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Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach Unprecedented Highs: But Catastrophic Climate Change Can Still be Avoided

Alan Miller's picture

 Courtesy of World Meteorological Organization
Graph shows concentrations of atmospheric Co2 for the last 800,000 years, with measurements, starting from 1958, made at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. - Image courtesy of World Meteorological Organization

Scientists monitoring atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from a mountaintop in Hawaii recently reported that the presence of this greenhouse gas exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in at least three million years – a period when temperatures were much warmer than today. The significance of this seemingly dry statistical trend is stunning as reported in the New York Times:

From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a tight band, from about 180 parts per million in the depths of ice ages to about 280 during the warm periods between. The evidence shows that global temperatures and CO2 levels are tightly linked.

In addition to the location in Hawaii, several other Global Atmosphere Watch stations from the Arctic to the Equator reported CO2 concentrations exceeding 400ppm.

Experts believe that in order to limit warming to 2°C – a goal based on expected impacts – concentrations should rise to no more than 450 ppm, a level we may reach in only about 25 years based on current trends.

Reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, One Brick at a Time

Maria Sarraf's picture

​The latest science, described in the World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat,” indicates that we are heading toward a 4° C warmer world, with catastrophic consequences in this century. While carbon dioxide (CO2) is still the No. 1 threat, there is another category of warming agent called short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). Mitigating these pollutants is a must if we want to avoid the 4° C warmer future.

The main SLCPs are black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons. They are potentially responsible for more than one-third of the current warming. Because SLCPs have a much shorter lifetime in the air than CO2; reducing their emissions can create almost immediate reduction of global/regional warming, which is not possible by reducing CO2 emissions alone. According to one U.N. report, full implementation of 16 identified measures to mitigate SLCPs would reduce future global warming by about 0.5˚C.

In this blog, we will focus on one SLCP – black carbon. Black carbon is a primary component of particulate matter (PM), the major environmental cause of premature deaths globally. As a climate pollutant, black carbon’s global warming effects are multi-faceted. It can warm the atmosphere directly by absorbing radiation. When deposited on ice and snow, black carbon reduces their reflecting power and increases their melting rate. At the regional level, it also influences cloud formation and impacts regional circulation and rainfall patterns such as the monsoon in South Asia.

China Phase-Out of Ozone Damaging Chemicals Brings Climate Benefits

Karin Shepardson's picture

A slew of air conditioning units in a building. - Photo: Shutterstock

Also available in Chinese

Last month, China was granted US$95 million to reduce its production of hydro-chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), substances that are used primarily for cooling, refrigeration, and the manufacture of foam products. The funding comes from the Multilateral Fund (MLF) of the Montreal Protocol, because HCFCs deplete the ozone layer and are controlled under the Protocol. With access to these funds, between now and 2015 China will reduce its production of HCFCs by 10%, or 47,000 metric tons from 2010 levels, allowing it to meet the first reduction targets set by the Protocol.

This alone is worth celebrating because China is the world's largest producer of HCFCs. Nearly 50% of its production is consumed by other developing countries, all of whom also face HCFC consumption reduction targets under the Protocol. Herein lies one secret to the Protocol’s success: its ability to regulate both production and consumption worldwide simultaneously, putting into practice an economist’s dream to tackle both supply and demand in tandem. By addressing the supply side of the problem through support to China’s production phase-out, the demand side - in China and in developing countries around the world - can build a sustainable HCFC consumption phase-out response. The ozone layer, and human and environmental health, will all be the better for it.

Can Carbon Taxes Be Effective?

Muthukumara Mani's picture

Arne Hoel/World BankIt was heartening to attend the recent Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR) forum at the World Bank, where countries renewed their commitments to testing and piloting market-based instruments for greenhouse gas emission reduction. The PMR is country-led and builds on countries’ own mitigation priorities. Focus is placed on improving a country's technical and institutional capacity for using market instruments to scale up climate change mitigation efforts.

