UN Climate Talks Start Today—7 Things You Need to Know
By Molly Bergen
This week in Doha, Qatar, representatives from 194 countries are gathering for the 18th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 18). I recently talked with Rebecca Chacko, Conservation International’s (CI) senior director of climate policy, to learn more about what will be discussed, what the obstacles are—and what’s at stake if countries continue to delay action.
1. What is the overall goal of the U.N. climate meetings?
The goal of the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in order to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, which means limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius at the most.
If nations in Doha don’t make the necessary commitments, this goal may soon be out of our reach. A new World Bank report warns that we are currently on track for a 4-degree increase in temperature, which would mean devastating consequences for people and ecosystems. We are talking about the most basic components of life on Earth—where we can live, the food we eat, the water we drink, our economic well-being and our ability to survive, let alone live happy, healthy lives.
Successful decisions from the U.N. climate summit offer us an alternate, more prosperous future—one in which we can not only maintain, but improve, human well-being.
2. Superstorm Sandy has spurred a deluge of climate change media coverage in the past few weeks. Do you think more frequent extreme weather events will encourage countries to take the action necessary in Doha?
It’s sad that it takes major disasters to invoke political action. The truth is, Sandy is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what we face with climate change. More waits for us beneath the surface due to the changes we have already put in motion, and even more will come if we don’t make changes immediately.
But here’s the good news: We can begin to transition to sustainable, low-emissions economies. And Hurricane Sandy may be the wake up call we need. It’s much easier to react to real events on the ground than address abstract predictions of what is to come.
We are starting to see the costs of inaction. Hurricane Sandy came with a US$60 billion price tag. In the long run, reducing emissions and taking actions to adapt to likely impacts will be more cost-effective than sticking our heads in the sand.
Public officials owe it to the people they represent to participate in Doha with Superstorm Sandy and other extreme weather events at the front of their minds. CI’s role as an NGO—and the role of every citizen on this planet—is to remind our government representatives of the stakes, ensure they are informed by science and provide them with the support they need to make the tough decisions necessary.
3. How effective was the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol—and what will the outcome of COP18 mean for this agreement?
The Kyoto Protocol is a historic agreement that legally binds developed (or Annex I) countries to emission reduction targets. It also created market mechanisms that allowed countries to meet their targets by trading in carbon emissions. Out of the 195 signatories to the UNFCCC, 192 have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, with the U.S. being the most notable exception.
While it is difficult to measure the impact the Kyoto Protocol has had, in 2011 the UNFCCC estimated that it reduced global emissions by about 5 percent by 2010—the equivalent of taking 300 million cars off the road for a year—and will prevent 10 percent by 2020.
The Kyoto Protocol‘s first commitment period comes to a close at the end of this year. That’s one reason Doha is so important—parties are finalizing the second commitment period, which will start on Jan. 1, 2013. The EU, Australia and nine other countries have indicated they will participate in the second commitment period, but four countries have indicated that they will not: Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand.
The Kyoto Protocol is currently the only legally binding mechanism we have to limit international greenhouse gas emissions. Eventually a new global climate treaty should also provide legally binding obligations, but until then, the Kyoto Protocol is all we have, and maintaining it is critical.
4. What issues do you expect to see the most progress on at COP 18?
The broad political issues at play in Doha will really set the tone for how we move forward on climate change. But CI will also be directly engaged in a number of the nuts and bolts issues on the table, and this is where there is an opportunity to see real progress.
A lot of CI’s focus will be on deforestation—which contributes to 16 percent of global emissions—and adaptation. We want to see details that will enable implementation at scale by reducing deforestation and helping people cope with climate change all over the world.
For example, CI is contributing to the development of guidance on how countries should do carbon accounting in the forest sector, and on planning processes for adaptation in the mid- to long-term. This may not sound as sexy as some of the climate issues more likely to be picked up in the news, but these issues are where the rubber meets the road in terms of turning policy into action and offering real benefits to people.
5. What do you think will be the biggest obstacle to progress at this meeting?
The word you can expect to hear over and over again in Doha is “equity.” And while it’s easy to agree that equity is important, it’s pretty tough to define what it looks like.
Developed countries have a historical responsibility for climate change because of all of the gases they emitted in the process of development. They are also in a better economic position to contribute to climate solutions. But as the climate problem grows, it is clear that developed countries won’t be able to solve it on their own.
Developing countries will need to be part of the equation, whether they are growing economic powerhouses whose emissions now rival those of the U.S. or small island states whose territories are at risk of going underwater. The question in Doha will be: What responsibilities do different countries hold, and how can we implement climate solutions fairly?
Answering these questions is Doha’s true challenge. If certain countries stick to their current positions, we could see a complete block to further progress.
6. Which countries will be especially influential at COP 18?
It’s easy to list off big countries like the U.S. and China, but one of the interesting things about the UNFCCC is that every country has a voice and an opportunity to show leadership. A lot of the true power comes from working with others.
Last year we saw the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries team together, and in doing so they were able to get things done. That’s the type of leadership we need now: progressive countries willing to push for more than common denominator solutions.
We can also expect to hear more from Brazil, South Africa, India and China, otherwise known as the BASIC countries. Then, of course, there is the COP President—Qatar—which has the challenging task of orchestrating agreement and pushing towards a more ambitious, successful conclusion.
7. What are the main outcomes CI hopes to see?
For a successful Doha outcome, we need to see three developments:
- A clear way forward towards developing a new 2015 agreement for all countries. In Durban, countries made a pivotal decision to establish a new legal agreement by 2015. This represents an opportunity to finally put in place the actions necessary to avoid dangerous climate impacts.
- Successful closure of negotiations on Long-term Cooperative Action so that countries can move forward with implementation on all of the necessary elements: mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity-building.
- An amendment to the Kyoto Protocol providing a robust second commitment period.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Rebecca Chacko is CI’s senior director of climate policy. Molly Bergen is managing editor on CI’s news and publicity team. Learn more about CI’s role at COP 18.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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