitigation and adaptation policies.

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How Much Did the United States Contribute to International Fast-Start Finance?

This post was co-authored with Jenna Blumenthal, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy program.

As U.S. government officials take stock of last week’s Ministerial Meeting on Mobilizing Climate Finance and prepare for upcoming UNFCCC talks in Bonn, WRI’s Open Climate Network (OCN), along with Climate Advisers and the Overseas Development Institute, are taking a look back at U.S. efforts on climate finance. (See our new fact sheet).

Back in 2009, developed countries pledged to provide $30 billion in climate finance by the end of 2012 in order to help developing countries implement low-carbon, climate-resilient development initiatives. This funding period—which took place from 2010 to 2012—is known as the “fast-start finance” period.

Our analysis reveals two sides to the U.S. contribution of roughly $7.5 billion in fast-start finance: On one hand, it represents a significant effort to increase international climate finance relative to previous years, in spite of the global financial crisis. On the other, it is not clear that the entirety of the contribution aligns with internationally agreed principles, which stipulate that the finance be “new and additional” and “balanced” between adaptation and mitigation. In any case, the United States, along with other developed countries, is now faced with the challenge of scaling up climate finance to developing countries to reach a collective $100 billion per year by 2020.

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The Race Against Climate Change

This post originally appeared on the National Journal's Energy Experts blog. It is a response to the question: "What's holding back energy and climate policy?"

We are in a race for sure, but it is not a race among various national issues. It’s a race to slow the pace of our rapidly changing climate. The planet is warming faster than previously thought, and we cannot afford to wait for national politics to align to make progress in slowing the dangerous rate of warming.

Recent events, like the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, propelled gun control front and center. Last year’s elections shifted the national conversation on immigration. Climate change, too, should demand the attention of our national leaders.

The evidence of climate change is clear and growing. In 2012, there were 356 all-time temperature highs tied or broken in the United States. As of March, the world had experienced 337th consecutive months (28 years) with a global temperature above the 20th century average. Global sea levels are rising and artic sea ice continues to shrink faster than many scientists had predicted.

There are indications that Americans are deepening their understanding about climate change, especially when it comes to its impacts. People are beginning to connect the dots around extreme weather events, rising seas, droughts and wildfires, which have been coming in increasing frequency and intensity in recent years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculated that weather-related damages in the United States were $60 billion in 2011 alone.

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3 Ways to Unlock Climate Finance

Ministers and senior officials from developed countries will gather this Thursday in Washington, D.C. to tackle one of the world’s foremost challenges: how to mobilize private sector capital to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in developing countries and help them adapt to climate change’s impacts. The meeting, organized by the U.S. State Department, comes on the heels of another meeting of climate finance experts and researchers in Paris, organized by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

This global attention on climate finance comes at a critical moment: Research shows that the world will need to invest at least $5.7 trillion in clean water, sustainable transport, renewable energy, and other green infrastructure annually by 2020 in order to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, thus preventing climate change’s worst impacts. We’re currently directing only about $360 billion annually toward these activities.

While these discussions are necessary, what’s more important is whether or not ministers and officials are talking about the right issues and asking the right questions. Addressing three questions—on the correct investment figures, the most effective policy and financing tools, and the importance of collaboration—will be critical to ensure that the April 11th Ministerial Meeting on Mobilizing Climate Finance achieves meaningful results.

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Why Is Climate Finance So Hard to Define?

This is the first installment of our blog series, Climate Finance FAQs. The series explores the often nebulous world of climate finance, providing clarity on some of the key terms and current issues. Read more posts in this series.

Surprising as it may sound, there is no standard definition of climate finance. In fact, there are many differing views on what type of funding constitutes climate finance, how it should be delivered, and how much money developing nations will need to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. This vortex of information can be confusing to navigate. Here, we'll do our best to break down all of the components that define “climate finance.”

Defining Climate Finance: Broadly to Narrowly

In its broadest interpretation, climate finance refers to the flow of funds toward activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or help society adapt to climate change’s impacts. It is the totality of flows directed to climate change projects—the same way that “infrastructure finance” refers to the financing of infrastructure, or “consumer finance” refers to providing credit for purchases of big-ticket household items.

The term is most frequently used in the context of international political negotiations on climate change. In this context, climate finance—or international climate finance—is used to describe financial flows from developed to developing countries for climate change mitigation/adaptation activities, like building solar power plants or walls to protect from sea level rise. This interpretation builds off the premise that developed countries have an obligation to help developing countries transform their economies to become less carbon-intensive and more resilient to climate change.

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Lord Nicholas Stern Identifies 3 Obstacles to International Climate Action

Six years after the release of the landmark Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Lord Nicholas Stern revealed yesterday the most challenging hurdle ahead for international climate action. Overcoming this obstacle is not a matter of figuring out the scientific or policy pathways needed to curb climate change—nor is it determining what technologies to adopt or what investments must be made. “What’s missing is the political will,” said Stern.

The famed economist elaborated on this problem during an address yesterday hosted by WRI and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “Fostering Growth and Poverty Reduction in a World of Immense Risk.” Dr. Andrew Steer, WRI’s president, and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, provided opening remarks, articulating the serious economic and human risks climate change poses. Stern focused on the main hurdle to mitigating these risks—political will.

