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'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: