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Climate Change

A new treaty to control mercury…could be good for climate too

Laurent Granier's picture

courtesy: UNEP

Early in the morning on Saturday, January 19, 2013, negotiators from around 140 countries completed negotiations for the Mercury Treaty that will be adopted later this year in Japan. It will be known as the Minamata Convention, in deference to the victims of mercury poisoning from industrial pollution that occurred when residents of the Minamata Bay ingested contaminated fish and shellfish in the 1950s.

The Convention that took four years to negotiate under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joins the ranks of a number of treaties that address chemicals and wastes. It is the first treaty to specifically address heavy metals.

Why is the international community concerned about mercury? Mercury is typically released into the environment in metallic, or “elemental”, form, or as an inorganic salt. In elemental form, it easily vaporises and can be transported great distances worldwide.  When deposited in the environment, mercury eventually can be transformed to its organic forms, including Methylmercury, which is highly toxic and readily accumulates and bioconcentrates in animals and humans. Eventually, mercury settles in cold climates and bioconcentrates up the food chains to the point that Indigenous Peoples in the North that rely on traditional foods are exposed to damaging high levels.

One of the reasons heavy metals are difficult to address is that they are mobilised through human activities, but they are also released in the environment through natural processes, for example through volcanic eruptions or in deep-sea vents. Nevertheless, estimates are that at any given time, 90% of the mercury cycling in the environment is linked to human activities – hence the need for action. The recently released UNEP Global Mercury Assessment 2013 outlines major sources of emissions, geographic and temporal trends, and behaviour in the environment. 

Moreover, international action is warranted because of the transboundary dimension of the issue. In the United States for example, it is estimated that half the mercury in fish caught in rivers comes from anthropogenic Continental sources – predominantly from coal burning – whilst the other half represents emissions from Asia. At the same time, by some estimates, approximately 50% of US releases are deposited beyond the country’s border. This is textbook justification for international action.

Living Landscapes: Solutions for a Sustainable World

Peter Dewees's picture

Photo: Mduduzi Duncan Dlamini, Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Kingdom of Swaziland, providing the closing keynote for Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day.

The final rounds of Forests Day and Agriculture Day wrapped up at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha this week under a new shared banner: Living Landscapes Days.

Both Days have become annual events on the sidelines of the UN climate change conferences, meant to bring together scientists and policy makers and, originally, to bring forests and farming onto the Conference of Parties (COP) agenda. Forests have largely achieved this objective with the the emergence of various agreements about REDD+.

Agriculture has slipped down the list of priority issues tackled by the COP, which has been struggling to figure out what to do about extending the Kyoto agreements and a range of other issues, but is certain to re-emerge. The agriculture discussions this week at Doha aimed to identify scalable solutions to specific mitigation and adaptation challenges which can benefit farmers; gaps where there are limited existing solutions or limited available knowledge; and potential trade-offs in implementing existing, known solutions.

This year, the two worked together to build on the themes of climate-smart agriculture, which became prominent in Durban in the last COP: farming which builds soil carbon, increasing food security, and enhancing resilience to climate shocks.

Forging a new path forward on climate change

Vipul Bhagat's picture

As world leaders convene in Doha for this year’s UN Climate Change Conference  developing countries are looking for ways to maintain momentum for change to help them transition to climate-smart growth.

When it comes to delivering improved, cost-effective infrastructure and services – a precondition for green growth – public-private partnerships (PPPs) are one way forward. At a recent event co-sponsored with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Doha, we shared our unique perspective on public sector efforts to attract and leverage private sector climate finance through PPPs.

Some key takeways from the event include:

  • PPPs help tap new money for infrastructure:  Since the 2008 financial crisis, governments have limited financial resources to devote to capital expenditures and expanded public services. Involving the private sector offers a solution.
  • PPPs boost efficiency through cost savings and shorten delivery periods. They also spur innovation by bringing in private sector know-how.
  • PPPs facilitate projects under one umbrella: When it comes to climate initiatives, PPPs can efficiently organize and consolidate the numerous and complex arrangements that make a renewable energy (or any other climate-related) project work.
  • PPPs allow for appropriate allocation of supply and risk demand to the private sector, reducing taxpayer costs.
  • Since 1989, IFC has been the only multilateral institution providing advice to national and municipal governments on designing and implementing PPP transactions to improve infrastructure and access to basic services such as water, power, agribusiness, transport, health and education.

