PARIS – As week two of the UN Climate summit begins here there’s little hope of finding the silver bullet that will stop global warming in its tracks and reign temperature rises to within the 2 degree Celsius target negotiators have long hoped for.
But there is something of a prayer that the negotiating text to come of the summit will spark needed movement among world financial institutions to invest in emissions abating technologies, say experts with Bellona.
“If we reach an agreement here in Paris, it won’t be enough,” said Bellona President Frederic Hauge. “But it will send a strong signal to financial institutions that they need to move their investment strategies into renewables.”
Granted, that migration of capital would have to be tremendous, and would challenge how financial markets have done business for decades, he said.
Various recent scandals in the auto industry – where Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Renault were caught fudging their diesel emissions – make rechanneling investment into electric car companies like Tesla far more profitable in the long term, said Hauge.
“In a sense, we are seeing that national agreements and pledges only get so far,” he said. “When the business and the financial sectors are involved, fossil fuel investment can be priced out of the market within 50 years.”
Evidence business is heeding the call cropped up over the weekend as members and supporters of the B-Team, a coalition of chief executives for climate action, converged on Paris to challenge negotiators aim for a carbon negative world by 2050, and a worldwide temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius, instead of the 2C rise that’s been the long-held UN target.
But that might take more than the world currently has.
But, according to Keith Whiriskey, Bellona Europa’s Climate Technologies Policy Manager, limiting warming to the 2C target – or less – with an agreement in Paris would require “throwing basically everything we have at [global warming] now.”
“We’d have to stop 2 billion people from being born and 2 billion people from industrializing, and that’s not realistic,” he said.
But Jochen Zeitz, the former chief executive of Puma, and founder with Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson of the B Team entreated the governments gathered in Paris to give business “some rules.”
”We believe that net zero by 2050 would at least get us to 2 degrees,” Zeitz was quoted by The Guardian as saying in Paris Sunday, “leaving the door open for further reduction to 1.5, which should be something we should be looking at in the future.”
Hauge, too, supported the framework for a carbon negative within 35 years and said Bellona intends to throw as much technology and scientific innovation into the mix as negotiators can bear in this decisive week.
Draft text and red ink
The documents that the summit is working with at the moment, however, haven’t even come close to that goal.
At the close of the summit’s first week on Friday, a draft negotiating text, characterized by what Hauge described as “a lot of comma f*cking,” was adopted.
He said the emissions reducing proposals submitted by the more than 180 nations attending the conference– as last week – still added up to a 2.7 C to 3.7 C rise in temperature by century’s end.
The text is admittedly messy, negotiators told the Associated Press, but is one that gives them a ray of hope.
Still, the draft is riddled with brackets and competing options, what will be expected of rich nations in terms of financing to poor nations.
It also includes a proposal that calls for the formation of an international tribunal on climate justice, which would deal with developed countries that didn’t hit their targets or fulfill commitments, said AP.
Though that is likely to face a great deal of pushback from rich nations, Hauge said it pointed to one of the central issues that has yet to be decided: reporting on and verifying individual nations’ climate targets – a central hope for any agreement coming from Paris.
“More frequent verifications would ensure nations are using the best possible technologies to achieve their goals,” Hauge said.
At current, negotiators are suggesting verification periods each five years, but Hauge thinks that period should be reduced to three years – not only to produce more accurate results, but also to keep up with technological developments.
Keeping pace with technology
Goals that were put in place at the Copenhagen UN climate summit in 2009 didn’t take into account the drastic price drops in solar and wind power, and the rapid development of battery and energy storage technology, said Hauge.
Carbon capture and storage, likewise, has seen developments that couldn’t have been anticipated. The world’s first industrial scale CCS project at Saskatchewan Canada’s Boundary Dam coal plant has means the plant’s next CCS unit will cost a third less than the first.
An integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) facility that is similarly designed to keep carbon out of the air is slated to go online at Mississippi’s Kemper Plant in mid 2016. Even Russia, in the best-case scenario, intends to put CCS to wide scale use in its colossal gas industry by 2050, according to promises from Moscow’s negotiation team.
Striking the new power balance
But Whiriskey said that what new technologies would work where is a matter of national preference and ability.
“As awesome as batteries are getting, they can’t displace huge power plants or save the world,” he said. “And CCS is most important for industry and getting carbon out of the atmosphere.”
In a workable balance, he said, some countries would rely on renewables and batteries, like Germany, where others, like Poland, would continue with coal and CCS.
But both Whiriskey and Hauge said the most ambitious goals for CCS should include CCS deployment with biomass – or bio-CCS – which aims at total carbon neutrality for fossil fuel based energy and power.
This neutrality is achieved by using of biomass, such as algae, trees and other plant life – in factories and power stations fitted with CCS produces to produce a double climate benefit; Emissions from combustion of fossil fuels are prevented from entering the atmosphere and the CO2 contained in the biomass is captured, thereby removing CO2 from the air.
Reinventing world trade
Financing this would take some creative rethinking of trade relations, said Hauge.
“Money would have to move via trade,” he said, and outlined a world system where financial cross-pollination from the developed world into the developing would help the developing world make its own investments.
“A crucial example would be trade between Europe and India that would be tied to India’s expenditures of profit on CCS,” he said.
This would allow for greater accountability when it comes to measuring emissions cuts as well. But how those emissions are measured is in disarray, Hauge said, and one of the most important points that must be nailed down before the summit’s close.
“We still don’t have a uniform system of measuring the emissions that would be reported,” he said. For example, some countries want to reduce emissions below 2005 levels, like the United States, and others push further for reductions below 1990 levels, like nations in the European Union”.
Further, some nations submit overall emissions slashes, where others submit reductions, based on emissions per unit of gross domestic product, an altogether different model.
Overall emissions, for instance, put China, the United States, India and Russia in the top four spots. Emissions measured by units of GDP put Russia at the top of the list, where China, India and the US evade even the top 20, according to Shift Project Data Portal, an aggregator of climate change statistics.
“The major agreement we expect from this summit has to include a better understanding of commitments and how they’re reached,” said Hauge. “Negotiators have their work cut out for them this week.”