Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Free ebook on using Green Bonds to make buildings more energy efficient

2015 saw between US$40 and $50 billion of Green Bonds invested in sustainable infrastructure. This sum is expected to triple next year, a very encouraging trend. Who's lending? Who's investing? You can read a free briefing on the topic here: http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/business/finance/ebook-green-bonds-and-property/79531

This comes from my recent work with Australian green business publisher The Fifth Estate, convening a salon in the City of London about the power of using Green Bonds to make the built environment more energy efficient. Attending were Sean Kidney of the Climate Bonds Initiative, Tatiana Bosteels, from Hermes Investment, Catherine Bremner of ANZ Bank, Adam MacDonald of Lloyds Bank, Julie Hirigoyen of the UK Green Building Council and several more. All are featured in the ebook. Enjoy! 

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Paris Agreement: a turning point for the world

Contrast the high emotion and tears in the plenary hall at Le Bourget when the Paris Agreement climate change deal was struck on Saturday night with the response over the next day or two from the fossil fuel industry.

"We are not too worried, to be honest, it does not change much right now," an unnamed senior executive of a utility company owning coal assets told to a Financial Times journalist over the weekend.

The reasons for this coolness are twofold: the core of the deal is not legally binding upon governments; and a global carbon price is only obliquely referred to in the Agreement, while the current European carbon price is too low to make a difference to investment plans. Besides, the oil industry has plenty more pressing problems.

Here is another contrast: the first speeches from the floor that were called by President Laurent Fabian on Saturday evening overwhelmingly applauded the deal, praising the fact that it was the first time that almost all governments of the world had reached accord on a deal to tackle climate change that seemed to have prospect of working. 

It was left to the Nicaraguan representative Paul Oquist to bring everybody down. "Based on science, it is not sufficient to reach a target of 1.5°C but leads us to 3°C of warming instead," he told everyone with a stony face. "I want the world to sign up to a carbon budget now, and more financing from developed countries with guaranteed loss and damage compensation for vulnerable countries like Nicaragua."

He was absolutely right. The deal is not sufficient, it is not perfect, but it was the best that could be managed.

Now for the final contrast that really struck me on the night: Gao Feng, the Chinese representative, made a speech from the floor announcing all of the measures that the Chinese government would now take as a result of the Paris Agreement, and it was impressive. 

He was immediately followed by United States Senator John Kerry who, of course, with an American election coming up next year and a United States Congress dominated by climate sceptic Republicans, could make no such promises. Instead he placed his faith in "the innovative power of American business that will lead the way forward".

Following this speech President Obama issued a tweet crediting American leadership with securing the deal. This was hubris. In fact the credit should go to French leadership, with the French Minister Laurent Fabius, having pulled out all of the diplomatic stops, being widely praised for keeping his calm and measured hand on the tiller throughout.


His was the wisdom of Solomon to the power of n. The Agreement is probably the world's greatest diplomatic triumph so far and one of which it should be justifiably proud.

But the French leadership could not have been possible without the help of South Africa and the spirit of Nelson Mandela – quoted by several speakers – and in particular a South African Zulu and Xhosa tribal decision-making process known as 'indaba'. 

Indaba was used in Durban in 2011 to break deadlocks, and involves diplomats being constrained from repeating their entrenched positions, instead being asked to talk personally and quietly about their positions and propose solutions to each other, while other delegates stand around listening and offering advice.

Last week, when faced by deadlocks and deadlines, Fabius' response was to refine this process by splitting groups into two with specific tasks. Hostile parties spoke to each other constructively. Reports have it that this helped to break down the text and solve disagreements with extraordinary rapidity. 

A West African diplomat told a journalist that: "It is a very effective way to streamline negotiations and bridge differences, being participatory yet fair. It should be used more often."

Some radical green groups, such as 350.org and Global Justice Now have denounced the Paris Agreement for the same reason that Nicaragua did. James Hansen called it a sham. But this is to undermine the exceptional efforts made by their own supporters which helped to push the negotiators as far as they did. It would not have succeeded without them.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement is something that can be worked with by everybody. 


The crucial factor that will remove obstacles to its progress is an adequate level of finance.

Governments of developed countries are now encouraged by the 19-page supplement to the 12-page Paris Agreement document to set a new goal of giving over $100 billion per year to developing countries as climate finance for adaptation purposes by 2025. 

This may be a problem given the current political and financial situation in countries such as the US and the UK. Since the US produces 15% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, a way must be found around Republican opposition.

But while national governments wring their hands over being asked to spend billions, businesses are talking about spending trillions. This deal would not have been possible without big business both before and during Paris calling for an ambitious result.

The "Breakthrough Energy Coalition" http://www.breakthroughenergycoalition.com/en/index.html includes Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg,  and 27 other billionaire investors plus the University of California. It is a "network of private capital committed to building a structure... to help accelerate the change to the advanced energy future our planet needs."

The Green Infrastructure Investment Coalition was another network launched in Paris last week with the aim of promoting investment into sustainable infrastructure. Its 13 founding members include Deutsche Bank, four Indian banks, Ceres in the USA, the European Investment Bank and the Australasian Investor Group on Climate Change. http://www.unpri.org/whatsnew/green-infrastructure-investment-coalition-launched-at-cop21/ Foundation members are the Climate Bonds Initiative, the Principles for Responsible Investment, UNEP Inquiry and the International Cooperative Mutual Insurers Federation (ICMIF).

India's International Solar Alliance http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/modi-launches-international-solar-alliance/article7934560.ece, also announced in Paris, will attract $1 trillion for solar energy infrastructure in equatorial countries.

