UN Climate change negotiations: a difficult start on a 2 year road

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The first round of the United Nations climate change negotiations took place in Bonn two weeks ago. The importance of this gathering of UN Member State climate delegates cannot be understated as it aimed to set the tone of climate negotiations for the next 2 years. Indeed, this meeting allowed negotiators to lay down their positions in the lead up to the December 2015 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), for which international leaders are expected to gather in Paris to sign a global agreement on climate change.  Highlighting achievements in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy, this March meeting also helped to reveal some conflicting positions on what the structure of the future agreement should look like. With this in mind, and to understand the seriousness of the issue of climate change, let us first consider some key facts.

Some key facts on climate change

Here are some findings contained in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the authoritative international scientific body on climate science) released in October 2013:

–          We now have near certainty (95% likely) of mankind’s responsibility for severe global warming over the last 60 years;

–          The climate experts in this edition of the 2013 document revised their  conservative estimates from 2007 that sea level rise for the end of this century would range from 18 cm to 59 cm to state that they now could range between 29 cm and 82 cm! These rapid increases in sea level rise have dangerous implications for the Caribbean that not only includes loss of coastal land and adjunct agricultural resources, but also associated contamination of freshwater sources

For more information please visit our DREFF blog on this issue dated October 2, 2013 – available here.

shutterstock_153806906_smallGlobal warming could lead to a rise in global temperate beyond 3.5-4 degrees Celsius. But what effect does this have on the economy of developing countries?

–          A recent UN report entitled “Africa’s Adaptation Gap“, confirms that Africa’s Climate Adaptation costs could soar to $350 Billion annually by 2070 if we continue emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and global warming hits 3.5-4°C.

–          In comparison, were the climate targets to be met and global temperatures only increase by 1.5 -2°C, then the cost would be around $150 billion lower per year!

For more information about this issue please visit the DREFF blog post on this issue dated November 29, 2013 – available here.

These facts therefore reinforce the importance of the UNFCCC, as a forum for achieving international climate change policy. But how effective was the meeting as delegates assembled on the 20th Anniversary of the entry into force of the framework convention?

On renewable energy and  energy efficiency

The key focus of the Bonn Meeting was renewable energy and energy efficiency:

Renewable energy: So far over 100 countries, including all the major economies, have set renewable energy targets, while over 120 countries have put in place policies promoting renewable energy. As confirmed by the IPCC, 80% of the world’s energy supply could be met with renewable energy by 2050;

Energy Efficiency: Energy efficiency covers a broad range of issues across practically all sectors of the economy. The introduction of innovative policies that put a price on carbon, such as emissions trading and carbon taxes are a major driver of energy efficiency. As demonstrated in a previous GRT blog post (available here), China has implemented several pilot projects and approaches to explore carbon market opportunities, with a view to implementing national carbon trading.

Given this commitment, it is encouraging to note there was a strong desire by Member States to including obligations in these fields in the 2015 agreement.

On cooperation

The negotiations also helped reveal a common understanding by governments that effective policy making, in the field of climate change, is only possible if they engage the whole field of stakeholders that include national and regional governments, civil society, industry and the private sector.

Indeed, the importance for countries like China and the US to reach a bilateral agreement on how to reduce their GHG emissions was recently emphasized by the World Resources Institute as it reported that China accounted for 23 per cent of total GHG emissions in 2010, while the second-largest source, the US, was responsible for 15 per cent. This means that any agreement between the world’s two largest polluters would in fact be sufficient to lead us towards a more effective international agreement (for more information please click here.)

That being said, despite having defined some clear priority areas, the meeting did reveal wide disagreements on the actual structure of the 2015 agreement and the level of responsibility each country should bear.

On regional expectations about the structure of the 2015 agreement

shutterstock_110700254_smallThe group of 77 and China believed that the draft agreement should reflect the principles of the UNFCCC, noting that in their capacity as developing countries they should be treated according to different rules than developed countries.

The opinion coming from some developed states reflected a very different opinion on the matter. Indeed, USA, Japan, and Australia who all three had pulled out of the Kyoto protocol (the agreement providing binding GHG emission limitations) stated flatly that they would not want to see such a “binary” approach reflected in the future agreement.

The discussions in Bonn therefore displayed some very different perspectives on the structure of the 2015 agreement.  Developing countries emphasized that the “intended nationally determined contributions” that Member States agreed to at the last UNFCCC meeting should figure in the 2015 agreement and should represent  contributions that are not only about GHG mitigation, but also involve adaptation policies and financial support.

The date of implementation of the 2015 agreement is set for 2020. However, given the urgent need of states to act before we are faced with irreversible climate change, the negotiators agreed that one track of the Paris negotiations would involve agreements on actions to be implemented in the pre-2020 period.

For more information about these issues please click here.

Conclusion (summary and advice going forward)

The outcome of the UNFCCC meeting in Boon this March, was therefore not all doom and gloom. It revealed significant progress being made on a regional level in key focus areas that include renewable energy and energy efficiency. There is still however, quite a way to go before the Member States manage to agree on the degree of specific commitments that should be included in the Paris agreement in 2015. One thing is for sure however, regardless of their status as developing or developed countries, polluting nations need to take stock of their actions and redirect their support away from the fossil fuel industry towards solutions that will allow a transition to a green economy.

With that in mind it seems appropriate to end this blog with a quote from a report by the International Resource Panel:

“An investment of US $30 billion per year — under seven per cent of the US $480 billion paid in annual global fossil fuel subsidies — in the REDD+ forest conservation initiative can accelerate the global transition to green and sustainable growth and ensure the long-term wellbeing of tens of millions in developing countries”.

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