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Commonwealth brainstorms climate change responses

The Commonwealth is bringing together global experts to thrash out new ideas for not just reducing climate change but actually reversing its effects by mimicking success stories in nature.

At a two-day gathering on Friday and Saturday at the 52-country organisation’s headquarters in London, a diverse band of experts in fields such as biomimicry, carbon sequestration, design and regeneration traded ideas for practical schemes that could pull carbon out of the air and put it back into the Earth.

Rather than a series of presentations, the conference instead saw experts from around the world huddle in groups to brainstorm.

A Commonwealth gathering in London will bring together experts in biomimicry, carbon sequestration, design and regeneration, to discuss ideas for practical s...

A Commonwealth gathering in London will bring together experts in biomimicry, carbon sequestration, design and regeneration, to discuss ideas for practical schemes that could pull carbon out of the air and put it back into the Earth ©Greg Baker (AFP/File)

“Some of our island states in the Pacific and the Caribbean will be hit first and potentially disappear, therefore climate change has been an issue of real importance to the Commonwealth,” Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland told AFP.

– Termite mound buildings –

Examples were shared of concrete absorbing carbon, ecologically destroyed landscapes flourishing again through getting carbon back into the soil, and getting more productive agriculture through mimicking the ecosystems of wild, untended land.

There were discussions on buildings designed like termite mounds that ventilate themselves with cool air, or making ships’ hulls like shark skin.

Also mooted were vertical axis wind turbines arranged in school-of-fish formation so the ones behind gain momentum from the vortices, creating far more wind power than regular wind farms.

“It’s stunning, but this is not inventing anything new. Life’s been at it for 3.8 billion years,” biomimicry expert Janine Benyus told AFP.

“We’re talking about bringing carbon home — rebalancing the problem of too much carbon in the air and not enough in the soil,” she added, stepping out of a workshop.

With its diverse membership covering a quarter of the world’s countries, action within the Commonwealth often paves the way for wider global agreements.

The climate change accords reached at its biennial summit in Malta last December were instrumental in the Paris COP21 UN climate conference deal struck later that month, which agreed to cap global warming at less than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

– ‘Practical, practical, practical’ –

Scotland will take forward ideas and outcomes from the London workshop to the COP22 summit in Marrakesh in November.

“We’re setting off the starter pistol for this race,” the secretary-general said.

“The Commonwealth is seeking to be the platform through which ideas can be transferred.

However, in the arena of climate change, many intriguing proposals get ditched on the grounds of cost, practicality or fears that they could end up inflicting environmental damage.

“We’re looking at how we can share real solutions and help each other to get there faster,” said Scotland.

“We’re saying ‘practical, practical, practical’. If it works, it’s affordable, implementable and makes the difference, then we need people to understand they can believe in it.”

Some sessions focused on so-called big picture ideas, looking at Earth as a complete system.

Delegates discussed how carbon can be used as a resource, in which returning it to the ground can bring about lasting soil fertility and jobs and thereby political stability.

“Life creates conditions conducive to life. It’s about creating new virtuous circles rather than vicious ones,” said Daniel Wahl, who designs regenerative cultures.

“If we do a good job, we can find the funding because the will is there,” he told AFP.

“The time of ‘them and us’ thinking is past. The people who were against each other now have to come together.

“People are dying today from the effects of climate change. To them, it’s not an intellectual debate any more.”

New high for global greenhouse gas emissions

New high for global greenhouse gas emissions ©Simon MALFATTO, Paz PIZARRO (AFP)

Credit: Daily Mail Online

Dr Ulric Trotz: Let’s Re-imagine GCF Resources (article and interview)

Dr Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director and science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), says  calls for a transformation of Green Climate Fund resources that could optimize and efficiently direct private investment and limited public resources. Peruse his proposal  below and listen to his exclusive interview on the inaugural edition of Caribbean Climate Podcast.

The inherent differences in the nature of Mitigation and Adaptation outcomes is consequential and should be a central feature of comprehensive climate change policy decisions, policies and programmes. While they both result in the production of a public good, that derived from mitigation (decreased carbon) is a global public good, and conversely, that derived from Adaptation is a local public good. Indeed, Adaptation is very country specific, hence the localized nature of the benefits derived therefrom. As a result, the product from Mitigation can be commoditised and traded on the local and/or global markets. This paves the way for international private sector entities, to identify profitable pro-environmental opportunities and invest in global action that facilitates Low Carbon Development (Mitigation). Mitigation’s ability to generate private sector opportunities distinguishes it from Adaptation. Even at the local level, Adaptation fails to attract private sector investment, because the local public good it produces is not a marketable commodity. By implication, Adaptation invariably warrants public sector intervention. Specifically, more robust public spending on infrastructure, healthier ecosystems, better health systems, etc. These crucial differences underscore the existence of a significantly more favourably global private sector investment environment for mitigation relative to Adaptation, the bulk of which will remain the responsibility of the public sector.

So significant and consequential is the divergent investment potential (public and private) of Adaptation and Mitigation, the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Climate finance called for a significant proportion of the US$100 billion per year to be mobilized for the Green Climate Fund to come from the private sector. This private sector engagement must operate both locally and globally given the considerable risks and high costs associated with Adaptation that could prove prohibitive for the private sector in the developing world. Some observers view this approach skeptically, often wondering, why would the private sector, say in the United Kingdom, be interested in providing funds for Adaptation in Belize? These are highly plausible concerns, but the case for Mitigation is totally different. Unlike Adaptation, both local and foreign private sector capital can be mobilized for investment in mitigative actions in any part of the world. Building low carbon economies is the business of the future and lends itself to global investment. With this in view, I propose a re-imagination of GCF resource allocation.

Considering the unlikely flow of the necessary resources from the private sector for Adaptation purposes and a clear pro-environmental incentive for global and local private sector engagement through mitigation, most of the GCF allocation should be used to support adaptation actions. GCF resources should not be used to “implement” actual mitigation actions, namely renewables, efficiency measures, among others. I strongly suggest that GCF resources be used to help countries prepare an environment for robust mitigation efforts, such as energy transformation – policy and legislative reform – and also to prepare sound investment portfolios with full-fledged, costed and ready to implement proposals for the transformation of the energy sector. I imagine GCF resources being used to incentivize investment in these actions. The approach I have articulated will create an enabling landscape marked by a favourable investment climate, an incentivizing environment, and a preponderance of credible and ready to go transformational programmes. One can anticipate such a landscape to yield heightened private sector interest and investment in Mitigation without GCF’s resources crowding out private funding, while leaving crucial adaptation efforts – which does not readily attract private funding – largely underfunded. Put simply, the GCF should be reengineered to support Adaptation directly, create the environment for private sector investment in Mitigation, and leave actual implementation of the latter  to the private sector.

Dealing with Adaptation funding more broadly is a bit less straightforward, but, the “integration” of climate risks into national development planning and budgetary processes, as well as crafting a budgetary support modality as a mechanism for adaptation funding could result in some feasible solutions. How do we approach this integration when considering a reasonable modality for adaptation financing?  I propose that countries should “integrate” climate risk into national development plans and national budgets to access adaptation funding. This integration should include quantification of both the impact and additional costs of mitigating those impacts (Adaptation costs).

We in the Caribbean already have a tool to facilitate this integration – the Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation TooL (CCORAL) – that is adaptable to other contexts. Using this approach, the normal envisaged expenditure in the budget (e.g. upgrading a coastal road) becomes the country baseline contribution to the “adaptation package” (i.e. what the country would have spent in any case on that action). The incremental costs identified by the risk management analysis (Adaptation costs) can then be accessed from the GCF. The capacity building issue here then becomes mainly one of how countries gain the capacity to “integrate climate risk” into their national development plans and yearly budgetary processes. This allows countries to clearly define their national adaptation resource needs across all sectors. Once this is done, it is a question of the modalities for accessing these funds from the GCF, implementing, monitoring and reporting under the national umbrella. The essential point here is that this approach provides an avenue for channeling adaptation funds to countries, through a “budgetary support” process (by implication through the Ministry of Finance), and precludes the need for setting up a parallel external process for accessing and utilizing Adaptation funds in our countries that are already confronting challenges associated with scarce human resources.

Reinsurers call for action at climate change summit

Politicians must act to cap global warming when they meet at a United Nations summit at the end of the year as the financial and humanitarian consequences of natural catastrophes become ever clearer, reinsurers meeting at an industry conference said.

The $600 billion reinsurance industry helps insurance companies pay damage claims from hurricanes, floods or earthquakes and can help people and companies get back on their feet after a disaster.

The UN’s climate boss warned this week that national promises to cut emissions so far would cap warming at an unacceptably high level, heightening concerns in the insurance industry about politicians’ lack of resolve.

“Definitely we expect political courage to move in a direction that shows responsibility towards future generations and a certain interest in defending the sustainability of this planet,” Swiss Re’s Chief Executive, Michel Lies, told a news conference.

Swiss Re data shows natural disasters caused an average $180 billion in economic damage per year over the last decade, of which 70 percent was uninsured.

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s said big natural catastrophes can also lead to cuts in sovereign credit ratings — making it more expensive for governments to borrow money — with Latin America and the Caribbean most at risk.

