It has been a fascinating time to be in the United States and watch as the media and American public were transfixed by Catholic Pope Francis’ whirlwind three city sojourn to Washington DC, New York City and finally Philadelphia.
It was a trip of firsts. Pope Francis became the first Pope to address a joint session of the US Congress and then a day later marking another first in addressing the UN General Assembly just before member states unanimously adopted Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It was fitting and profound to have the Pope frame the global goals’ agenda with his remarks, since in many ways his recently released encyclical, Laudato Si, embodies the integrated and indivisible nature of the sustainable development agenda.
It puts both environmental protection and social inclusion as part and parcel to ending poverty and extending dignity instead of being an add-on or at worst an afterthought.
Many of my compatriots in Poland, where over 90 percent of power generation comes from burning coal, are concerned that the EU climate policy is a risky outlier.
They worry that the EU Emissions Trading System may expose domestic industry to unfair competitition and cause companies to move production to countries where emission costs are lower, something called “leakage”.
The two reports recently released by the World Bank may change this perception.
This week, the World Bank Group released the latest version of our annual State and Trends of Carbon Pricing report. It reports that today,
This represents the equivalent of about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 12 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
This weekend, the leaders of the G7 committed to a series of actions that mark their first serious recognition of the economic transformation that is ahead of us.
Collectively, they recognized the need to decarbonize the global economy, enshrining in economic cooperation what the scientists in the IPCC told us last year in their Fifth Assessment Report. They called for ambition at the Paris climate talks this year – not new, but they recognized that they, individually and collectively, need to be in the upper part of the ambition bracket and that that means at least a “transformation of the energy sector by 2050.”
They talked about the mobilization of capital for this transformation, as well as ending the increasingly profligate use of harmful fossil fuel subsidies. Recognizing the need for an orderly transition to low-carbon growth as quickly and as smoothly as possible, they took on some degree of leadership around the pledge to provide $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries from public and private sources before 2020. More on that in a moment.
The Canadian Province of Ontario announced last month that it would join California and Quebec in linking their cap-and-trade programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The move was met with approval by carbon market watchers, as local governments showed how they could avoid the lengthy political battles sometimes faced by national governments preparing submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
At a time when governments are looking for ambition, could this sort of local government action be the start of something much bigger?
Last week, I attended the Navigating the American Carbon World (NACW) event in Los Angeles to explore whether the momentum we are seeing to price carbon is evident on the ground. I found a lot of local government leadership on climate change.
The past five weeks have given us what may be defining moments on the road to a Paris agreement that will lay a foundation for a future climate regime.
- On October 23, European Union leaders committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 and increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use by at least 27 percent by 2030.
- On November 12, during the APEC Summit in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Barack Obama jointly announced their post-2020 climate mitigation targets: China intends to achieve peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with best efforts to peak as early as possible, and increase its non-fossil fuel share of all energy to 20 percent by 2030; and the U.S. agreed to cut emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
- On November 20, at the donor conference in Berlin, led by the U.S., Germany, and others, donors pledged about US$9.3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
China’s announcement in particular is considered by many to be a game changer. China, the world’s biggest emitter with its emissions accounting for more than 27 percent of the global emissions, is setting an example for other major developing countries to put forward quantifiable emission targets. The announcement will hopefully also brush away the “China excuse,” used by some developed countries that have avoided commitments on the grounds that China was not part of action under the Kyoto targets.
Vikram Widge heads the World Bank Group’s Climate and Carbon Finance Unit. He spoke from the UN Climate Summit about the new Pilot Auction Facility for Methane and Climate Mitigation (PAF).
Q. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Swedish Energy Agency just pledged $15 million each for the design of a new facility called the Pilot Auction Facility for Methane and Climate Mitigation. What is the PAF?
The World Bank Group is designing a new climate finance pilot that will support emission reductions in developing countries. Because of limited public resources available for climate investment, this facility leverages private capital to support projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are at risk of being decommissioned due to the low price for carbon credits today.
The facility tests an innovative contract structure by offering put options through an auction to guarantee a minimum price for carbon credits that a project will generate, which gives private-sector buyers, such as projects developers and intermediaries, the security of knowing that they will be paid for investments they make to lower emissions.
Anthony Earley is the chairman and CEO of PG&E Corporation, the parent company of Pacific Gas and Electric. He spoke ahead of the UN Secretary-General's Climate Leadership Summit about the importance of California's climate policies and carbon pricing in encouraging a shift to clean energy solutions.
A dangerously warming planet is not just an environmental challenge – it is a fundamental threat to efforts to end poverty, and it threatens to put prosperity out of the reach of millions of people. Read the recent Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change if you need further evidence.
If we agree it is an economic problem, what do we do about it? There is general agreement among economists that a robust price on carbon is a key part of effective strategies to avert dangerous climate change. A strong price signal directs finance away from fossil fuels and toward a suite of cleaner, more efficient alternatives.
This logic is not lost on governments and companies. Momentum is building around the globe to put a price on carbon. Consider these facts:
Packing an extraordinary amount of energy in little space, fossil fuels helped propel human development to levels undreamed of before the Industrial Revolution, from synthesizing fertilizers to powering space flight. But alongside energy, they produce health-damaging air pollutants and greenhouse gases.
Today, greenhouse gas emissions are higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years and rising, causing climate changes that threaten to reverse decades of development gains. Disruption of livelihoods, loss of food security, loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, breakdown of infrastructure, threats to global security: these are just a few of the risks identified in recent scientific reports.
In the absence of technology to permanently remove greenhouse gases and restore atmospheric concentration to safe levels, there is only one realistic solution: limiting additional emissions. It is estimated that to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change, over the next few decades we can at most emit a quantity equal to about 20 percent of total proven fossil fuel reserves.
Given fossil fuels’ omnipresence in our economies and lives, leaving them in the ground will have important implications, starting with the value of the very assets.