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Figueres: 2015 climate deal must kickstart green growth

By Ed King

The proposed 2015 climate change deal must ‘kickstart’ green growth and offer a compelling vision of how countries can transform their economies, the UN climate chief has told RTCC.

Speaking on the sidelines of the latest round of talks in Bonn, Christiana Figueres said any agreement should be seen as the start of a process designed to incentivise low carbon action, rather than an end in its own right.

“That is the purpose of the 2015 agreement – it is not just to aggregate everything that is going on – it is to build on the activities that are there and to kickstart the transformation of the economy which needs to occur,” she said.

Specifically Figueres pointed to emerging economies facing “incredible transformations”, identifying the nascent Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) as playing an important role in allowing them access to clean-tech solutions.

“Now it’s the implementation and operations phase [of the CTCN], which is the point at which the countries and different sectors are going to be benefitting,” she said.

The week’s conference in Bonn started with what seemed a deliberate attempt to stress to delegates the levels of positive clean energy and low carbon development action taking place around the world.

Presentations from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Ron Benioff and Dolf Gielen from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) emphasised the competitiveness of clean energy technologies, while calling for greater support from national governments.

“We’ve seen a rapid uptake of renewable energy driven by technology progress and dropping costs in wind and solar PV,” Gielen told RTCC. “This trend is supported by technology and policies. A lot of governments have put targets and support in place, and that has made a big difference”.

Gielen’s ‘business as usual’ projections suggest renewables will take 21% of the energy mix by 2030, way off IRENA’s target of 30-36%.

Combined with UNEP’s 2012 Emissions Gap report, this illustrates how far the world is from avoiding the 2°C warming target agreed in 2009 and preventing longer term fossil fuel lock-in.

Tight timelines

While the deadline for a deal is the end of 2015, in reality governments need to have an idea of what it could involve in just over 12 months.

A world leaders’ climate summit will take place on the sidelines of the 2014 General Assembly; this will provide high-level political input into an official text that needs to be on the table by March 2015.

Discussions in Bonn this week have again indicated that while the vast majority of nations agree urgent action on rising carbon emissions is vital, there is wide divergence on how this should be achieved.

Major emerging economies are reluctant to adopt stringent targets that could hinder their economic growth. The USA is pushing a relaxed ‘pledge and review’ process, while states at acute risk from climate change want tough and binding measures adopted immediately.

In the short term weak finance flows and the inability of developed countries to combat soaring levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remain unresolved, undermining efforts to build trust.

Many of the key meetings in Bonn are taking place away from the main venue behind closed doors, as diplomats assess negotiating positions (Pic: UNFCCC)

By December’s main climate meeting in Warsaw, Figueres says she hopes a ‘roadmap’ can be presented to governments, admitting that the task appears “daunting”.

But she points to the latest GLOBE climate legislation study and new US-China joint working group as evidence action is taking place on the ground – however small.

“I am seeing more willingness to work with each other – which is clearly the way to go here,” she said.

“It’s not news that the USA and China have been having a dialogue for many years, what is noteworthy and news is that they have chosen to formalise it and make a public announcement that they are going to work together.”

Hopes that the USA and China can reach an understanding on their respective emissions are shared across the spectrum of negotiators, especially representatives from small island states that need those two countries to cut their environmental footprints.

Seychelles Climate Ambassador Ronny Jumeau is sceptical any progress will be achieved until June’s round of UN talks, when the “fangs and the claws will come out”, but believes recent announcements from the world’s largest emitters shows willing that previously did not exist.

“As far as we are concerned no-one is doing enough yet. If ever the US was in a position to do something, we think it is now. The US President doesn’t have to stand for re-election,” he told RTCC.

He added: “Now that we’re changing track towards 2015 maybe it’s time for everyone to sit back and take stock, especially with the news that is coming from the scientific community.”

The forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report is likely to add to this narrative of urgency, as will the imminent ‘news’ of carbon dioxide levels exceeding 400 parts per million at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii.

Figueres hopes that ministers at next week’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin will pick up from this week’s discussions and renew their commitment to tackle emissions.

The annual meeting will be chaired this year by Poland Environment Minister Marcin Korolec, who is in the curious position of being the President of the 2013 UN climate summit while simultaneously blocking EU efforts to raise emission reduction ambitions.

“It has become an agenda setting meeting offering political guidance – this year it’s a little earlier which is good, because early political leadership is crucial,” Figueres said.

“It’s good it’s coming right on the heels of the ADP session [this week’s talks in Bonn]. We have a constructive working environment, now the question ministers need to answer is in that environment – what can we do?”

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