Greenhouse Gas Reductions Critical In Battle Against Climate Change
The landmark global climate change deal brokered in Paris cleared an important hurdle this week when it secured enough official support to go into effect, but experts say the biggest hurdle — signatory countries turning their emissions, clean energy and climate adaptation financing goals from mere promises into reality — still lies ahead.
Slowing down construction of coal-fired power stations will be vital to hit globally agreed climate change goals, the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, said as he outlined a five-point plan to flesh out last year’s Paris agreement to reduce CO2 emissions.
Speaking at a climate ministerial meeting in Washington during the bank’s annual meeting, he said there was no prospect of keeping global warming at or below 2C (3.6F) if current plans for coal-fired stations, especially those earmarked for Asia, were built.
“Many countries want to move in the right direction on climate change. We can all help to find renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions that allow them to phase out coal,” Kim said.
The World Bank president said achieving the climate change target required action in five areas. In addition to slowing down growth in coal-fired power stations, Kim said climate ambition needed to be baked into development plans for every developing country. It was important that the $90 billion of planned infrastructure spending over the next 15 years was for low-CO2 and climate-resilient investment.
He called for the ramping up of energy-efficient appliances and less use of hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in air conditioning units. “Phasing down HFCs could prevent close to half a degree of global warming by the end of the century,” he said.
Calls for the greening of finance by the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, were also strongly backed by Kim who said the sector needed to be “fit for purpose to assess climate risks and opportunities.”
Finally, Kim said poor countries needed help to adapt to climate change and to become more resilient. He added that without climate-driven development, climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, and that unless low-income countries in many parts of Africa, south Asia and the Pacific islands were helped all the gains in poverty reduction risked being lost.
Kim said countries needed more efficient water supply systems, climate-smart agriculture, early warning systems, better social protection and a reduction in disaster risk.
“It is our collective responsibility to see the Paris agreement through,” he said. “We cannot afford to lose the momentum. With each passing day, the climate challenge grows. The longest streak of record-warm months has now reached 16 – such heat has never persisted on the planet for so long. The reality is stark. We have a planet that is at serious risk, but our current response is not yet equal to the task.”
Kim said the Paris climate agreement was a “victory for multilateral action and a powerful signal from all corners of the world that there can be no turning back in the battle against climate change.”
The Kilimanjaro region of East Africa is one of the most threatened ecosystems on earth. Millions of people and several endangered species depend on the snows and rains of Kilimanjaro for survival. As land use encroaches further into local forests, water flows are changing and conflicts with wildlife are rising. A nonprofit organization in Tanzania hopes to reverse those trends with a comprehensive forest conservation, reforestation and community-engagement program.
The Mellowswan Foundation Africa-Tanzania will defend the greater Kilimanjaro ecosystem with more than 10 million new seedlings, community engagement, wildlife conservation strategies and more. They will educate local stakeholders about sustainable forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife management. Unlike past reforestation efforts in the region, it will focus on local needs and long-term sustainability. The seedlings are indigenous species that can help restore and protect the integrity of the ecosystem, while helping rural communities thrive as stewards of the land.
Unfortunately, forests across the region are retreating under the pressures of agriculture and communities that depend on firewood.
Climate change is impacting every continent. Deforestation and intensive agriculture are contributing to the problem. Fortunately, forest conservation, reforestation, and sustainable agriculture are part of the solution.
The foundation plans to save wildlife, capture carbon and reduce deforestation on a massive scale. This investment will benefit the entire planet, while preserving a world treasure.
“Cities can help sponsor the program and claim the carbon credits as one of the many benefits,” said Gary Chandler, founder of Sacred Seedlings, a global coalition that promotes forest conservation, reforestation and coexistence with wildlife. “This is much more than a carbon capture program. Our sponsors will help defend entire ecosystems.”
Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs. It’s also promoting sustainable, resilient and livable cities. Please contact Gary Chandler at email@example.com to join our network.
