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.
Today, three countries – Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States – pledged $280 million to the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund, kicking off a groundbreaking initiative for sustainable forest landscapes.
Their significant commitment to land and forest preservation is important for two reasons.
The new Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes will manage landscapes in a holistic fashion by working across sectors, rather than in “silos.” It also brings in the private sector already in the design phase, recognizing that many private firms are committed to “greening” and securing their supply chains from the impact of climate change.
Last month, I drove through dust on bumpy dirt roads from Nairobi to visit the Oloirowua Primary School in Suswa, 140 kilometers northeast of the Kenya capital. The school sits on the vast savannah near Hell’s Gate National Park, an area with substantial geothermal potential.
At the school, classes are being taught outdoors and kids sit under a few trees with notebooks in their laps. Their old and crumbling school will soon be replaced by a new building that will accommodate 200 students. Their faces light up when they talk about the new school, and I feel thankful for being able to work with projects like this where I see the direct effects of our work on kids’ education.
On the outskirts of Marrakesh’s historic medina, amid bustling construction and new housing developments, the Partnership for Market Readiness’ governing group gathered this month for its final meeting of 2013.
After nearly three years of operation, this group of 30 countries has much to be proud of.
So far, nearly $30 million in grant funding has been allocated to 16 nations to support the design and development of market approaches to greenhouse gas emission reductions. A one-of-a-kind platform to exchange ideas and lessons on market approaches to mitigation has been created. And a technical work program has been launched to support country implementation of critical tools such as data management systems, offset standards, and policy mapping exercises.
Photo courtesy: Priya.Balraju1/Flickr
Many people have voiced pessimism over an international agreement to address climate change since the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen fell short of expectations. The lack of a comprehensive, global effort to curb emissions; the failure by the United States to pass meaningful federal legislation, the continued recession in Europe; and, most recently, the election results in Australia have undermined efforts to put a price on carbon and dampened hope for market-based solutions to climate change.
The somber mood was evident at the Carbon Forum Asia, held in Bangkok between September 24 – 27. But participants at the event also found a glimmer of hope.
This was not the time to discuss the science of climate change, or ways to protect coastal cities against monster storms.
The development experts, journalists, policy wonks and investment professionals who gathered at the Center for Global Development in Washington this week were there to sort out a much thornier issue: How to mobilize and spend the $700 billion or so the world will need annually – above what’s already being spent – to slow and adapt to climate change.
Their consensus: Current levels of public and private finance won’t even begin to do the job.
It is not often that you find Indigenous Peoples from around the world meeting in one of the most important baroque castles of Germany. Perched on a cliff, with a natural moat created by the river Lahn, the castle of Weilburg allows a bird’s eye view of the surrounding forest landscape.
These forests were not always lush and thriving. Centuries before, the construction of the castle led to massive logging in the adjacent forests and finally the ruling aristocrat ordered restricted use of timber for construction and introduced a new building code. As a result, Weilburg became the national center of a novel construction technique using clay and straw, which is now seen in towns across Germany.
Coincidently, a new approach to tackling deforestation is also what 80 Indigenous Peoples’ leaders, government representatives, civil society practitioners and international experts from 24 countries discussed this week at a three day workshop in Weilburg’s castle.
The central challenge was to identify practical approaches to ensure the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples in REDD+, a performance-based mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The meeting was jointly organized by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the UN-REDD Programme.
One key to addressing climate change is attracting private capital to finance low-carbon sustainable development. For 2013, the World Bank estimates over US$1 trillion will flow to developing countries from private sources. In order to increase capital flows to finance low-carbon investment, many forms of innovation are needed. One source of innovation could come in the shape of results-based finance (RBF). RBF, also known as pay-for-performance, was pioneered in the health sector and serves as the backbone of anticipated payments for protecting forests. It is increasingly being considered as a means for financing the adoption of low-carbon development pathways and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions abatement. RBF provides payments for success, and only upon the delivery of pre-defined, verified results.
To see how such a results-based approach to mobilizing private sector funding could work in methane reduction, the World Bank convened - at the request of the G8 - a dedicated study group which looked at the role that pay-for-performance mechanisms could play. The resulting report from the methane finance study group found that, when implemented, pay-for-performance provided by a credit-worthy third party can be a powerful catalyst for private investment. There is potentially much wider scope for the use of pay-for-performance mechanism in climate finance for its deployment to target other GHGs in addition to methane.
Since the launch in 2008, the World Bank’s green bonds have grown quickly and reached an important milestone in August. Earlier, this month, the World Bank launched a US$550 million green bond bumping the total amount of World Bank green bonds issued to over $4 billion dollars since the green bond program began. This milestone prompted us to pause and take stock of the program and the new market it helped start.
As countries move toward a low-carbon, climate resilient future, the appetite for innovative climate finance is growing. One way to fill this financing need is through the capital markets. The World Bank’s green bonds, first launched in 2008, have been recognized as a catalyst for the growing market of climate bonds. This market is on its way to becoming an important source of funding for countries looking to grow in a clean and sustainable manner. A sampling of expected project results – over 165,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emission reduction benefits per year in Belarus, and 800,000 tons per year in China, reducing vulnerability to climate-related flooding and water scarcity flood events for about 500,000 farmer households in Indonesia, and producing 6MWhs of electricity out of a landfill in Jordan – highlights the crucial role green bonds and other innovative funding mechanisms could play in financing the fight against climate change.
The World Bank started issuing green bonds in 2008, responding to a group of Scandinavian pension funds interested in supporting activities that address mitigation and adaptation to climate. Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) was the lead manager of this inaugural green bond.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy demand is likely to grow by more than one-third between now and 2035. Mobilizing investment capital is one major task. Additionally, energy infrastructure such as electric power facilities has a long time span – up to 40 or 50 years in the case of base-load nuclear or coal plants. As the new Growing Green report, released by the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia Region, points out, with such a long time span and the enormous amount of capital at stake, power sector investments need to consider at least three types of uncertainties—changing regulations, changing technology, and changing climatic conditions.
Regulatory uncertainty persists in countries without formal greenhouse gas emission restrictions. Even in the EU, the emissions trading system is still evolving and future prices for carbon emissions will in large part depend on political decisions. Such schemes may spread to other parts of Europe and Central Asia as the implications of climate change become more apparent and support for climate action rises. A price on carbon, either through a cap-and-trade sys¬tem or a tax, can profoundly alter the comparative economics of different power generation technologies. With a price on carbon emissions, the cost differential between fossil-fuel plants and low-carbon alternatives shrinks and in some cases disappears.
Many international firms and banks already incorporate an assumed carbon price into their financial investment feasibility calculations. Expectations of future carbon pricing have already altered investment decisions favoring natural gas over coal-fired power plants in the U.S. (although more recently the drop in gas prices has been a larger factor). Conversely, regulatory uncertainty also hinders investments in low-carbon generation. The IEA estimates (pdf) that uncertainty in climate change policy might add a risk premium of up to 40 percent to such investments, driving up consumer prices by 10 percent.