COP 18: Finance for Climate Action Key to UN Talks

Duncan Marsh is Director of International Climate Change Policy at The Nature Conservancy.

Today marks the beginning of the all-important second week of the annual UN climate negotiations (COP18) taking place this year in Doha, Qatar, as high-level country representatives have now arrived and are ready to negotiate the challenging issues that will dictate global climate action moving forward.

Meanwhile, the real-world backdrop for this year’s climate talks is dramatic.

In the U.S., after a summer of extreme wildfires in the West and drought in the Midwest, the East Coast is struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy – the largest hurricane to hit the North Atlantic (a storm that spurred Bloomberg Businessweek to feature a cover titled, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid!”). And, on the heels of Sandy, in President Obama’s election night victory speech, he said, “We want our children to live in an America that is not burdened by debt, that is not weakened by inequality, that is not threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

From the global perspective, the weight of science underscoring the urgency of this global challenge is pushing the scale into uncharted territory.

  • A new study by the World Bank finds that the world is on track to be 3- or 4-degrees Celsius (roughly 7 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter by century end, if we continue on our current carbon pollution path. The report outlines dire impacts such as sea level rise of up to 3 feet (flooding low-lying cities like Bangladesh), and water scarcity and crop failures that could affect food security and poverty around the world.
  • Melting Arctic sea ice reached a new seasonal low at 24 percent of the Arctic Ocean in September (down from the previous low of 29 percent in 2007).
  • A recent UN emissions report finds a serious gap between the cuts in carbon pollution that countries have promised to date and what needs to occur by 2020 to meet the world’s agreed-upon goal of keeping average global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. To make matters worse, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported this year that the 2-degree-limit door is closing.

Interestingly, it’s yet another real-world challenge in the U.S. – avoiding the “fiscal cliff” – that is perhaps the analogy for this year’s talks. Here in Doha, the main issue grabbing attention is finance – specifically, avoiding a climate finance “fiscal cliff” when the Fast Start Finance period, established at Copenhagen in 2009, ends at the end of this year.

Developing countries are understandably demanding to know how funding flows will be sustained. In Copenhagen, countries also pledged, beyond the Fast Start period, to generate $100 billion in climate financing annually by 2020.  Yet, with donor countries nearly all facing fiscal constraints, significant political commitments for more funding appear off the table here, leaving big questions over the pathway to ramp up toward the $100 billion, or even smaller funding flows that are needed in the next five years.

Hanging in the balance of the finance discussions are important decisions on finalizing arrangements for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to start in 2013 (albeit without Japan, Russia and perhaps Australia this time around), and establishing a work program for the next three years of negotiations (per last year’s Durban decision, countries agreed to negotiate a new global agreement by 2015 that would take effect in 2020). And, decisions remain pending on a range of technical issues on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), adaptation, new market mechanisms, and other issue areas.

For The Nature Conservancy’s part, we are working both here in Doha and outside the UN process to help find constructive solutions to these finance and other related issues, and help countries take climate action now, with our activities largely framed around our priority areas of expertise – reducing tropical deforestation while promoting low-carbon development, and promoting green infrastructure as a core element of solutions to reduce climate and disaster risks.

Check out our COP18 page on to see a run-down of materials and activities that are framing our engagement at this year’s negotiations.

For the last three years we have convened a series of dialogues among governments on climate finance. Our multi-country dialogue (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Peru) on financing REDD+ and best practices for sharing benefits with local forest communities has been well received, and will continue in Doha. In addition to facilitating, TNC has contributed supporting analysis, including our new policy study on Climate Finance Readiness.

We are also initiating a new dialogue on financing climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction activities; this will focus on both incentivizing private investment and leveraging public funding.

Governments say these types of dialogues create a space for exchange of experiences and lessons that does not exist in the negotiations. We hope the lessons learned can inform not just practice in countries, but the broader international negotiations.

We also are engaged in partnerships that are complementary to the UN process, like the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, which has aggregated $457 million for investing in preparing countries to participate in REDD+ and testing pay-for-performance approaches to reducing forest loss and associated emissions. The FCPF, which TNC co-founded and now is composed of 52 countries and two private companies, is developing robust standards and practices for the implementation of REDD+, including environmental and social safeguards as well as strong carbon accounting rules. It has generated fuller understanding of REDD+ and informed negotiations in the UN climate talks.

These initiatives and our climate change work in key countries such as China, Indonesia and the U.S. are intended to facilitate greater climate action and feed into these negotiations.

You may not see New York Times headlines about decisions in Doha, but it doesn’t mean important work isn’t happening here. It’s part of putting the building blocks in place toward what we hope will be a truly global agreement in 2015 – while ensuring that countries don’t need to wait for a global agreement to take action.

[Image: Cop 18. Image source The Verb // Laura Owsianka via a Flickr Creative Commons license]

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