The Private Sector in the GCF

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) received a lot of attention last week, with pledges announced at the Pacific Rim conference, the G20, and most recently, the GCF Pledging Conference.  The Fund, which is managed by the World Bank, has been hailed as a “new international fund that aims to squeeze more from public dollars by attracting private investment in clean energy technologies and climate resiliency projects, such as storm surge barriers and more durable buildings.”  But how does it accomplish this goal?

GCF logoThe GCF includes a unit, called the Private Sector Facility (PSF), whose sole mission is to seek out private money for investment in the clean energy and resiliency sectors. According to Gilbert Metcalf,  an economics professor at Tufts University and a former U.S. Treasury official, the PSF could use a mix of loans, partial-risk guarantees, and venture capital dollars that would make it less risky and expensive to invest in fledgling technology projects in developing economies.  Professor Metcalf serves on the Green Climate Fund’s advisory board, which is comprised of representatives of 24 nations, of which the United States is a permanent member.  GCF activities include more than 190 participating countries.

An example of a risk-reduction financing technique that the GCF could use, according to Professor Metcalf, is a public-private investment in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2009, where climate financing was used to reduce investment and regulatory risks on several wind farm projects. “It helped provide a proof of GCF turbineconcept that this really could work, and private investors followed with subsequent wind projects in Mexico,” he said. The Green Climate Fund would aim to do the same on a much broader scale.

At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, the U.S. announced that developed countries would raise $100 billion per year in public and private aid from 2020 onward to capitalize the GCF.   Interestingly, the GCF builds on an earlier U.N. program, the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), which was a temporary program that raised $7.6 billion in 2008, including $2 billion from the George W. Bush administration. Over the past four fiscal years, Congress has approved nearly $1.4 billion for the CIF.

 


Nations Commit $9.3 Billion Towards Climate Action: Is it enough?

Yesterday international leaders pledged $9.3 billion towards the United Nations (UN) Green Climate Fund (Fund) at the first Pledging Conference in Berlin, Germany. Formally established in Cancun in 2010, the Fund aims to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. In this way, the capital would help those countries least to blame for, but most at risk from, climate change. The Fund would provide grants, loans and private capital for renewable energy and green technologies. big mills It is a step toward the far more ambitious goal announced in Copenhagen in 2009 for industrialized nations to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 for broader climate finance.

The initial capitalization of the Green Climate Fund is critical to the intergovernmental negotiations. The pledges act as an economic and political catalyst, spurring international climate action. “The [Fund] is the epicenter that determines the direction of both public and private investment over the next decades,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Resources allocated to the Fund unlock financial flows from the private sector. Private investments are viewed as essential to the transition to a low-emission, climate resilient economy. These investments are stimulated through application of concessional public financing from the Fund.

Politically, the pledges build trust between developed and developing countries. “The result of today’s capitalization of the [Fund] is foremost an unmistaken sign of trust building,” said Hela Cheikhrouhou, Executive Director of the Fund. “This creates a positive atmosphere for the start of successful negotiations in Lima in less than two weeks,” stated H.E. Mr. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of the Environment of Peru.

Twenty-one nations made pledges, including contributions from four developing countries. Their combined contributions are the “largest amount the international community has ever mobilized for a dedicated climate finance mechanism,” said the Fund executive members.  Earlier this week at the G20 Summit in Australia, the 20 biggest economies in the world emphasized their commitment to “strong and effective action to address climate change.” The United States pledged $3 billion and Japan $1.5 billion to the Fund.Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, broke from his usual ally on climate issues, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, when announcing Canada’s commitment the Fund.

At the Pledging Conference, Germany and France each promised $1 billion, Britain pledged more than $1.1 billion and Sweden contributed over $500 million. Other countries that made pledges include the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxemburg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea and Switzerland. big graphUN Secretariat Ban Ki-moon said the pledges “demonstrate that governments increasingly understand both the benefits derived from climate action and the growing risks of delay.

Nevertheless, some wonder if momentum is building towards meaningful climate action. Critics point out that the international community failed to meet the UN goal of $10 billion. Oxfam called the $9.3 billion “a bare minimum” compared to the $10-15 billion it and developing countries call for. Oxfam further pointed out that Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Ireland have not yet made any pledges. “Financial support from developed countries should be a building block for a global climate agreement, not a stumbling block,” said the group’s Alison Woodhead. Marlene Moses of Nauru, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), called the pledges “still well short” of the target. “If it’s a struggle to get $10 billion once-off, how difficult is it going to be to get to $100 billion every year?” said Yvo De Boer, who oversaw the UN global warming talks from 2006 to 2010. “Much more has to be done if the promise made to developing countries to provide financial support of $100 billion per year in 2020 to tackle climate change,big fireStephen Krug, a policy analyst at Greenpeace in Germany said. “While climate change is developing faster than expected, the financial support for those who are the most affected still evolves at a snail’s pace.

