Climate Summit Results in Some Big Announcements

by Rona Fried

The UN Climate Summit is underway and we’ve already heard some breakthrough announcements.

In his speech this morning, President Obama rebuffed his usual critics about paying attention to a trivial issue like climate change in the face of ISES. "For all the immediate challenges we gather to address this week there is one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.

Referring to the People’s Climate March, he said, "Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them." 

He promised to announce more aggressive US targets on emissions reductions next year – the current one is 17% by 2020.

"We recognize our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to combat it" … "We can only succeed if we are joined in this effort by every nation, developed and developing alike. No one gets a pass."

Obama was referring to the need for even developing nations to step up with strong targets. "We must be flexible because different nations have different circumstances."

"We cannot condemn our children and their children to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair. Not when we have the means and the technological innovation and scientific imagination to begin repairing it right now" … "There is such as a thing as being too late," Obama said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.

He touted recent US efforts under his leadership – doubling renewable energy with a goal to double it again by 2020; strong fuel economy standards; regulations on power plant emissions; an agreement on HFCs and new policies on building codes.

And he announced an executive order which requires federal agencies to consider climate change ramifications for all overseas investments and development programs, from seed purchases to building hospitals to fighting malaria.

Climate Summit 2014

EU Steps Up

While Obama is hamstrung by GOP obstruction, the European Union made a stunning announcement. "Our agreed aim is to spend 20% of our overall 2014-2020 EU budget on climate action" and action on climate will have a place in every policy, said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, in his speech.

And the EU committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80-95% by 2050, after announcing strong post-2020 targets this summer. Specific measures on achieving that will be released in early 2015.

The EU also pledged about $22 billion to help developing nations. Contributions to the Green Climate Fund (which helps developing nations): $1 billion from France; $100 million from Switzerland; $70 million from Norway; $100 million from South Korea.

Emissions Target announcements:

  • UK is on track for 80% emission cuts by 2050 (from 1990 levels)
  • Ireland’s target is 80% emission cuts by 2050
  • Denmark restated goal of 100% renewables by 2050
  • Malaysia: 40% emission cuts by 2020
  • Indonesia is on track for 26% emission cuts by 2020
  • China restated its goal of 40-45% emission cuts by 2020 (from 2005 levels)
  • Ethiopia: net zero emissions by 2025
  • Georgia: carbon neutral by 2050 by becoming a "hydro giant"
  • Mexico: 33% renewables by 2018
  • Chile: 45% renewables by 2025
  • Costa Rica: 100% renewables by 2016
  • Nicaragua: 90% renewables by 2020
  • Monaco: 80% emission cuts by 2050. 
  • St. Lucia: 35% from renewables by 2020
  • Barbados: 29% renewables by 2029
  • Brunei: 63% emissions cuts by 2035 and at least 10% renewables
  • Tuvalu: 100% renewables by 2020

Canada will implement federal regulations to meet US fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

An End to Deforestation

More than 30 countries signed the NY Declaration on Forests, which for the first time, puts a hard deadline on eliminating deforestation. The US, Canada and the EU are among the signatories, agreeing to cut deforestation in half by 2020 and fully by 2030. They also agreed to restore 865 million acres over that time.

But one crucial country did not sign – Brazil.  They insist they haven’t been consulted and are concerned that even sustainable logging won’t be allowed. They also insist they want to preserve the Amazon and touted efforts to do so, even as they build roads, transmission infrastructure and dams that crisscross the lungs of the earth.

Norway will provide Liberia with $150 million through 2020 to help halt deforestation.  

Corporations Commit to 100% Renewable Energy

A dozen corporations got the ball rolling on RE100, a new effort to convince 100 of the world’s largest businesses to run completely on renewable energy by 2020.

Ikea and Swiss Re are founding sponsors and are joined by: BT, Commerzbank, FIA Formula E, H&M, KPN, Mars, Nestle, Philips, Reed Elsevier, J. Safra Sarasin and Yoox.

Ikea is far along this path with 1.4 gigawatts installed. It plans to spend another $1.9 billion dollars to meet the goal. Swiss Re gets more than 80% of its energy from renewables.

In a related announcement, one of the largest pension funds in the US will further ramp investments in renewable energy. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) will increase investments from $1.4 billion now to $3.7 billion within five years. With a price on carbon, they would invest triple that amount, growing to almost $9.5 billion, says Christopher Ailman, Chief Investment Officer.

Reduce Methane Emissions

The US is giving a $15 million grant to the World Bank to kick-start its "carbon auction facility" – a cap-and-trade program for major methane emitters – factory farms, landfills and waste treatment facilities.

Six global energy firms took a first step to reduce methane emissions by signing onto the "Climate and Clean Air Coalition Oil and Gas Partnership." There are no hard targets, but they signed an agreement to monitor and report on emissions.

The companies are: BG Group (UK), ENI (Italy), Pemex (Mexico),  PTT (Thailand), Statoil (Norway) and Southwestern Energy (US).

Taxing Carbon

73 countries, 22 states, provinces and cities – together responsible for 54% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 52% of GDP – and over 1,000 businesses and investors announced support for a price on carbon, either through a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. The US is not among them – here are the signatories.

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