Across the Sea But a World Away – From the Caribbean to the Panama Climate Talks

Session of the United Nations climate negotiations October 2 in Panama City. Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development

Session of the United Nations climate negotiations October 2 in Panama City. Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development

Panama is only a short hop from the Caribbean islands now home to Worldwatch Institute’s Low-Carbon Energy Roadmaps project. But, it’s a big leap from the national renewable energy strategies being developed in the Caribbean to the tense efforts just wrapping up in Panama City to agree on global climate change reduction goals.

The Panama meetings from October 1-7 marked the final preparatory negotiation before the next United Nations climate change summit convenes in Durban, South Africa from November 28-December 10. With many issues on the negotiating table, countries made surprising progress on providing funding for climate change solutions, especially in developing countries. Countries also pushed big issues like a new global climate agreement and the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol onto an already overflowing agenda for Durban.

Loyal ReVolt readers know that responsive banks, savvy entrepreneurs, and smart policy are needed to finance renewable energy development in island nations like the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Financing climate change-fighting strategies like renewables across island Earth requires the same. It also helps to have wealthy and major greenhouse gas-emitting governments willing to put up large amounts of money, like the US$100 billion per year that industrialized countries promised to developing countries by 2020 at the Copenhagen negotiations in 2009.

In the Cancun talks in December 2010, these same governments followed on this commitment with the establishment of the Green Climate Fund as the container for their pledges. But, owing to the sparse deposits from developed countries, the Green Climate Fund has remained essentially empty. Thus, long-term finance became a major focus in Panama, with a goal of developing an agreement that would ensure the Green Climate Fund could live up to developing country expectations and industrialized country commitments.

The European Union (EU), already a leader in supporting climate financing for developing countries, recently established an EU-wide aviation emissions trading market that could help provide this funding. Now, a leaked analysis that the G20 group of nations requested from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund also suggests that a tax on international shipping could do even more.

That’s a big deal, since if international shipping were a country, its economy would be larger than all Caribbean nations combined, with more greenhouse gas pollution than two Australias. The report finds that a tax of US$25 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions could generate more than US$25 billion per year for climate finance and cut shipping’s carbon pollution, while raising international trading costs by only 0.2 percent and not imposing any cost on developing country shippers.

Building on this positive news, the final meeting of the committee set up to structure and activate the Green Climate Fund meets in Cape Town, South Africa from October 16-18, and has so far made good progress in preparing the fund to accept and distribute the kind of funding that could come from government pledges and innovative mechanisms like aviation and shipping charges. Despite a turbulent week of negotiations combining all of these efforts into a consolidated climate finance plan, negotiators finished the final day of the Panama session with unexpected consensus on a text to send to Durban for final negotiations.

Similarly, as blog followers have tracked the progress of nations like Jamaica and Haiti to scale up their renewable energy technologies, negotiators have tried to scale up the transfer of clean technologies to developing countries. Most of this work is taking place outside the Panama talks, through the Technology Executive Committee created by the Cancun negotiation.

The Technology Executive Committee had its first meeting in September in Bonn, where it discussed how to evaluate and recommend global policies that can support technology transfer; promote collaboration between government, corporate, and non-profit organizations in transferring technologies; identify and help reduce barriers to technology transfer; and, something ReVolt readers are familiar with by now, develop and promote clean technology roadmaps and action plans. This committee is brand new, however, so much work remains between talking about technology development and actually doing it. Perhaps the island nations could provide some good examples in the future.

For some bad examples of progress in the negotiations, we need only look at talks over the future of the Kyoto Protocol, whose provisions to reduce greenhouse gas pollution in wealthy nations expire at the end of 2012, or at the effort to create a new and comprehensive international agreement to limit climate change. Neither made enough progress in Panama to ensure that they will be decided on by the end of Durban.

Despite packed rooms full of government negotiators and civil society members, agreement on a so-called legally-binding instrument (LBI) to add to the climate change convention with stronger emissions reduction commitments and possibly more countries remains far off. Countries at least seem to be in agreement that they want to conclude negotiations on an LBI at the end of Durban, but cannot yet agree on what that conclusion should look like. Without agreement on form, discussions would continue next year.

Many nations asked for the LBI to have a clear and near-term (generally by 2015 at the latest) deadline for negotiating a final agreement, while several wealthy countries supported a range of options for when agreement could be reached, and whether it would be legally-binding or only a political commitment without any strong enforcement. Even the United States said it supported an LBI, but with so many conditions attached to that support that negotiators largely agreed a U.S. version of an LBI would never find support with most other nations.

A similar story unfolded in talks on extending the Kyoto Protocol. The EU remains a strong supporter, with Australia and New Zealand reportedly on board but still officially undecided, and Canada, Japan, and Russia officially firmly opposed. The United States, had little to contribute, since it has not ratified Kyoto and likely will not sign on to its successor, due to domestic political disagreements on climate change policy. The BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) strongly support a second period for Kyoto, but oppose commitments for themselves under an LBI. EU environment ministers meet today in Luxembourg to discuss their strategy to advance Kyoto and an LBI.

Negotiations on both issues will thus continue in Durban.

While it may be only a short trip back to the more climate-friendly atmosphere of the Caribbean, it remains a long way to Durban from Panama. Although stops along the way, from the G20 review of the shipping emissions report, to the EU environment ministers meeting, and the last session of the Green Climate Fund design committee, should get the world closer to success in fighting climate change, more positive, local examples like those in the Caribbean are also sorely needed, especially if the international talks do not deliver.

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