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Environment

A tribute to John Hoffman, an unsung champion of the global environment

Alan Miller's picture

The accomplishments of mid-level bureaucrats, particularly in this time of anti-government sentiment, are rarely celebrated. It was therefore striking to see major newspapers devote significant space to obituaries for John Hoffman, a long-time friend and former colleague who did as much as any one individual I know to design and implement measures to protect the global environment.

I first met John as a young lawyer in the late 1970s, while working on the then new issue of ozone depletion – he for US EPA, me for an environmental advocacy group. We quickly became close confidants working to leverage a unilateral US phase-out of CFCs to achieve an effective international agreement, the Montreal Protocol (recently celebrated at events hosted by the World Bank).

Before almost anyone, he saw the linkages between ozone depletion and climate change, and used his office to produce the first major government report on climate policy – “Can We Delay a Greenhouse Warming?” – in 1983. He was equally adept at highly technical matters such as the creation of a single metric for comparing the impact of ozone depleting substances and policy issues such as the design of environmental regulations. 

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.

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.

Buying time as the climate clock ticks on

Mary Barton-Dock's picture

 

We’ve all had our moments of frustration with the unending negotiations on mechanisms to control carbon dioxide emissions. In the last Conference of Parties held at Durban in 2011, it was decided that the global deal for the post Kyoto framework will only be reached by 2015.

Meanwhile, the climate clock is ticking: countries continue to face the impacts of climate change with the poorest being hardest hit. Science has shed the spotlight on a “parallel track” which could help us deal with part of the climate change problem in a faster, cheaper way – it is tackling short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), primarily black carbon, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

These pollutants, while being extremely potent in terms of their global warming potential are short-lived in the atmosphere. For example, black carbon persists in the atmosphere for about two weeks (compared to CO2 that lives for up to 100 years) and is 917 times more warming than CO2 over a 100 year timeframe (and 3,320 times over 20 years).So, action on SCLPs can help buy time in addressing the more important and longer-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Talking about climate change in a new language

Ana Bucher's picture

 

Apps for Climate winners at the Newseum during the Connecting for Climate event. Photos: Leigh Vogel/Connect4Climate

Last week, I was at the Newseum – a place in the heart of Washington DC where cutting edge communication is celebrated and experienced. We were talking about climate change but we used the language of music and creativity. 

More than 400 policy makers, NGOs, journalists and software developers had come together to celebrate the winning entries of the first "Apps for Climate" competition and the launch of a new Voices4Climate competition - Connect4Climate’s new global competition for photos, videos, and music in partnership with MTV.

It was a vibrant event full of music, videos and the enchanting demonstration of “Technology, Creativity, and Action”. Andres Martinez, a young software developer from Argentina was the lucky winner of the night and the creator of EcoFacts, a web tool that shows in an innovative way energy consumption in terms of emissions of CO2 and how small individual actions can help lower your carbon footprint. It answers questions like: what happens if people turn off a light bulb, travel more by train or bicycles, or use alternative energy systems?

Farewell World Bank. You’re on the Right track. And you have a Big Job Ahead!

Andrew Steer's picture


Andrew Steer in Indonesia

Today is my final day at the World Bank.

When I first entered the doors of 1818 H Street three decades and seven Presidents ago, the big buzz in the cafeteria was Cost Benefit Analysis and Basic Needs. President McNamara had  demanded that every project document identify in detail how many of the poorest 25% it would directly and indirectly benefit, and how. The secret to rapid career progress was expertise in shadow pricing (which was appropriate in light of the massive distortions in goods, labor, currency and capital markets in most of our client countries).

But those shadow prices certainly didn’t include the value of environmental externalities. The entire cadre of environmental specialists for the whole institution consisted of one person. (It wasn’t me.)

Last week at the Rio+20 Conference I met up with an old friend, Emil Salim, who for many years was the longest serving Environment Minister in the World, and is still, well into his eighties,  chief environmental advisor to President Yudhoyono of Indonesia. We reminisced about a meeting he and I were at in 1982, when he asked the President of the World Bank for help in dealing with the acute environmental problems associated with Indonesia’s rapid growth. The polite reply he received was “The World Bank is a development agency, not an environment organization. We don’t do this kind of work.”

The wisdom of children...and prophets

Andrew Steer's picture

UN Photo/Maria Elisa Franco

We’re changing planes in Panama on our way to the Rio+20 Earth Summit.  As we taxi out to take off the pilot tells us that we’ll need to wait for 15 minutes while we burn off 300 pounds of fuel, since the plane may be too heavy to take off.

My 11 year-old daughter, who is sitting next to me, says “Isn’t this very silly? It’s wasteful and bad for the climate. Why do they do it?” 

We’ve brought Charlotte, together with her 10 year old brother, Ben, on this trip so they can see how country leaders struggle with the big issues, and also because they ask the right questions, and help keep us grounded. I explained to her that the fuel on international flights is totally untaxed by international agreement, and that subsidies on fossil fuels amount to over $400 billion each year, including over $70 billion in rich countries. And that governments spend more than 20 times more paying people to consume more fossil fuels than they spend on research to develop renewable energy.

“That’s stupid”, says Ben, who is not as polite as his sister. It’s like telling your kids not to smoke, and then paying them each time you see them smoking.

They’re right, of course. And one of the rare bright spots in Rio was the airtime given to fossil subsidies by civil society and the private sector. The B20 (the business shadow of the G20) Working Group on Green Growth, of which I am a member, urged G20 leaders to publish subsidy levels each year, and set a time-bound schedule for their elimination. Not so easy for political leaders to grasp this nettle, of course, having seen several countries, most recently Nigeria, find their efforts to raise energy prices hit with violent opposition. I discussed with Charlotte how smart politicians, such as in Indonesia and Iran, have found ways to use a share of the revenues saved to provide cash compensation to the poor. “Makes sense”, she said.

What a waste in a changing climate

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Let’s talk trash, just for a few minutes. In the time it takes you to read this pithy blog, more than 14,000 tonnes of waste will be generated: that’s enough to fill the Pentagon in less than a day. More than 1.5 billion tonnes of trash will be generated this year alone. And if you’re inclined to read this blog again in 2025, the amount will have increased to 23,000 tonnes. The annual trash generated at that time will be more than 2.2 billion tonnes a year. That’s enough garbage to fill the Roman Coliseum 730 times, or a line of garbage trucks 900,000 km long, 23 times around the world. Last week’s release of What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management summarizes the issue.

Our cities generate enormous amounts of waste, and they’re just getting started – volumes will likely to increase beyond 2100, and we should plan for about a peak volume, four times what we have today. In today’s dollars, annual waste management costs will eventually exceed $1 trillion, and this cost is almost entirely borne by cities (this amount, for example, eclipses any sort of financial contributions to deal with climate change now being discussed within UNFCCC negotiations). Clearly we have a problem. But why is this particularly relevant to the climate change community?

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