Environmental, Social and Economic Issues Tightly Connected
By Gro Harlem Bruntland
In the early 1990s, when I was Prime Minister of Norway, I once found myself debating sustainable development with an opposition leader who insisted that I tell him the government’s single most important priority in that field. Frustrated, I replied that what he was asking was impossible to answer. I concluded our exchange by explaining why: “Because everything is connected to everything.”
Fortunately, such thinking is now more widely held than it was back then, thanks partly to the human development approach, which emphasizes the complexity of nature and recognizes that one-dimensional solutions cannot address multidimensional problems like those we currently face. Indeed, today’s challenges are seldom simply environmental, social, or economic, and their solutions do not lie within the area of competence of a single government ministry. Without broad, multidisciplinary impact analysis, such narrow thinking can lead to new problems.
This is particularly true of climate change. Fortunately, a growing realization that rising global temperatures are not simply an environmental concern provides reason to hope that world leaders are finally ready to address the problem in an effective way.
In the talks leading up to the Paris climate conference, a consensus emerged that climate change is not only linked to many other major environmental problems (climate, water, soil, and biodiversity are all a part of the same system); it is also intertwined with social and economic challenges, like poverty, sustainable development, and the wellbeing of future generations.
“All too frequently, leaders will concern themselves with matters that are closest at hand, while the most serious issues are often more distant – geographically or in time,” said former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “If we fail to tackle climate change, the worst effects will be suffered by future generations and by poor countries far from global power centers.”
At the same time, it is not only the future that should concern us. As the economists Amartya Sen and Sudhir Anand argued more than a decade ago, “It would be a gross violation of the universalist principle if we were to be obsessed about intergenerational equity without at the same time seizing the problem of intragenerational equity.”
After ignoring the universalist principle for too long, world leaders finally seem to be acknowledging the magnitude of the problem – as well as their responsibilities to people far beyond their immediate electoral constituencies. The climate agreement between the United States and China, announced last year, indicates that one of the major stumbling blocks in the negotiations – the schism between rich and poor countries – is being overcome. With China now working to reverse the growth in its greenhouse-gas emissions, other developing countries will find it increasingly hard to argue against controlling their own emissions.
The European Union continues to set a high bar for action on climate change. Last year, the EU pledged to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 40 percent, relative to 1990 levels, by 2030. By that year, at least 27 percent of the EU’s energy is to come from renewable sources.
The EU’s pioneering carbon-trading scheme is also an important step forward, though emission allowances will have to be cut and the cost of emitting increased if the system is to be effective. Investments in tomorrow’s energy supply and production processes will largely come from the private sector; but it is up to government to develop the institutional and regulatory frameworks that ensure that these investments are allocated in ways that are environmentally sustainable.
Finally, the sharp rise in pledges to the Green Climate Fund indicates a growing recognition of the disproportionate impact of climate change on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Total national contributions have surpassed the preliminary target of $10 billion. Countries such as Mexico, Panama, Indonesia, and Mongolia are now contributors, even if the main responsibility for the problem rests with the world’s major economies.
For billions of people, the stakes could not be higher. In Paris, the UN is promoted the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of global targets that represent a quantum leap forward from their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, in that they embed sustainability in every aspect of policy and practice.
But the SDG targets are unlikely to be met if world leaders are unable to forge a credible accord to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2° Celsius. A stable climate provides the underpinnings for poverty reduction, prosperity, and the rule of law – in short, human development. That, I might have told my opponent a generation ago, is the positive side of everything being connected.
Author: Gro Harlem Brundtland is a former prime minister of Norway and a member of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.
Forced migration and climate change are the biggest risks facing the global economy this decade, according to 750 experts surveyed by the World Economic Forum. The warning was published in the 11th edition of WEF’s Global Risks Report and in advance of the annual gathering of global leaders at Davos next week.
In a bleak assessment published Thursday before next week’s meeting in Davos, the WEF said its survey found that a failure to deal with and prepare for climate change is potentially the most costly risk during the next 10 years, ahead of weapons of mass destruction, water crises, large-scale migration flows and severe energy price shocks.
That’s the first time that an environmental concern has topped the list of global risks of the WEF’s Global Risks Report and comes after what meteorologists say was the hottest year on record.
“Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker social cohesion and increased security risks,” said Cecilia Reyes, chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance, which helped develop the annual Global Risks Report.
The survey of nearly 750 experts and decision-makers from a variety of fields, locations and ages was conducted in the autumn of 2015 before the global warming targets agreed upon in Paris in December.
John Drzik, president of global risk at insurance broker Marsh, which also helped develop the report, conceded that climate change might not have topped the list if the poll had been conducted after the Paris Agreement. The deal saw nearly 200 countries agree to keep global temperatures from rising another degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) between now and 2100.
Drzik said the 2016 report, overall, has the “broadest array” of risks facing the global economy in the survey’s history. However, he noted that the 2008 financial crisis, which saw the collapse of numerous banks and caused the deepest global recession since World War II, may have prompted more immediate damage from a purely economic point of view.
“Events such as Europe’s refugee crisis and terrorist attacks have raised global political instability to its highest level since the Cold War,” Drzik said.
A major concern identified by all involved in the report is the interconnectedness of all the risks.
“We know climate change is exacerbating other risks such as migration and security, but these are by no means the only interconnections that are rapidly evolving to impact societies, often in unpredictable ways,” said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, the WEF’s head of global competitiveness and risks.
Singapore Pays Price For Bungle In Indonesia’s Jungles
Illegal burning of Indonesian rainforest to make room for palm and paper plantations has left neighboring countries choking on smoke. Many hope the latest crisis will lead to stricter policies.
More than a month after uncontrollable wildfires were kindled in Indonesian rainforests to make room for palm and paper plantations, a blanket of smog is choking the region, including the country’s neighbors of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.
The dense cloud of smoke has closed schools, canceled major events, grounded flights, and driven thousands of people to doctors.
Though this is regular occurrence, thanks to paper and palm oil companies that illegally burn down Indonesian rainforest to make room for farmland, this year’s fire is particularly devastating, having reached crisis levels, according to the World Resources Institute. Largely this is due to El Niño-induced drought helping the unrelenting fire spread through Sumatran peatland.
Environmental and public-health advocates from Singapore, Malaysia, and around the world have been sternly calling on the Indonesian government to strengthen its policies on forest fires, pressuring it in September to ratify a 13-year-old regional agreement on cross-border haze.
“Indonesia has already carried out operations for the prevention, mitigation of forest fires and haze, and recovery activities, at the national level,” the country’s parliament said in a statement. “But, to handle cross-border pollution, Indonesia and other Asian nations recognize that prevention and mitigation need to be done together,” it said.
The “together” part might be key, as Greenpeace points out that companies that own plantations on Indonesian islands are not necessarily Indonesian.
“Of course all the fires are coming from Indonesia, but Singapore is enjoying the ‘deforestation economy’ of Indonesia as a financial center,” Bustar Maitar, head of Indonesia Forest Campaign at Greenpeace International told the Times. “And there are many Malaysian palm oil companies operating in Indonesia, and Singaporean companies are there as well,” he pointed out.
Perhaps the latest bout of fires is a tipping point for the southeast-Asian countries. On Wednesday, reports the Times, Singapore’s largest grocery chain, NTUC FairPrice, stopped selling paper products sourced from one of the world’s largest paper and pulp companies: Indonesia’s Asia Pulp and Paper Group.
Singapore last month passed a bill allowing it to fine companies up to $1.6 million for causing or contributing to haze, the Guardian reported, regardless of whether they have an office in the country.
For its part, Indonesia arrested seven people last month whose companies are suspected of starting the fires. They could face 15 years in jail and heavy fines for breaking Indonesian laws that ban starting forest fires.
Six major U.S. banks are urging world leaders to adopt a strong agreement to slash carbon emissions and tackle climate change. The coalition warned in a letter Monday that warming global temperatures and related effects, including sea level rise and severe drought, threaten to upend the global economy and jeopardize future prosperity.
Their message targeted the heads of state and diplomats gathered in New York Monday for the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Climate change is one of the top subjects on the agenda, along with Syria’s civil war, the refugee crisis and the Iran nuclear accord. The U.N. is spearheading negotiations to forge a 195-country climate accord in Paris this December.
Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo called on negotiators to adopt policies that “recognize the cost of carbon” and help “provide greater market certainty, accelerate investment, drive innovation in low carbon energy, and create jobs,” according to the letter published by Ceres, a sustainability advocacy organization.
The banks noted that investments in global energy, water, transportation and urban infrastructure systems are projected to total $90 trillion over the next 15 years — a sum that could include funding for low-carbon alternatives given the right policy signals, according to a 2014 report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an initiative chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
“Businesses across the spectrum are evaluating the risks and opportunities associated with a changing climate,” Mary Wenzel, head of environmental affairs at Wells Fargo, said in a statement. “Strong, long-term policy frameworks can provide the business certainty needed to accelerate innovation and investment.”
The banks’ statement did not explicitly call for a price on carbon dioxide emissions, which proponents say would make it more expensive to burn coal, oil and natural gas and encourage greater investment solar and wind power, electric vehicles, biofuels and other clean energy alternatives. But some financial leaders, including the World Bank, a U.N. financial institution, have repeatedly urged policymakers to put an outright tax on carbon emissions or adopt a cap-and-trade system. China last week announced it would launch the world’s largest cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions from its steel, cement, paper and electric power sectors.
A carbon price is “the most powerful move that a government can make in the fight against climate change and the reengineering of the economy,” Rachel Kyte, a special envoy for climate change at the World Bank, said a year ago at the 2014 Climate Week NYC, an annual forum to promote the business case for a low-carbon economy.
Climate Change Solutions via http://www.ibtimes.com/six-major-us-banks-urge-global-leaders-adopt-climate-change-agreement-2116755
After the storm, after the flooding, after the investigations, the US came to realize that what happened to New Orleans on August 29, 2005 was not a natural disaster. The levee system built by the US Army Corps of Engineers had structural flaws, and those flaws were awaiting the right circumstances. In that way, what happened was all but inevitable.
And just as the storm is not to blame, New Orleans is not unique in its vulnerability. The city endured a lot of scolding in the aftermath of Katrina, as if the storm was the climax to a parable about poor urban planning. Sure, the city sits below sea level, at the end of hurricane alley, and relies heavily on an elaborate (and delicate) system of infrastructure. But where the city’s geography is unique, its vulnerability is anything but. Just about every coastal city, state, or region is sitting on a similar confluence of catastrophic conditions. The seas are rising, a storm is coming, and critical infrastructure is dangerously exposed.
The basic math of carbon dioxide is pretty simple: Generally, as CO2 levels rise, the air will warm. Warmer air melts glaciers, which drip into the sea—even as the water itself warms, too. Both cause the oceans to rise. Even if the entire planet stopped emitting carbon dioxide, Earth would continue to suffer the effects of past emissions.
“We’ve got at least 30 years of inertia in terms of sea level rise,” says Trevor Houser, a Rhodium Group economist who studies climate risk. And even if the sea weren’t rising, the rate of urban growth will more than double the area of urban land at high flood risk, according to a study Global Environmental Change published earlier this year.
But the sea is rising, at about .13 of an inch per year, for the past 20 years. (It was rising before then, too, but at about half the rate for the preceding 80 years.) Another recent study calculated that the world should expect about 4 feet of sea level rise for every degree Fahrenheit the global average temperature rises. This puts nearly every coastal city, in every coastal state, in danger of floods. Climate Central has an extensive project looking at sea level risk, if you’re curious about your city’s risk.
Warm air also holds more moisture, and moisture holds more energy, hence stronger (though not necessarily more frequent) storms. Those storms combine with high sea levels to create a danger greater than the sum of their parts. In a combined flooding event, a severe storm traps a city between rainfall and surging seas. Higher sea levels cause rivers to back up, water tables to saturate, shorelines to shorten. Storms—which are likely to be stronger than before—have fewer options to run off, so they pool and flood. And America built its coastal civilization oblivious to their threat.
Take Florida, the most climate-threatened swath of American soil. It’s low, flat, built on porous limestone, and hurricane prone. According to a new analysis by disaster insurance agency Karen Clark and Co., Florida has four of the 10 US cities most vulnerable to combined flooding events.
