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The World Region

Can the world avert locking itself into an unsustainable future?

Vijay Iyer's picture

“The world is locking itself into an unsustainable future.” That’s the headline on the press release for this year’s World Energy Outlook(WEO). This conclusion, coming from the sober, serious International Energy Agency (IEA), sure grabbed attention at a panel discussion I moderated here in Durban Monday.

In presenting the Outlook, Laura Cozzi, IEA’s Senior Economist, laid out the WEO’s three scenarios for the future. Two of them, the ‘Current Policies’ scenario — that is, business-as-usual — and the ‘New Policies’ one, that is, governments cautiously implement commitments already made — do not get us where we need to be by 2035. Only one of them does that, the third, so-called ‘450 Scenario’, which sets out an energy path consistent with a 50%-chance of holding global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. Past and current choices have the world ‘locked into’ a high emissions path. Laura showed that the 450 scenario takes the world to a situation of ‘no carbon space left’ for new energy generation by 2017. At that point, either only zero-carbon new energy generation can go forward or, if not, for every power plant commissioned, an equivalent dirtier one will have to be shut down. 

It provoked a lively discussion. Dr. Leena Srivastava, Executive Director of India’s Energy and Resources Institute, pointed out that the ‘lock-in’ is caused not just by current patterns of production, but also by lifestyles and patterns of consumption. This resonated with the other two panelists: Dr. Subho Banerjee, Deputy Secretary of the Australian government’s Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Department, as well as Dr. Lu Qiang, of Beijing’s Energy Research Institute, a think-tank under China's National Development and Reform Commission. They reminded the audience that policy must influence patterns of consumption along with energy generation.

Low Emissions Development: Making the sum greater than individual parts

Aditi Maheshwari's picture

As COP17 enters its second week in Durban, the most striking element for me has come from outside the negotiating rooms: the clear sense of momentum around taking action on the ground, and doing so sooner rather than later. Countries are being opportunistic and seizing the day, while the global deal continues to be worked out. The driving force behind this action is the challenge of delivering on domestic priorities such as energy security and access; productivity and competitiveness growth etc. Lower emissions and the climate imperative are a welcome co-benefit but not the main goal. Nearly 90 countries have registered plans with the UNFCCC to address the emissions intensity of their growth by 2020. This includes more than 50 developing countries (a quarter of which are low-income countries) that are pushing forwards with Low Emissions Development (LED) through outlining nationally appropriate mitigation actions.

This demand for LED has prompted a ‘thousand flowers blooming’ supply of initiatives to support developing countries in their planning and implementation. On Saturday I attended a dialogue on LED hosted by the World Bank that was a genuine conversation and sharing of ideas on how to improve coordination i.e., shift the supply of support from resembling scattered flowers towards becoming the same flowering plant. More than a hundred delegates including senior negotiators, heads of organizations, think tanks, and country practitioners actively participated in the discussion.

Support is coming for all stages of the process from the tools and analysis through to policy and program development and piloting implementation. Many organizations (CDKN, GGGI, CPI, Africa Climate Policy Centre, UNEP Risø, ClimateWorks, CMCI, IDB, CCAP, The Climate Group) active in this space outlined their work and identified opportunities where they would like to see increased collaboration, coherence, and partnerships.

Working together on adaptation-based mitigation

Rachel Kyte's picture

Over the weekend the business community held its meetings coinciding with CoP17.

In Copenhagen, the business community, especially in Europe, had mobilized for a deal and arrived in force. Even the financial and investor communities turned up. But then the negotiation process came unraveled and some blamed the business community for not mobilizing enough.

In Cancun, having licked its wounds and learned lessons, the business community adopted the classic entrepreneurial behavior of “don’t ask permission, just apologize afterwards” i.e. don’t wait for a deal- if it makes business sense go ahead.

There, the focus was on action on the ground, strategies, and innovations for firms across the world.

In Durban, things have moved on yet again – here, there is a greater focus on adaptation and, while the stories of success are powerful, there was a call for action again - for the public sector to set the conditions necessary to move ahead at speed and scale.