U.S. multinational banks have set up their own funds: Goldman Sachs' is worth $150 billion, Citi's $100 billion and the Bank of America's is worth $125 billion.

Earlier this year, Apple, Walmart, Goldman Sachs and 10 other companies announced at the White House that they would pledge $140 billion in low carbon investments, and install 1,600 megawatts of new renewable energy.  

Corporate members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development launched a Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative of corporate investments. http://unsdsn.org/what-we-do/climate-change/ppps-for-technology/

And that's just a start

How much would it cost, however, to meet the aspirations enshrined in the Paris Agreement? According to the International Energy Agency (IEA)'s "World Energy Outlook, Special Briefing for COP 21", published before the Paris talks began, which evaluated the cost of meeting the target set by 160 countries that submitted their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), the bill is $13.5 trillion. But this would not meet the 1.5°C target, instead only bringing rising temperatures down to 3°C above preindustrial levels. 

$13.5 trillion equates to $900 billion per year, according to Val Smith, director of corporate sustainability at Citi. Since that date, as well, a further 29 INDCs have been submitted which will push the bill up. 

A reasonable estimate of the final cost might therefore be around $2 trillion per year. Yet much of this sum might be spent anyway in upgrading existing infrastructure and building new necessary infrastructure, and much of the investment will be in plant and technology that will actually save money by reducing energy and health costs.

Yet to this total we must add the cost of adaptation, which, of course, becomes less the more money is put into mitigation. And the countries which really need adaptation measures and sustainable infrastructure often do not have the wherewithal to handle big investments, such as competent local banks, legal systems and a skilled workforce.

Big investors like Goldman Sachs will only help countries on their own terms. Private finance, while key to the success of the project, will only go so far. That $100 billion a year from governments will be necessary.

Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement represents a turning point for the world. Now we now need action, and that is the theme of the next Conference of the Parties, COP22, according to its host country Morocco. This will be in eleven months, in Marrakesh. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Post COP21 agro-industrial companies are sitting on massive "stranded land-use assets"

Now an agreement has been reached by the world's nations in Paris this week to tackle climate change, what will the world look like in 2100?

That depends on how well it is implemented, but if we peer into the future, we find that whatever happens there are crucial implications for land use and, therefore, feeding humanity.

As a result, the world's big agro-industrial companies are relying on massive land-use models that will become obsolete in the same way that oil companies' carbon assets will be stranded. They must, in short, adapt or die.

The evidence: caught in a double bind

Either the world fails to tackle climate change, and desertification renders these models useless, or it succeeds, and this necessitates a new approach to feeding the world. Below is my reasoning.

A new computer simulation peer-reviewed in the journal Nature using the UN IPCC AR5's Fifth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) shows that drylands (the world's deserts) could well expand from covering 38% of the world's land surface – as they do at the moment – to around one half, if the agreement reached does not achieve the full 1.5oC target.

The exact amount of desertification will depend upon the degree to which the concentration of greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere can be constrained.

Here are three possible scenarios, relative to a 1961–1990 baseline for total dryland area across the world:

1. As projected under a business-as-usual scenario, where we just carry on as we are doing, dryland area will increase by around 23% to cover 56% of land surface. This corresponds to the IPCC's representative concentration pathway (RCP) 8.5, in which we reach a global-mean warming level of about 4°C above pre-industrial levels by the 2080s.
2. If we attain the approximate measures represented by the pledges currently made by the world's nations in their INDCs, dryland will increase by 11% to 50% of total land surface. Global average temperatures will increase by around 2.5°C from preindustrial levels. (We have already reached just over 1°C rise.) This corresponds roughly to the IPCC's RCP4.5.

Both of these scenarios would see a negative feedback effect, meaning that things would get progressively worse, as drylands are able to sequester less carbon from the atmosphere compared to healthy soil, and regional warming would increase, as it is generally twice that of humid regions.

3. Only by enacting measures roughly in agreement with RCP2.6 would this increase in desert land area slow down. This is a 'peak-and-decline' scenario, where the radiative forcing level first would reach a value of around 3.1 W/m2 by mid-century, then returning to 2.6 W/m2 by 2100, with 490 CO2 equivalent parts per million atmospheric concentration and a global average temperature increase of 1.5°C.

How do we achieve 'peak-and-decline'?

This will require stringent policies to limit emissions. Primary energy use will still double, but by 2100 coal and natural gas burning would be at around twice the level in the year 2000, oil around one third of the level in that year, the main increases being in bioenergy, nuclear and solar/wind/geothermal/tidal energy. Some means of sequestering carbon is also required to meet the safe targets.

But that is only half the story: land-use must also change. The dominant agro-industrial model on the planet contributes at least one third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

A major driver for change to reduce these emissions is that the agricultural companies, which have so far been amongst the worst offenders for not changing their policies to adjust for climate change, will have to change their business models or face ruin – and the sooner the better.

We have now got used to the phrases "carbon bubble" and "stranded carbon assets" vis-a-vis the oil industry. By analogy, agro-industrial companies are sitting on massive "stranded land-use assets". Their company value will plummet unless they change their practices.

To change their business models they will need help, but modelling of emissions as a result of land use has lagged behind that of emissions from energy use in terms of sophistication.

Emissions from the agro-industrial sector

About 29% of global emissions are associated with food production – about 13.5 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent per year, roughly the same as the annual emissions of China and India combined, or 10 times the emissions of the aviation sector.

A report ‘Silent but Deadly - Estimating the real climate impact of agribusiness companies’ released this week, publishes estimations of unreported ‘scope 3' greenhouse gas emissions for three companies – Cargill, Yara and Tyson. These are amongst the world’s biggest firms in the cattle feed, nitrous fertiliser and beef industries respectively.

