While many participants had hoped for a rocking performance by negotiators, they left still straining to hear the sounds of success.

The most recent round of the United Nations climate change negotiations began early the morning of November 11. After a marathon final session that lasted more than 24 hours, talks concluded at nearly 9 p.m. on Saturday the 23rd. This dramatic finish has become an almost yearly occurrence of governments rocking all Friday night and partying every (Satur)day. With so much activity late in the game, observers might reasonably have expected a lengthy set of agreements to step up the fight against climate change. Or, at the very least, confirmation that Saturday night’s alright for fighting when nations can’t agree.

Instead, based on the reactions from many participants, the final agreements said more about the state of negotiations by what they left out than what they included. To be fair, these negotiations were not intended to reach a final decision on major climate change issues. Warsaw was built as a step toward agreement on a new climate change treaty at negotiations in Paris in December 2015. A successful agreement in Paris depends on countries making commitments to reduce their carbon pollution. Putting their cards on the table as early as possible would help even more. It would leave more time to assess if the commitments will be enough to stop dangerous and potentially runaway levels of climate change. And to negotiate stronger commitments if not.

Rather, governments, particularly the wealthiest and most polluting, spent all of Warsaw showing each other their best poker faces, with no new commitments pledged. Governments did manage to agree to state their commitments “well in advance” of Paris. They did not, however, clarify when exactly that would be.

Read the rest of this entry

adaptation, Adaptation Fund, climate finance, Climate Policy, Green Climate Fund, Lima, loss and damage, music videos, Paris, Peru, Poland, REDD, Secretary-General, Typhoon Haiyan, UNFCCC, Warsaw

So, it seems like I owe the Polish government an apology.

Last month I wrote a first blog about Poland and its future role as host of the UN climate talks, insisting on its ambiguities towards the diplomatic process and pointing out, for instance, that it had made the rather unconventional decision to host the negotiations in a football stadium.

Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec (pictured) has made the Polish leadership's position on the climate negotiations clear, but Polish civil society and environmental groups are optimistic that COP19 will see some successes. (Source: www.um.warszawa.pl)

Well, after a “field trip” in Warsaw, I’ve learned that the National Stadium is one of the things that the country holds dearest, and that this venue choice is actually a sign that Poland is taking its role as President of the UNFCCC 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) quite seriously. So, please accept my deepest apologies, or as I should say, przepraszam.

This correction, sadly, does not apply to most of the other points I have made about Poland’s stance on climate and energy issues. Since my last blog, Environment Minister Martin Korolec, in recent comments to a news agency, bluntly closed the door on European climate policy-making before 2015 (the deadline year that countries have set for themselves to come up with a global, binding agreement for climate action within the UN framework). This is a notable difference with the pre-Copenhagen situation, when the European Union managed to put together the “20-20-20” package before the 2009 climate talks, as a way to lead by example and encourage other countries to step up their ambitions.

But Poland has its own ideas on how the EU should approach climate change leadership from now on. Not, of course, by interfering with sovereign domestic energy choices (ahem), but rather backing the production of electric cars, setting a target for reducing fossil fuel imports, and finally ending energy subsidies. Though these suggestions may seem like good common sense, it’s not too difficult to imagine the rationale behind them: insisting on reducing fossil fuel imports would effectively reduce the EU’s economic dependence on Russia, a country with which Poland has a long, often conflict-ridden past; while opposing clean-energy funding and carbon pricing helps protect Poland’s own coal industry development.

Read the rest of this entry

Climate Change, COP19, Copenhagen, Europe, European Union, negotiations, Poland, UNFCCC

Sometimes it looks as if the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have bet large amounts of money against themselves on the success of climate negotiations.

"Are we done yet?” Poland has hardly been an enthusiastic actor in UNFCCC negotiations (Source: IISD.ca)

Countries are now engaged in an excruciatingly slow race to reach an agreement by 2015, which would for the first time commit both the developed and the developing world under “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” (ah, the beauty of UNFCCC language…), in order to meet the goal of 2 degrees warming by the end of the century, the “safe” limit that was agreed upon at the 2009 Copenhagen summit.

Given what’s at stake, and the inefficiencies inherent to the UN process, you’d think that the world’s nations would make sure that not a minute is lost in the talks. And yet, after a Qatari Presidency that left everyone with the vivid memory of conference chairman Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah literally hammering out a last-minute deal, Poland has been designated to host the 19th annual Conference of the Parties (COP19) next October.

It may not be obvious, at first sight, why Poland hosting the climate talks seems like a step backwards. After all, the ambitions around COP19 are not to come up with a global agreement, but rather to make substantial advances on pressing issues in preparation of the Durban Platform deadline, fixed for 2015 (and a very likely French Presidency). But it helps to remember that the last COP on the road to the rather underachieving Copenhagen Conference in 2009 took place in Poznań, which could say something about the capacity of a Polish COP Presidency to pave the way for ambitious deal-making. These fears, of course, are not enough to dismiss Poland as a valuable host. What weighs heavier is that the country does have a history of blocking progress in climate negotiations, particularly at the European Union level.

