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By Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office
Today much of civil society, including environmental NGOs, social movements and labour unions walked out of the UNFCCC negotiations to protest the lack of urgency reflected in the talks. The action was not taken to say that the negotiations are unimportant, but rather the opposite – they are far too important to be locked into a cycle of low expectations.
Never before has the contrast between the slow pace of the climate negotiations and the speed needed to combat global warming been greater. As UNEP’s Achim Steiner said yesterday, it will not be long before the pace of emissions reductions needed to stay below two degrees may well be untenable. Meanwhile, indications of the impact of climatic events consistent with the impacts of global warming are mounting around the world.
Ironically, instead of guiding Parties to higher levels of effort, the UN negotiations are starting to become uncoupled from developments in the real world.
On the positive side, countries as diverse as Mexico and Denmark, South Korea and South Africa, are each in their own ways taking steps towards legal and technological measures to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. Perhaps most significantly, renewable energy has taken off and is no longer a niche energy source, but is clearly becoming a major player in many places.
In contrast, there were announcements by Australia and Japan in the past week that they will reduce their emission reduction efforts. How they understand their actions to fit into a global effort that avoids dangerous climate change is unclear. Perhaps they don’t know themselves.
Both the positive and the negative are examples of why the UNFCCC is so important. Governments need a framework in which to understand the level of effort needed. They need encouragement to build upon steps they are already making. They need a way to understand how the efforts of one country affect another, and to discuss how to treat populations and industries fairly, within and between countries that have highly disparate economies and levels of development.
The concepts underlying the UN talks are straightforward, and the negotiators in the national stadium are among the people in the world most aware of that fact. Speak to many of them personally and they are often as depressed as anyone that the negotiations are unable to capture these essentials. They feel locked into cul-de-sacs with hard divisions between groups of countries and arguments over principle. Those principles are important, but at a certain point, decisions need to be made. Commitments taken. Action on the ground achieved.
The tools to combat climate change are at hand. Industries are growing up behind solutions, stimulating economies and creating employment. Adaptation strategies are developing globally. And our understanding of the impacts we will not be able to avoid is growing, giving us time to consider how to help the most vulnerable.
The groups, including WWF, who have made this appeal today and left the conference centre hope that these are the messages governments will hear: do not get bogged down in process, do not be blinded by narrow self-interest and consider why this process exists.
Leadership does not come cheap. It is those who are willing to speak plainly about what is plain for all to see, but hard to confront, who will be remembered. It is time for those people to step forward.
With the United Kingdom, another major shareholder of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is divesting from coal overseas. What does this mean for the upcoming decision on the EBRD’s energy strategy?
by Fidanka Bacheva-McGrath, cross-posted from the Bankwatch blog
The UK government yesterday announced that it would “end support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas” at a press conference on the sidelines of the UN climate change conference in Warsaw.
UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey said in a statement:
“It is completely illogical for countries like the UK and the US to be decarbonising our own energy sectors while paying for coal-fired power plants to be built in other countries.”
This adds yet more pressure on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development whose new energy lending strategy will be agreed in December and which has been criticised (pdf) for not including strict limits on coal lending in its draft strategy document (pdf) published in July.
The UK joins the United States and five Nordic countries in ending supporting for overseas coal plants, potentially swaying the political balance of board discussions on the strategy as the two are among the bank’s largest shareholders.
Also growing number of financial institutions have announced a divestment from coal and environmental organisations and climate campaigners have urged the EBRD to follow other public lenders, in particular the European Investment Bank in scaling up its restrictions on the dirtiest of fossil fuels.
Either the EBRD could follow the UK approach and halt all investments in coal fired power plants outright or introduce a strict Emission Performance Standard at a level of 350 gCO2/kWh that would all but eliminate support for coal projects. This is a necessary step to help leave sources of CO2 in the ground, a need that was reiterated this week by a group of scientists (pdf) who said that nearly three-quarters of fossil fuel reserves – especially coal – must remain unused to avoid a global temperature rise above 2 degrees Celsius.
The case to quit coal at the EBRD is even stronger when considering how little finance for combatting the effects of climate change actually goes to its countries of operation. A recent interactive publication from the Climate Policy Initiative shows that central and eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Southern Mediterranean receive the smallest share of global climate finance at only about 5 percent in total.
Source: Climate Policy Initiative
Without decisive action to divest from coal, the EBRD is in danger of being left behind by other public and private lenders. Its new energy strategy must be a genuine commitment to the environmental and climate imperatives, rather than only the financial bottom line.Related articles
The top UN climate official, Ms. Christiana Figueres, has been of an unprecedented “bluntness” when telling coal industry officials that “coal must change rapidly and dramatically”.
Her declaration was echoed by a statement distributed by 27 leading scientists from across the world urging that most fossil energy energy reserves have to stay in the ground to avoid a climate catastrophe. Coal must be foremost because of its exceptionally high carbon content, twice as high as that of gas and 10 times higher than wind or solar.
This took place November 18th 2013 at the “World Coal Summit” organised by the World Coal Association nearby the on going 19th International climate meeting in Warsaw.
What had been envisaged by the Polish government as an opportunity to explore the chances of energy efficient coal technology turned into a PR disaster for the Polish government and the coal industry.
After the two parallel mega-meetings in Warsaw on climate and coal it has become evident to everyone involved in energy policy or business that it will be impossible burn all the huge coal reserves in countries like China, USA, Russia, India, Poland and South Africa without warming the earth beyond the two centigrade target fixed by the international community at the 2010 Cancun Climate Conference.
No UN official has ever dared to be so outspoken as to tell the coal industry that they are putting their shareholders and the global climate at risk if they failed to search for alternative methods of producing energy.
The new message for the coal industry is: go for wind and sun energy or carbon capture and storage (CCS) if you want to survive! German utility companies are already experiencing the costly transition to low-carbon energies sources that the government has imposed on them by its decision to abandon nuclear power.
The response from the industry that coal is necessary to supply more than 1.3 billion human beings without access to electricity is specious: electricity can be generated by gas, wind and sun with much lower C02 emission and no higher costs.
The Warsaw “confrontations” have ushered in the real issue of future climate policy: How to organise the transition from fossil to renewable energy, starting with coal, the most polluting fossil source,.
That battle can only be won if the governments of the key coal producing countries align with the UN on the need to keep most of the resources in the ground. As a first step, all international finance institutions World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Development, African Development, European Investment Bank) must stop financing coal projects and coal power plants as of 2015.
In the USA the transition has started thanks to two parallel drivers: the discovery of large volumes of cheap shale gas and the imposition of strict power generation efficiency standards: no more than 0.5 kg C02 emissions per generated kWh.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 19/11/2013.