In the negotiations in Paris emissions Scope 3 emissions cover indirect emissions, such as those associated with the upstream and downstream supply chains of operations.

These companies have been in denial. The report finds that their declared emissions are way below their actual emissions as seen in the following table:

CompanyDeclared annual emissions million tonnes CO2eActual annual estimated emissions million tonnes CO2e

Monsanto is not covered by this survey, which is why there is no figure for actual estimated emissions in the table above. However, it is a major player in the sector.

Monsanto in particular promotes through intense lobbying, lawsuits and aggressive marketing the above agro-industrial model; it is also largely responsible for the depletion of soil and water resources, species extinction and declining biodiversity, and the displacement of millions of small farmers worldwide.

Can agro-industry reform itself?

But now it seems that Monsanto has at least recognised the need for change. It announced last week that it plans to make its operations carbon neutral by 2021, in part by working with farmers who use its products to help them reduce carbon emissions, the company's CEO told The Associated Press.

To be carbon neutral means that Monsanto must reduce its net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero.

Farmers "have an opportunity and a part to play in mitigation around climate change," said its CEO Hugh Grant. "Rather than being the problem, I think there's a growing realization they can be a big part of the solution."

Let's hope so, but the record doesn't look good. Many of these big agribusiness companies have, this and last year, joined forces with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Bank to promote Climate Smart Agriculture under the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). Members include Walmart, Monsanto and Yara.

Climate Smart Agriculture sounds great, but in fact there are very few significant social or environmental preconditions for joining GACSA21 or calling a particular agricultural practice 'climate smart'.

For example Yara promotes itself as a practitioner of Climate Smart Agriculture, but remains among the world’s biggest producers of nitrogen-based fertilisers (the worst type of fertiliser for its impact upon the climate).

Furthermore, Monsanto is due to go on trial for ecocide. The Monsanto Tribunal, which will be held in The Hague from 12 to 16 October 2016, will research and evaluate all of the many allegations made against Monsanto about the damages its products have caused to human health and the environment over the decades.

The tribunal, which is appealing for funds from the public, will also assess potential criminal liability on the basis of the Rome Statue that created the International Criminal Court in The Hague in 2002, and it will consider whether a reform of international criminal law is warranted to include crimes against the environment, known popularly as ecocide, or ecocide, as a prosecutable criminal offense.

Observers are therefore sceptical of GACSA.

Proven alternatives

The majority of civil society groups active on climate change support proven alternatives such as agroecology, changes of diet to include less meat, and food sovereignty as the only sure way to reduce emissions from the sector equitably. This means more organic growing, which nurtures healthy soil, and more vegetarianism.

Ultimately it means a shift to One Planet Living (as described in my book, see below) and an agro-ecological not agro-industrial food production and land/biodiversity/soil management strategy throughout the world.

But it's easier to change the behaviour of a handful of companies than millions of famers and consumers. Compared to changing agriculture, changing air travel to reduce emissions seems a doddle.

So what about air travel? It turns out according to an article in the journal Nature, that it is possible to reduce emissions from the majority of passenger aircraft by around 2% per year up to 2050 at zero marginal costs for per barrel oil prices between US$50-100. Larger reductions are possible but could impose extra costs and require using synthetic fuels. The industry will still need encouragement to change, however.

Whatever agreement is reached in Paris this week, there is no doubt that the lives of our children and grandchildren will be hugely different from ours. Whether that is by design or disaster is in the hands this week of our political and business leaders.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Do Europeans care about energy efficiency?

Energy efficiency – saving energy – is probably the area in people's lives where they can make the most difference in their personal response to the challenge of climate change, so pollsters quizzed individuals in five West European countries about their awareness of COP21, the big climate change conference happening now in Paris, and on energy efficiency. 

Their level of awareness depended on where they lived. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the host nation, 78% of French people said they had heard of the climate talks, compared with 59% of Germans, 45% of Belgians, 37% of the Dutch and just one in three, or 34%, of the British. 

This averages out to just over half, or 50.9%, of those polled.

Shame on the Brits, who didn't fare much better in knowing what the conference is about.  Just 19% of the British people asked said they knew – less than one in five – compared with 50% of French people, 30% of Germans, 20% of Belgians and 26% of the Dutch.

Most people did however say that they were personally interested in the negotiations. But they were cynical – apart from in Belgium, only a minority thought it would really change things and provide practical solutions.

All in all, 90 per cent of Europeans felt that emphasis on solving climate change should be placed on furthering technical progress.

The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive survey for SPIE Group by interviewing representative national samples of 1,000 people in each of the five countries.

Of those who think their country is lagging behind on climate change what they thought the reason for this was, a lack of political will by their leaders in making energy efficiency a priority was the commonest reason: 84% in the UK, 86% in the Netherlands, 91% in Belgium, 93% in Germany and 94% in France.

Despite being at the bottom of the league of awareness about COP21, Britons redeemed themselves here and by contrast came top over their neighbours in their awareness of the importance of energy efficiency: 94% of them had heard of it and 70% of them actually claimed to know what it is about.

Germany (where the figures are 92% and precisely 43%, respectively) came second. Most French (68%), Belgian (68%) and Dutch (60%) people also said they had heard of the term, but only a minority in France and Belgium went so far as to say they knew exactly what it entails (20% and 18% respectively).

Perhaps astonishingly, about one-third of people had never heard of energy efficiency in these countries. 

Of those Europeans who had heard of it, they spontaneously associated energy efficiency with insulation and, to a lesser extent, solar power, energy-efficient equipment and smart energy management systems.