Read the rest of this entry

Climate Change, climate negotiations, COP19, Copenhagen, emissions reductions, Europe, European Union, low-carbon, negotiations, Poland, UNFCCC

Renewable energy development is critical to climate adaptation efforts for numerous reasons, including its minimal use of increasingly scarce water resources. (Source: ClimateTechWiki).

For countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change—especially developing countries—the lack of urgency in the recently ended United Nations climate talks failed to reflect the reality back home. In many of these places, the effects of climate change are already taking their toll on social and economic development, not to mention human lives. So it’s no surprise that throughout the halls and meeting rooms of the 18th Conference of the Parties in Doha, Qatar, the most vulnerable countries made it abundantly clear that—for them—adaptation, not mitigation, is the number-one priority.

The impacts of climate change are mounting. Shifting rainfall patterns are already affecting Kenya’s agricultural sector, and the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events are necessitating rebuilding in numerous Caribbean countries. But unfortunately, both adaptation and energy, a critical area for development, are consistently shortchanged in climate negotiations. Of the “fast-start financing” provided by Germany in 2010 and 2011, only 28 percent was allocated for adaptation projects, while mitigation received 48 percent of the funds (the rest went to REDD+ and multipurpose activities).

Meanwhile, the energy sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and the emission reduction opportunities that the sector presents, hardly made it into the recent discussions. When renewable energy is brought up, it is most often in the context of mitigation, highlighting how a shift away from fossil fuel-fired power generation can reduce emissions and slow further climate change.

Read the rest of this entry

adaptation, Climate Change, developing countries, development, energy, renewable energy, UNFCCC

This article was originally published in Outreach Magazine. The original can be found here.

The latest UN climate negotiations are underway in Doha, Qatar but the talks need a stronger focus on energy's role in climate change. (Source: UNFCCC)

More than half of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions result from the burning of fossil fuels for energy supply. Even excluding traditional biomass, fossil fuel combustion accounts for 90 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Against this background, it is surprising how limited a role energy is playing in the ongoing climate negotiations. And yet this discussion could be instrumental in refocusing the debate about what is necessary and what is possible in both the areas of climate mitigation and adaptation—bringing it back down from the current inscrutable spheres of negotiation tracks, subsidiary bodies, parallel sessions, ad-hoc working groups, and special meetings (which, let’s be frank, nobody outside the negotiators understands anymore).

First, a focus on energy shows how far we are from solving the climate crisis. Energy-related CO2 emissions grew 3.2 percent in 2011 to more than 31 gigatons—despite the economic crisis. We know that if we don’t want to lose track of the 2-degree Celsius threshold of maximum warming that would hopefully avoid major disasters, energy emissions must decline by at least one third to 20 gigatons in 2035, despite expectations that energy demand might double in the same time frame.

Read the rest of this entry

Climate Change, COP18, Doha, emissions reductions, energy, UNFCCC

Following up on the recent blog I wrote about low-lying island nations, I spent part of last week getting a more direct experience with one of these countries. The United States Institute of Peace welcomed former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed for a conference on Monday, June 25th in Washington, D.C. Nasheed was ousted last February by a coup under controversial circumstances. Though he expressed regret over losing the unique stature and influence he had as head of state, Nasheed is still extremely active in the country, pushing for new democratic elections and actively promoting “The Island President”, a documentary narrating his story and seeking to cast light on his unique fight for the survival of his country and the establishment of a functioning democracy after centuries of authoritarian rule.

“Anni”, as he is better known by people of the archipelago, has not left behind his ideals in the presidential office, particularly with regard to climate change. When he touched on the topic of climate change at last week’s conference, the former President called it, as he very often does, “a very serious issue happening right now.” With an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, and the world’s lowest natural peak at an astounding 2.4 meters, the archipelago is indeed at the forefront of climate disruption and sea-level rise. Attempting to shame the rest of the world into taking action to mitigate carbon emissions, in 2008 Nasheed launched an ambitious plan for carbon neutrality. The plan seemed achievable: it tapped into the archipelago’s ample wind and solar energy resources, completing the mix with biomass to meet the modest energy needs of this country of 400,000 people, which has a low reliance on electricity and (understandably) almost no cars. Even the country’s most prominent and energy-consuming economic sector, high-end tourism, started bringing itself up to speed. Nasheed’s government planned to offset aviation emissions, which make up the lion’s share of the archipelago’s carbon footprint,  by using the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme. Finally, as “The Island President” abundantly documents, the Maldives also took the lead in making the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) a force to reckon with in international climate summits.