Florida, knowing its place in the world, has copious levees and seawalls. But the levees are there mostly to protect against the Everglades. The seawalls are about as good at breaking a hurricane as a hood ornament is at breaking the wind. And all of that infrastructure is of little use in the face of combined flooding events—the sea will simply come up from below. Miami flooded last year when the storm sewers backed up because the water table was too high to drain them.
The Sunshine State’s geography makes it an easy target for blame (not to mention hurricanes). But if there’s anything the US should have learned in the decade since Katrina, it’s that storms don’t always hit where you expect them—because, you know, Sandy. “Florida is definitely the most vulnerable place, but you also have places like Norfolk that are built on the coastal floodplain, and parts of New England where there is a lot of sunk infrastructure very close to the increasingly vulnerable coast,” says Houser. The pattern repeats itself all along the Atlantic coastal plain: Physical protections are largely insufficient to protect against a new class of climate threats.
And then, sometimes, that infrastructure falls apart entirely. Louisiana’s levees couldn’t have held off Katrina entirely, but it was their collapse, not the hurricane itself, that turned the Big Easy into a bathtub. “Some were improperly designed, some were improperly constructed, the rest were improperly maintained,” says Sandy Rosenthal, the director of Levees.org, an infrastructure watchdog group.
That same sentence could apply to key infrastructure nationwide. A lot of the country’s infrastructure—its bridges, transportation corridors, airports, seaports, water supply systems, electrical grids, flood control, and so one—were built poorly, hastily, or both. A lot of it is old and neglected. In a 2013 survey, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave US infrastructure a D+ grade.
“A lot of infrastructure went up in the midcentury,” says Solomon Hsiang, a UC Berkeley economist who studies public policy. “Now we’re reaching the end of the natural lifetime of that infrastructure, and we need to decide that we can no longer ride on all the investment that occurred 50 or 60 years ago.” Much of this stuff is directly vulnerable to climate change. Earlier this year, the Army Corps of Engineers released two surveys describing hundreds of dams and thousands of levees vulnerable to rising seas and stronger storms. Threats identified—but not yet remedied.
Dealing with climate change and its risks will require not only technical responses like drought-resilient crops and higher sea walls but also reshaping economic and political incentives that are driving global warming, scientists said on Wednesday.
“The biggest risk of all that we face is that we’re addressing the wrong problem,” University of Oslo sociologist Karen O’Brien told a week-long conference of climate researchers in Paris.
Using more renewable energy and setting up crop insurance schemes and early warning systems is important, she said. But climate change “is more than a technical challenge.” Finding genuine solutions will have to involve “looking at who has power and how that might need to change,” she said.
The rush to secure oil drilling rights in the Arctic, for instance, is painted by some analysts as the potential start of a new Cold War, as countries compete to gain access to some of the planet’s last untapped oil deposits in pursuit of profit and energy security, she said. But it is happening despite science that shows a third of the world’s already discovered oil reserves – as well as half of gas reserves and 80 percent of coal reserves – must stay in the ground to avoid runaway climate change that could see food supplies collapse, O’Brien and other experts said.
Climate risks will not be tackled effectively unless such contradictions are dealt with, O’Brien said. One way to achieve that could be through people stepping up to try and change the way governments and institutions behave.
“Small changes can make big differences, and individuals, especially when working together, can generate big social change,” she said.
Bending political and economic power to solve climate problems will be difficult, but “we are transforming either way,” O’Brien said, as a world four degrees Celsius warmer – the current trajectory for 2100 – would reshape life on Earth.
Adapting to some of the accompanying problems, including a rise in deaths from extreme heat in South Asia, would be largely impossible, she said.
Some of the biggest opportunities to put the world on a different pathway may lie in fast-growing cities, said Shobhakar Dhakal of the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.
Already more than 70 percent of global emissions caused by energy use come from cities, according to scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By 2050, urban areas will have 2.6 billion more people, most of them in Asia and Africa, Dhakal said.
