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It’s Getting Hot in Here… Notes on the UNFCCC Summit

December 15, 2011

Source: Hudson CGP/People, for more on Ryan Gosling in Development go here: http://developmentryangosling.tumblr.com/

What’s hotter than Durban, South Africa (besides Ryan Gosling in Development)? That would be the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which recently concluded its annual meeting there (referred to as the COP17). The main topic of discussion was the Kyoto Protocol and how the UNFCCC can extend its regulations on carbon emissions. Currently, the Kyoto Protocol only binds industrialized countries to specific emissions levels, which are due to expire next year. Developing countries, in contrast, can voluntarily decide to reduce their own emissions. However, three main barriers continue to exist, despite the successful attempt to push through an agreement by the end of the two-week summit that will result in meetings in 2015 and 2020.

The first is that the biggest polluters (U.S., China, and India) have failed to ratify the treaty (the U.S.), or view it as a significant obstacle to poverty alleviation (China and India). The second is that the rich countries, most significantly affected by the Kyoto agreement, are calling for a more even distribution of limitations (instead of targeting rich countries for the majority of emissions cuts and allowing developing countries to continue to pollute). The final obstacle to seeing results is that the Kyoto Protocol does not dictate a legal framework that enforces the emissions limitations. As a result, the meeting in Durban sought to create a new agreement that would allow for continued funding of green initiatives, encourage countries to renew their emissions commitments, and decide upon an international governing body to mandate climate objectives.

Ever since An Inconvenient Truth came out, the debate on how to address climate change has been, well, much more heated. But it’s no longer just governments that are trying to stop the temperature fluctuations and amount of carbon emissions. Recently, other groups/companies have expressed interest in joining the fight against climate change because it would damage their outputs. Starbucks is one such entity, pointing out the potential loss of their coffee beans.

Let Them Eat Carbon | Source: Economist/AFP

A recent proposal from Bertelsmann Foundation, chaired by former president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, suggests that the UNFCCC expand its role in the global climate debate and push for greater cooperation and governance between developed and developing countries. Their ideal model? Matchmaking developed and developing countries in order to create partnerships based on the exchange of technology and policy. This will allow developing countries to benefit from the technology already being produced in developed countries and can serve as a model for structural changes necessary to facilitate these new initiatives. For developed countries, this provides them with the opportunity to help developing countries increase their production and economic growth without going through a similar coal-based industrialization process. As a result, countries should be able to leapfrog over the outdated industrial process and opt for a more climate-friendly one.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions | Source: The Economist

As one of the major issues with the climate initiatives is funding, it is beneficial to get as many people/groups on board. In a recent paper on funding climate initiatives, Michele de Nevers writes, “it will be important to ensure that climate finance does not compete with or draw resources away from other development priorities.” This brings into question exactly how countries are supposed to fund initiatives to combat climate change and encourage development, without detracting from other sectors such as health and education. While the Clean Technology Fund and Green Climate Fund were intended to assist with developing countries’ needs, developed countries also need to make the transition from coal-based energy to green alternatives. However, the option to separate climate funding from other development funds places it as a priority and indicates the ongoing need for climate initiatives.

The fact that climate change so deeply affects a wide range of actors, from individuals to entire governments, signifies the potential for joint ventures. Furthermore, it allows collaboration on green technology that prioritizes the minimization of environmental impacts. Perhaps the biggest failure of the COP17 is that it allows policy makers to maintain the illusion that climate change is not an immediate problem. While their initiatives will surely take time to fund and implement, the focus on climate awareness should begin now and not when they reconvene in 2015 and 2020.

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