High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF) Report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

The UN Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF) held a high-level side event at the The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 16 on Wednesday, December 8th, 2010, to formally present the findings of their recent Report of the Secretary-General’s High Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The Report, released on November 5th, 2010 concluded that, while the goal of achieving $100 billion dollars annually by 2020 to assist developing nations with climate finance would be a challenge, particularly given the lingering global economic crisis, that it would, nevertheless, be possible.

Co-chairs Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Jens Stoltenberg of Norway led the presentation of key findings from the Report to a crowded room at Cancun Messe. The Advisory Group, comprised of 21 members, was established by the Secretary General in February 2010 to assess the feasibility of collecting climate finance funds and to identify additional financing resources. Prime Minister Zenawi remarked that, while the targets could be attainable, achieving them would be tremendously difficult if the price of carbon were set too low. He assessed that a minimum carbon price of $20-$25 per ton would be needed in order for the goal outlined to be plausible.

The AGF did not investigate the delivery mechanisms for these funds, nor explicitly delineate whether the funds would be primarily publically or privately financed, commenting that it was up to the Parties to determine these details. Since its release, the Assessment has been criticized for its emphasis on multilateral development banks (MDBs) and the potential implications for finance burdens to be shifted to the private sector.

The Report findings showcase three potential instruments for acquiring the funds, each with zero incidences upon developing countries:

  1. Raise 30 billion per year by auctioning emissions.
  2. Establish a carbon dioxide tax or emissions transaction fee for international carbon trades.
  3. Reallocate funds from fuel subsidies in developed nations to lesser developed nations for climate mitigation and adaptation purposes.

The AGF cites the goal of establishing a pricing system for carbon to be twofold: 1. To serve as a source of revenue for less developed nations 2. To serve as an incentive for emissions reductions.

Following the AGF presentation, another of the member of the Advisory Group, Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics, spoke expressing the need for an “economic industrial revolution.” Mr. Stern stated the group sought to outline the possibilities so as to better inform policymakers on their menu of options. Still, Mr. Stern’s words held strong ethical implications, stating that action with respect to climate change finance is a “matter of choice.”

The subsequent Q & A session included a strong rebuke from a Pakistani gentleman who had reviewed the report extensively in recent months, and had developed a formal critique which he had bound and printed for public distribution. The man dubbed the Report’s analysis “deeply flawed” by virtue of its assumptions based upon pricing of a volatile good-carbon- and what he perceived to be the implication of burden-shifting to the private sector. Eyebrows raised as he indignantly intoned his criticisms, going so far as to call the Report “a half-cooked idea” and charging that it would only add to the confusion over climate finance and further complicate matters.

The Panel responded to his critique stating that the Report does not attempt to identify the specific sourcing streams for the funding-public nor private- instead leaving those conclusions to policymakers. With respect to the volatility issue, the Panel remarked that it is wholly impossible to keep both prices and emissions volumes stable simultaneously, noting that variable pricing is inherent in any carbon dioxide trading schema, whereas a taxation system would provide greater market stability. They further noted that prices inevitably will vary under a scenario of capped emissions, and that emission volumes would necessarily vary if stable pricing were established.

Written by JPERRON.

Breathing Underwater

“The oceans that once gave us are now threatening to swallow us.”

-The President of Palau

The Opening Ceremony of the High-Level Segment of The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Wednesday spoke strongly to the urgent magnitude of problems faced by nations highly vulnerable to climate change-yet paradoxically, some of those least implicated in its acceleration. Low-lying coastal areas and small island states are particularly at risk of the perils of sea level rise as a consequence of climatic changes.

Of the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) 16 negotiations, Mexican President Felipe Calderόn remarked that “there are billions of human beings who expect a result, a result we cannot fail to deliver.” President Calderόn and the host country of Mexico have gone to great lengths to improve the transparency and inclusiveness of the COP 16 proceedings, and to promote openness in the multi-lateral UNFCCC process relative to COP 15, held in Copenhagen last year. In large respects, they have succeeded in this effort with, particularly the NGO community, noting greater accessibility to negotiations, venues to espouse their positions, and avenues to voice concerns.

Still, in the hallways of the Moon Palace, one can readily hear the murmurs of Delegates and NGOs alike, who feel slighted, left out, or underrepresented within the proceedings. “They don’t hear me,” said President of Narau, speaking on behalf of 14 low-lying Island Developing States, of the negotiators.  He surmised, “negotiators speak in acronyms” deciding the fates of “which {nations} may thrive and which will vanish beneath the waves.”

The President of Guatemala detailed his nation’s experience with a state of national emergency 109 days out of the last year, by stating, “we cannot continue to fill out sentences in a paragraph while we are burying people.” Overwhelmed by deluges of rains and insufficient ability to respond, Guatemala experienced great tolls of climate change this past year-paid for in lives lost-and totaling a price tag nearly ¼ of the total national budget. Another President later echoed a similar point, “for us, it is not about future consequences. We are facing this now….Every day is being paid for by the lives of Africans.”