Climate experts have warned that time is running out in the battle against climate change. Are world leaders committed to meaningful climate action? Does $9.3 billion reflect the pressing need to combat what is proclaimed the “most defining issue of our time?” Only time will tell.


Conservative Backlash to the U.S.– China Climate Agreement

The United States–China climate change agreement announced this Wednesday already faces strong resistance in the U.S.  As detailed here, the U.S. and China, which combine to produce nearly half of the world’s emissions, struck a deal to strengthen their reduction commitments. The U.S., which has already pledged to reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, now promises to reduce them by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. China promises to cap its emissions by no later than 2030 and to produce one-fifth of its energy from zero-emission sources by then. The historic agreement has the potential to serve as a “wake-up call” for the international community. Deemed a gamechanger, analysts and policy advisers say the agreement could galvanize large-scale cooperation in Lima, setting the pace for a binding climate treaty in Paris 2015.

taylor postHowever, Republican leadership in the U.S. Congress has vehemently opposed the climate change partnership and threatens to derail U.S. committed emission reduction efforts.  After last week’s midterm elections, conservative leadership will control next year’s Congress and thereby U.S. climate policy. Next year’s Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), was one of the first to condemn the U.S.–China partnership.  Calling the plan “unrealistic” and part of President Obama’s “war on coal,” he said that it would lead to a loss of U.S. jobs. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) agreed with McConnell, stating that the plan is “the latest example of the president’s crusade against middle-class families.” Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Fred Upton (R-MI) member and Chair, respectively, of the Energy and Commerce Committee, also criticized the agreement. Both lawmakers said the deal meant that China is “promising to double their emissions while the administration is going around Congress to impose drastic new regulations inhibiting our own growth and competiveness.” Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who authored The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” also declared the agreement a “charade.”

Despite the resistance to the U.S.–China agreement David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council says the agreement attempts to jump one of the highest hurdles in international climate negotiations the “vicious cycle of finger-pointing.” The agreement deflates a vital tenet of right-wing dogma: “limiting our carbon emissions would serve no purpose, since other countries in general, and China in particular, would never agree to limit theirs.”

mcconnellHowever, strengthened by an influx of climate change deniers and fossil fuel pundits, Republicans have made it known they plan to launch an all-out war on Obama’s climate legislation, starting with the President’s Climate Action Plan. McConnell has said as Senate Majority leader, his top priority next year is to “do whatever [he] can to get the EPA reined in.” Previously, McConnell said a viable tool Republicans have is the federal budget process, which they can use to constrain the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) funding. He also mentioned earlier this year that he could look to a rarely used law—the Congressional Review Act—to repeal the EPA’s regulations on automobile and power plant emission and mercury reductions. The EPA’s ability to regulate emissions is central to U.S. climate change policy.

McConnell’s efforts to derail domestic and global climate action are joined by other climate deniers like Senators Jim Inhofe and Ted Cruz. Inhofe, who is slated to take over the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, voted against federal disaster relief for Sandy and has compared the EPA to the Gestapo. Despite the fact that 97 percent of the world’s scientists claim unequivocally that anthropogenic climate change is real and happening now, Inhofe thinks the UN invented the idea of climate change to “shut down the machine called America.”

Similarly, Cruz, who was re-elected last week and is in line to chair the Subcommittee on Science and Space, which oversees agencies like NASA, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation, also denies climate change realities. In an interview with CNN last February, Cruz said he doesn’t think the Earth is warming. “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened,” said Cruz.