Read the rest of this entry

climate, Climate Change, COP15, developing countries, emissions reductions, energy, energy policy, Green Technology, low-carbon, low-lying island nations, Maldives, Nasheed, renewable energy, sustainable development, sustainable prosperity, UNFCCC

With the United Nations “Rio+20” Conference fast approaching, the word “sustainable” is more present than ever – including in our own State of the World 2012 publication – sometimes to the point of excess. For low-lying island nations, however, “sustainability” is more than the mild, consensual definition of the United Nations: it is really about maintaining the environmental conditions necessary to sustain human life as we know it. Many countries, regions, and cities fear the potential consequences of runaway climate change, be it desertification, droughts, or increasingly frequent storms. What makes the cases of countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu, Micronesia, and the Maldives so unique is that their very existence as sovereign states is at stake, and some of their younger citizens might live to see that existence brought to an end – the IPCC (2007) has predicted 0.5 to 1.5 meters of sea-level rise before the century is over.

For low-lying island nations, climate change and sea-level rise are not really a matter for debate, but already a threatening feature of everyday life (Source: The Atlantic.com)

Whether that prediction turns out to be overly optimistic or gloomy is still to be determined, but low-lying island nations are not passively waiting to find out. Despite their remarkably low carbon-footprints, they are trying to lead by example when it comes to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions: while an international treaty would only, by the timeline set at the 2011 climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, come into force in 2020, the Maldives and Tuvalu (among others) have pledged to become carbon-neutral by that date. But these nations have understood that due to natural – as well as political – inertia, more emissions and increased sea-level rise are already locked in. This is the basic reasoning behind the islands’ adaptation policies, which are only as varied as they are extreme. For instance, though the President of Kiribati Anote Tong admitted it sounded “like something from science fiction”, the country seriously considered building offshore floating islands and higher seawalls last year, for a total cost of about US$ 3 billion – quite a challenge for a country with a GDP of US$ 200 million in 2011 (about US$ 6,000 per capita).

Read the rest of this entry

Climate Change, COP15, developing countries, electricity, emissions reductions, energy, green economy, Kiribati, low-carbon, low-lying island states, Maldives, negotiations, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, sustainable development, Tuvalu, UNFCCC

The president of COP 17, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, speaks at the final plenary session of the climate change meetings in Durban, South Africa (Source: Worldwatch).

As the new year begins, climate negotiators have begun to move on from their engagement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. After two weeks of intense negotiations on the future of the international regime to combat climate change, they bring home pieces of an ambiguous mandate—but also some critical steps forward. Below, we discuss some of the outcomes of those exhilarating talks in early December.

Symbolic survival of the Kyoto Protocol

Under European Union leadership, signatories of the Kyoto Protocol agreed to enter a second commitment period for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, extending the treaty terms through 2017 or 2020. This symbolically salvaged the agreement—the only existing climate treaty with internationally binding reduction targets. However, the 27 EU countries, together with Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland, are the only countries to take on these targets, and they agreed to do so only under the condition that all major countries agree to a new, truly global and comprehensive climate treaty, if necessary outside the Kyoto structure.

Read the rest of this entry

China, Climate Change, developing countries, emissions reductions, European Union, Green Climate Fund, India, negotiations, UNFCCC, United States

In Part 1 of this blog, we analyzed the global CO2 emission trends published recently by the International Energy Agency (IEA), as well as the high divergence of emission trends among countries. In this follow-up, we discuss how these trends can inform negotiations at the UN climate summit that began this week in Durban, South Africa.

Industrialized countries as a group have achieved significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Although national efforts vary greatly and a rebound in emissions is expected with economic recovery, the IEA estimates that “developed countries” (as defined in Annex I of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) are on track to reach their target of reducing emissions 5.2 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012, as agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The numbers look somewhat different at the country level, however. The United States, the only major developed country that did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, has seen a 6.7 percent increase in CO₂ emissions since 1990, according to the IEA. The U.S. is the world’s second highest CO2emitter after China, which has more than three times as many inhabitants.

Certain signatories of the Kyoto Protocol, including Canada and Japan, have not stuck with their reduction commitments, clearly a sign of weakness of the treaty. But the agreement is functioning well for those who strive to abide by it. There is no doubt that Kyoto has prompted regional, national, and sub-federal action on climate protection and sustainable agriculture, energy, and transportation in many parts of the world.

Read the rest of this entry

China, Climate Change, coal, developing countries, emissions reductions, India, negotiations, UNFCCC, United States

The 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins today in Durban, South Africa (Source: UNFCCC).

This week the 17th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) begins. In Durban, South Africa, delegations from countries around the world will continue negotiating greenhouse gas reductions in order to prevent global warming from spinning out of control. So it is just in time that the International Energy Agency (IEA) releases its latest statistics on global CO2 emissions.

The provided figures contain CO₂ emission source breakdowns by fuel, sector and region over the period 1971 to 2009. According to the data, nearly two thirds of worldwide emissions come from two sectors – electricity and heat generation (41 percent) as well as transport (23 percent). Remaining emissions come from industrial processes (20 percent), residential (6 percent), and a multitude of additional sources (10 percent). Regarding energy, coal is the leading CO₂ emission source, accounting for 43 percent of those emissions, followed by oil at 37 percent and natural gas at 20 percent.

Read the rest of this entry

China, Climate Change, coal, developing countries, emissions reductions, India, negotiations, UNFCCC, United States