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.
Three global leaders coming together to deal with climate change was the headline grabbing moment for the recent C40 summit in Sao Paulo (read A tale of three men and 40 cities). Away from the cameras and sound bites was a field trip to Heliopolis, one of Sao Paulo’s biggest slums to drive home the messages that were being discussed in the conference.
As our bus convoy reached the construction site of Heliopolis, we saw round buildings resembling refinery towers. These were brand new apartment buildings for hundreds of Sao Paulo residents who currently live in the Heliopolis slum without proper access to basic services.
And while the round design of the buildings was eye-catching, the real catch is the way this project is being financed: A good portion of the finance comes from carbon finance credits that the city gets through a waste recycling project called Bandeirantes Landfill Gas to Energy Project (BLFGE) in which the methane of biomass waste (which accounts for 60% of Brazilian waste) is converted into energy. This way of generating energy qualifies for carbon credits.
Driving through Sao Paulo yesterday, I was struck by the power of cities. While cities are part of the climate change problem, they need to be part of the solution too. They are bigger and more energized than any individual or organization. Cities push and cajole; and cities act. Cities are where it all comes together.
Even more so when former President Bill Clinton, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined forces in Sao Paulo. The accomplished gentlemen born less than a dozen years and 1,500 miles apart spoke and fielded questions with a worldly and gracious informality. The pleasant exchanges sat in contrast to the underlying gravity of their mission. Together they have determined to access their considerable resources to tackle one of the biggest challenges they’ve ever faced: climate change.
The location for the partnership launch is telling. With Mayor Kassab of Sao Paulo hosting this week’s C40 Large Cities Summit everyone reinforced the need for cities to be in this fight. C40 is a group of mayors of major cities of the world responsible for 12% of global emissions. It is not hard to imagine that the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost in our cities.
On behalf of the World Bank, President Zoellick and Mayor Bloomberg, representing the world’s most influential cities as Chair of C40, signed a Partnership MOU outlining how the two organizations will work more closely together and provide focused support to cities. The MOU outlines common tools and metrics, city- tailored finance, and enhanced city-to-city learning.
If you are in a forest in Ecuador and see indigenous communities standing with an android phone, a measuring tape and a good pair of boots, don’t be surprised. These ‘indigenous forest carbon monitors’ have been trained to collect field data by measuring a 40m x 40m sample plot. They align the center of the square plot with a GPS coordinate associated with the center of a satellite footprint, and measure the diameter of the trees in the plot. Once the measurements of the trees are determined, they are sent via phone to scientists who use satellite images – and now even images available on Google Earth – to estimate the amount of carbon stored in forests.
These communities can efficiently traverse terrain that is typically inaccessible to foreign technicians. The result is better forest carbon density maps that can determine changes in the amount of forest carbon present over time.
With the cutting and burning of trees contributing to about 15% of global carbon dioxide emissions, any realistic plan to reduce global warming pollution sufficiently – and in time to avoid dangerous consequences – must rely in part on preserving tropical forests.
A critical part of ensuring that the rate of deforestation is decreasing - and the part where skeptics are most vocal - is monitoring, reporting, and verifying (MRV) the area and density of forests. The MRV process measures the amount of carbon stored in a forest, and also helps make sure that further deforestation and degradation do not occur. It also requires both modern technology and old fashioned boots on the ground.
|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!
Carbon governance—the institutional arrangements in place for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions—can vary considerably across countries. In Brazil, the financial community is actively interested in carbon trading, but Chinese banks have hardly any interest in it. In India, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) market is developed almost uniquely by domestic companies, while China relies extensively on foreign firms. And while the Chinese government takes an active interest in providing capacity to project developers, the Brazilian authorities see their role uniquely as guarantors of environmental integrity of emissions reductions projects. So, if carbon is the same everywhere, why is carbon governance so incredibly varied?
|An IFC investment helps provide clean, affordable water to underserved communities in developing countries.|
Many of the measures proposed in the World Development Report (WDR) 2010 will require substantial engagement with the private sector. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has estimated that more than 80 percent of the investment required for climate change mitigation and adaptation will have to be privately financed. For this to happen, the key requirement will be meaningful targets and supportive public policies.
One area in which private initiative will be critical is in the development and dissemination of new climate friendly technology. As the advance edition of the WDR states, "Technological innovation and its associated institutional adjustments are key to managing climate change at reasonable cost. . . . Mobilizing technology and fostering innovation on an adequate scale will require that countries not only cooperate and pool their resources but also craft domestic policies that promote a supportive knowledge infrastructure and business environment."
For several reasons, an increased focus on accelerating new technology is urgently needed.
Written with Paulo Nobre
Both authors are with the Center for Earth System Science, INPE, Brazil
At present, there are a number of early warning systems based on seasonal-to-interannual climate forecasts in several countries (for example, Ogalo et al., 2008). These systems are based on the use of available monitoring data and state-of-the art climate models. Both observations and model-based predictions are analyzed by climatologists to predict climate anomalies one or two seasons ahead.
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
Much of the success of such short-term climate predictions is based on the ability of current climate models to predict the evolution of the coupled tropical upper ocean-atmosphere state over seasons. The best example of this is the prediction of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episodes.
Such climate predictions have been used in an array of applications, ranging from seasonal rainfall predictions guiding agriculture, fisheries, and water resources to natural hazards and health applications (Meza and Osgood, 2008; Abawi et al., 2008; Connor et al., 2008).
A year ago I was assigned from a World Bank operations team providing support to countries in Europe and Central Asia on energy, climate mitigation and adaptation to work in a Bank administered trust fund, the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), as a thematic coordinator for energy and climate change in this program. One of my roles is to coordinate a program that is providing support to six emerging economies—Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa—that are proactively seeking to identify opportunities and related financial, technical and policy requirements to move towards a low carbon growth path.
The program has been underway for two years and individual country studies have been managed by World Bank operational teams. The governments of these countries have initiated country-specific studies to assess their goals and development priorities, in conjunction with greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation opportunities, and examine the additional costs and benefits of lower carbon growth. This requires analysis of various development pathways—policy and investment options that contribute to growth and development objectives while moderating increases in GHG emissions.