Lots of people, companies, cities, and nations have started to calculate their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, since you can only change what you can measure. These measurements are starting to highlight some very interesting trends and show how complex the global results of our lifestyle are.
In Copenhagen, donor countries pledged to raise US$30 billion in “fast start funds” and an additional US$100 billion a year by 2020 to invest in reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Though the commitments are clear, the delivery is uncertain. By the June UNFCCC meetings in Bonn, countries will need to start drafting a set of decisions on the financial architecture to manage and distribute these climate funds.
By embarking on several climate change initiatives, including an assessment of progress in implementing the Strategic Framework on Development and Climate Change (SFDCC) and the revision of its Energy Strategy, the World Bank has positioned itself to play a role in the management of new climate funds. The Bank already hosts several climate related trust funds, including the Climate Investment Funds. It is the trustee of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and its largest implementing agency. The question is whether the Bank should be entrusted with an even larger role in the future of climate finance. If it is going to gain the political support necessary to make this happen, the World Bank must systematically address issues of environmental and social sustainability in its mainstream investments.
Access to energy services and energy efficiency are the two key messages of the report released in New York April 28 by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon and his Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change. “Energy for a Sustainable Future” calls on countries—rich, poor and middle-income—to transform their national energy systems to ensure universal access to modern energy services, and reduce global energy intensity by 2030.
These are ambitious goals, the report says. It notes that access, in particular, “requires overcoming complex challenges in some of the poorest and most remote locations on the globe.” Although ambitious, the goals are certainly attainable. Achieving both of them will require political will, money, ingenuity and cooperation, not only among governments, but must also include the private sector and civil society.
This weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on the `Transformational Priorities for Africa in a Changing Climate’ as part of the World Bank Group Spring meetings in Washington DC. In my remarks, I spoke on how Africa is often perceived as a place which offers only adaptation opportunities. I argued that the continent offers mitigation opportunities too – especially in the area of deforestation.
We all know that deforestation and forest degradation cause 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By using Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanisms to save half of this, we could reduce global emissions by at least 10%. This translates into a huge potential for Africa.
Iconic species – the panda, the tiger, the bald eagle, and even the small but spectacular corroboree frog – have been the vehicle for spreading the environment message. That message can change and become more subtle.
|Photo © Ryan Rayburn/World Bank|
Mr Zoellick’s message at the launch of the Tiger Initiative in 2008 focused on integrating “environmental concerns ... into the mainstream of development and operational plans”. His statement in relation to the National Geographic’s “Vanishing Icons” photo exhibit (in the World Bank headquarter's atrium in DC) advanced the discussion to the tiger’s “largely untapped potential to spur balanced development”. The conditions and actions needed to improve the habitat of the tiger are closely related to those needed to improve the livelihoods of local communities and vice versa.
Some plant communities are emerging as iconic ecosystems. The mangroves are the best example. Their role as a habitat and breeding ground for so many species, as a resource for local people and in coastal protection are listed again and again. They feature in the recent WRI publication “Banking on Nature’s Assets” which forcefully makes the case that Multilateral Development Banks can strengthen development by using ecosystem services and describes some of the case studies and tools we have to help do this.
But we are also seeing the emergence of “iconic case studies” and this is a concern to me.
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.
For economists interested in climate change, some news. The long awaited regional version of Bill Nordhaus' DICE model is now out. (Actually it’s been out since February, but I just got to it...) It’s called RICE with the ‘R’ standing for Regional. A quick overview of some of the key results can be downloaded here.
Nordhaus is one of the earliest and most prominent climate modelers in the economics profession. He and Nicholas Stern are often set up as the two book ends of the climate change economists’ spectrum. I believe their differences are not that great.
Climate change in the news (Apr 2 - Apr 9, 2010)
|Two macaws in the Amazon.
Photo © istockphoto.com
Although the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen badly failed to achieve legally binding agreements, including on the specific mechanism of REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), there was nevertheless a general sense that this mechanism is something worth pursuing. Meetings and discussions continued to take place after the conference was over, and a fund of US$ 10 billion is being set up to promote initial steps for tropical developing countries to prepare for REDD.
What lessons can be learned from the Brazilian Amazon, where deforestation rates have been steadily declining for 5 years?
Compared to estimates of land-cover change emissions from elsewhere in the tropics, estimates in the Brazilian Amazon tend to be relatively more certain because they are calculated from annual, satellite-based monitoring of land cover change for over two decades for the Brazilian portion of the Amazon. That is the work of the PRODES Project carried out by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) of Brazil.
Deforestation in the Amazon changes a lot from year to year. The proximate causes are not totally known. They have to do with economic drivers such as prices of commodities (beef, soy, etc.), the opening of roads, but they are also influenced by the effectiveness of law enforcement to curb illegal deforestation.
The latter may have played a key role in reducing deforestation in the last 5 years. During that period, annual deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon plummeted from over 27 thousand km2 (August 2003-July 2004) to around 7 thousand km2 (August 2008-July 2009), an amazing 74% reduction over 5 years!
|Futuristic water design that would provide water for food in the desert, featured in The Guardian in 2008. Photograph: Exploration Architecture.|
“What are the new developments in water? Are there new technologies that developing countries could use to bypass expensive and cumbersome systems? What’s the next big thing that could solve the water crisis?” Politicians and the media often ask experts for new ideas to make water “interesting”. Yet, on the whole, water systems constructed today use much of the same technology they did 100 years ago.