republican leadershipOther newly and re-elected congressman like Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Steve Daines (R-Montana), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), and Shelly Capito (R-West Virginia) all ran for election and won on a platform that denied the existence of climate change, promoted opening up more federal land for oil and gas drilling, and supported the Keystone XL pipeline. In September, Senator Sullivan, a former Alaska attorney general, said “the jury’s out” on whether climate change is man-made. Senator Cotton, has stated “[t]he simple fact is that for the last 16 years the earth’s temperature has not warmed.” Cotton has also pushed for new coal power plant construction and the Keystone XL pipeline. Senator Daines has already signed a pledge that he will “oppose any legislation relating to climate change.” Claiming global warming, to the extent that it exists, is probably caused by solar cycles. Similarly, House member Lankford called climate change a “myth,” and along with Gardner, Cotton, Capito, and Daines voted to prevent the Pentagon from considering the national security impacts of climate change. U.S. conservative leadership is also likely to use the federal budget to prevent the State Department from offering funding to the UN’s Green Climate Fund. A fund that is essential to help the world’s least developed countries adapt to the effects of climate change.

ipcccThe conservative backlash threatens to derail the most ambitious efforts the world’s largest emitters have taken to lead an aggressive stance on climate change. Jake Schmidt, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program, warns that “[a]nything that undermines the President’s ability to follow through on his climate plan will undermine Paris.” In issuing the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, chair Rajendra Pachauri called the work “yet another wake-up call to the global community that we must act together swiftly and aggressively.” The report released this month confirmed once again that “human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions are the highest in history.” The report warns that to avoid the most damaging and potentially irreversible impacts of climate change (e.g., “substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on common human activities, and limited potential for adaptation”) we must switch to renewable energy, phase out fossil fuels, and set emission reduction goals. Despite this most recent report, the conservative leadership mentioned above stands on a policy platform that is in direct opposition to the report’s recommendations. How far will political posturing and scientific reality diverge? Only time will tell.


Reading Between the Lines on the US-China Climate Agreement

Obama and Xi JinpingAs noted on this blog yesterday, at the close of the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Beijing, President Obama and President Xi Jinping issued a joint US-China “announcement” on climate change.  The United States announced that it intends to achieve economy-wide emissions reductions of 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, while China for the first time announced its intention to commit to peaking its CO2 emissions by 2030 and to increase its share of renewable energy consumption to “around 20%” by 2030.  This agreement between the two countries has been described variously as a landmark agreement, a gamechanger, and historic.  But is the agreement really all it is cracked up to be?

First of all, some commentators have opined that the agreement’s targets are simply not ambitious enough. For instance, climate scientist Kevin Tyndall recently expressed to chinadialogue that if we wanted even a reasonable chance of achieving the goal laid out in Copenhagen of limiting global temperature increases to 2C, China’s GHG emissions would have to peak at least as early as the mid-2020′s. Second, even if the United States and China are able to meet the targets set out in the agreement, enormous challenges would remain.  By 2030, the GHG emissions of the two countries would account for over half of the carbon budget that would give us a 50-50 chance of staying within the 2C goal.  This would leave little room for rising economies such as India and Brazil to continue to grow. Third, some have noted that this agreement does not amount to much because it largely reflects what the US and China are already doing anyway.  A Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst told the Daily Beast that “the commitment on the U.S. side is a summation of a variety of commitments that have already been made.”  Morever, three years ago the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory had already predicted that due to a variety of factors, China’s GHG emissions would peak by 2030.  And finally, the agreement is lacking in detail, but what detail it does contain has been a cause for alarm for some environmentalists. While renewable energy is mentioned only once in the agreement, the promotion of carbon capture and sequestration and advanced coal technologies is featured prominently, mentioned no less than six times.  The agreement also promotes the increased use of shale gas without mentioning control of methane, which, according to the director of Food and Water Watch, simply amounts to “more promotion of fracking under the guise of climate action.”

Nevertheless, despite the agreement’s limitations, it still provides much cause for optimism.  Indeed, it represents the first time the world’s two largest GHG emitters have publicly expressed a willingness to cooperate on climate change. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted, the United States and China must cooperate on joint efforts to reduce GHG emissions – otherwise, there is simply no hope of solving this problem.  Besides this symbolic importance of the agreement, it also includes some practical bilateral measures that are encouraging, such as expanding the US-China Joint Clean Energy Research Center, enhancing cooperation on phasing out HFCs, jointly launching a new initiative on Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities, and promoting trade in green goods.

Perhaps most importantly, the willingness of the two largest economies and two China-deal-638x532largest GHG emitters on the planet to come together to announce action on climate sets a good example for both developed and developing countries.  According to Zou Ji, deputy director of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy, this agreement will set the tone for the 2015 Paris climate negotiations and as such, could have “wide-reaching impacts on the global low-carbon transition.”  By one estimation (see graph), if developing countries were to follow China’s lead and developed countries were to follow the United States’ lead, we could slash global carbon emissions from the “business as usual scenario” by an enormous 2500 billion tons by the end of the century. The fact that these two countries have stated publicly their intention to act on climate change essentially leaves no excuse for others to not take action.  Now let us hope that they are serious.