China Gets Ready for a New Carbon Era

Wang Shu's picture

 Rush hour traffic on a road in Beijing, China. - Photo: Shutterstock

Also available in Chinese

The 5th Assembly of the World Bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR) is coming to an end after rich and rewarding meetings in Washington DC this week. I had the opportunity to present China’s final Market Readiness Proposal (MRP) (pdf), or in more simple language, China’s proposal to build a national emission trading system (ETS). Together with China, the PMR also received proposals from Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico on their initiatives. (Also read: Can Carbon Taxes Be Effective?)

From the Chinese perspective, our MRP serves as a summary of the Government’s initial thoughts on how a domestic ETS would be established to cover the whole country. For this to happen, a lot of work needs to be done, and this proposal provides a framework and roadmap to guide us on our journey. We are expecting domestic and international institutions, experts and stakeholders from different levels to be involved in this design process. Above all, we hope to draw on the experience of existing carbon markets around the world as well as from the seven pilot ETSs - comprising five cities and two provinces - set to start this year in China. Facilitating continuous technical dialogues, PMR serves as a knowledge exchange platform for our team from China and all the participant countries. This is a unique and valuable experience. 

Shaping the Next Generation of Carbon Markets

Rachel Kyte's picture

 Smoke coming out of two smokestacks at a factory in Estonia. - Photo: World Bank/Flickr

Right now, the carbon markets of the future are under construction in all corners of the world.

China is determined to pursue low-carbon development and is embracing the market as the most efficient way to do so. Wang Shu, the deputy director of China's National Development and Reform Commission, told us this week that he sees the "magic of the market" as the most efficient way to drive China's green growth.

Five Chinese cities and two provinces are piloting emissions trading systems with the goal of building a national carbon market. Chile is exploring an emissions trading system and focusing on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Mexico is developing market-based mechanisms in energy efficiency that could cut its emissions by as much as 30 percent by 2020. Costa Rica is aiming for a carbon-neutral economy by 2021.

Each of the countries pioneering market-based mechanisms to reduce their domestic carbon emissions are leaders. Bring them together in one room, and you begin to see progress and the enormous potential for a powerful networking domestic system that could begin to produce a predictable carbon price -- a sina que non for the speed and scale of climate action we need.

That's happening this week at the World Bank.

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Climate Finance Untangled

Barbara Buchner's picture

Courtesy: CPIGlobal leaders have spoken strongly on the urgent need for climate action, putting it back on top of the 2013 agenda. During his inaugural address and State of the Union speech, President Obama gave clear signals about his intentions to address this issue in his second term. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, president of the World Bank Group Jim Yong Kim reminded economic leaders about the potentially devastating impacts that could occur in a world 4°C warmer by the end of the century.

Unlocking finance is an essential part of avoiding that future. But, before leaders can determine how much more money is needed, they need to establish how much is already flowing, what the main sources are, and where it’s going.

These are the key questions my team and I at Climate Policy Initiative aimed to answer with the release of the “The Landscape of Climate Finance 2012”. Our analysis estimated global climate finance flows at an average $364 billion in 2011. To put this in context, according to the International Energy Agency, the world needs $1 trillion a year over 2012 to 2050 to finance a low-emissions transition, so current finance flows still fall far short of what is needed.

Private finance dominates but public finance plays a key role

A couple of weeks ago in a freezing Washington I had the opportunity to share the findings of the report, and the Climate Finance Flows Diagram (or “spaghetti” diagram, so-called for its tangle of finance flows) to an expert audience of practitioners at the Word Bank’s premises.

Confirming last year’s findings, we found that private finance – predominantly of domestic nature – represented the lion’s share of this total, almost 74%. Public funds, estimated at $16 to $23 billion, played a pivotal role in catalyzing private investments, as well as providing bilateral aid to developing countries.

Engaging with Indigenous Peoples on forests

Benoît Bosquet's picture

A little while ago, I blogged about an unprecedented meeting of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives from 28 countries that took place on the idyllic islands of Guna Yala, Panama, in September 2011.