These conclusions should help concentrate minds at the climate talks starting in Paris on Nov. 30, reinsurers said.

“What we can bring to the table is a credible price tag for the decisions that are taken or not taken, making sure everybody understands that in the short term you may not take a decision but you will definitely pay a price in the long term,” Lies said.

Weather researchers say global warming will result in more frequent and intense heatwaves, precipitation and storms. Warming needs to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels to avoid the most devastating consequences in the form of droughts and rising sea levels, scientists say.

“Even if this goal is not fully reached, every step in this direction is better than no result at all,” said Peter Hoeppe, head of Geo Risks Research at reinsurer Munich Re.

In the meantime, there must be increasing focus on preventive measures such as flood defences that can help dampen the rise in insurance premiums in the medium to long term, Hoeppe said.

Insurers and Group of Seven industrialized countries are working to expand the availability of insurance to an additional 400 million people in developing countries considered at high risk.

“Climate change is happening, no question,” said XL Group’s Chief Executive, Mike McGavick.

“Insurers and reinsurers have to be at the forefront of transferring that risk,” McGavick said.

Credit: St. Louis Post Dispatch

The Carbon Tax Success Story

When Mark Twain wrote, “Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story,” he could have been describing Canada’s current climate policy debate. Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeatedly claims that a carbon tax would “destroy jobs and growth.” Yet the evidence from the province that actually passed such a tax – British Columbia – tells a different story.

The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that B.C.’s policy has been a real environmental and economic success after six years. Far from a being a “job killer,” it is a world-leading example of how to tackle one of the greatest global challenges of our time: building an economy that will prosper in a carbon-constrained world.

B.C.’s tax, implemented in 2008, covers most types of fuel use and carbon emissions. It started out low ($10 per tonne of carbon dioxide), then rose gradually to the current $30 per tonne, which works out to about 7 cents per litre of gas. “Revenue-neutral” by law, the policy requires equivalent cuts to other taxes. In practice, the province has cut $760-million more in income and other taxes than needed to offset carbon tax revenue.

The result is that taxpayers are coming out ahead. B.C. now has the lowest personal income tax rate in Canada (with additional cuts benefiting low-income and rural residents) and one of the lowest corporate rates in North America. You shouldn’t need an economist and a mining entrepreneur to tell you that’s good for business and jobs.

At the same time, it’s been extraordinarily effective in tackling the root cause of carbon pollution: the burning of fossil fuels. Since the tax came in, fuel use in B.C. has dropped by 16 per cent; in the rest of Canada, it’s risen by 3 per cent (counting all fuels covered by the tax). To put that accomplishment in perspective, Canada’s Kyoto target was a 6-per-cent reduction in 20 years. And the evidence points to the carbon tax as the major driver of these B.C. gains.

Further, while some had predicted that the tax shift would hurt the province’s economy, in fact, B.C.’s GDP has slightly outperformed the rest of Canada’s since 2008.

With these impressive results, B.C.’s carbon tax has gained widespread global praise as a model for the world – from organizations such as the OECD, the World Bank and The Economist. But in the rest of Canada, it is less heralded, which is a shame. Because when you look beyond the political rhetoric and examine the facts, B.C.’s experience offers powerful, positive lessons for Canada.

In particular, it shows that Canada can be competitively ambitious in shaping a 21st century economy that internalizes the real costs of pollution. And that is important, because carbon and other emissions from burning fossil fuels impose heavy costs on us all – as B.C. knows well. The mountain pine beetle infestation, resulting from warming winters, has devastated the province’s interior forest industry, closing mills and costing thousands of jobs. Similarly, air pollution, caused mainly by burning fossil fuels, costs thousands of lives and more than $8-billion a year to Canada’s economy. These problems will only get worse if we don’t get serious about tackling the causes of carbon emissions.

B.C.’s example shows that we can do that, while also building a prosperous economy, if we use smart policies. And it’s not alone in doing so. Both Alberta and Quebec, for example, have also put a price on carbon emissions, using different policy approaches. All three provinces offer instructive, made-in-Canada lessons for spurring clean innovation, advancing energy efficiency, and preparing Canada’s economy to compete with other nations that are already making this shift.

Canada has a history of taking pragmatic, far-sighted policy action to meet global economic challenges, like free trade, deficit fighting or the financial crisis. The shift to a low-carbon economic future poses a similar challenge. With such strong evidence of how to meet it from within our own borders, it’s time to set aside the stories and act.

Ross Beaty is chairman of Pan American Silver Corp. and Alterra Power; Richard Lipsey is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University; Stewart Elgie is professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa, and chair of Sustainable Prosperity.

Credit: The Globe and Mail
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