When they were shown a list of items representing energy efficiency, the idea that it is about preventing waste was the first thing mentioned by all Europeans, whether they were in France (52%), Germany (52%), Belgium (52%), the Netherlands (46%) or the UK (60%).

Over 8 out of 10 said they were careful about reducing energy consumption in their homes: 85% in the Netherlands, 88% in the UK, 91% in Belgium and as many as 95% in France and Germany.

In regards to public places, most Belgians and French said they were careful to reduce consumption (71% and 69% respectively) whereas the other nationalities appeared to be more circumspect (from 49% in the Netherlands to 55% in the UK).

Logically enough, the more directly a location falls within their scope of action, the more people said they took action to reduce energy consumption.

The survey found that, in fact, in all the countries, property owners and people in households with an average income are more careful with their energy consumption than anybody else.

Interestingly, for retailers looking to reduce their overhead costs, in all five countries, most people believe that heating is set too high in shops, particularly in France (67%), Germany (62%), and Belgium (60%) and to a less degree in the UK (54%) and the Netherlands (49%).

They do think that their own homes are heated to the right temperature (78% of the Dutch, 70% of the French, 69% of Germans, 66% of Belgians and 56% of the British).

What is the ideal indoor temperature? 

But what is the ideal temperature? The vast majority thought the ideal indoor temperature was above 19°C (64% in the UK, 68% in the Netherlands, 79% in Belgium and as many as 85% in Germany). Nearly one-third (32%) thought the ideal heating temperature was 20°C and an average of 21% said 21°C.

They all said they were willing to go along with recommendations in this matter, and more so in the workplace than at home.

While most Belgians (52%), Dutch (51%) and British (45%) considered that their countries are about average when it comes to progress on energy efficiency, the Germans believe that they are in the lead (52%) and the French think they are lagging behind (51%).

In all the countries, individuals and local authorities are seen as the most committed to energy efficiency, ahead of businesses and, especially, ahead of the State and its administrations (which are considered to be mobilised only by a minority in most countries).

The French are differentiated by the fact that they say that local authorities are more mobilised than other players, whereas the British tend to cite each player.

In all the countries, the greatest motivating factor for energy efficiency was reducing energy bills (from 85% in the Netherlands to 93% in Belgium). This was followed by the opportunity to receive tax benefits, though that point was less often mentioned by the British (75%) than by other Europeans: 92% in Belgium, 90% in France, 89% in Germany and 81% in the Netherlands.

Other motivational factors were environmental, in particular, people’s desire to reduce pollution in their vicinity (from 89% in France to 73% in the Netherlands) and to ascertain a level of environmental awareness (from 85% in France to 73% in the UK).

The 'first fuel'

Generally speaking, it is cheaper to invest in saving energy than in generating it, making energy efficiency the most cost-effective way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the European Commission now refers to it as 'the first fuel'.

A group of investors called the Energy Efficiency Financial Institutions Group, convened by the European Commission and the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, has produced a report, Energy Efficiency – the first fuel for the EU Economy. How to drive new finance for energy efficiency investments, urging a dramatic increase in action on energy efficiency.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Your essential briefing for COP21

Two weeks of increasingly frenetic horse trading between 40,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society have begun. This will culminate in a formula that will seal the fate of the planet for years to come.

On Sunday millions of people marched in cities around the world in an attempt to put pressure on their political leaders to produce the best possible result for reducing emissions and helping vulnerable populations at COP21 in Paris. I was there in London, and impressed by the links made at the rally between climate change and other issues such as the pursuit of economic growth, biodiversity, and social justice.

Yet a poll released yesterday showed that a majority of UK citizens are unaware of what COP21 means, so this article is an introduction to some of the things to watch out for that could mean that the final agreement is less – or more – than could be hoped for. I begin with a summary of the situation:

The science and statistics of climate change

All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880.1 Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.
Atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution.
This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution.

Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.2

Global sea level rose about 17 centimetres (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade is nearly double that.

The Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) – four greenhouse gas concentration trajectories (i.e. possible predictions) adopted by the IPCC for its fifth Assessment Report in 20143 – are consistent with a wide range of possible changes in future anthropogenic (i.e., human) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:

  1. RCP 2.6 assumes that global annual GHG emissions peak between 2010-2020, with emissions declining substantially thereafter.
  2. Emissions in RCP 4.5 peak around 2040, and then decline.
  3. In RCP 6, emissions peak around 2080, and then decline.
  4. In RCP 8.5, emissions continue to rise throughout the 21st century.4

Pathways of global GHG emissions (GtCO2eq/yr) in baseline and mitigation scenarios for different long-term concentration levels.
Pathways of global GHG emissions (GtCO2eq/yr) in baseline and mitigation scenarios for different long-term concentration levels5

To keep the global temperature rise under 2°C

For a global temperature change of less than 2°C during the 21st century relative to 1850-1900 levels to be considered "likely", CO2 concentration levels must be kept below 500 ppm. This is consistent with the RCP2.6 pathway, the first one above.5

For this to be achieved worldwide annual GHG emissions should be reduced to below 40 GtCO2eq/yr (equivalent of gigatonnes of CO2 per year). Current emissions are over 50 GtCO2eq/yr.

Global emissions in 2012 were 53.5 GtCO2eq of which 4.7 came from the EU, 12.5 came from China and 6.3 from the United States.6

National commitments so far

Ahead of the Paris conference we already know what targets have been agreed by many of the major players. According to climateactiontracker.org 148 submissions in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) have been received by the UNFCCC, covering 175 countries (including the European Union member states), and around 93% of global emissions in 2010 (excluding emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF)) and covering 94% of the global population.

