A world of action in Cancun: Don't listen to your grandma


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Negotiators have worked through the past three nights in search of agreements that all nations can sign up to (see my last blog).  At 3 am this morning they reached consensus on a package of decisions that represents progress in the journey towards a global deal.


But most of those in Cancun have more down-to-earth reasons for being here.  They’re here to initiate action – to share experiences, learn from best practice, forge new partnerships, and launch new programs.


Here’s a sample from the past 48 hours of some of the action that we’ve been moving forward, when many heads of state, ministers and global leaders such as Ban Ki Moon and Bob Zoellick were in town.


Developing Countries push the frontiers on Carbon Markets:

A new Partnership of Market Readiness was launched by the World Bank and by ministers from 15 countries  with the purpose of supporting innovation in developing nations on market based instruments. Countries like China, Chile, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Ukraine and many others – are introducing their own market based instruments. This new facility – now US$30 million but expected to rise to US$100 million – will provide technical support to these efforts, and seek to share practical lessons for others to follow.


This is part of a much bigger movement on carbon markets here in Cancun. The Clean Development Mechanism is in need of reform so that transactions costs are reduced and low income countries get better access to funds. [So far around US$25 billion has flowed to developing countries through carbon markets, but only 2% of this goes to Africa.] The High level Advisory Group on Finance  estimates that US$30-50 billion could flow annually to developing countries through the offset markets by 2020 with moderate progress in policies. The fact that so many leading developing countries are now creating their own internal markets could help hugely in driving down the cost of mitigation, bringing in new technology and, over time,  building a linked global market


Negotiators at Cancun. Photo by IISD


 Soil Carbon – the Next Big Thing.

Three years ago many believed that including forests in carbon markets raised too many complex issues to be feasible. Hard work and piloting since then has shown that it is possible, and the REDD+ partnership  is up and running and we are not far from the formal inclusion in offset markets.


We now need to do the same for agriculture, which currently accounts for 14% of GHG emissions, but which with the right interventions can in many contexts become a net “sequesterer” of carbon. 


Yesterday in Cancun a group of leaders—including Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia, Bob Zoellick of the World Bank, the US Secretary of Agriculture, and ministers from Vietnam, Uruguay, Norway and the Netherlands announced their commitment to invest in climate smart agriculture, and to help move forward the “triple win” in agriculture – investments that improve yields, improve climate resilience, and sequester more carbon in the soil. This builds upon a major international conference in The Hague last month, at which 100 countries and 70 ministers prepared the Roadmap for Action.  Yesterday, Vietnam agreed to host a major ministerial meeting in 2012 at which the actions taken under the Roadmap will be evaluated, and the next phase launched.  


Small Island States – It’s not just adaptation, silly.

Everybody agrees that the SIDS should be at the front of the queue for adaptation money. But they are also worthy recipients for help for renewable energy. Most of the 43 members of the Association of Small Island States AOSIS  have very high fuel import bills, and the price of electricity is often very high (sometimes exceeding 50 cents/ KWh) due to low scale. In such circumstances renewable energy is an obvious solution, but again due to small size and low capacity they aren’t getting much access to financing for this purpose.


This is likely to change under a new AOSIS renewable energy program, launched yesterday and to be jointly administered by the World Bank and UNDP. Its purpose is to support AOSIS members “dock into” climate finance and technical assistance for renewable energy. Initially financed by Denmark, additional donors are expected to join, building capacity to scale up RE.  This in turn will reduce large fuel import bills enabling small islands to allocate more funds to adaptation and other needs.World Bank President Robert Zoellick in Cancun. Photo by IISD


Climate Finance at Scale – Today! 

While negotiators are trying to find common ground on the design of a new Green Fund, a major event hosted by the Mexican Government pointed out that the Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) are already up-and-running.


The CIFs should be watched closely for lessons for design of the new global climate fund. The CIFs are governed by the same 50-50 (developing-contributing countries) structure recommended in Copenhagen.


Just two years after their creation, the US$6.4 billion funds are operating in 45 countries, and are expected to leverage a total of over US$50 billion in clean technology and climate resilient investments.  Mexico was the earliest leader in calling for a global fund for climate change, and President Calderon and his Ministers of Finance and Energy addressed delegates, pointing to the transformative investments that the CIFs are supporting in Mexico. They were joined by presidents of the World Bank and Regional Development Banks (which jointly manage the funds), and by Ministers from Morocco and Zambia.


