Facing Up to the Climate Challenge: Green Expectations for 2009?
"Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule."Charles Dickens, Great Expectations.
As the festive season draws to a close, there is evidence the dawning New Year may carry "green" expectations of environmental action, most notably, on climate change. Old and new environmental benefactors are making enthusiastic pledges on the policy front. Voluntary action, on the other hand, continues to be a major driver on the ground.
In December 2009, all eyes will be on Copenhagen in anticipation of a possible substantial climate deal at the UN climate conference. But as early as January 2009, the same eyes, and thoughts, will be on Washington.
On 20 January, the new U.S. President and his new administration take office - and centre-stage - including a new widely hailed 'dream green team'.
The key positions of Energy Secretary, Scientific Adviser, and Head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been scooped by top climate scientists, who are known for advocating America's urgent move towards less carbon-intensive energy production and more vigorous action on climate change.
The appointments provide significant evidence of how serious the President-elect is about facing up to the climate challenge. President-elect Obama wants to spend $150 billion over the next decade to promote alternative energy sources, a proposal, he says, that would create millions of "green collar" jobs. He has also called for an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 through a cap-and-trade programme.
Should Polluters Pay?
In Copenhagen, consensus over a legally-binding agreement will signify that the world is taking serious steps towards saving the planet's environment. The rich world will need to commit to legally-binding, post-2012 carbon-emissions reduction schemes.
In 2008, several thousand projects from around the world joined Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The Mechanism allows a country with an emissionreduction or emission-limitation commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to implement an
emission-reduction project in developing countries. Such projects can earn saleable certified emission reduction (CER) credits, each equivalent to one tonne of CO2, whichcan be counted towards meeting Kyoto targets... It is estimated the number of CDM
projects will rise to 8,000, generating financial flows from North to South of well over $30 billion, by 2012
But the mechanism needs to be made more robust in order for it to perform on the scale needed.UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: "The CDM and the carbon markets as a whole are one of the great success stories of international cooperative action on climate change. The challenge now is to streamline it and overcome some of the hurdles."
Strengthening the CDM
Voices out of the Poznan climate meeting, which concluded earlier this month, are calling on major polluters to commit to carbon-intensity targets that tackle carbon emissions per unit of GDP
Other suggestions include a Carbon Superfund, to which polluters pay for the cost of cleaning-up; a Carbon Tax, whereby users of fossil fuels at the national level pay and the revenue is divided equally among citizens; and Carbon Tariffs on goods and services
from countries that do not join up to the new global climate treaty or those who do not meet their obligations.
Whether governments will, indeed, reach a post-2012 ratifiable climate agreement in Copenhagen by December 2009, is yet to be seen. But global opinion polls show that the citizens of the world are backing a conclusive climate deal.
Voice of the People
In a recent UNEP survey, nearly 90 per cent of young people across the globe said they urge world leaders to do "whatever it takes" to tackle climate change. Meanwhile, 40 per cent of respondents to the 2008 Climate Confidence Monitor survey - carried out in the lead up to the Poznan climate meeting - said they were more concerned about global warming than the global economy.
According to the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), nine out of every ten disasters are now climate-related. Recorded disasters have doubled in number from 200 a year to more than 400 over the past two decades. In 2007 alone, an
unprecedented 15 funding appeals for sudden natural disasters were issued. All, but one,resulted from climatic events.
The consequences of the current climate crisis are likely to be more severe, in the long run, than any financial crisis.
Green New Deal
To face up to the challenge of economic meltdown and global warming, the UN called in 2008 for a Global Green New Deal: a UN-led initiative that seeks to mobilize and refocus the global economy towards investment in clean technologies and natural infrastructure to combat climate change and trigger a green employment boom, which may provide sustainable solutions to benefit both the economy and the environment in 2009 andbeyond.
In the fight to curb global warming, voluntary action remains a major driver. Considering that the loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than the transport sector, curbing deforestation is a highly costeffective way to reduce emissions. Seven Billion trees - to be planted by the end of 2009 -are the target of UNEP's Billion Tree Campaign. More than 4,319,593,340 trees havealready been pledged and 2,599,045,202 planted. The worldwide campaign encourages
people, communities, business and industry, civil society organizations and governments to enter tree planting pledges online in a call to further individual and collective action.The campaign strongly encourages the planting of indigenous trees and trees that are appropriate to the local environment.
Towards Climate Neutrality
Climate neutrality is catching on around the world.Basically, climate neutrality means living in a way which produces no net greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions, achievable by reducing GHG emissions, and using carbon offsets to neutralize the remaining emissions.
UNEP's Climate Neutral Network (CN Net), is a consortium of entities committed to this concept. Through the implementation of innovative projects, groundbreaking initiatives and strong strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, countries, cities, businesses and organizations, around the world, are pledging to become climate neutral by joining CN
Net. Policies and measures adopted include carbon offsetting, green living, clean manufacturing and emissions reduction. With more partners joining in, CN Net is growing into a platform for networking and the sharing of best practice, catalyzing progress towards a low carbon society.
CN Net participants have set the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets in the world. For example, Costa Rica aims to be climate neutral by 2021 when it celebrates 200 years of independence, and Iceland has the world's highest rate of renewable energy
use. CN Net cities include Växjö, Sweden, which has decided to become a "Fossil Fuel Free" City, while in Rizhao, China, close to 100 per cent of urban housing has solar heaters. CN Net corporate participants are the largest category, including Toyota Motors
Europe, Skanska Norway, Tesco Lotus, Thailand's largest supermarket chain which aims to at least halve its carbon emissions by 2020, and NatureAir - based in Costa Rica - is the world's first carbon neutral airline.
Other examples include the futuristic project of Masdar. Planned to accommodate a population of 50,000, Masdar City will offer its inhabitants a true taste of green living.Most of the city's electricity will be generated through solar power. Given that Masdar
(which means "the source" in Arabic) will be situated in the heart of the Arabian desert inAbu Dhabi, there should be no shortage of that. Sea water will be the drink of choice. The city's desalination plant - the main source of fresh water - will be powered through renewable sources of energy.
Built on 1,500 acres, the city will boast a 10 megawatt (MW) photo-volatic farm, clean housing, a university, a Science and Technology Institute dedicated to renewable energy,and commercial and manufacturing zone for eco-friendly products. Masdar will produce zero carbon and zero waste. The first phase of planning will be completed in 2009 and by
2010; the city will be able to accommodate its first 2000 inhabitants.China is also planning a number of eco-cities. Dongtan is being developed by the Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation, and will accommodate 10,000 people by
While Masdar and Dongtan stand out as models of Ecotopia, cities from Europe to Asia,North America and the Middle East are coming on board with carbon-neutral strategies including clean transport, carbon neutral buildings and awareness raising campaigns.
It is such innovation and commitment that will help move us towards a greener world and away from climate disaster. For 2009, humankind will have to continue on the path being forged by these pioneers. Together we must pledge to:
Mobilize political will
Make polluters pay
Adopt green economy mechanisms
Support alternative energy technologies
Be carbon neutral
UNite to Combat Climate Change