The submissions are of varying quality. Climate Action Tracker is currently analysing them, but so far has only completed analyses of one third so it is not yet possible to give an accurate forecast. Besides, promises are one thing and what is actually delivered is another. However current policies will deliver a temperature rise of at least 3.6°C by the end of the century, and delivered pledges, taken at face value, will give a temperature rise of 2.7°C.

This is not sufficient. There is a gap. For this reason, countries have provisionally agreed (but this is to be confirmed at Paris) to review their actions and policies every five years.

But nations are not the only show in town

At the beginning of this year the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the European Commission, together with four other important networks in local government, signed a historic agreement to work together on development issues in order to tackle global poverty and inequality, promote democracy and sustainable development.
The UCLG, based in Barcelona, represents and defends the interests of local governments on the world stage, regardless of the size of the communities they serve. In total, the organizations represent almost half the world's local governments and populations.

Coincidentally, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is the co-president of UCLG, and Chair of the UCLG Standing Committee on Gender Equality. She is on record as saying "Territorial actors now play a major role in the fight against climate change. They are the ones who take concrete action on the ground, every single day."

In July, civil society representatives and local and regional governments from around the world met in Lyon and signed the Lyon Declaration. This committed all major local government networks to support their members in reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 2020 and 2050 in line with the goal to keep global average temperature growth below 2°C.

Particular proposals for COP21 negotiations include facilitating local and regional government access to green climate funds, which, as we noted last week, are projected to rise to $300 billion in 2016, and more in subsequent years. As we observed then, public bodies and green or climate bonds are particularly well-suited as partners for financing sustainable, climate-friendly development.

The bogeys in the room

If non-national actors and green bonds are the reinforcements that could come in and save the day, helping to close the emissions gap, what are the threats that we must beware of that could wreck an agreement?

Industrial agriculture and emissions. Emissions from land use and land use change and forestry suffer from poor accounting and policymakers are being lobbied by big agribusiness companies on a similar scale to the fossil fuel sector. Agribusiness proposals for so-called 'Climate Smart Agriculture' are more about greenwashing agribusiness companies rather than real action. Agriculture is not sufficiently on the agenda at COP21.

The world's ever-increasing appetite for meat is particularly bad news for the climate. Monocultural farming, where vast areas of land just grow one type of crop, whether for humans, fuel or animal feed, entail systematic deforestation and require machinery, fertilisers and pesticides which are highly reliant on fossil fuels. Farting cattle account for a huge chunk of direct emissions. All of this needs to be accounted for and controlled.

Other ‘false solutions’ like Climate Smart Agriculture will be put forward to confuse and distract negotiators. These include carbon trading and carbon offsetting which, while potentially useful, are no substitute for real action and real emission cutting.

Current trade deals being negotiated such as TTIP and TPP bypass national governments' potential ability to control all emissions within their territories, thereby undermining their ability to address climate change regardless of the outcome of Paris.

The same is true for hidden emissions from shipping and flying which are also not subject to national controls.

Corporations have historically sought to undermine effective action at the climate talks. This will be no exception in Paris where the “Solutions 21” exposition will present a smorgasbord of greenwashing.

The need for justice

Paris COP21 is an opportunity above all, to talk about climate justice. This means listening to the voices of the disenfranchised, particularly in the vulnerable and poorer parts of the world. It means using the solutions that address the climate challenge to simultaneously lift these people out of poverty and into a safe zone of green jobs, decent education and sustainable livelihoods. It means protecting them from extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

Justice is high on the agenda already in Paris following the terrorist attacks. As a result climate activists will not be able to fill the streets and put pressure on leaders as they have in previous years. Those leaders themselves may be distracted by issues such as the war on terror, the austerity crisis, the Syrian civil war. These crises all demand a just response.

A solution to climate change is also not possible without justice, without a fair and proportionate response being given to those who need it, by those who are responsible for it. For we are all in it together, as never before.

Let us therefore send our good will to our political leaders. May they have the wisdom to look beyond the short term, and listen beyond the loudest voices, to take tough decisions and do what is necessary to protect the Earth for the benefit of our children and their future descendants. But may they know that we, and the rest of the world, are watching closely, and that we hold them accountable for whatever they decide.

  1. Climatic Research Data, UEA http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/
  2. 2009: Second Warmest Year on Record; End of Warmest Decade, NASA http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20100121/
  3. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Physical Science Basis WG, Summary for Policymakers http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf
  4. The RCP greenhouse gas concentrations and their extensions from 1765 to 2300 https://www.pik-potsdam.de/research/climate-impacts-and-vulnerabilities/projects/project-pages/world-bank-report/publications/meinshausen-etal-2011-the-rcp-greenhouse-gas-conce.pdf
  5. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Mitigation of Climate Change WG, Summary for Policymakers http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers.pdf
  6. GHG (CO2, CH4, N2O, F-gases) emission time series 1990-2012 per region/country http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=GHGts1990-2012&sort=des9
With thanks to Nemos Thorpe for some research.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

G20 nations squabble as COP21 looms

...But Green Bonds could bridge the commitment gap

Signed photo of the G20 leaders in Antalya
Signed photo of the G20 leaders in Antalya.

Overshadowed by the terrible events in Paris, G20 leaders meeting last weekend could be forgiven for being preoccupied as they debated their communiqué on climate change ahead of COP21. This UN summit on climate change is now due to start in that very same city in less than two weeks' time.

These 20 countries, while a small minority of the world's nations who will be represented at the summit, are nevertheless the richest and most powerful.

Precious time was apparently spent on discussing whether reference to the 2°C warming limit should be included in the statement, with Saudi Arabia and India resisting. India didn't even want the G20 to interfere in the Paris talks and blocked a general reference to discussions on “periodic monitoring”.

