We’ve only just begun: more climate fights are coming

Comment: Luckily for the chances of avoiding global warming, the Paris climate deal isn’t the only game in town. Here’s a rundown of what else is cooking

TuNur is proposing a series of concentrated solar plants like Spain's Gemasolar, here pictured from the historic Solar Impulse round-the-world flight in July (Pic: Solar Impulse)


So we know the much-heralded Paris climate agreement is likely to come into force this year, and we also know it’s not going to achieve much in the short term (more on that here).

Given we’re heading for the hottest year on record, with scientists linking sea level rise, Arctic melt, drought and flooding to rising greenhouse gas emissions, something needs to be done.

This week’s G20 summit in China will offer a sense of how seriously politicians are taking global warming amidst myriad concerns ranging from a stagnating global economy, war in Syria, Brexit and the South China Sea crisis.

Fresh from last December’s deal in the French capital, it’s a safe bet many heads of government may think they have done their bit on the international stage.

Still, significant moves should be afoot said former White House adviser Andrew Light, now a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, in a media call last week.

“It’s an inescapable truth that the global economy is linked to climate change for worse and for better, and that’s in the wheelhouse of the G20. We expect to see even more intense activity,” he said.

Below I’ve pulled together some of the key initiatives underway this year. Email me on [email protected], leave comment below or tweet @edking_CH if you feel I’ve missed something.

Fossil fuel subsidies: So it depends how you calculate how much global subsidies for the oil, gas and coal industries are worth, but totals range from $160 billion (OECD) to $5.3 trillion (IMF) a year. We’re talking anything from direct funding to tax breaks and government-funded price cuts.

“We have to put the pressure on to see if we can get a target before 2020,” Laurence Tubiana, lead negotiator of the Paris Agreement, said in June.

Earlier that month leaders of the G7 said they would aim to eliminate “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, a decision labelled as “historic” by the London-based Overseas Development Institute. Will the G20 follow suit? It’s unlikely, one EU diplomat who has seen draft decision texts told Climate Home last week.

Others seem more confident. Egypt, Morocco, Ethiopia, Nigeria and yes – India – are among countries to have cut state support for fossil fuels in recent years. “There is growing momentum and international pressure – if the G20 doesn’t deliver it will be a missed opportunity,” said Helen Mountford, head of economics at the WRI.

US election: Potentially the most important event for the climate since Paris. In terms of emissions, it’s a stark choice between Republicans and Democrats. Do you pick the party that says coal is clean, or the one that approved what activists say is the most ambitious climate policy platform on record?

This has global ramifications, according to diplomats. Any chance of a new set of tougher carbon targets before 2020 needs a Clinton win. The US needs a CO2 number on the table for 2030 (it currently just has 2025 sorted) and given its domestic politics that will likely need other countries to raise their game and show it’s not going it alone.

“If it gets other countries on board with new goals then it can be more dynamic, and we all know China lowballed its target for 2030,” said another EU diplomat, also speaking off the record as they were not authorised to comment.

Aviation: If the aviation sector was a country, it would be number 7 in terms of emissions (2%). Should growth rise unrestricted, emissions are projected to triple by 2050. Countries are discussing plans for a global market-based measure to tackle the problem, with a deal expected on 7 October. Despite new CO2 standards for new planes and pledges a cap on net emissions from 2020, it looks a tall order.

HFC coolants: Used in fridges and air conditioning units, HFCs replaced ozone-killing CFCs, but it’s now clear they in turn are busting the climate. And end is in sight, with a meeting of the UN’s Montreal Protocol from 8-14 October slated to see a new agreement to cut their use. According to some analysts, reducing HFCs could cut temperature rises 0.5C by 2100 on business as usual scenarios.

Shipping: Nothing to see here. Shipping accounts for 3% of global emissions, but the London-based International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is an outlier among its UN peers in that it has done virtually nothing to tackle carbon pollution growth. In 2015 Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony de Brum branded the organisation’s stance a “disappointment”. Little changed during talks this year.

Finance: There’s movement on a variety of fronts. The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, a G20 initiative, is looking at tougher reporting rules for banks, pension funds and other types of fund manager. A set of voluntary measures will be published in early 2017, although one source said current proposals are weak.

In November a UN committee on climate finance is due to present its findings on the state of cashflow from rich to poor nations and across the developing world. Wealthier countries committed to generating $100bn a year by 2020, and while the OECD said in 2015 they had hit $60bn, many remain unconvinced.

Report: Green Climate Fund to target ‘high risk’ investments

The $10bn Green Climate Fund meets from 18-20 October in Quito and 13-15 December in Apia, Samoa to accelerate disbursement of funds. An initial goal of delivering $2.5bn this year is unlikely to be hit, but pressure remains high on an organisation mandated to generate a ‘paradigm shift’ in green funding.

“The next 12 months are critical for the GCF… the burden rests on board and management to show it can deliver for the countries that need it,” said Paul Bodnar, a former senior Obama White House official and climate finance expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Best of the rest: When it comes to climate change, there’s no shortage of schemes and initiatives coming online, though it’s harder to assess how well they are doing. The billion-dollar Mission Innovation was launched at the Paris climate talks, backed by Bill Gates and the US government among others. It’s still in its formative stages, as this article in ClimateWire explains.

The India-led International Solar Alliance was also announced in Paris, counting 120 countries as members of an organisation that aims to spread the deployment of solar energy and reduce costs. In July the World Bank announced $1 billion of funding for the ISA, but it’s early days.

Marton, a reader from Hungary emails: You have encouraged readers to suggest more points if they feel you missed something. How about mentioning the High Level Panel on Water, a UN-World Bank initiative from Davos in January with the aim to help implement SDG 6 (water goal) as well as the Paris Agreement (mostly the adaptation side of it).

The panel, consisting of 12 people (10 heads of state and gov and 2 advisers including Manuel Pulgar Vidal), will meet in NYC on the margins of the UN general assembly later this month to adopt an action plan. Here is a press release from April on the panel.

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