World leaders gathered in New York yesterday for the UN secretary general’s climate summit. Over 125 countries sent delegates in an attempt to reinvigorate international efforts to tackle climate change.
Jonathan Grant, director, sustainability & climate change at consultancy PwC has wisely said “It will take time to sort the new announcements from the old, and to understand whether the new announcements are a step change from business as usual”.
Here’s our effort at beginning to pick through the hours and hours of speeches to separate the new announcements from the old.
We have a full summary of country statements here.
The United States was one of the only nations to come armed with completely new policy announcements.
President Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to consider climate resilience when designing programmes and allocating funds. He also ordered government agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to give their data to other countries to assist with managing climate change, and to extend programmes to train developing country scientists.
Oxfam America described the plans as “not revolutionary”.
China‘s Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli reiterated his country’s goal to cut carbon intensity by 40 to 45 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020.
He also said China’s carbon emissions would peak “as early as possible”. A senior Chinese climate negotiator made a similar statement earlier this year, but it had not been considered official government policy until now. The flexible language makes it hard to tell exactly what the commitment means.
The European Union said it would aim to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. This target is not set in stone, however. The European Commission has proposed it, and the EU president told the conference he was “confident that EU leaders will seal this deal at their summit in October”.
Most European countries didn’t announce anything new at the summit. The UK said it was on track to hit its legally binding goal of cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Germany has already announced ambitious climate and renewable energy targets for 2050 as part of its Energiewende. France confirmed it would give $1 billion to the Green Climate Fund but didn’t make any new emissions reduction pledges.
The Netherlands and Belgium both pledged to cut emissions in line with the EU’s regional goal of cutting emissions by 80 to 95 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Denmark reminded the conference it aims to be fossil fuel free by 2050.
Ireland‘s prime minister promised the country would hit its goal to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Monaco‘s Prince Albert said the country was still committed to its goal of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
India‘s environment minister used the summit’s platform to call on developed countries to show more leadership. He said India would act on climate change, but on its own terms. India’s headline announcement was that it would aim to double the amount of energy from wind and solar by 2020, but that’s not a new goal.
Other developing countries likewise confirmed existing pledges. Indonesia said it will cut emissions by 26 per cent by 2020, rising to 40 per cent if it gets international help to do so.
Malaysia‘s president pointed out that it has a target to reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, and said the country was on track to do so. Ethiopia said it was still committed to making its economy zero carbon by 2025.
A number of small island states were also at the conference, and came armed with existing pledges.
Tuvalu told reminded the conference that by 2020, 100 percent of its energy would come from low carbon sources. Barbados said that by 2029, 29 per cent of its electricity will come from low carbon sources.
Fiji told the conference it was aiming to get 60 to 80 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2050. That’s a climb down from its previous goal for renewables to provide 90 per cent by 2015.
A small number of countries made new pledges to the UN’s Green Climate Fund at the conference. The fund is politically important, as it offers an indication of how much the fine words on climate change are being backed up by something tangible.
Created five years ago in Copenhagen, countries committed to provide $100 billion a year to the fund by 2020. After an initial ‘fast track financing’ period, the fund is now raising money for its first three years of operation following a 2015 climate deal.
Oxfam has done an excellent job of tracking the announcements. France pledged $1 billion, Denmark $70 million, South Korea: $100 million, Norway: $33 million, Switzerland: $100 million, Czech Republic: $5.5 million and Mexico: $10 million. Luxembourg pledged $6.4 million. That comes to a total of $1.325 billion.
Before the summit, Germany had pledged $960m and Sweden $40m. In total, there is now $2.3 billion pledged to the fund for the first three years of operation post-2015.
The fund’s executive director Hela Cheikhrouhou said last year that she wants to raise $15 billion in commitments by the end of this year. However, that goal was lowered to $10 billion. The fund is still awaiting pledges from big names such as the UK, US and the Netherlands. According to the UN, six other countries have committed to provide pledges by November 2014.
The European Union also announced it would channel $2.5 billion to developing countries during 2014-2015, with a focus on adaptation and mitigation.
But the Green Climate Fund is not the only finance game in town.
Ahead of the summit, 73 countries and over a thousand businesses signalled their support for implementing a global price on carbon. A range of private sector initiatives to provide climate financing were also announced around the summit.
A coalition of institutional investors committed to decarbonise $100 billion of their assets, and to disclose the carbon footprint of a further $500 billion. Three major pension funds also announced they would accelerate low-carbon investments.
Commercial banks committed to provide $30 billion of new climate finance by the end of 2015. The development banks that make up the International Development Finance Club announced they are on track to increase climate financing to $100 billion-a-year by the end of 2015.
The insurance industry committed to double its green investments to $82 billion by the end of 2015 and increase the ‘climate smartness’ of other investments.
The details of many of these pledges are yet to be announced, so it’s worth seeing them for what they are: a public commitment to make financing climate mitigation and adaptation a reality, rather than just a nice idea.
One of the big announcements at the summit was the New York declaration on forests, signed by 27 nations, eight regional governments, 34 multinational corporations, 16 indigenous peoples’ groups and 45 NGOs. It builds on a range of existing agreements including the Warsaw framework for reduced deforestation agreed last year.
The declaration is a voluntary commitment to “at least halve” loss of natural forest by 2020 and “strive to” end it by 2030. It is not legally binding and Brazil, one of the world’s largest rainforest nations, is not a signatory.
The declaration claims to be a world first, but it repeats a 2010 commitment to halve forest loss by 2020 that was backed by 193 nations. Similarly the 400-firm Consumer Goods Forum pledged to move towards zero deforestation by 2020 at the Cancun climate talks in 2010.
However, this remains an important issue because an area the size of the UK is lost to deforestation every two years. Preventing deforestation would cut between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide off global emissions each year, the UN says. That’s around 10-20 per cent of global emissions.
Meeting the declaration’s zero deforestation goal in 2030 would cut more carbon than removing all cars, buses and planes from the US, China and India combined, the World Resources Institute says.
The UK, Norway and Germany have issued a joint statement in support of the declaration. It says they have contributed $3 billion to combating the problem since 2008. Norway has announced a further $150 million if Liberia ends deforestation by 2020. This is similar to an existing deal it has signed with Indonesia and Brazil, worth up to $1 billion. The UK is giving an additional £45 million.
Work in progress
The summit brought a modest but important set of new announcements.
As we said a few weeks ago, if the summit has improved the chances of a global deal on climate, it’s likely that much of the progress will have be made in backroom conversations between senior diplomats rather than podium speeches by presidents and prime ministers. That makes tracking developments across the policy agenda something of a challenge.
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