But China has already agreed with France to this idea that there should be a five-year stocktaking assessment of national climate pledges.

The final statement did recommit the rich world to staying within the 2°C limit on global warming and to phasing out "inefficient" fossil fuel subsidies.

“We recognise that 2015 is a critical year that requires effective, strong and collective action on climate change and its effects,” the final communique said. “We reaffirm the below 2C goal.”

The statement added:

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We affirm our determination to adopt a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC that is applicable to all Parties. Our actions will support growth and sustainable development.

But Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said the “declaration was too weak” and had been rejected by the US and some EU countries.

"After long negotiations through the night, we managed to get the two-degree-goal into the agreement," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said afterwards. "However, we also made clear that a lot of negotiating remains to ensure that we make progress at the Paris climate summit. It has to be a success, and Germany will do anything to assist France."

On Wednesday this week the UK, where the industrial revolution began, committed also to phasing out its coal-fired power stations by 2050, although it did not commit to phasing out fossil fuels. Instead the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd, announced that the country would build a new generation of gas-fired power stations. Gas-burning emits roughly half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal-burning for the same amount of power.

The G20 statement committed to "rationalising inefficient subsidies over the medium term", which did not provide the clarity sought by campaigners.

Coincident with the G20 summit, the Overseas Development Institute issued a report showing that its members are still subsidising coal, oil and gas production by a staggering US$452 billion per year.

“Heads of state could have provided a clear and powerful signal ahead of the climate summit by putting a date for the end of fossil fuel subsidies, and agreeing to stop funding fossil fuel projects around the world,” said Ümit Şahin from Turkish group İklim için (For The Climate).

Regarding the threat to the world economy of companies and investors being stranded with valueless fossil fuel assets, a proposal by the Financial Stability Board for a climate risk disclosure task force was kicked into the long grass with a promise to "ask the FSB to continue to engage with public- and private- sector participants on how the financial sector can take account of climate change risks”.

The idea was suggested by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney that businesses should be forced to reveal their carbon footprints so that investors could judge how exposed they are to the risk.

A reference to differentiation was removed from an early draft of the communiqué, though it was mentioned in a separate statement from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. These BRICS nations called for emissions pledges to be "differentiated" based upon national circumstances, thereby favouring industrialized nations doing more to limit emissions than developing ones.

There are no guarantees that climate financing will be part of the Paris agreement and even mention of the 2 degrees pledge is not backed up by commensurate measures, according to Kiri Hanks, energy policy adviser for Oxfam.

The Fifth Estate noted last week that there is a significant gap between the commitments, both financial and technical, made by national governments in their INDCs ahead of COP21, and the money and action required to keep global warming within 2°C.

But at a special salon held in the city of London last Thursday by the Fifth Estate, delegates from the real estate and banking industries felt optimistic that Climate Bonds (or Green Bonds) could fill this gap.

Sean Kidney, CEO, Climate Bonds Initiative, told those present at the salon that there is great enthusiasm in the financial markets for Green Bonds. 2015 has seen the issuance of these bonds climb to around US$50 billion and Sean predicted this would reach US$300 billion in 2016.

These bonds are issued with the proviso that they are spent on action to tackle climate change, whether by installing renewable energy or promoting energy efficiency and other low carbon infrastructure. They are favoured by pension and insurance funds because of their liquidity.

"People who hold them dispose of their non-green bonds first if they need to dispose of bonds at all," he said. This makes them more valuable in the secondary market. They also already fetch a good price in the primary market.

He said that they are most appropriate for the public sector and are being issued by municipalities around the world. He said the treasurers of all municipalities that have already issued them were, to begin with, "sceptical of Green Bonds, but after issuing them were fully converted because they received terrific feedback and lots of kudos for doing so."

"The goal we have, working backwards from the IEA's scenarios shows that we are not moving fast enough and most people don't understand the potential of green bonds and the fact that they are able to make rapid changes," Kidney said.

To this end, The Fifth Estate is shortly to publish an e-book on the topic, particularly in relation to energy efficiency in buildings. As buildings are responsible for between 30% and 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions but altogether comprise two thirds of global asset values, Kidney believes that the potential market is huge.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

10 reasons to be cheerful that the world is taking action on climate change

A week or so ago the British Meteorological Office released data showing global temperatures are set to break through the 1°C temperature rise barrier since the start of the industrial revolution. An awful milestone. It means we are half way to the 2°C limit agreed by nations as the danger level that we must not exceed.

As delegates and campaigners gear up to the climate talks starting in Paris at the end of the month, it might seem hard to be optimistic given the experience of previous UN climate change summits.

Yet the signs are good that the world is waking up to the urgent need to take strong action on both tackling greenhouse gas emissions and building adaptation and resilience to the effects caused by a warming planet. Here is a round-up of recent positive steps.