Opening remarks by the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, cautioned that we are “quickly running out of time to safeguard our future.” This statement is ever more ringing for nations who currently face evacuations of their homelands,such as Tuvalu, or the Maldives, due to rising sea levels. In the words of the President of Palau, “We cannot continue to treat climate change as a negotiation. Climate change is not negotiable.”

Written by JPERRON.

Climate Action Network Canada Press Conference

Elizabeth May, Green Party

I would like to highlight a positive facet of COPs, one that I feel is often under-appreciated: the permission of open press conferences provides an avenue for organizations to have a strong and (relatively more) legitimate voice, and for their issues to reach out to the larger global community.

This morning my fellow classmates and I attended a press conference given by several Canadian political parties and workers’ unions held just minutes before the Canadian Environmental Minister (as I type, is about to) take the floor at the High-level Segment of the 6th Meeting of the COP.

It is at the same time comforting and disconcerting to hear the affirmation by Elizabeth May of the Green Party–in addition to those of the Liberal Party, the National Union of Public and General Employees, and the Youth Party–that a majority of Canadians support compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, despite strong resistance by their government.

The representative of one trade union, representing over 340,000 provincial workers, claimed that “the Kyoto Protocol is a key tool to get Canada on track to a just transition to low-carbon alternative jobs;” while Elizabeth May commented, “If you can’t agree, the least you can do is not to stand in the way of other countries reaching agreement progress.”

An internal struggle I faced was how the Canadian government could ignore the voices of its own people, despite how strongly they reverbated.  At Moon Palace, there is constant reiteration that political will is necessary in order for capacity building – and yet it is sorely lacking.   This press conference clearly exemplifies the difficulties the negotiations face.

How long must we wait, before each country is able to move past their individual ambitions and align themselves to a common global goal?   Reflecting upon the struggles that Canada faces, it seems that the answer is uncertain, and certainly frightening.

Written by MICHLHW.

Putting the "can" in Cancun

Hola from Cancun!  The sun is shining the grass is green, and crunch time for the delegates, as we come towards the middle of the second week, is starting to set in.

This is my first time attending a COP, and optimistically, I want to say that it won’t be my last.  There is a real shift away from Nopenhagen, the pessimism and the dejection, and towards understanding what is truly within our reach.

Having just walked out from the “United Nations System delivering as one on climate change: supporting implementation” side event, in which Ministers and United Nations Systems leaders held an open exchange to identify countries’ needs and the role of the UN System in response to those needs, the strongest message that stuck was that COP-16 is about achieving realistic goals via the manipulation of tools and mechanisms that are accessible and tailored to the different needs of the individual countries.

The failure of COP-15 propagated from the intense hype and demands for extreme successes that were untenable.  On the contrary, delegates this year arrived at Cancun cautious, with more realistic assessments and understanding of the achievable.  It might seem obvious, and unfortunate that we require a meeting of this scale just to reiterate that point, but perhaps this reality check will be the one single mission that can be borne out of this conference.  There is no perfect solution or statement, but there will surely be incremental steps taken in the right direction.  I’ll take that.

PS: Celebrity watch: shook hands with the President of Mexico, and had a group photo taken with Daryl Hannah. High five!

Written by MICHLHW.

Its Time to Move Beyond Sputnik Moments and Coors-Light Solutions

Since the publication of Silent Spring in 1962, environmentalism, especially in the United States, has largely been driven by Sputnik moments and Coors-Light solutions: catalyzing events that drove a call for silver bullet solutions.

The events were emotional and tangible: a river on fire; a housing development built upon a toxic waste site; the explosion of a chemical plant in India; a massive hole in the planet’s figurative sunblock.  These events drove the average citizen to call out for change because they could connect the crisis to own lives: most  know water should not be on fire, want their children to be able to play outside without fear of what is in the soil or air, and know someone who has skin cancer.  Hearing this call, those in power passed historic, silver bullet solutions such as the Montreal Protocol.

The threat posed by climate change is precisely the opposite.  It is long term, complex and not tangible in the typical sense.  There isn’t going to be a Sputnik moment which convinces the body public that our reliance on decomposed dinosaurs imperils us and future generations.  Unlike the substances banned under the Montreal protocol, there are no substitutes which can easily and inexpensively replace dino at the core of our global economic system.

COP-15 in Copenhagen failed in part due to this continued faith in a silver bullet solution: binding treaty which would put the world on a path to sustainability.  After a week in Cancun, I am beginning to see signs that this lesson, if nothing else, has been learned.  The discussion is no longer solely focused on attaching a price to carbon, but an array of issues from adaptation and agricultural intensification to mitigation efforts outside of the traditional United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

There is no doubt that the science underlying of climate change and the repercussions of inaction only grow more dire with each passing year.  Theses impacts aren’t just in the future, the canary is already making quite a racket: historic loss of Arctic ice pack, cities submerged and unprecedented monsoons.  But we can’t continue to let a quest for perfection impede progress.  At the risk of offending the all animal lovers, a shotgun might not be as glamourous a way to take down a canary as a rifle, but you surely stand of a better chance of actually hitting your target.

Written by DOUG GLANCY.