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.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy demand is likely to grow by more than one-third between now and 2035. Mobilizing investment capital is one major task. Additionally, energy infrastructure such as electric power facilities has a long time span – up to 40 or 50 years in the case of base-load nuclear or coal plants. As the new Growing Green report, released by the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia Region, points out, with such a long time span and the enormous amount of capital at stake, power sector investments need to consider at least three types of uncertainties—changing regulations, changing technology, and changing climatic conditions.
Regulatory uncertainty persists in countries without formal greenhouse gas emission restrictions. Even in the EU, the emissions trading system is still evolving and future prices for carbon emissions will in large part depend on political decisions. Such schemes may spread to other parts of Europe and Central Asia as the implications of climate change become more apparent and support for climate action rises. A price on carbon, either through a cap-and-trade sys¬tem or a tax, can profoundly alter the comparative economics of different power generation technologies. With a price on carbon emissions, the cost differential between fossil-fuel plants and low-carbon alternatives shrinks and in some cases disappears.
Many international firms and banks already incorporate an assumed carbon price into their financial investment feasibility calculations. Expectations of future carbon pricing have already altered investment decisions favoring natural gas over coal-fired power plants in the U.S. (although more recently the drop in gas prices has been a larger factor). Conversely, regulatory uncertainty also hinders investments in low-carbon generation. The IEA estimates (pdf) that uncertainty in climate change policy might add a risk premium of up to 40 percent to such investments, driving up consumer prices by 10 percent.
Under current trajectories, the world is headed toward a world that will be 4 degrees warmer by the end of this century. Despite the mounting concern around this scenario, many countries throughout the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region are understandably reluctant to introduce more ambitious climate policies because they are worried about the negative consequences on competitiveness or energy affordability, for instance.
However, as we try to show in our recent publication, Growing Green: the Economic Benefits of Climate Action, strategic investment in climate action can benefit these countries in the medium- and long-terms – thus offsetting the negative consequences of these investments.
Above all, countries need to focus on three types of climate action: climate action as a co-benefit, climate action as an investment, and climate action as insurance.
Last week, I had the honor of speaking to the UN Security Council about an increasingly dangerous threat facing cities and countries around the world, a threat that, more and more, is influencing everything that they and we do: climate change.
World Bank President Jim Kim was in Russia talking with G20 finance ministers about the same thing – the need to combat climate change. Every day, we’re hearing growing concerns from leaders around the world about climate change and its impact.
If we needed any reminder of the immediacy and the urgency of the situation, Australia Foreign Minister Bob Carr and our good friend President Tong of Kiribati spoke by video of the security implication of climate effects on the Pacific region. Perhaps most moving of all, Minister Tony deBrum from the Marshall Islands recounted how, 35 years ago, he had come to New York as part of a Marshall Islands delegation requesting the Security Council’s support for their independence. Now, when not independence but survival is at stake, he is told that this is not the Security Council’s function. He pointed to their ambassador to the UN and noted that her island, part of the Marshall Islands, no longer exists. The room was silent.
As the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) and its stakeholders from the private sector, government, the multilateral development banks, civil society and indigenous peoples’ groups gathered in Istanbul to participate in the first CIF Private Sector Forum, their attention is increasingly focused on synergies between the private and public in addressing climate change. There is a growing understanding among both governments and private sector players - from investors to small project developers to large utility companies - that gains are much larger if common strategies are developed and new partnerships are forged.
Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, opened the day with an energetic keynote address, provocative and positive, setting up the stage for the day by announcing the scope of challenge and opportunities for dynamic, and pragmatic climate investment strategies. Sessions on private sector adaptation, and business attitudes towards climate risk followed. The `Matching Expectations' panel brought together indispensable partners, the triangle of project developers-investors-policy makers, into discussion of regulations, fund raising challenges and investors' expectations and requirements.
The day also showcased five CIF projects, beginning with the highlight of the Morocco Ouarzazate CSP project, a unique PPP model, presented by Paddy Padmanathan, the CEO of the project's developer ACWA Power.
Consensus emerged that the private sector will deliver much of the innovation and finance required for investments in low carbon technologies and climate resilience in rich and poor communities alike. With scientists warning that we are not on a path to limit global warming to 2° or less, there is growing urgency to identify effective ways in which the public and private sectors can best work together to tackle and adapt to climate change. The CIF provide a platform for learning by doing to develop such models for effective collaboration and share experiences among the network of CIF recipient and contributor countries.
The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland could mean some good news for those of us concerned with understanding the science of climate change.
As volcanoes go, this is small stuff. The last volcano to have a substantial effect on global climate was Mount Pinatubo which erupted in the Philippines in 1991. Volcanoes affect global climate largely because the sulfur gases that they emit oxidize in the atmosphere to form sulfate aerosols (fine particulate matter), which stay around in the stratosphere for at least 12 months, and act as a strong cooling agent. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Mt. Pinatubo caused global temperatures to dip by about 0.5 degrees Centigrade for a year. The ash, which has been of concern to airline passengers in Europe and many others across the globe recently, generally has only a small and local effect on climate –it tends to fall to earth in a matter of weeks.
|Photo © Rasmus Heltberg/World Bank|
How should climate change be addressed in Tajikistan, the poorest and—according to a World Bank regional assessment, most climate-vulnerable—country in Eastern Europe and Central Asia?1 On a recent visit to this scenic nation to assess the poverty aspects of climate change, we struggled with this seemingly simple question. Answers remain elusive, given the country’s daunting climate dilemmas. So, while in Dushanbe, I attempted to write about the range of the challenge.
First, consider Tajikistan’s thousands of glaciers, many of which are receding. As they melt, farmers downstream enjoy plentiful water supply and see no need to take action. However, once the glaciers are gone, dry rivers and extreme water scarcity could mean the end of farming livelihoods in some areas.
|Photo © Rachel Block/World Bank|
Reading the newspapers last January when Russia suspended the supply of gas to the rest of Europe—with Eastern European countries hardest hit—I could not help but think that the region might be better off with fewer sub-zero days during winter.
On a trip to the Balkans last year, I partook of the colorful summer bounty of peppers and tomatoes enjoyed throughout southern Russia and Southeastern Europe.
|"Dear Diary: August 27th, 2008. Sarajevo. Best tomato of my life. If this reckless bus driver careens off the mountainside, at least I’ll die satisfied."|
What a contrast from the pickles and cabbage my great-great-grandparents subsisted on in Poland and Lithuania! Though I was raised “properly”—with a taste for pickled cauliflower and herring—I could see why the northern reaches of the region might appreciate a longer growing season and more sunny, tomato-ripening days.
Studying (and contributing to) projections of global food supply in the changing climate over the next century, I see precipitous drops in yields projected in already-poor swaths of Africa, and in densely populated and cultivated regions in South and East Asia. But many have concluded that, globally, there will be enough food to go around—thanks to the expanding role of Europe and Central Asia as the breadbasket of the world—and assuming free and fair international trade in food.
A recent report by the World Bank, “Adapting to Climate Change in Europe and Central Asia,” argues that these outcomes can by no means be taken for granted.