Celebreality: How a public figure can use their fan base to spread awareness about climate change.

On September 24, the UNFCCC’s Momentum for Change initiative teamed with UNEP Goodwill Ambassador and actor Ian Somerhalder to produce a documentary on climate change. Momentum for Change illuminates activities underway across the globe that are moving the world toward a highly resilient, low-carbon future.

Christiana Figueres blogged about the release of the documentary. Her message was retweeted 59 times ath2nd users selected it as a favorite 36 times. In comparison, Ian Somerhalder’s own tweet was retweeted over 3,000 times and added as a favorite by more than 5,000 twitter users. This discrepancy is likely due to the lopsided number of followers Figueres and Somerhalder have, 43,700 and 5,410,000 respectively.

Does it matter who the information comes from as long as Momentum for Change’s message is being spread? By choosing Ian Somerhalder as the narrator, Momentum for Change increased their documentaries exposure exponentially. More people will now see this important video than if a non- celebrity narrated the film.

Celebritie220px-An_Inconvenient_Truth_Film_Posters use their status as public figures to spread awareness about many causes, including climate change. Many celebrities deeply care about climate change issues and make strategic career choices to educate their fans on these important issues. In 2006, Al Gore’s campaign to educate people about global warming was documented in An Inconvenient Truth. The film went on to win several awards including the Academy Award for Best Documentary and the HUMANITAS prize by making significant contribution to the human family by communicating values, forming consciences and motivating human behavior. The film ultimately grossed US$50 million worldwide.

Leonardo DiCaprio, award winning actor and UN Messenger of Peace in the field of climate change, spokfa10ae_ee68fa8f12cb49619925e151d71aa563.png_srz_p_198_198_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srze at the UN Climate March in September. He stated that clean air and a livable climate are “inalienable human rights” and that we can either make history by changing our actions or be vilified by the consequences. DiCaprio pledged US$7million  towards ocean conservation projects and his foundation is supporting the Green World Rising film series focusing on solutions to the climate crisis.

Celebrities can utilize their financial resources and public appeal to further the goals of the UNFCCC by educating their fans about climate change and actions that can be taken to limit it.


US-China Climate Change Deal

The New York Times reported tonight on a “landmark agreement” announced by President Obama and US CHina emissions graphPresident Xi Jinping at the end of the Pacific Rim conference taking place in Beijing.  This bilateral climate change agreement includes new U.S. targets for carbon emissions reductions and a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing by 2030.  The United States agreed to emit 26-28% less carbon in 2025 than in 2005 while China pledged to reach peak carbon emissions before or by 2030, relying on solar and wind energy to provide 20% of its total energy production.  As the world’s two largest emitters of GHG emissions, this new agreement could prove critical for moving the COP20 negotiations forward in Lima.  As one senior Obama administration official put it, “The United States and China have often been seen as antagonists. We hope that this announcement can usher in a new day in which China and the U.S. can act much more as partners.” For more, read here.


“The choice is in our hands”

After spoilers ipcccand seven years of waiting since the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the full Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was accepted and its final piece (the Synthesis Report) was approved on November 1, 2014. The Synthesis Report integrates the findings of the three 2013-2014 IPCC working group reports: physical basis for climate change; climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and climate change mitigation. The Synthesis Report, however, is considered the most influential part of the report for climate change negotiations. Its shorter version – 40 pages long – is written in a non-technical style to be used by policymakers and addresses policy questions, even though it does not prescribe specific policies to be adopted by governments.

The latest report is already being recognized as the most comprehensive IPCC report to date. But the news is not all good. Mother Jones listed what it considers the “most terrifying facts from the IPCC report”: human influence on climate change is clear, climate change is happening today and is going to get worse, oceans are keeping most of the heat and are turning more acidic, developing nations will be hit the hardest, and biodiversity is particularly vulnerable. However, IPCC’s conclusion does not come as a total surprise to those familiar with climate change studies.  In fact, several people have come forward to critique the report as underestimating the actual severity of the situation.