Morocco is part of the US$6 billion solar energy program in North Africa  that will more than double the total installed capacity of Concentrated Solar Power within the developing world – enabling these countries to extend electricity access, and sell power to Europe. And Zambia is being supported by the CIFs in its economy-wide adaptation program.


No Time for Patience

Your Grandma no doubt told you that patience is a virtue. Don’t believe her. When climate change threatens to steal the future, we need to act now. Developing countries urgently need a strong comprehensive global deal on climate. But they’re not waiting for it.    


Andrew Steer

President and CEO, WRI

Join the Conversation

Michael Levitsky
December 13, 2010

My grandmother also told me: "He who hesitates is lost".

The global community needs to move on and decide before it is too late on climate change.

Jorge Escurra
December 13, 2010

In my opinion, the key for a success global deal in climate change is just not agreeing in the action plan. It is also consider a consensus of the knowledge and methodology to elaborate that action plan.

Lloyd Helferty
December 21, 2010

And BIOCHAR could be a KEY TOOL to help make it happen, because Biochar is the key to creating "MEASURABLE OFFSETS" -- i.e. one does not need to "guess" how much Biochar is being produced and sequestered into the soil -- one can actually weigh it on a scale before sequestering that carbon in the soil and can know exactly how much carbon is being sequestered with a very high level of confidence.

And sequestering GOOD biochar should be good for the soils -- and could deal with some of the enormous "waste" biomass issues that will come as a result of the massive scaling-up of the biofuels (ethanol) industry. (The bagasse that results from the process of refining biofeedstocks for ethanol can create huge disposal problems and is generally left to rot or is landfilled -- it could be turned into liquid Bio-oils and Biochar through pyrolysis instead. The bio-oils are a fuel, the Biochar can be sequestered in soils and improve crop productivity by helping to reduce agricultural water usage, improve nutrient cycling and hopefully also help to reduce the amount of agrochemicals needed by farmers, thus helping to reduce the costs of growing biofuels.)

The "Agave Project" in Mexico is one example of such a win-win-win scenario:
The National Confederation of Forestry Producers in Mexico (CONOSIL) plans to produce one billion tonnes of dry biomass (using a non-GMO enhanced agave variety**) on 20 million hectares of land in Mexico.
** Their carefully bred and selected ultra-high-density agave is capable of producing 3X more sugars than sugarcane, 4X more cellulose than the fastest growing eucalyptus and 5X more biomass than the GMO poplar tree designed in the USA for cellulosic biofuels production, and can yield up to 10,000 gallons of ethanol per hectare every year.
Agave can also be grown on semiarid marginal land in acidic, saline or steep soils, needs no watering (200mm a year will suffice), no agrochemicals (agave captures N from air), is very easy to cultivate and has a very low cost of production (around one thousand US dollars per hectare per year).
Some of the bioproducts that can be produced from Agave also include ethanol, biodiesel, biocoal, biooil, jet-fuel, green gasoline, syngas, hydrogen, methanol, inulin, fructose syrup, bioplastics, insulation foam, glue, pressed boards, geotextiles, composite materials, long fibres for ropes, biopolymers, wax, concrete additives, detergents, nutraceutics, prebiotics, dietetic sugars, phenols -- and of course Biochar, which can be sequestered in soil and create enormous carbon offsets while simultaneously increasing the productivity of the soil.

The CONOSIL growers are part of the National Confederation of Forestry Producers of Mexico, which has over six hundred and seventy thousand registered members -- all legal land owners. They already have plans to establish as many large agave plantations as possible ASAP so in 4 to 5 years there will be plenty of agave bagasse for producing Biochar. Their most recent Agave and Biofuels Workshop attracted experts from 5 Countries on 5 continents (including Brazil and Africa -- where there is a possibility for developing agave plantations in the Sahel).

Private investors are now needed to make this a reality, because this project now needs a concerted effort from many sides to make it happen -- plus a fair bit of cash to support the people managing the project.
The goal was to make an announcement in time for COP16, but with the successful creation of a US$200 billion a year "Climate Fund" to help with "adaptation and mitigation" in developing countries, we hope to be able to make the BIG announcement in Durban, South Africa at the end of next year.

So, yes Soil Carbon is definitely "the Next Big Thing" -- and could have worldwide implications -- not the least of which for the climate, but also for Global energy security. And Biochar for soils will be the key that can make it happen.

Lloyd Helferty, Engineering Technologist
Principal, Biochar Consulting (Canada)