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UN climate chief underlines Green Climate Fund concerns

Financial pledges made by developed countries must be used to drive greater financial investment of $1 trillion, says chief of UN climate body

christiana figueres source flickr unfccc 466px

By Sophie Yeo

Declining levels of climate finance contributions from developed nations are slowing efforts to address global warming, the UN’s top climate change official warned on Monday.

Speaking at Chatham House, Christiana Figueres said $1trillion is likely to be needed to help poorer nations invest in low carbon energy systems and develop climate resilient infrastructure.

In 2009 the leaders of the world’s richest nations committed to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to pay for the transition from polluting to cleaner fuels.

But global investment in climate change stalled at USD $359 billion in 2012, a 1% drop on 2011, according to a new study by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), a San Francisco-based analysis firm.

Around $135 billion of that came from public sources, a figure that is dwarfed by government support for fossil fuel consumption and production, in developing economies, estimated at $523 billion.

Figueres said that, when put in context, the $100bn promised by developed countries is “basically the tail that needs to wag the dog”.

“That $100bn, the only thing that that is going to do is take the dog and point it in the direction that we must move because we know that the financing we need is not $100bn per year—it is $1tr per year, and that is what needs to be mobilised,” she said.

Much of this money is supposed to be channelled through the UN backed Green Climate Fund (GCF), but so far this has only raised $7.5million.

“If the GCF is constructed and capitalised in a way that in which is actually points the direction towards investment in green technologies then it has done its commitment,” said Figueres.

This, she says, is one of the key issues that must be discussed at the UN climate talks at Warsaw next month, at which she hopes the GCF will be moved towards becoming operational.

Warsaw expectations

Figueres believes the question of poor nations claiming ‘compensation’ for climate-related destruction is also likely to be a key topic come November. “We need to be looking at this more and more seriously,” she said.

“We know we had out of the last COP [Conference of Parties] a starting decision but we are far away from where we have to be on both adaptation and the next phase on loss and damage, so we do need more clarity on what the mechanism to support loss and damage is going to be.”

A third key component of the Warsaw discussions—and the part where public scrutiny will be focused—is on moving the international negotiations into a position where a legally binding agreement can be achieved in Paris come 2015.

“We do need to clarify what the elements are going to be for the draft agreement that countries will consider in Lima in 2014 and difficult but absolutely crucial are two points under the ADP,” she said.

“Number one, there has got to be movement, a decision, a commitment—you put in the noun that you want—but countries have got to walk out of Warsaw knowing that their next step is to go home and finish the homework they need to do, their internal analysis to be in a position to be able to put on the table what their contribution is going to be for the solution.

“Secondly, Warsaw must really figure out how is the formal process going to recognise all of the other actions, activities, initiatives, successes and, in fact failures—so that we can learn from those failures—that are going on outside of the formal process. Because that is the whole point of the formal process, is to point the direction and then have all of the other sectors, all of the other initiatives, actually provide for the speed and the action that is necessary.”

Outside the framework

Other delegates the Chatham House conference, held annually ahead of UN talks, pointed to the role that business, civil society and organisations outside of the UNFCCC process would have to play in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

A series of discussions highlighted the increasing recognition that an eventual agreement is likely to incorporate a bottom-up, pledge and review type system as opposed to UN-set strict targets.

Greg Barker, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change in the UK, who was also speaking at the conference, said: “I believe we need a new business partnership to tackle climate change, that does so with its eyes wide open, mindful of the costs and careful to catch the opportunities.

“We can only decarbonise the economy if business comes with us, as an active participant, and at least cost for consumers.”

But others expressed doubt that this system was an adequate response to the urgency of climate change, and urged the UN to push for a more top-down approach in order to mobilise the level of action needed.

IPCC warning

Speaking to journalists after the conference, Figueres said that, while countries like China were making significant steps and had demonstrated a positive attitude towards collaboration with the US, not a single country in the UN had yet committed to enough to prevent the world from continuing on its current 2C pathway.

The first installment of the IPCC climate science report released in September set a limit on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be released if the world is to avoid dangerous levels of warming. On current estimates this could be breached by 2035.

“China is taking pretty courageous step—and none of them are yet enough. In fact, we don’t have any country around the table, any of our 194 countries, that one could say is doing their maximum. Everybody is doing something, or most people are doing something, but nobody is doing enough.”

She added that the UN expected to see concrete pledges start coming to the table next year, although some countries may require more time to finalise their commitments.

But what is essential, she said, is that countries see Warsaw as a crucial part of the process of getting a draft text ready to be discussed in 2014 at Lima, to then be finalised and translated in time for Paris in 2015.

“Now is the time, and Warsaw needs to show that we have understood that now is the time,” she said.

“I would like to very clearly underline that 2014 is the critical year. In 2014, we must enlarge the space of action, and we must prepare the ground not for an agreement but for a meaningful agreement.”

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