But the IPCC’s latest report comes at a time when the international community could use a little help from our (scientist) friends.  With the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP) in Lima, and the roadmap to reach a post-2020 agreement in Paris next year, the strong language used in particular in the Synthesis Report could push forward the negotiations.  In the words of IPCC Chairman, Mr.  Rajendra. K. Pachauri, if we are aiming to keep within the 2oC increase limit, we must act now. In fact, the report affirms that if we do not change business-as-usual within the next 17 years, we are going to exceed the global carbon budget – calculated to keep us under the ‘safe level’ of 2oC increase. To avoid surpassing this number, we need to drastically reduce GHG emissions, or, as presented in the report, keep up to 86% of all proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

The clocking is ticking, and the message is clear. As 350.org founder Bill McKibben explains, it does not get clearer than the language used in Synthesis Report: “For scientists, conservative by nature, to use ‘serious, pervasive, and irreversible’ to describe the effects of climate falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola.”

The good news is that governments seem to finally understand the message.  On the same day the Synthesis Report was released, the Director of White House Office of Science & Technology, Dr. John P Holdren, affirmed that the IPCC report underscores the need for “continued engagement with other countries on ambitious emissions-reductions targets and the policies and technologies necessary to achieve them.” United Kingdom Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Mr. Ed Davey, also recognized the importance of the report, stating that “we must act on climate change now.” Now we need to wait and see if the message will continue strong in the next 27 seven days for COP21. But either way, according to WMO General Secretary Mr. Michel Jarraud, “ignorance can no longer be an excuse for no action.”


Chile: 100% Attitude

1_12082009_6346_presidentabacheletChile has taken the lead in the fight against climate change, uniting its intentions and actions. The Chilean Congress has recently approved a carbon tax program to help reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and meet its voluntary target offered at COP16 of cutting these gases 20 percent from 2007 levels by 2020. Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile and former Executive Director of UN Women, supported the new environmental tax legislation, making the country the first in South America to tax carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Part of a broad tax reform, Chile’s carbon tax will target the power sector, particularly generators operating thermal plants with installed capacity equal or larger than 50 megawatts. As of 2010, thermal power accounts for about 65% of total installed capacity in the Chilean electricity sector. These installations will be charged $5 per tonne of CO2 released, except for those fueled by biomass and smaller installations, which will be exempt from the measure. The new tax is meant to force power producers to gradually move to cleaner sources. Since the country supplies only around 30% of its  domestic energy, renewables could put a sizable dent in fuel imports. Chile’s government will start measuring carbon dioxide emissions from thermal power plants in 2017 and the new tax will going into effect in 2018.

In the region, Chile’s greenhouse gas emissions are about 7 percent of Brazil’s, and 22 percent of Argentina’s emissions, according to 2011 data santiagochile1compiled by the World Resources Institute.  Globally, Chile represents only 0.27 percent of GHG emissions, according to the Chilean Environmental Ministry. Even though this means that Chile’s potential GHG decreases due to this tax will be modest on a global scale, it nonetheless represents an important beginning.

Worldwide these are rough times for carbon taxes aimed at mitigating global warming. Countries with more developed economies, such as Korea with a GDP valued at US$ 1.305 trillion, South Africa (US$350.6 billion) and Australia (US$1.561 trillion) have changed their minds about carbon tax programs, setting back the results of the Conference of Parties negotiations under the UNFCCC. Chile, on the other hand, as one of Latin America’s fastest growing economies with a GDP calculated at US$ 277.2 billion in 2013, conducted a major national political discussion and chose to go ahead, challenging those who believe otherwise. Chile’s forward thinking and real courage has developed something that is robust in terms of policies, taking the plunge to meet its international commitments and consolidating its leadership under the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC) and the world.


European Council Endorses Binding 40% GHG Emissions Reduction Target by 2030

On October 24, the European Council New_European_Council_-_Consilium_Logoreleased its Conclusions on 2030 Climate and Energy Policy Framework. This announcement asserted a 40% domestic GHG Emissions Reduction Target by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Approximately 10% of all GHG emissions worldwide currently come from the EU.

Under this newly announced goal, the EU must also increase renewable energy by at least 27% and reduce energy demand by 27% by 2030. All EU member states, in “solidarity and while considering fairness“, will participate in these efforts. The 40% reduction target is EU-wide; legally binding member specific targets have not been extended beyond 2020. Member states are currently free to set their own targets post 2020.

The EU intends to achieve these goals by reforming the Emissions Trading System (ETS). The ETS will lower the cap on maximum emissions from 1.7% annual reduction to 2.2% starting in 2021.