If rapidly urbanizing areas can build homes close to jobs and services, while making walking and public transport good options, climate-changing emissions could be reduced dramatically, he said.
“Our ability to make deep cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions depends to a large extent on what kinds of cities and towns we build,” Dhakal said.
Real progress on climate change and reducing vulnerability to its impacts will also require efforts to coordinate a huge range of activities, including social policy, urban planning, insurance, weather monitoring and deploying the right technologies, said Nobuo Minura, president of Japan’s Ibaraki University.
Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Centre warned that “we as humanity are now in a position to disrupt the stability of the entire world by driving climate change.
Many economic and government systems have been designed around a high-emission way of doing things, he said. Now, “we need a new relationship between people and the planet.”
The Green Climate Fund is finally getting some legs. The big question now is what direction it will pursue. Local ownership, sustainability and a firm commitment to clean energy are a few of the apparent priorities.
“The GCF board is aiming to have at least a few projects in the pipeline in time for COP21 [the high-level climate change summit in Paris in December] – to show the world that the fund is open for business and that developed countries are putting their money where their mouths are,” Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth told IPS. “Of course, this will be more credible once substantially more of the money pledged to the GCF is legally committed.
“It is essential that those first GCF projects set the appropriate precedent for future-financed activities. The GCF must showcase the best of what it has to offer,” she added. “This means directly addressing the adaptation and mitigation needs of the vulnerable through environmentally-sound initiatives that promote human rights and benefit local economies, rather than Wall Street-type transactions that may theoretically have trickle-down benefit for the poor.”
The Fund is the United Nations’ premier mechanism for funding climate change-related mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, donors agreed to mobilize 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, in an undefined mix of public and private funding, to help developing countries. The GCF is to be a cornerstone of this mobilization, using the money to fund an even split between mitigation and adaptation projects.
Actual funding has trickled in slowly. But delivery of a pledge by the government of Japan late last month for $1.5 billion carried the Fund over the required 50 percent threshold to begin allocating resources for projects and programs in developing countries.
The Fund aims to finalize its first set of projects for approval by the GCF Board at its 11th meeting in November.
It has also identified strategic priority areas and global investment opportunities that are not adequately supported by existing climate finance mechanisms, and can be used to maximize the GCF’s impact, especially investments in efficient and resilient cities, land‐use management and resilience of small islands.
“Projects must be genuinely country-driven, which means not only government-driven but also driven by communities, civil society and local private sector. And, of course, there must be no trace of support for dirty energy,” Orenstein said.
To date, 33 governments, including eight developing countries, have pledged close to 10.2 billion dollars equivalent, with 21 of them signing a part or all of their contribution agreement. But how to maintain and accelerate that funding in the long term remains to be seen.
In a new analysis, the World Resources Institute (WRI) notes that more than five years after Copenhagen, the sources, instruments, and channels that should count toward the 100-billion-a-year goal remain ambiguous.
It suggests four possible scenarios: developed country climate finance only; developed country finance plus leveraged private sector investment; developed country finance, multilateral development bank (MDB) climate finance (weighted by developed countries’ capital share) and the combined leveraged private sector investment; and all the first three sources, plus climate-related official development assistance (ODA) as compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In terms of which is most likely to be adopted, as governments negotiate a comprehensive new climate change agreement for the post-2020 period, Michael Westphal, a senior associate on WRI’s Sustainable Finance team, told IPS that parties have not agreed yet on even what finance sources should count.
“Our scenario analysis is focused on assessing how likely is it that each scenario could reach 100 billion dollars, given different assumptions of growth and leverage,” he explained.
“One of the main conclusions, not surprisingly, is that the more sources that are included, the more realistic is it for the 100 billion dollars to be reached – i.e., it would require lower growth rates and assumptions about how much private finance is leveraged per public dollar.”
Supplemental funding could flow from new and innovative sources, such as the redirection of fossil fuel subsidies, carbon market revenues, financial transaction taxes, export credits, and debt relief, the analysis says.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that pre-tax fossil fuel subsidies for OECD countries – long derided as irrational and destructive by environmental groups and many economists – amounted to 13.3 billion dollars in 2012.