One and a half years later, it is fair to say that we have come a very long way as we welcome over 30 representatives of Indigenous Peoples and southern civil society organizations from Latin America, Africa, and Asia-Pacific for a workshop on the Carbon Fund of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) here in Washington, DC this week. The Bank serves as the Trustee and the Secretariat of the FCPF, a global partnership that is helping countries draft REDD+ readiness plans and will provide carbon payments to countries that meet certain targets.

Since our initial meeting in Panama, Indigenous Peoples’ representatives adopted an Action Plan, travelled the world to meet, dialogue and learn, and gathered in regional follow-up meetings to build capacity and prioritize demands.

When I look back at the beginning of the series of dialogues with Indigenous Peoples, I remember that discussions mainly revolved about the role of Indigenous Peoples in REDD+ (which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). Indigenous Peoples were concerned that REDD+ could become a means for pushing them off their ancestral lands. With their livelihoods and cultural identity deeply connected to the forest and the land, losing access to them would mean losing everything. At the time, our engagement centered on broad questions such as, How do we ensure that REDD+ will not undermine customary rights to land?

Doha: keeping hope alive - just

Rachel Kyte's picture


COP President Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah gavels through the decision text. Photo courtesy IISD

The UN climate conference in Doha this past week kept the fight to combat global warming alive – 194 countries agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol and to put in place a new agreement by 2015. The extension avoids a major setback in climate negotiations, but it does not fully reflect the urgency of the problems facing the warming planet.

To understand the true scale of those problems, read the new report Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided. Its review of the latest climate science provides a powerful snapshot of what the future could be and warns that the world is on path to a 4°C (7.2°F) warmer world by century’s end if we don’t take action.

The report was referenced repeatedly during COP 18 and is one of several reports helping to put science at the center of policy making.

As is often the case in large international conferences these days, the greatest signs of momentum in Qatar were not inside the negotiating rooms but in the meeting halls where the informal process was underway. The World Bank played a key role in several agreements that will form a part of our ongoing commitment to step up to the climate challenge.

Working Coalitions

Increasingly like-minded coalitions are forming, across dividing lines of developed and developing countries, public, private sectors and civil society, in order to get on with the business of emissions reductions. One highlight of the conference was the meeting of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a remarkable group of countries united to reduce SLCPs, short-lived climate pollutants - methane, HFCs, black carbon.

Climate Lessons from a Hotter Arab World

Rachel Kyte's picture

Photo credit: Curt Carnemark/World Bank

This week in Doha, the marble corridors of the Qatar National Convention Center resonate with voices from around the world. Over half way through the conference, as ministers arrive and the political stakes pick up, a sense of greater urgency in the formal negotiations is almost palpable. But in the corridors, negotiations are already leading to deals and dreams and action on the ground.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the discussions by saying we need optimism, because without optimism there are no results. He reminded us all that Superstorm Sandy was a tragic awakening. He reiterated the call for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement and 100 billion in climate finance by 2020.

Meanwhile our focus was firmly on the region ...

When we look at the Middle East and North Africa, the challenges of climate change are evident. Farmers have been planting in drylands and dealing with climate variability and water shortages since the beginning of agriculture. They understand adaptation here, but no one is prepared for what we could face if the world doesn’t act to stop human-induced climate change now.

We published a report last week examining the science of climate change, and the findings should be alarming to anyone. If governments don’t take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, globally we’re headed for a 4 degree Celsius increase. The rise will be even higher across the Arab world, and the effects on water, agriculture, and livelihoods will be far more pronounced than what people here already face. Climate models show that over the last 30 years, temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa have increased 50 percent faster than the global average.

Aggressive mitigation is needed to slow greenhouse gas emissions, but here and in much of the world, adaptation is now critical to survive the changes that are already underway.

In a new report released today, Adaptation to a Changing Climate in the Arab Countries, we draw on the knowledge and expertise of the Arab world in adapting to changing climates. The authors, the majority of whom are from the region, consulted with civil society, academia, and governments, and worked in partnership with the League of Arab States.


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