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UPDATE 4/11/13: After this blog post was published, the OECD released updated figures for 2010 and 2011. The data still shows a decrease in commitments for adaptation, mitigation, and climate finance, as this blog post states. However, adaptation expenditures were 3 percent higher in 2011 than in 2010, as opposed to unchanged. (View updated figures.) The changes in the numbers are a result of donors entering new data for previous years or updating their old data. Preliminary data for 2012 shows that aid to developing countries continued to fall. Detailed figures for 2012 will be released in June 2013.

At the 2009 U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen, developed nations committed to provide a collective $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change’s impacts. Recently, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) released some surprising new data on this pledge. The figures indicate that developed nations’ recent climate finance contributions have fallen rather than risen toward the level of their 2020 commitment.

A Look at the New OECD Data

The OECD is a consortium of 34 wealthy countries. Among other joint initiatives, it provides a platform to monitor and share statistics on aid flows and climate finance contributed by its members. Most OECD members report both their climate finance expenditures and commitments using the “Rio Markers” (see text box), and the OECD secretariat periodically makes these numbers public. OECD members’ climate finance contributions represent a significant portion of the collective $100 billion commitment, so the numbers reported by the OECD give a good indication of developments in the climate finance field.

Surprisingly, new OECD numbers show that while adaptation expenditures in 2011 remained the same as in 2010, expenditures for mitigation activities decreased. Plus, the total commitment for climate finance decreased from $23 billion in 2010 to $17 billion in 2011.

While a “commitment” refers to the total amount of money a country will spend on an adaptation/mitigation project over a multi-year period—which is reported at the beginning of a project—an “expenditure” refers to the amount a country spends in a particular year on adaptation/mitigation activities. In January 2013, the OECD updated its data for 2011. It is difficult, of course, to predict or analyze trends based on only two years of data (the only data that’s currently available on OECD climate finance commitments). But given developed nations’ agreement to scale up climate finance significantly by 2020, this decrease is surprising—and could be concerning.

Research shows that developing countries will need about $531 billion of additional investments in clean energy technologies each year in order to limit global temperature rise to 2° C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s worst impacts. While developed countries have pledged to provide $100 billion of climate finance per year, this amount is well below what’s needed to help developing nations mitigate and adapt to climate change.

So how can countries bridge this funding gap? The answer lies in part on how well developing countries implement “readiness” activities, as well how effectively developed nations and international institutions like the Green Climate Fund (GCF) can mobilize finance to support them.

The Need for Readiness

To attract investments on the scale required, developing country governments must provide an attractive investment climate—one that encourages public and private sector investors to put their money into climate-friendly projects like solar and wind energy. On their end, developed countries need to offer financial and technical support for “readiness” activities that create the right conditions for said investments. Readiness includes any activity that makes a country better positioned to attract investments in climate-friendly projects or technologies. A few examples include: developing a policy to promote energy efficiency in industry; passing a law that gives a new or existing institution the mandate to promote renewable energy; conducting an assessment of a country’s wind energy resources; or strengthening a bank’s capacity to lend to small businesses in low-carbon sectors. International institutions such as the GCF can play a big role in supporting readiness activities, thereby helping developing nations attract the investments that will help them transition onto a low-carbon, climate-resilient development path.

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.

I spent the recent U.N. climate negotiations in Doha trying to reconcile two injustices. The first is captured by Nicholas Stern’s “brutal arithmetic.” This is the simple, unavoidable fact that bold greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be needed from all countries to hold global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s most dangerous impacts. Developing nations, many of which are battling crippling poverty and inequality at home, are being told that the traditional, high-carbon pathway to prosperity is off-limits, and that they, too, will need to embrace aggressive mitigation actions. This is a glaring injustice – the product of two decades of missed opportunities in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), inadequate domestic action in industrialized countries, and substantial geopolitical changes in major emerging economies.

But the second injustice is even greater – one that is manifest and which must be avoided. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has illustrated, breaching the 2°C threshold would seriously degrade vital ecosystems and the communities who depend on them. This, itself, is an issue of justice, as climate change undermines the realization of human rights, including the right to food, health, an adequate standard of living, and even the right to life. Those same developing countries who are home to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our global community—and who are now compelled to act on reducing emissions—will be hit first and hardest by climate change’s impacts.