  1. President Obama rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. As 350.org's Bill McKibben noted, a head of state has never rejected a major fossil fuel project because of its climate impacts before. He wrote: "The President's decision sets the standard for what climate action looks like: standing up to the fossil fuel industry, and keeping fossil fuels in the ground."
  2. Goldman Sachs announced it will leverage $150bn into clean energy financing and investments by 2025. It aims to become the first US investment bank to be carbon-neutral across its operations. Its Environmental Policy Framework says that by 2020 it will seek to invest $2bn into green operational investments and source 100% of its global electricity needs from renewable energy. The bank will also deploy clean energy solutions into under-represented markets with poor access to renewable solutions as part of a Clean Energy Access Initiative. The $150bn investment expands on the existing $40bn target set in 2012. It joins a 13 member team of American multinationals, including Apple and Coca-Cola, pledging $140bn of new low-carbon investment to support President Obama's Climate Action Plan.
  3. A new Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative is claimed to be capable of delivering 65% of all the carbon emission reductions needed to meet the UN target of keeping global warming to under 2°C. It would do this by channelling at least $5-$10 trillion investment into low carbon sectors which would create at least 20m-45m jobs around the world over the next 15 years, according to the President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Peter Bakker.
  4. French energy firm EDF has a strategic plan – “CAP 2030” – to double its renewable energy portfolio from 28GW to up to 50GW in the next 15 years, says its Group Senior Executive Vice President Renewable Energies, Antoine Cahuzac.
  5. Meanwhile ExxonMobil is being investigated by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to determine whether it misled its investors about the risks of climate change, as outlined by its own research. This follows reports by the non-profit Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times that Exxon deliberately played down the impact of fossil fuel burning on the climate.
  6. China's cumulative installed capacity for renewables, excluding hydropower, is expected to more than triple from 196.3 Gigawatts (GW) in 2015 to an estimated 608.9 GW by 2025 – a Compound Annual Growth Rate of an astonishing 12%, according to research and consulting firm GlobalData. This is driven primarily by ambitious government targets for onshore wind. It's amaxing to think that in 2007 its installed capacity, excluding hydropower, was just 9GW.
  7. The European Union's Energy Community ministerial council adopted a 20% headline target on energy efficiency by 2020, paving the way for further energy efficiency improvements beyond that date. As in the EU, the Directive will require the Contracting Parties to adopt energy savings obligation schemes for energy distribution and retail companies, promote efficiency in heating and cooling and co-generation and apply yearly targets for the renovation of central government buildings.

Cities and regions are also taking unilateral action, independent of their host countries:

  1. Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, is this week hosting 100 Resilient Cities's second annual Chief Resilience Officer Summit. At this week-long summit, established by the Rockefeller Foundation, pioneers in the practice of urban resilience from 6 continents and more than 30 countries are brainstorming how to broaden their efforts to adapt to climate change and related issues in their cities. For example, they will visit the southern borough of Xochimilco, where solutions are being implemented to resilience challenges including water and watershed management, mobility, vulnerable populations, conservation encroachment, and urban sprawl.
  2. In October The Covenant of Mayors - a movement of European cities committed to more energy efficiency and renewable energy - and its sister initiative Mayors Adapt – cities committing to prepare for the impacts of climate change - joined forces in the fight against climate change, led by Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy. These cities house 360 million people and account for 70% of the continent's energy consumption. Commissioner Arias Cañete called this "bottom-up approach which has worked so well in Europe"... "the world’s biggest urban climate and energy initiative".
  3. On this local level Energy Cities maintains a best practice database of European cities’ action in the field of energy and climate policies containing about 500 examples of energy transition aspects: local resources, energy efficiency, sustainable mobility, governance, social innovation, financing and, coming soon, a whole new series of best practices on urban farming. Further resources are in the “Proposals for the energy transition of cities and towns”.

The bottom line is that investors like pension funds and insurance companies, and cities and regions find it easier and quicker to change their policies than national governments. What's more, they see added benefits to doing so, benefits that mean that it may not even be necessary to cite 'climate change' as a motivating factor, even though the measures aid the fight against it.

Johanna Rolland, the Mayor of Nantes, a leader in this regard, certainly agrees. "The response to climate urgency can also become an opportunity for local development, job creation and the emergence of a new societal model," he said at the October Covenant of Mayors meeting. His city plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.

That's exceeding by almost a factor of two the target endorsed by respondees to a European Commission consultation of cities’ views on the possible orientations of a new Covenant of Mayors, in which 97% called for new targets for 2030 of a minimum 40% CO2 reduction, and 27% increase in energy efficiency and renewables.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, consisting of 80 megacities worldwide, including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing and Jakarta, is doing similar, parallel work. This kind of thing is even happening in China.

We still need to keep up the grassroots pressure on political leaders to be ambitious in Paris. It is vital not to be complacent. The money and the measures need to be shown to be making a real, measurable, difference. But perhaps we can cautiously hope that the world is belatedly making a welcome recognition that the response to climate change can actually bring many other positive benefits.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Climate change: how the road to Paris is confused by diversions and misleading signposts

If the world was run in a rational way, and if it wanted to avoid expensive and life-threatening damage to eco-systems, climate and sea levels, not to mention reduce the threat of conflict that would result, then it would reasonably follow the advice of climate change scientists. These scientists say that that to be on the safe side it is necessary to keep the average global temperature rise since the start of the industrial revolution within 2°C at the most. There is pretty much no doubt about this.

So as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process to achieve this result, the world's national governments were asked to submit plans outlining how they would do their bit to achieve this result.

These plans are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). 146 countries had submitted them as of 1 October 2015 (including the EU, which represents 28 countries), covering 86% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Since October 1 more INDCs have been submitted and more keep coming in.

The UNFCCC has analysed whether the first 146 INDCs will collectively meet the 2°C challenge, and, by inference, whether they are acting in a rational way. It concludes that if fully implemented they would dramatically slow the level of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere – but not quite enough.

The analysis says the actions will bring global average emissions per capita down by as much as 8% in 2025 and 9% in by 2030, which will have the effect of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

One key point is "if fully implemented". A second is: whether these reports themselves are worth the paper they're written on.

The secretariat report does not directly assess implications for temperature change by the end of the century under the INDCs because information on emissions beyond 2030 is required. However, other independent analyses have, based on a range of assumptions, methodologies and data sources, attempted to estimate the impact of the INDCs on temperature. The analysis leads to a range of average estimates above 3°C.

