Scientists declared this past year as the warmest year on Earth since record-keeping began in 1880, and a series of scientific reports found glaciers melting and extreme weather events intensifying. There can be no doubt that this year world leaders must commit to transforming their economies to combat climate change.
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The forecast for climate change has been undeniably altered overnight — positive news for the planet and for economic growth.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the leaders of the world's two largest economies and two largest emitters of pollutants into the atmosphere, demonstrated that, together, they are leading the global fight against climate change.
Their commitments are an absolutely essential first step if we are to hold the warming of the planet under 2 degrees Celsius, and avoid the disastrous consequences of an even more uncertain world. China committed to an emissions peak by 2030, with 20 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources, and the United States agreed to reduce its emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Importantly, they agreed to expand their joint clean energy research and development.
At the UN climate talks that ended wearily on Saturday night in Warsaw, negotiators showed little appetite for making firm climate finance commitments or promising ambitious climate action. But they did succeed, again, in keeping hope alive for a 2015 agreement.
The final outcome was a broad framework agreement that outlines a system for pledging emissions cuts and a new mechanism to tackle loss and damage. There were new pledges and payments for reducing deforestation through REDD+ and for the Adaptation Fund, however the meeting did little more than avoid creating roadblocks on the road to a Paris agreement in 2015. In one of the few new financial commitments, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States together contributed $280 million to building sustainable landscapes through the BioCarbon Fund set up by the World Bank Group.
At the same time, COP19 was an increasingly emotional Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The overture to this round of climate drama was provided by Typhoon Haiyan. Haiyan added, sadly, more to the mounting evidence of the costs of failure in tackling climate change. The language is inexorably moving towards one of solidarity, of justice. But for the moment, this framing is insufficient to prevent emission reduction commitments from moving backwards.
And yet again, as was the case in the climate conferences in Cancun, Durban, Doha, and now Warsaw, outside the official negotiations, there is growing pragmatic climate action driven by climate leaders from every walk of life.
The sense of urgency and opportunity is building, it just fails to translate into textual agreement.
This was not the time to discuss the science of climate change, or ways to protect coastal cities against monster storms.
The development experts, journalists, policy wonks and investment professionals who gathered at the Center for Global Development in Washington this week were there to sort out a much thornier issue: How to mobilize and spend the $700 billion or so the world will need annually – above what’s already being spent – to slow and adapt to climate change.
Their consensus: Current levels of public and private finance won’t even begin to do the job.