A Wake Up Call

Rachel Kyte's picture

Photo courtesy IISD

This week, negotiators from nearly 200 countries have gathered at the UN Climate Conference in Doha to try to hammer out an agreement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Once again, the gathering of the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change highlights the lack of action on climate change, and the subsequent threat to the prosperity of millions. Climate change may roll back decades of development.

Several reports in the last month have reached the same conclusion. First, the science is unequivocal: humans are the cause of global warming, and major changes can be observed today. Second, time for action is running out – if we don’t act, we could experience a 4°C warmer world this century, with catastrophic consequences.

The World Bank commissioned the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics to better understand the potential impact of a 4°C warmer world on developing countries. Turn Down the Heat provides a stark picture of the state of the planet in a 4°C warmer world and the disruptive impacts on agriculture, water resources, ecosystems and human health. It also gives a snapshot of changes already observed. 

Global mean temperatures are about 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels. Current greenhouse gas emission pledges place the world on a trajectory for warming of well over 3°C, even if the pledges are fully met. 

Climate for change in Istanbul

Joumana Asso's picture

A view of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. - Photo: Shutterstock 

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.

Costa Rica scripts a new chapter in forest carbon finance

Benoît Bosquet's picture

Thick cloudy skies subdued the sunlight on an autumnal day in Paris. That did not stop the group of representatives from the public and private sector attending the 5th Carbon Fund Meeting of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) from making a decision that is a major milestone. Costa Rica is set to become the first country to access performance-based payments through the FCPF. This is the first time a national program is being supported by carbon funds in this global initiative of 54 countries and organizations, heralding a new phase in forest carbon finance.

This decision is a strong vote of support for Costa Rica’s ambitious plan to become the first “carbon neutral” country by 2021. Conserving forests and planting trees that capture carbon dioxide plays a large role in the national endeavor.

An interesting feature of Costa Rica’s proposal to the Carbon Fund is the quasi-national scope of the program that would be implemented in a mosaic approach on additional 341,000 ha of mainly privately owned land. Two-thirds of the targeted area is degraded land that the country aims to restore with reforestation, secondary growth and agroforestry, and one-third is old growth forest that will be protected from deforestation. The resulting emission reductions are estimated at 29.5 million tons of CO2. Close to half of these emission reductions (12.6 million tons of CO2) would be offered to the Carbon Fund, and would require an estimated financing of $63 million (assuming a price of $5 per ton of CO2).

How a small grant turned Humbo green

Edward Felix Dwumfour's picture

A comparative picture of the Humbo region in February 2002 and March 2010.

A number of years ago, I started a journey with seven poor communities located about 380 kilometres southwest of Addis Ababa, by a mountain called Humbo. The idea was to allow a degraded mountain to regenerate, and the communities would earn carbon credits for their efforts.

I still hear this phrase echoing in my ears: “With the meager amount of resources they have, this is an impossible agenda”. But the communities were stubborn and dedicated, and last week, the project was issued 73,339 carbon credits (temporary Certified Emission Reductions, tCERs) for their efforts. Similar payments will add up to $700,000 over the next 10 years from the BioCarbon Fund.

The Humbo communities wanted to see a transformation because they knew that their lands had been stripped as a result of unregulated cattle grazing and massive clearance of vegetation to meet their excessive demand for timber, firewood and charcoal. Soil erosion and flooding had intensified as a result. They could see their farmlands increasingly covered with silt, cobbles and boulders. Above all, they could attest that their farmlands were losing fertility, becoming unproductive and yields were down.

