A Postcard from Cancun: The COP16 Update

The odds that the COP16 talks in Cancun this week will produce much in the way of meaningful international agreement aren’t very high.

Nonetheless, I was happy to get a dispatch from Sean Kidney via Hunter Lovins yesterday.

Kidney works for the Climate Bonds Initiative, a group seeking to finance major climate projects thorough bonds. Kidney has been kind enough to share his notes with us and we thought we’d share them with you. He offers the following from Monday’s activity….

11 snippets from today:

1. The number of seminars and workshops is bewildering. The official daily programme is 18 pages long (92 events today). Plus there are associated conferences going on across hotels up to 20kms apart, for groups like IETA, WBCSD, REEEPICCEWEA, World Climate Summit, Green SolutionsIISDWRIWorldwatchIIGCC. And if you recognize ALL those acronyms you qualify as a member of the climate change illuminati!

2. According to a study done by their Federal Environment Agency, Germany’s electricity supply could make a complete switch to renewable energies by 2050. That’s right, 100%. They say that technology already available on the market could make this possible even today; the secret is that it requires that “electricity be used and produced very efficiently.”

3. Deutsche Bank VP Caio Koch-Weser was a member of the UN Secretary General’s panel on climate finance. He thinks there’s been a big shift at this COP: “In the absence of an international scheme, people are focusing on national schemes, like proposals for emission-trading schemes in Brazil and China. Once national schemes become established, the focus will shift to harmonisation between countries with different schemes. Eventually these will become a global scheme.” He thinks a priority for the UNFCCC should be to develop best practice information so individual countries can quickly adopt schemes.

4. In the lead-up to Cancun a big group of pension funds called for governments to pull their finger out and sort out a global scheme. The coalition involves 259 big pension funds, representing $15 trillion in assets — more than one‐quarter of global capitalization. Ole Beier Sørensen, the chair of one of the groups involved, the IIGCC, told a Cancun seminar yesterday that “we need to see an industrial revolution if we’re to see the problem of climate change addressed.” Note that this is avery big, very sober pension fund saying we need a revolution.

In the original media release Barbara Krumsiek, CEO of the huge Calvert Investments in the US said “(we’re) deeply concerned about the devastating impacts climate change ‐ if left unaddressed ‐ will have on the global economy. Based on the Stern Report, we know these impacts could reach global GDP cuts of an unimaginable 20% per year. Why should we take that risk?” If pension funds start throwing their weight around, perhaps governments will notice?

5. Plucky little Taiwan is looking impressive. In the past year they’ve set a target of 30% emission reductions by 2020 (same as Korea’s target); passed legislation mandating energy efficiency improvements among industry; introduced a national scheme of carbon footprint labelling for products; put through renewable energy legislation; and started a national reforestation programme. And they’re about to introduce both a national emissions trading scheme and a carbon tax. They’ve even got a programme to convert traffic lights to low-energy LED bulbs. And this is all under a conservative Government. You have to admire them!

6. Nice line from Connie Hedergaard, EU Climate Change Commissioner, talking yesterday on the importance of more sustainable urban design: “Under our current approach, the mobility of the individual ends up as immobility of the collective.” I wish those feral freeway builders around the world understood that.

7. The UNFCCC is desperately trying to get at least one agreement at this conference, so they can keep hope alive and say progress is being made.REDD,bringing credits for avoiding deforestation into the international carbon market, is the one they’re focusing on. From my perspective, REDD revenue is a critical component of financing forest maintenance; it delivers a revenue stream that, with other forest revenues, could underpin forest bonds for sustainable development.

Saudi Arabia had been a barrier, but they’ve now agreed to let it to go forward. It’s now down to Bolivia’s blocking; their position is essentially ideological – they don’t believe in market mechanisms. Their line is to focus on direct transfers from rich countries to poor (climate justice).

Negotiators are trying to “accommodate” the Bolivian position by coming up with a set of words that will allow REDD to be agreed in principle, but for the practical issues to be worked on for another year, putting off as much of the fight as possible. This will allow voluntary agreements between countries to get going under a REDD framework, although without a proper international agreement is will slow take-up.

8. Cars that run on batteries will soon be competitive with ones that burn petroleum fuels, according to US Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Speaking in Cancun, he said “It’ll be about five years and it could be sooner. Meanwhile the batteries we have today are soon going to get better by a factor of two.”

9. In a meeting today a speaker says “Did you know there are more mobile phones in India than toilets?” What a fact! I can’t even remember the speaker or the session.

10. Korea’s Green Growth strategy aims to make the country “one of the world’s seven largest green economies by 2020.” Their investing in greening the grid, energy efficiency, etc. There could be big implications for Korea’s suppliers. For example, Korea is Australia’s “second largest market for coal; that market is going to dry up. Perhaps Australians should be asking “what exactly is our transition plan away from coal?”

11. One view on why negotiations are tough: Sudan’s ambassador says “rights to existence and development are at the heart of why the UNFCCC negotiations are making very little progress.” He might have a point.


Sean Kidney
The Climate Bonds Initiative

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

2 responses

  1. I’m concerned about the REDD negotiations — that agreeing to a theoretical set of regulations is akin to nothing at all. How much longer can we put off making real, enforceable change? Here’s hoping my perspective is unduly cynical, and that most countries will voluntarily take it up. There’s more first-hand reporting about REDD from COP16 at greendetectives.net.

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