The problem, according to Stern, reflects a lack of understanding in three main areas: climate change’s real risks, the benefits of an alternative pathway, and the need for collaboration and mutual understanding.

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Developed Nations Must Reduce Emissions by Half by 2020, Says New Study

After a year of extreme weather events and recent studies outlining climate change’s impacts, it’s become increasingly clear that we must understand what emissions reduction pathways are necessary to avoid these risks. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) last Assessment Report, for example, outlined the emissions reductions needed from developed countries to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) consistent with limiting warming to 2°C. Further research has continued to examine the global GHG emissions reductions necessary to avert dangerous climate change. And as countries implement existing policies and consider new ones, the scale of required emissions cuts is a fundamental question. In fact, it’s one of the most pressing questions facing the international climate change community.

One new study shows that we have to reduce emissions even more than scientists initially thought in order to avoid climate change’s worst impacts. A paper published in Energy Policy on February 20th by Michel den Elzen and colleagues examines new information on likely future emissions trajectories in developing countries. This includes recent clarification of assumptions and conditions related to developing country pledges. In addition, countries have also come forward with further information on their emissions projections. As a result, the report finds that developed countries must reduce their emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if we are to have a medium chance of limiting warming to 2°C, thus preventing some of climate change’s worst impacts.

This level of reductions is considerably higher than what the scientific community thought was necessary to meet the 2°C goal. The most recent IPCC Fourth Assessment Report laid out a recipe for a medium chance[^1] of limiting warming to 2°C. This report—compiled by the world’s leading climate scientists—stated that developed countries would have to reduce their emissions by 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and developing country emissions would have to be reduced substantially from their business-as-usual emissions trajectories.

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Released for Review: New Standards for Tracking GHG Emissions from Policies and Goals

With the latest round of global climate negotiations at an end, many countries, states, and cities around the world are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through mitigation policies and goals. Decision-makers need to understand the emissions impacts associated with these initiatives in order to evaluate effectiveness, make sound decisions, and assess progress.

However, there is currently little consistency or transparency in how such analysis is done. WRI aims to address this situation through forthcoming Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol standards for mitigation accounting, which have recently been released for review.

The Need for Accounting Standards for Mitigation Policies and Goals

To date, no standardized approach has existed for quantifying the GHG effects of policies and actions and tracking performance toward mitigation goals. For example, there is an ongoing debate on whether the United States is on track to meet its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. A recent study by Resources for the Future found that the United States is on track to meet its goal. However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2013 Annual Energy Outlook expects carbon dioxide emissions to be only 9 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 as a result of policies currently in place. This difference in findings reflects differences in assumptions about the emissions impacts of policies, such as performance standards for power plants and vehicle fuel efficiency standards. These variations have very real policy implications for the degree to which the United States needs to ramp up actions to meet its 2020 goal.

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Reflections on COP 18 in Doha: Negotiators Made Only Incremental Progress

This piece was written with analysis from Athena Ballesteros, Edward Cameron, Yamide Dagnet, Florence Daviet, Aarjan Dixit, Heather McGray, and Clifford Polycarp.

Expectations were low for this year’s UNFCCC climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar (COP 18), which concluded last week. It was scheduled to be a “finalize-the-rules” type of COP, rather than one focused on large, political deals that went into the early hours of the morning. Key issues on the table included finalizing the rules for the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period; concluding a series of decisions on transparency, finance, adaptation, and forests (REDD+); and agreeing on a work plan to negotiate a new legally binding international climate agreement by 2015. The emissions gap was also front-and-center, as the new UNEP Gap Report showed that countries are further away than even a year ago from the goal of keeping global average temperature rise below two degrees C.

In the end, countries were successful in making progress, but only incrementally. The lack of political will was breathtaking, particularly in light of recent extreme weather events.

Here’s a look at what happened across nine key issues that were on the table:

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What Is Equity in the Context of Climate Negotiations?

This post was co-authored with Wendi Bevins, an intern with WRI’s Climate and Energy Program.

If you asked five different people what they think “equity” means, you’d probably get five different answers. Their personal experiences and opinions would be overlaid on their cultural perspectives. A philosopher might bring up Aristotle’s teachings on justice; an economist would likely talk about maximizing utility and efficiency. A Buddhist and a Muslim might frame their answers from different perspectives that are difficult to compare, just as the viewpoints would likely vary between people raised under different forms of government.

So it’s no surprise that when climate negotiators from nearly 200 countries come together at the end of each year, they can’t agree on what exactly ‘equity’ means as applied to addressing climate change. To further complicate matters, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ties equity to “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC).”

There are many legitimate views of what equity means in the context of the UNFCCC, reflecting sharp contrasts on how to share both the burdens and opportunities of the global transition to low-carbon development. Some countries emphasize “responsibilities,” usually explained as the historical responsibilities developed countries have because of the greenhouse gases they emitted in the process of growing economically. Other countries focus on “capabilities,” the capacity countries have now to deal with climate change, such as their financial and technological resources to reduce domestic emissions or support adaptation research and activities. Several options for “differentiation” have been suggested over the years, including historical responsibility, levels of economic development, and vulnerabilities and needs. The current approach to equity has become a tug-of-war between countries that are reluctant to make greater climate change action commitments without assurances that others will also act.

History of Equity in the UNFCCC: Capability vs. Culpability

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