What happened at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún this year? I’m trying to figure that out, and I could use your help.
But if you’re just as confused as I am, this is an easy place to start:
• Climate talks wrap with hope for developing nations, Weekend Edition Saturday, National Public Radio.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
The good news is, first, that the negotiations didn’t completely collapse. That was a real fear.
Second, 190 countries agreed to start a Green Climate Fund to raise and disburse $100 billion per year to help developing countries deal with climate change… starting in 2020.
A good idea, but maybe too late. The World Bank estimates that the cost of adapting to a world that’s 2 °C warmer by 2050 will be about $75-100 billion per year. The International Energy Agency estimates that the cost of supporting clean energy technology in developing countries is $110 billion per year if we’re going to keep the temperature rise below 2 °C. But these organizations say we need to start now, not a decade from now!
And how to raise the money? The Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, leads the UN committee that’s supposed to answer this question. He told the BBC that the best approach would be a price on carbon that begins to reflect the damage it does:
Carbon pricing has a double climate effect — it’s a huge source for revenue, but also gives the right incentives for reducing emissions by making it expensive to pollute. The more ambitious we are, the higher the price will be – so there’s a very close link between the ceiling we set for emissions and the price. We estimate that we need a price of about $20/25 per tonne to mobilise the $100bn.
Third, our leaders made some steps towards saving the world’s forests. Every year, forests equal to the area of England get cut down. T This has got to stop, for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, it causes 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — about the same as transportation worldwide!
Cancun set up a framework called REDD+, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degrading Emissions, with the cute little + standing for broader ecosystem conservation. This is supposed to create incentives to keep forests standing. But there’s a lot of work left. For example, while a $4.1 billion start-up fund is already in place, there’s no long-term plan for financing REDD+ yet.
The bad news? Well, the main bad news is that there’s still a gap between what countries have pledged to do to reduce carbon emissions, and what they’d need to do to keep the expected rise in temperature below 2 °C — or if you want a clearer goal, keeping CO2 concentrations below 450 parts per million.
But it’s not as bad as you might think… at least if you believe this chart put out by the Center for American Progress. They say:
We found that even prior to the Copenhagen climate summit, if all parties did everything they claimed they would do at the time, the world was only five gigatons of annual emissions shy of the estimated 17 gigatons of carbon dioxide or CO2 equivalent annual reductions needed to put us on a reasonable 2°C pathway. Since three gigatons of the projected reductions came from the economic downturn and improved projections on deforestation and peat emissions, the actual pledges of countries for additional reductions were slightly less than two-thirds of what was needed. But they were still not sufficient for the 2°C target.
After the Copenhagen Accord was finalized at the December 2009 climate summit, a January 2010 deadline was established for countries to submit pledges for actions by 2020 consistent with the accord’s 2°C goal. Two breakdowns of the pledges in February, and later in March, by Project Catalyst estimated that the five-gigaton gap had shrunk somewhat and more pledges had come in from developing countries. Part of the reason that pledges increased from developing countries was that the Copenhagen Accord had finally made a significant step forward on establishing a system of cooperation between developed and developing countries that had a chance at providing incentives for additional reductions.
And now, they say, the gap is down to 4 gigatons per year. This chart details it… click to make it bigger:
That 4-gigaton gap doesn’t sound so bad. But of course, this estimate assumes that pledges translate into reality!
So, the fingernail-biting saga of our planet continues…