Smoke billows from the chimneys of Belchatow Power StationDuring negotiations, Poland fought to preserve its coal industry while other members states argued for their various economic interests including methane producing livestock, nuclear facilities, and cross-border power lines in Spain and Portugal. Germany and the U.K. pushed for The 40% target was finally agreed upon after hours of negotiations.

The EC encourages all countries to develop ambitious emission reduction targets and policies in advance of COP 21.

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Christiana Figueres weighed in on the EC’s announcement stating that it provides momentum towards the Paris agreement and that the EU would be able to submit its INDC contribution by March 2015. Further, she noted that because 28 European countries were able to compromise on the 40% reduction target, all countries should be able to come to an effective agreement in Paris.

EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard noted that achieving 4th0% emissions reduction would be difficult. She stated that the EC’s ambitious proposal can only be achieved by major transformation across the EU. However, the new proposal is an important step forward for the entire world in terms of combating climate change.

 


China: Cause for Despair? Or Cause for Hope?

China FlagAs the nations of the world wrapped up last week’s ADP negotiations on the key elements of the 2015 Paris agreement, many observers remained focused on China.  Simply put, the actions that China takes (or doesn’t take) in the next decade or so could very well determine whether humanity can successfully avoid a full-blown climate catastrophe.  Even though China is still considered a developing country under the UNFCCC, the world, and China’s position in it, has changed dramatically in the more than two decades since that treaty was negotiated.  China has been the world’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions since 2006, it consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and its energy demand is expected to double by 2030.  According to an excellent recent Rolling Stone article on US-China climate discussions, China now emits 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, which is expected to increase to over 15 billion tons by 2030.  The article quotes Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, expressing his opinion that if this increase happens, the world’s chances of avoiding catastrophic climate disturbance are “virtually zero.”

As such, some may become discouraged by China’s insistence that “developed” countries bear responsibility for mitigating climate change based on their historical emissions.  For example, with regard to ADP workstream 2, the ENB’s summary of ADP2-6 noted that a Conference Room Paper submitted by China on behalf of the LMDC’s called for “unconditional commitments by Annex I parties to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.” With regard to workstream 1, the closing statement submitted by the G77+China expressed concern that the ADP Co-Chairs’ draft text on information on INDC’s in the context of the 2015 agreement lacks “central elements” such as the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.  In short, China has shown resistance to international pressure to commit to curbing its greenhouse gas emissions based on its belief that the current climate crisis is largely the industrialized West’s fault.  Its position: Developing nations such as China should not have to bear the burden of solving a problem they didn’t create.  While there is a lot of truth to this argument, it seems to fall short of the reality of the climate challenges the world faces today and into the future.

Nevertheless, China’s recent actions indicate that China’s leaders take the threats associated with climate change seriously and are doing something about it.  For one thing, China’s leaders fully recognize that the environmental degradation caused by its breakneck economic growth over the last several decades, most of which was supported by the burning of coal, is not sustainable.  This heavy reliance on coal has resulted in untold amounts of damage to the country’s air, surface and groundwater, and soils.  Public health has taken a heavy hit as well – a report published last year found that outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010.  Accordingly, earlier this year Premier Li Keqiang announced a “war on pollution.”  Among other things, this war will consist of shutting down outdated small coal-fired power plants and industrial plants, reforms in energy pricing to boost renewables, and increases in government spending on measures to address water and soil degradation.  China is outperforming the United Stateswind_power_464 on renewable energy, which now makes up about 20% of China’s energy mix.  China produces more wind and solar power than any other country on the planet, and in 2013 over 50% of new generation was renewable.  There are also indications that China’s coal use may peak as early as this year.

China is also a step ahead of the United States with regards to regulating carbon emissions.  It has introduced pilot cap-and-trade programs in five cities and two provinces that are designed to be replicated and implemented at the national level sometime between 2016 and 2020.  According to a recent study by Resources for the Future, these pilot programs increase the coverage of global emissions by carbon markets from less than 8% to more than 11%.  While the study notes that the pilot cap-and-trade programs are not perfect and could use some improvements, they nevertheless indicate that addressing climate change is in fact high on China’s list of priorities.

China is therefore, somewhat paradoxically, the source of both hope and despair when it comes to confronting the challenges presented by climate change.  It will certainly be very interesting to see how this paradox plays out in the upcoming climate negotiations on Lima and in Paris.