Experts say that developing nations could require more than $100 billion for adaptation each year. Developed countries say that they have already delivered more than $33 billion so far towards this climate adaptation funding.

However, some question whether these funds are going to the right places and meeting real needs. Is adaptation finance being directed towards the nations that need it the most? Is it being used to support projects that will allow people to adapt to climate change’s impacts?

We currently don’t have adequate answers to these questions—but we hope to soon. At the recent UN climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, Oxfam, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and WRI launched the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative to help civil society organizations find out where adaptation finance is really going.

The Question Is: Where Should Adaptation Finance Go?

The easy answer is that adaptation finance should go to activities that strengthen the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of countries most susceptible to climate change’s impacts. People in developing countries will likely be hit hardest by global warming.

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:

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

This piece originally appeared on

After two weeks of climate negotiations in Doha, bleary-eyed ministers, negotiators, and advocates are headed back home to the various regions around the world. Few, if any, are leaving entirely satisfied.

The pace of progress on climate change is still too slow, and the political will for greater ambition remains elusive. That said, these talks did achieve the basic goal of extending the Kyoto Protocol and moving countries onto a single negotiating track toward a new climate agreement by 2015. This leaves the door open for more progress ahead.

This year's talks took place against the backdrop of two disturbing trends. On the one hand, there are multiple signs that climate change is here, and its impacts are already being felt around the world. On the other hand, the world remains tied to the consumption of fossil fuels that drive more and more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. With each passing day that we don't shift directions, we are increasingly locking ourselves into a more unstable climate future.

The real question is: Can the international talks have a real impact on climate change?

Doha, Qatar, may not the first place that you’d pick for a global conference—many people would be hard-pressed to find it on a map. Yet, it’s the location of this year’s global UN climate negotiations (COP 18).

It’s midway through the final week of the negotiations, yet there’s an eerie calm in the sprawling conference hall. The scene here is different than the past two years (in Durban and Cancun, respectively), both of which were filled with tension and even moments of drama. Certainly, no one expected a major breakthrough this year, but the lack of urgency here is disquieting.

The Climate Change Risks Are Increasingly Clear

What’s happening inside the conference center stands in stark contrast to what we’re witnessing outside. Just yesterday, an unusual and massive storm, Typhoon Bopha, swept across the Philippines, taking hundreds of lives and displacing thousands more. While typhoons are common in the Philippines, this storm is the most southern on record and arrived particularly late in the season. Meanwhile, people in the eastern United States and Caribbean are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. And, in India, a new report warns that more droughts loom as monsoons will bring 70 percent less water in the years ahead.

As we move into the second week of the UN climate talks, the desert sand is swirling around the conference center in Doha, Qatar. Countries spent the first week tying up some loose ends on several issues, but there are still many details to be worked out before the sand settles and Parties head home. It’s hard to tell whether this meeting will turn into a full sandstorm or clear up.

The uncertainty here in Doha contrasts greatly with the increasingly clear (and grim) climate picture that we’re seeing around the world. Yet another report was just published finding that global carbon emissions are at an all-time high. This publication comes on the heels of the recent UN Environment Programme report showing that the gap in emissions is growing even wider. And, recent World Bank analysis reinforced the potential catastrophic impacts of moving beyond 2 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise. The warnings are clear, but it’s hard to tell if negotiators are ready to respond with the urgency that’s needed.

The Current State of COP 18

Indeed, it is fair to say that most of the critical issues on the table at COP 18 are not yet resolved. All the questions around the Kyoto Protocol and a second commitment period are still open. Issues surrounding finance – including medium-term pledge levels, the long-term work plan, and how to track countries’ climate finance commitments – have yet to be worked out. Roundtables on the Durban Platform resulted in a good exchange of views, but it’s still unclear whether there will be a firm work plan for 2013 or whether it will remain vague. The most vulnerable countries are understandably asking for more action now – even before a new 2020 agreement kicks in – but most countries haven’t put forth specific proposals.

While it’s not surprising that so many topics are stuck after the first week, the lack of action puts additional focus on the role of Ministers. Many are already in Doha, and they have their work cut out for them if they want to make progress in the remaining week of the conference.


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