WRI’s preliminary analysis on countries’ immediate “fast start” climate finance pledges announced thus far.
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.
As the U.N. climate change conference in Doha, Qatar (COP 18) rapidly approaches, the urgency of climate action has never been more evident. Extreme weather has wreaked havoc in many corners of the globe, most recently with Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in loss of life and severe economic hardship in all the countries in its pathway. Many countries—from the United States to those with far less capacity to respond—are still trying to comprehend what happened and how much it will cost to get back to normal.
They also understand that this just may be, to quote New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, “the new normal.” The World Bank Group has just released a shocking report of what a world that is 4 degrees Celsius warmer would look like. We must hope that when delegates arrive in Doha, they grasp the urgency of this issue, recognize the immediate and far-reaching threat to human security, and summon the necessary political will to craft an ambitious and equitable global response.
What Can We Expect This Year as Countries Meet for COP 18?
Last year’s meeting in Durban, South Africa was a potentially important turning point, launching a new round of negotiations to create a legally binding international agreement by 2015 to limit global average temperature increase to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. However, after three consecutive years of rather “big moment” COPs, Doha is more about giving operational momentum to the decisions reached in Durban. COP 18 will likely confirm the design of a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, bring some long-standing work streams to a successful close, and set the parameters for the negotiations leading to a new international climate agreement in 2015.
Last week, ministers from 50 countries convened in South Korea for a “Pre-COP” meeting to prepare for the upcoming UNFCCC conference in Doha, Qatar (COP 18). Ministers confirmed their commitment to negotiate a new international climate framework by the end of 2015, as outlined in the Durban Platform agreed to at COP 17 last year.
While the Durban Platform gave new momentum to multilateral climate negotiations, the emissions gap remains large: The greenhouse gas reductions countries are currently willing to commit to don’t add up to the global reductions needed to limit warming to 2° C above pre-industrial temperatures. It’s clear that leaders need new ways to increase ambition enough to close this gap and reinforce the UNFCCC.
In this context, we are seeing a renewed interest in “clubs” – smaller groups of countries coming together to act on climate change, complementing the UNFCCC process. The question, though, is whether such clubs can make real progress toward closing the emissions gap.
This post was co-authored with Wendi Bevins, an intern in WRI's Climate and Energy Program.
On September 25, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ) signed a Memorandum of Understanding, formally launching the "Climate Justice Dialogue." This initiative aims to mobilize political will and creative thinking to shape an equitable and ambitious international climate agreement in 2015—one that ensures environmental integrity and protects the communities most vulnerable to climate change.
The State of International Climate Negotiations
It’s now a full 20 years since adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is designed to stabilize “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Despite important steps forward in Cancun and Durban, governments acknowledge that their combined efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to limit a global average temperature increase to 2°C.
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:
The U.N.’s current round of climate change negotiations continues this week in Bangkok. While the last intersessional in Bonn yielded more lows than highs, the Bangkok talks have the potential to make real progress and set the tone for COP 18 in Doha, Qatar later this year.
The Big Picture
As with any U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) session, negotiators will need to manage political controversies while trying to make progress across a large volume of complex, technical issues. The political debates will likely center on ambition and equity, specifically countries’ collective will to speed emissions reductions in order to hold global mean temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The negotiations in Bonn earlier this year were acrimonious, with Parties pointing fingers over their respective failures to cut emissions in line with science. This, coupled with the recent controversial remarks from the United States on the need for a more “flexible” agreement, creates a delicate environment going into this latest negotiating session. On the technical front, the challenge is to conclude talks on three major, long-standing issues before the clock runs out at the end of this year.
Two weeks ago, my girlfriend and I left Washington for two very different dates with international climate action. She headed to Indonesia to work with women farmers who are reintroducing native, drought-tolerant crops in order to build resilience to climate change. I, on the other hand, went to Bonn, Germany for the most recent round of UNFCCC climate change negotiations. The contrast could not have been starker. I spent 10 days watching with astonishment as countries bickered over committee chairs, agendas, and footnotes. There were highs in Bonn, too, as I outline below, but overall the atmosphere at this session was one of mistrust and reluctance.
This post was co-authored by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current president of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, and Manish Bapna, Acting President of WRI. It originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
The United Nations climate change convention is 20 years old this month. As we see from the just-completed climate talks in Bonn, Germany, we still haven't solved the problem, nor even agreed how to solve it. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change become more apparent, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
Within this statement lies a deep injustice: Those most affected by climate change did least to cause the problem. We need to put a human face on climate change. In the Bay of Bengal, in Bangladesh, sea-level rise, the increased incidence of cyclones, and higher temperatures are causing freshwater ponds to become salty. These are major challenges for families who rely on water for drinking, washing, irrigation and aquaculture. The impacts are so serious that they threaten the very ability of families -- who produce virtually no greenhouse gases -- to continue to live there.
At WRI, we like to say that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” For managing and mitigating climate change, one of the most fundamental measurements is a periodic inventory of the problem’s root cause: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities.
GHG emissions inventories are carried out at several levels, including corporate, city, and state. Measuring emissions for entire nations has its unique challenges, but it’s a critical first step for any country that wants to effectively manage its contribution to global climate change. National GHG inventories provide a baseline of data and, if regularly updated, a tracking mechanism for assessing how domestic policies impact emissions.