Climate change in the news (Jan 4 - Jan 8, 2010)
- News Update
As WDR 2010 observes in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 7, "Technological innovation and its associated institutional adjustments are key to managing climate change at reasonable cost." The development as well as diffusion of climate-smart technology was an important part of the debates leading up to Copenhagen. A recent blog by Professor Geoffrey Heal of Columbia University, whose work on climate change damages is referenced in the WDR, addresses this topical and controversial issue. Writing at voxEU.org, a policy portal set up by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, Heal argues that
..."neither costs nor capital requirement will prevent us from decarbonising the electricity supply. The real obstacle to doing this largely with renewables is our current inability to store power, and as long as we cannot store power we will need to use non-renewable sources like nuclear and coal with carbon capture and storage."
Heal's blog can be found at http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/4138.
Friday morning, I braved the snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures and hopped on the train around 7.30 a.m. to avoid what was billed as "extensive delays" as the 119 heads of state would be making their way to the Bella Center.
The main questions on the train were "when does he touch down?", "has he arrived?", and "will he be able to help seal the deal?" And just after 9 a.m., Barack Obama's Air Force One touched down at Copenhagen Airport.
Meanwhile, delegates had been hard at work for much of the night. We understood that 26 ministers met the night between Thursday and Friday, preparing the core document for the leaders.
On Friday we spent a lot of time waiting. First we waited for the Heads of State to take their seats. Word in the corridors had it that they had agreed to 2 degrees, which would imply serious emission reductions, as well as to the provision of long term finance. The issue of whether any agreement on emissions reduction is "MRV-able", i.e. whether emission reductions are monitorable, reportable and verifiable, has been key when it comes to reductions from the economies in transition such as India, China, Brazil, and others. These countries can only accept MRV on the condition that the developed countries make an ambitious and legally binding target for emission reductions. The developed countries, meanwhile, have put serious cash on the table, on the condition that the big emerging economies will commit to MRV. Further, the governance and financial architecture of the resources, should they be realized, remained unclear. The G-77 has pushed direct access to the financial mechanism, as well as for giving the COP the power to appoint the Board for the mechanism, while other countries have been more comfortable drawing on existing financial institutions and mechanisms.
This post was drafted around midnight, Dec 16, 2009. In 48 hours COP-15 will have delivered on its objectives, or perhaps not—by the time you read this, you should know. My message here is that the outcome of global negotiation should not be emphasized so as to divert attention from the core issue, i.e., the policies to be put in place, the resources to be raised, and the politics to be changed, domestically.
I have been blogging these past few days on what people (in our multicountry poll) think of different aspects of the climate change debate. Now I'm turning to what people believe regarding the negotiations. It turns out that most of our roughly 13,000 respondents are happy to see their countries limit GHGs in the context of a deal. This was somewhat expected, although the numbers are striking (and remember that respondents were told in a previous set of questions on 'willingness to pay' that such limits would come at a cost.)
|Photo © iStockPhoto.com|
With only about 36 hours left before the curtain falls on the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, forests have so far been one of the few bright spots. The Parties to the UNFCCC agree on the basic premise that the forests of developing nations ought to play a significant role in a future climate change regime. The activities that would be implemented, monitored and incentivized in a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol are referred to as 'REDD+', which includes reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conserving forests, sustainably managing forests and enhancing forest carbon stocks (code for things like re-vegetation and reforestation).
The three-page framework text on REDD+ likely to be agreed upon in Copenhagen is good. It covers aspects such as the scope of activities, reporting and safeguards. The need to respect the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples is included, which is a marked improvement from Poznan last year when the U.S. received the Fossil of the Day award from Climate Action Network for opposing this inclusion, or Bali two years ago when the launch of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility triggered a protest by some civil society groups. Some sticky points remain, including the details of how to link subnational monitoring and implementation with that at the national level. But, as of Thursday mid-day, the number of brackets in the REDD+ text was significantly lower than in the general text on climate finance.
According to some media reports, Copenhagen is turning into the ultimate ‘numbers game’. Negotiators are scrambling over the pieces of text that remain in parenthesis because they have not yet been agreed upon. Most of these are numbers—medium-term targets for cutting GHG emissions (17%, 20% or 40%), target dates (2020 or 2030), baselines (1990 or 2005) and, of course, money.
Now, the climate change debate has long been about money. A whole body of literature blossomed by trying to assign a cost to mitigation and adaptation actions, usually coming up with guesstimates often expressed in percent of global GDP. For instance, in his Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, estimated that the requirement for additional annual investments equals 2 percent of GDP.
There’s a lot less work, though, on how much we are willing to pay. This gap is striking, given that the consumers and tax payers are those that will ultimately bear the cost of climate mitigation. Climate policy (and climate agreements) will be decided on the basis of what is needed in terms of investments and what is available, which at least in part depends on what the public is willing to contribute. To fill this gap we decided to go ahead and ask people directly, and here are the results.
|Polar Bear spokesman delivers climate message, Copenhagen. Photo ©Alan Miller/ IFC||Media frenzy when police move student demonstrators inside Bella Center. Photo ©Alan Miller/ IFC|
Andrea Liverani has blogged about the fact that in only 8 of 14 countries polled is there a majority of people believing in a scientific consensus around climate change. Yet it turns out that this is a lot less worrisome than those hoping for action on climate change might fear.
In fact, what the poll teaches us is that many people believe that climate change is a serious issue even as they don't believe in a scientific consensus. See the graph below on the left: some 20 to 65 percent believe in the consensus, but in no country do less than 70 percent of those polled think that climate change is serious. Why? I suppose they just see the evidence in their daily lives.
And perhaps even more interesting, in most countries people polled thought their government should do more to combat climate change—even when they did not believe in the scientific consensus. See the graph below on the right: in all but three countries, more than 55 percent of those polled thought their government should do more to combat climate change.
|Photo © iStockPhoto.com|
The weather here is absolutely freezing cold, dark and grey. Although Denmark is my home country, I think my many years in Africa and the Middle East have inoculated me in such a way that my system cannot really take this dreary weather. But it is pretty. There are Christmas lights everywhere and a cheery mood throughout the city—even on the packed Metro in the morning.
So what is this COP 15 all about? And why is it so hard? Getting 192 countries to agree on something is inevitably going to be pretty complicated. And once this involves serious compromises, technology, big bucks, and equity and lifestyle issues, it gets all the more difficult.