Budgetary support and tax expenditures to fossil fuels totalled 76.4 billion dollars in 2011 for the OECD’s 34 member countries.
“On fossil fuel subsidies, the G20 has agreed to phase them out over the medium term, so we think it is likely to have progress on this front over the next five years,” Westphal told IPS.
“The IMF has written extensively about the costs of fossil fuel subsidies, so the issue is now a front burner issue for multilateral finance institutions. As for ETS [emission trading system], governments would have to agree to divert some of the revenues from the allowances into their budgets for international climate finance.”
But even should the funding goal be reached, observers will be watching closely to see where the money goes.
Karen Orenstein has compared the push by some governments and financial institutions for “less dirty” fossil fuels to fight climate change to a doctor telling his cancer-ridden patient that “it’s fine to smoke, as long as the cigarettes are filtered.”
She notes that the list of activities that can currently be counted under the Common Principles (approved by multilateral development banks and the International Development Finance Club in March) as climate mitigation finance includes “energy-efficiency improvement in existing thermal power plants” and “thermal power plant retrofit to fuel switch from a more GHG-intensive fuel to a different, less GHG-intensive fuel type.”
“In the broad spectrum of fossil fuels, there is always going to be a project or fuel type that is relatively more or less dirty than another,” Orenstein says. “Allowing so-called climate financing for projects that are slightly less dirty than a hypothetical alternative is a sure way to game the system.”
She’s also guarding against the funding of false solutions like so-called “climate smart” agriculture, biofuels, waste incineration, nuclear energy and big dams – many of which are included in the Common Principles.
For a 2,000-year-old institution hardly known for its mutability, there was a sense of urgency at the Vatican on Tuesday when scientists, diplomats and religious and political leaders discussed climate change and its impact on the world’s poor.
“We are the first generation that can end poverty, and the last generation that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Secretary GeneralBan Ki-moon of the United Nations said at an international symposium on climate change organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The event presaged a keenly anticipated papal letter on the environment that Pope Francis is expected to issue in June.
Mr. Ban met with the pope ahead of the one-day conference here and told reporters afterward that the pope’s message in his scheduled papal teaching, known as an encyclical, would come at “a critical time,” one that “demanded a collective action.”
“Climate change is approaching much faster than one may think,” he said.
In September, the pope is scheduled to address Congress, as well as a United Nations summit meeting on sustainable development, where he is expected to reiterate his environmental message. The pope has said that climate change is “mostly” a result of human activity.
“I count on his moral voice, his moral leadership,” said Mr. Ban, who is leading efforts to come to an agreement on limiting human contributions to global warming, which will be discussed at a climate summit meeting in Paris in December.
Representatives of different religions spoke at the symposium, and a statement approved Tuesday by the participants underscored their environmental concerns: “These traditions all affirm the inherent dignity of every individual linked to the common good of all humanity. They affirm the beauty, wonder, and inherent goodness of the natural world, and appreciate that it is a precious gift entrusted to our common care, making it our moral duty to respect rather than ravage the garden that is our home,” the statement read.
“Let the world know that there is no divide whatsoever between religion and science on the issue of climate change,” Mr. Ban told the assembly.
Pope Francis is not the first pope to address environmental issues, but his encyclical is expected to be the most comprehensive Vatican document so far on the links between sustainable development, concern for the poor and care of the planet.
Some critics of restrictions on greenhouse gases have said the pope’s encyclical could confuse “people into thinking that climate change issues are now an article of faith, part of the Roman Catholic doctrine,” said Marc Morano, publisher of ClimateDepot, a global warming website.
Mr. Morano was part of a delegation of self-proclaimed “climate skeptics” led by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, that came to Rome to challenge the symposium’s findings. Jim Lakely, the director of communications for the institute, said Monday that the delegates wanted to “prevent the pope from making the mistake” of listening only to what they believe are climate change alarmists.
Mr. Ban conceded Tuesday that “faith leaders should not be scientists,” but what is important, he added, “is their moral commitment.”
“Not only scientists, but every citizen should be part of the process,” Mr. Ban said. Religious leaders, he added, should play a “substantively important role.”