New Bank Climate Department off and running

Mary Barton-Dock's picture

At a meeting of the Asia Society in New York last week, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, estimated that a 1 degree increase in the planet’s temperature (we are already at .8 degrees) would cost her country 3-4% of its GDP growth annually. At the same time, DARA, a European-based NGO, and the Climate Vulnerability Forum released the second Climate Vulnerability Monitor, which estimates that climate change is already costing the world 1.6% of GDP growth globally, and contributing to over 400,000 deaths. The report, written by over 50 scientists, economists and policy experts, also estimates that by 2030 climate change and air pollution combined could cost the world 3.2% of growth globally, and up to 11% in the world’s least developed countries. 

I spent  nine of the last 20 years living in Africa, watching the continent struggle terribly with negative growth in the 90’s, fight its way to positive growth and eventually celebrate a 5-8% growth rate that allowed many African countries to put a serious dent in poverty. But clearly, those hard won gains in poverty reduction and development are at risk, and sooner than we thought. The most important message of DARA’s report is that climate change is not just a problem for future generations.

But as former President José María Figueres of Costa Rica reminded a United Nations General Assembly audience last week, climate change also presents an enormous economic opportunity. Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance reported that over $1 trillion was invested in clean energy last year. And the feeling is that this figure could be much higher if we could just figure out the policies and financial instruments to unleash capital in the direction of green growth. So which path will we seize for our changing climate? The one which builds on the growth and development of past decades or the one which leads to the grim prospect of losing hard fought gains against poverty? The race to choose is on, and for those of us whose dream is a world free of poverty, for those of us who couldn’t bear to see Africa return to the economic and social struggles of the 90’s, we’d better get sprinting.

So today ─ against this very compelling background ─ we launch our new Climate Policy and Finance Department (CPF) at the World Bank. This department brings together the Climate Change team, the Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) Admin Unit, the Carbon Finance program, the GEF and Montreal Protocol teams around this essential question: what can the World Bank Group do to help countries take climate action at a faster speed and larger scale, and turn climate change into an engine for growth?

It’s a make-or-break decade for action on climate change

Rachel Kyte's picture


Photo: Climate Group 

As world leaders descended on Manhattan this week for the UN General Assembly, the blocks around 44th street got ever more gridlocked and noise decibels from the omnipresent motorcades tested the patience of locals and visitors alike.

Away from the main hubbub, Monday I joined Tony Blair, Prince Albert of Monaco, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and a number of Chairman and CEOs from top companies to talk about climate change and efforts to get the world onto a cleaner growth path.

Tuesday, hosted by Bloomberg L.P., I was in conversation with Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Cristiana Figueres. The discussion covered the role of the UNFCCC past, present and future in what has happened and needs to happen to arrest climate change. From the need to change the narrative, accounting systems, risk appetites and ambition, to whether the convention is an umbrella for action, or should encourage actions outside its framework, to where will the funding come from for adaptation and resilience as climate change bears its teeth, it was a great conversation showing sensible hope.

Climate Week, an annual event here in New York City organized by The Climate Group is calling for an American “Clean Revolution.” At their opening session they issued a report saying such a revolution could grow the US economy by $3 trillion. 

While climate change seems to be a “non-issue” in the US election, jobs and competitiveness are not. Competitiveness in the global green economy is not an issue for the US alone. 

Faced with conclusive scientific evidence of the impacts of climate change, especially on the world's poorest, and a new global agreement some years off, we're in a ‘make-or-break’ decade for action on global climate change.

Celebrating 25 Years of the Montreal Protocol - and Looking Ahead

Rachel Kyte's picture

The world’s leaders set a high bar when they adopted the Montreal Protocol, which has helped protect the Earth’s protective ozone layer for the last 25 years. Even with its ambitious goals, the treaty won universally ratification – 197 parties have agreed to legally binding reduction targets to phase out ozone-depleting gases, and they have stuck to them.

The result: we, as a global community, have almost completely phased out the use of 97 substances that were depleting the ozone layer.

It’s a success worth celebrating, but we can’t rest on our laurels. We phased out CFCs, once used for cooling most refrigerators on the planet, but some of their replacement gases have become a climate change problem we still have to contend with.

The CFCs story showed that the world can move at speed and scale to reduce environmental threats. Scientists realized that CFCs were depleting the ozone layer in 1974. The ozone hole over Antarctica became common knowledge in the 1980s and helped drive global action which led to the Montreal Protocol being adopted in 1987.

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