From Forest Day - The No-Regrets Option

Rachel Kyte's picture

After Agriculture Day, comes Forest Day for about 1,200 scientists, donors, NGOs, policymakers, journalists and climate negotiators gathered in Durban, with its own well-oiled choreography of plenary sessions and discussion forums.

My assigned role during these two days is to act as a go-between and help break down the silo mentality that can affect expert communities working on narrow themes. Many people already seem to be reading from the same music sheet –there is growing recognition that the fate of forests and agriculture are intricately linked.

Agriculture (large and small) is one of the main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in many parts of the world. And growing needs for food, energy and income will continue to exert tremendous pressure on the forest “frontier” in the future.

Forestry and agriculture experts concerned by climate change seem to be reaching for broadly symbiotic solutions at the landscape level – climate-smart programs based on a more complete understanding of the carbon and water cycles that sustain both agriculture and forests.

Forest Day, now in its fifth year, always timed to coincide with UNFCCC talks, can take great credit for publicizing carbon emission research and putting forests on the map of climate change negotiations.

Looking through the window of opportunity and seeing gender equality

Margaret Arnold's picture

Within the disaster risk management community, we often speak about the window of opportunity that opens after a natural catastrophe. This is an opportunity to do things differently, going forward. The idea is that while devastating, the disaster brings a momentary period of raised awareness of risk, monetary resources, and both a real and metaphorical blank slate upon which people can build more resilient communities or initiate social changes on issues that may not advance during “normal” times.

After Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America, there were resounding calls for “transformation, not reconstruction.” We heard about “building back better” after the Indian Ocean tsunami, and the “peace dividend” that the tsunami brought to Aceh after decades of fighting between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).  

Experience has taught us that this window of opportunity is not a given and must be managed carefully. For example, the pressures to get people out of tents and back into houses, or to spend donor money quickly, often trumps the need to ensure quality in construction or adequate engagement of communities to ensure sustainability. Most would agree that Central America has yet to be transformed, and that the tsunami failed to deliver a peace dividend in Sri Lanka.

A key area, however, where much progress has been made after disasters is gender equity. Practical steps to promote gender equality can often be integrated easily and speedily in the recovery process. These include issuing deeds for newly constructed houses in both the woman’s and man’s names, including women in housing design as well as construction, and promoting land rights for women. Other steps include building non-traditional skills through income-generation projects, distributing relief through women, and funding women’s groups to monitor disaster recovery projects.

Will Durban deliver?

Andrew Steer's picture

The next two weeks will see nearly 20,000 people descending on Durban for this year’s Climate Change negotiations.  What might they achieve? Not much, if you believe some of the pessimistic assessments in the press. Are the gloomsters right? No, not necessarily.

What could be achieved?   

Here goes… starting with the practical decisions that are on the agenda, and could affect peoples’ lives fairly quickly:

  • A global system of technology centers that would provide access to knowledge and capacity building in developing countries for climate smart technology – which in turn could yield more investment, more jobs and lower costs.
  • A system that would help developing countries prepare and finance their adaptation plans.
  • A decision to incorporate agriculture fully into the Convention (something that, oddly, has never been done), allowing poor farmers to benefit from climate finance.
  • Simpler rules on how to credit greenhouse gases from forests, in turn making it simpler to prevent deforestation, and for forest dwellers to access support.
  • Common rules allowing city-wide approaches to dealing with climate change. (Many cities are showing more leadership than countries).
  • New eligibility procedures that would help bring sustainable energy to the 65% of African households that currently have no electricity.
  • Agreements that would encourage the development of a long-term networked carbon market that would lower the costs of addressing climate change and bring finance and technology to developing countries.

There is a risk that these measures will be crowded out by the big political decisions at Durban. This would be a mistake. While not game-changers individually, they are important building blocks towards an eventual global deal. 

Save the chocolate and the planet

Alan Miller's picture

With Durban climate change meetings around the corner, discussion on the long-term risks to Africa and the severity of recent extreme events has understandably increased – for example, hot, dry weather that could make farming more challenging for large parts of Africa.

These changes will almost certainly affect all of us at least indirectly, as populations are forced to migrate, disaster relief costs escalate, and increased uncertainty lowers market returns and economic growth.

But it may help to appreciate the true meaning of the expected changes from climate change to consider some of the less dramatic – but far reaching – smaller impacts that will affect all of us in a myriad of ways in our daily lives. A good example is recent predictions of climate impacts on some of our favorite foods – not necessarily life shattering, but a big part of our daily rituals and pleasure in life. Consider three in particular: coffee, chocolate, and wine. The first two are particularly important agricultural exports for Africa.

Starbucks recently announced concerns about the future of its supply chain due to the impacts of climate change. Short-term impacts are already evident due to floods in key coffee growing nations such as Columbia. The Union of Concerned Scientists observes that coffee growing is tied to specific locations such that even small changes in temperature can affect production and increase exposure to pests and disease.

Island gathering highlights the many ways of seeing REDD

Benoît Bosquet's picture

This past September, we were invited to an unusual event with Indigenous Peoples in the territory of Guna Yala on Panama’s Caribbean coastline recently. A dozen representatives of the World Bank, including the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) secretariat, met up on the tiny island of Gaigirgordub, which is part of the San Blas archipelago.

These islands are specks of land no more than two feet above the water line, surrounded by crystal clear waters, and the verdant mountains of the mainland on the horizon. The Guna people become islanders because of a conflict a century or so ago, but they have not lost their attachment to their forests. You just have to look at the landscape as you drive through Guna Yala to see how dense the forests are, in stark contrast to their adjacent province of Panama, where agriculture and urban expansion have taken their toll. So what better place than Guna Yala to talk about the role of Indigenous Peoples in REDD+ (the acronym for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and conservation of forest carbon stocks)?

Facts, knowledge and women, trump myth and superstition

Fionna Douglas's picture

When scientists from a broad range of disciplines get together to discuss research to feed the world, while protecting the planet in a changing climate, it’s not surprising that they would call for increased investment. More surprising is that they would agree on setting clear priorities.

The World Bank co-organized the Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture in Wageningen, Netherlands, with Wageningen University and The Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation as part of its efforts to build the store of knowledge that can help small holder farmers around the globe increase productivity – a central theme of the Bank’s Agriculture Action Plan – and build resilience to climate change. The conference will also inform the upcoming global climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa.

Motivated by the statement of UK Chief Scientific Officer Sir John Beddington that the world is unlikely to make the changes required to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade, and is heading for a “4 degree centigrade world with disastrous implications for African food security”, the scientists heeded policy makers’ pleas and delivered some clear evidence-based advice.

Will Suna get a dam despite the change in rainfall?

Philip Angell's picture

Earlier this year, we were in a country called Suna. If it sounds unfamiliar, it is an imaginary developing country in West Africa. For one day, two dozen senior Ghanaian officials and business leaders in Accra participated in a simulation exercise. They were grappling with a question on whether to build a new hydroelectric dam in the backdrop of uncertain data on water availability for the next 50 years. Although the situation was fictionalized, the problem is quite real for decision makers in many parts of the world.

The broader question was: How do you prepare for the tough, contentious, complex decisions required to deal with impacts of climate change that now seem inevitable? 

That question posed for the simulation exercise was key to the 13th edition of the World Resources Report: Decision Making in a Changing Climate (jointly published by the World Bank, UNDP, UNEP, and the World Resources Institute). We took a distinctly new approach to research and writing this report, one that engaged a wide range of experts and practitioners from the very beginning, as well as one that tried new techniques. 

One important part of that new approach was to engage government officials, members of civil society and the private sector in two developing countries, Ghana and Vietnam, to participate in scenario exercises involving climate adaptation decisions. The goal was to learn how officials approached such decisions, how they would go about making them…and why.

The reason the core question is complex is the vast sea of uncertainty on the extent of future climate impacts. Between now and 2050, predictions in a 2010 World Bank report on the Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change, suggests that yearly rainfall in the country could plummet to 60% less than it is today or increase by as much as 49%.