About 80 government representatives from more than 30 countries just concluded the 9th Assembly of the Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR) – three days of rich discussions on various domestic policy instruments that put a price on carbon, such as emissions trading systems (ETS), carbon taxes, and payments for emission reductions. At the same time, private sector firms are arriving in Cologne to attend Carbon Expo which runs until the end of the week.
A timely “rendezvous” between the two sectors – public and private – took place today on the subject of carbon pricing policies. The event, hosted by the World Bank’s PMR, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), invited leading private firm and government representatives to discuss the initial findings of a study by the PMR and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), which interviewed three companies – Rio Tinto, Shell, and U.S. utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) – on how they are preparing for a carbon price.
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"This meeting is going to be different. It’s going to be a turning point from the lofty, theoretical policy deliberation to real action on the ground to save our planet’s green lungs and our global climate." Those were my thoughts last week when I walked into a packed conference room in Brussels, Belgium, where a crowd of about 80 people from around the globe had gathered to learn about cutting-edge proposals from six pioneering developing countries with big, bold plans to protect forests in vast areas of their territories.
Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Mexico, Nepal, and the Republic of Congo came to the 9th meeting of the Carbon Fund of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) to convince 11 public and private fund participants to select their proposal as one of a small group of pilots intended to demonstrate how REDD+ can work.
December 2009 does not seem so long ago. The UN climate conference in Copenhagen had just come to a disappointing end, and I headed home feeling depressed. I returned to China for holiday and was surprised to see the widespread awareness of climate change and the collective sense of urgency for action. The concept of "low carbon" was discussed in all major and local newspapers. To my amazement, I even found an advertisement for a "low carbon" wedding. I finished my holiday and went back to Washington with optimism and hope: Despite the failings of Copenhagen, China, the biggest emitter in the world and the largest developing country, was going through a real transformational change. China clearly saw action on climate change as serving its own interest and as an opportunity to pursue a green growth model that decouples economic development from carbon emissions and resource dependence.
In the past five years, the world has witnessed the emergence of China as a leader for tackling climate change. A few weeks ago, colleagues at the World Bank Group heard an evidenced-based presentation by Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua from the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) of China, who showed what China had done in the past, is doing now, and plans to do in the future. He shared his candid assessment of the challenges, mistakes, and lessons learned from China's experience.
China’s progress is impressive. Between 2005 and 2013, average economic growth has been above 8 percent while the country’s emissions intensity has decreased by 28.5 percent compared with 2005 levels. This equates to emissions reductions of 23 million tons of CO2. These reductions were achieved through massive closures of inefficient coal fire plants, aggressive energy efficiency programs, expanding the renewable energy program, and large investments in clean technology.
While these numbers are impressive, sustaining them will be harder. Over the last 10 years, China has targeted its "low-hanging fruit" for mitigation options. The challenge today is how China will sustain annual GDP growth of more than 7 percent while continuing to reduce its economy’s emissions intensity.
Climate change is a threat to global development and to poverty alleviation. And yet, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is proving difficult because all players in an economy contribute to the problem. To make a difference, we must reduce our emissions in a coordinated manner.
This is no easy task. So where do we go from here?
One approach involves pricing the “externalities” that are contributing to climate change. Pricing externalities into the costs of production is nothing new. A classic textbook example is the paper mill that sits upstream from a fishing village.
Discharge from the mill pollutes the river, diminishing the fishermen’s catch. The mill freely uses the water of the river in its production of paper, but does not pay for the damage of the negative externality that it causes. To remedy the situation, regulations can be put in place to stop waste from going into the river – or the mill can pay a fine equivalent to the loss of the fishermen’s revenue.
The latter is an example of an externality priced into the cost of production. The same can be done to combat climate change.
In this case, carbon emissions are the externality that must be priced. Doing so provides a cost-effective and efficient means to drive down greenhouse gas emissions as the cost of such pollution goes up.
A few weeks ago, we passed a big milestone in the World Bank Group’s climate change and development work. For the first time, small-scale farmers earned carbon credits from an agricultural land management project.
The project in western Kenya kicked off what will surely be many more soil carbon projects in coming years. It also shows how sustainable farming (such as increased mulching and less tilling) can be part of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – while improving livelihoods for poor, rural families.
The soil carbon project, made possible by an accounting system for low-carbon farming approved in 2011, took several years to prepare and implement. I had the fortune to be right there, working with farmers on the ground in Kenya and trying to understand their reality.
World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte issued the following statement welcoming the United Nations announcement today of two new UN special envoys on climate change: John A. Kufuor, who served as president of Ghana from 2001 to 2009 and chairperson of the African Union from 2007 to 2008, and Jens Stoltenberg, the prime minister of Norway from 2000 to 2001 and 2005 to 2013.
"The appointment of President John A. Kufuor and former PM Jens Stoltenberg as the Special Envoys on Climate Change by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is a crucial step to mobilize political will in advance of the UN 2014 Climate Summit. At the World Bank Group we are working with countries to increase ambition and take climate action by highlighting their opportunities for action that build growth, jobs, and resilience. We are delighted to support the Special Envoys, who will be critical to meeting the climate challenge."
Last week in Paris, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s partners and stakeholders agreed on groundbreaking rules for investments in tropical forest protection in developing nations – a framework that will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our rapidly warming world.
Capping an intense five days of negotiations, this major milestone unblocks $390 million in funding held in escrow in the facility’s Carbon Fund. The agreement (formally known as a Methodological Framework) spells out how tropical countries should design and implement large-scale protection programs in the lowland and mountain forests of the tropics.
In return, the countries get results-based payments from donor countries that support climate policy and social development goals.
It’s the first time an international organization has put on paper the operational rules for purchasing so-called REDD+ credits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (REDD is short for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.)
Reaching consensus on the operational roadmap for REDD+ required input from a diverse set of sometimes-contradictory viewpoints.
Seated at the table to negotiate through the many issues in Paris were donor countries, private corporations, officials from tropical countries willing to experiment with REDD+, civil society organizations and representatives from indigenous groups who were championing the rights of traditional dwellers in tropical forests.
One of the few bright spots at the recent UN climate talks in Warsaw was the announcement of new financial commitments to the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund.
Coming hard on the heels of that groundbreaking initiative for sustainable forest landscapes is another piece of good news in international efforts to bring more carbon finance to low-income nations.
The governments of the United Kingdom and Sweden and the Switzerland-based Climate Cent Foundation have pledged more than $125 million for the World Bank’s Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev), a financial initiative that, like the third tranche of the BioCarbon Fund, will help the least-developed countries access financing for low-carbon investments.
More specifically, the new funding allows the World Bank to focus on helping the world’s poorest countries – especially in Africa – access carbon finance to develop clean energy sources.
It will enable the development and scaling up of a diverse range of projects similar to household biogas systems in Nepal or solar home systems in Bangladesh. It’s also an example of how the World Bank continues its efforts to mobilize private-sector investments for clean development and climate mitigation.
We’re showing, through actions on the ground, that putting a price on carbon is a key part of the solution to the climate challenge.
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.
Today, three countries – Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States – pledged $280 million to the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund, kicking off a groundbreaking initiative for sustainable forest landscapes.
Their significant commitment to land and forest preservation is important for two reasons.
The new Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes will manage landscapes in a holistic fashion by working across sectors, rather than in “silos.” It also brings in the private sector already in the design phase, recognizing that many private firms are committed to “greening” and securing their supply chains from the impact of climate change.