We should probably pay more attention to these independent analyses, as they are less cautious about causing offence to sensitive nations in the politically hot climate of the pre-Paris negotiations.

So what do they say about the world's chances? Well, you won't be surprised to learn that not all governments are behaving in a rational way. In fact there is a psychological label that could be applied to describe the approach of some governments, and it is: schizophrenic.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is one of the main watchdogs of the UNFCC process. It is produced by four research organisations tracking climate action, led by Dr. Bill Hare, a physicist and environmental scientist at Climate Analytics. The other three organisations are Ecofys, New Climate Institute, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

CAT has assessed the quality of the INDCs, to see whether they are actually worth the paper they are written on. Amongst the countries that come up for the heaviest criticisms are several in South America, Turkey, South Africa and Indonesia.

CAT heavily criticises South Africa, Indonesia, Argentina and Chile's submissions as “inadequate”, and Brazil and Peru’s as merely “medium”.

"Instead of taking action commensurate with the size of the threat, these governments are largely sticking with their current policies, which are heading in the wrong direction,” said CAT's Dr. Marcia Rocha, Head of the Climate Policy team at Climate Analytics.

But we can't just pin the blame on them. Developed countries' own aid policies towards these countries are actually encouraging them to continue down a high emissions pathway.

Research by the UK's Overseas Development Institute for relief agency Cafod, drawing on data from the UK Department for International Development and from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, shows that in recent years these organisations supported carbon-intensive power plant construction projects in these countries that are locking in coal, oil and gas generated greenhouse gas emissions.

They included £200m to a major coal plant in South Africa and over half a billion pounds towards an oil and gas operation run by Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned energy company – which, as a profitable company hardly needs that level of support. The only possible reason for supporting it was so that British companies could secure contracts for the some of the construction work.

The research shows that twice as much development aid (£2 billion) went to projects involving fossil fuels (43%) as renewable energy (19% and £1 billion). But it's not just the UK doing this – all the G20 countries are.

“Continuing to back the development of fossil fuels doesn’t make sense in light of the UK’s goals on climate change and poverty. Export finance seems like the elephant in the room,” said Neil Thorns of Cafod. “We need consistency across government, so all departments work towards the same goals.” To its credit, the UK government did announce in 2013 that it would end support for new coal-fired power plants overseas.

Climate change impacts are expected to hit countries like Brazil hard. The Amazon has already been hit by severe droughts, and 2°C of warming is likely to increase these, and generally prolong the dry season.

The INDC of South Africa itself is also described as "inadequate". It plots a path with a 20-73% increase in greenhouse gas emissions, excluding emissions from land use changes. This is because the country relies heavily on mining and heavy industry for its economy. It burns domestic coal and its industrial and building sectors are highly carbon intensive. 94% of its electricity generated from coal and large amounts of it are liquefied. More emissions come from industrial processes such as steel and cement production.

It's not as if nothing can be done about this. The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) publishes guides for countries' policymakers on how to improve the energy intensity of industrial activity to make it more efficient, competitive and profitable while at the same time reducing energy use, costs and emissions. South Africa, and countries like it, need rapidly to educate themselves about the exciting potential offered by these pathways and build them into their development plans – not to mention their revised INDCs.

Another INDC up for criticism is that of Turkey. CAT says that if every country were to adopt the same level of ambition as Turkey's plan, then the planet as a whole would be likely to exceed a 4°C temperature rise. Part of the problem is that Turkey is planning to build a number of new coal-burning power plants. These would cancel out all of the anti-global warming measures described in its plan.

Moreover the country appears to be set to reduce its number of wind and solar powered plants. This is irrational because technically, its solar and wind resources are much higher than Germany's so it would be cost-effective to exploit them. Solar thermal power plants do not suffer from the same problems of intermittency as photovoltaic plants since they store the sun's energy in molten salts to power steam turbines during the night.

“Turkey’s renewable energy targets do not reflect the potential of a country with a solar system performance 50% higher than in Germany and a technical wind power potential of 275 GW,” said Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute.

Indonesia, whose rainforests have been famously going up in smoke for many years, comes up for criticism and its INDC is also labelled "inadequate". CAT says its INDC displays a "profound" lack of detail and credibility "around both its emissions projections for deforestation and its plans to slow emissions growth". At the very least it needs to provide separate targets for emissions from forestry, land use and energy and then show how those targets are going to be met.

Independent studies based on satellite data show a 20% yearly rise in deforestation in Indonesia since 2001, despite a temporary government prohibition on the clearing of primary forest and the conversion of peatlands between 2010 and 2016. New figures show that emissions from forest fires could be as high as 1GtCO2e in 2015, which is already higher than estimates for total emissions from the land use sector in Indonesia’s national data for 2015.

Clearly its figures do not stack up. Perhaps the country is just saying what it thinks the UNFCCC wants to hear. It raises the question: for how many other countries is this true?

Indonesia does plan to increase renewables to 23% of primary energy by 2025 from 6% today, but will also add 20 GW from new coal-fired plants.

Building new coal-fired plants locks countries into carbon-intensive futures for decades to come. "This is the antithesis to the kind of decarbonised world we need to hold warming below 2 degrees," says Bill Hare.

Continuing to think that the world can carry on the way it has, while at the same time pretending that it is tackling climate change, could be described as a form of schizophrenia.

This brief look at just a few nations' submitted plans for tackling climate change shows that policymakers and politicians have a long way to go to persuade everybody in their governments of the necessity for and advantages – economic and social and environmental – of moving to a low carbon future.

David Thorpe is the author of: