After a difficult start, the five days of discussion by 195 countries in Bonn, Germany, last week produced a definitive text that will be the working basis for further negotiations leading up to a final legally binding agreement on tackling climate change in December. The talks came after the world’s hottest nine months on record.

Christiania Figueres, executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, assured everyone at the conclusion of the week that the draft text includes the additional concerns of developing countries. She called it “balanced and comprehensive”. Nevertheless, much of it remains in brackets to be further debated.

The text, which ballooned from 20 to 51 pages, now needs to be reduced to a more concise structure. Some of the sticking points include how to monitor countries’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the financing of climate policies of developing countries by developed countries. This was not really the subject of negotiations, although it was supposed to have been.

Mexico and Malaysia played a key part in finding room for cooperation between opposing sides. The Mexican delegate Roberto Glowinski, whose country was being battered by Hurricane Patricia at the time, said, “I ask you all to put aside your differences so that together we can start work.”

There will be one more set of negotiations before the Paris talks on 28 November in the presence of heads of state of all countries. That will be from 8 to 10 November and take the form of a large informal ministerial consultation, organised by the French.

There was much controversy during the week because observers from civil society were banned from attending certain discussions. This was contrary to the spirit of negotiations but was adopted temporarily in some “spin-off” groups in order to speed up negotiation. And it worked.

Achievements

Amongst the week’s achievements were:

  • a U-turn by the US which endorsed Loss and Damage as a stand-alone section and committed an annual 0.7 per cent of GDP to financing it.
  • increased recognition of the need for capacity-building in countries which lack it.
  • references to emissions from ships and planes were reinserted into the negotiating text. These are not only large enough but, also growing fast enough to undermine global efforts to stay below 1.5°C. Under a 1.5°C scenario they could count for up to 42 per cent of allowable emissions
  • increased recognition of support for adaptation to climate change, which is proposed to become a key instrument of the Financial Mechanism
  • a Technology Executive Committee and a Climate Technology Centre and Network to meet regularly and develop policies, practices and action.

Among the outcomes was a proposal to set up a Technology Executive Committee and a Climate Technology Centre and Network that would meet regularly and develop “policies, practices and actions representing best practice, that have the potential to be scalable and replicable”. In particular this would involve the Green Climate Fund, and the Global Environment Facility. Policymakers in countries around the world would receive annual updates. Champions would identify and promote specific policies that were seen to work.

In addition there would be a process set up to accelerate implementation of whatever is agreed in Paris prior to 2020, the date at which the agreement is already scheduled to kick in. This would include monitoring, emissions reduction and finance, as well as capacity building.

The two high-level champions will be appointed to help speed up this process, working with the Executive Secretary and policymakers. They will serve a term of two years with their terms overlapping to ensure continuity. They will be appointed respectively by the president of this (COP21) and the next Conference of the Parties (COP22).

On adaptation, a similar, parallel process will take place, particularly supporting the work of the Least Developed Countries Expert Group.

Climate change adaptation

The Adaptation Fund is a successful program that has a portfolio of 50 small-scale adaptation projects, enabled through direct access modality, and which has successfully accredited 20 national implementing entities and helped build local capacity.

Adaptation has suffered recently, but the fund received an unprecedented 15 proposals (including the first regional programs) at its last meeting, and is vital. It needs more pledges to help it reach a fundraising target of US$100 million by COP21, but beyond this it needs a specific mandate under the new agreement to build long term.

It represents a success story because all developing countries are eligible for financing and therefore helps to advance the debate on adaptation everywhere. Since its adoption in 2010 it has committed US$331 million in 54 countries to climate adaptation and resilience activities and put together a robust and rapid project cycle that enables developing countries to maintain full ownership throughout project implementation and ensure monitoring and transparency at each stage.

This process ought to be a model for how to handle the mitigation side of global activities.

Bill Gates pledges $2 billion

While the United Nations process is accused of still paying undue attention to the perpetrators of climate change (the oil companies like Total, Shell and BP, who are attempting to influence the process with lobbyists and sponsorship), other, smarter corporate interests are sensing which way the wind is blowing and acting accordingly.

Amongst them is Bill Gates, who in an interview with The Atlantic magazine, says he believes the current commitments from the United Nations negotiations are not even a third of what is needed, and is plumping for a carbon tax in order to provide an incentive for innovators and plant buyers to switch to low carbon sources and energy efficiency.

He also wants to see much more investment in R&D on energy technology. Currently this is one-fifth of what is spent on medical research by the US government. He’s putting US$2 billion of his own money towards new technology deployment and believes that private investors should be at the forefront of climate change finance.

He says that by 2050 countries like China and the US must be adding no more carbon in the skies and believes that countries in transition to a low carbon economy should not use gas in preference to oil and coal but leapfrog straightaway to carbon free sources of energy. He says he despairs over American politicians who can’t agree on whether climate change is real.

“If you’re not putting math skills to the problem,” he said, “then representative democracy is a problem”.

Other ways forward

So what does the maths say? That the most cost-effective ways of moving towards a low carbon economy are to reduce subsidies for fossil fuels, to boost investment in energy efficiency and to phase out coal burning.

End fossil fuel subsidies

Do you remember back in 2009 and again in 2014 when G20 leaders pledged to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies? $300 billion a year is spent worldwide to subsidise these prices, which just keeps people burning more of the stuff in many nations by keeping prices artificially low and, thus, leads to more emissions.

Since then there has been no action on this pledge by the G20. The problem with subsidies is that they reduce the attractiveness of other government policies that support energy efficiency and renewables.

These subsidies need to be transferred onto mitigation and adaptation budgets. $300 billion would pay for plenty. So on 14 November there will be a global mobilisation in favour of this idea, in the streets and online, calling for world leaders to #StopFundingFossils.

Energy efficiency

This infographic below shows how investment in efficiency has reduced fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. It is proof of how energy efficiency is the “first fuel”. Investment is cost-effective and reduces energy demand, therefore the need for investment in generation plant, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Phasing out coal

Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel. The first ever assessment on progress towards ending reliance on coal power across the G7 was published last week by environmental think tank E3G, and put the US top and Japan last, with over 27GW of new coal power capacity in the planning stages.

Germany is in sixth place. Japan and Germany are performing poorly because they have closed down their nuclear plants and are favouring coal as it is cheaper than gas.

In June this year, all G7 members committed to the decarbonisation of the global economy by the end of this century. This means the inevitable phase out of coal power, with the G7 showing leadership in a world that is acting to avoid dangerous climate change.

Italy, Canada and the UK – in fifth, fourth and third respectively – are well positioned to take forward an aligned coal phase out effort over the next decade. France, in second place, just announced that the partly state-owned utility ENGIE (ex-GDF Suez), will not invest in new coal. However, as the host of COP 21 UN climate negotiations, France can do more to catalyse the phase out transitions by its utilities overseas and by confirming an end to coal use domestically.

E3G observe that the trend is away from coal power plants. Since 2010 63GW of planned coal power plants have been cancelled across the G7, except in Japan, which “risks locking itself into overly expensive and ultimately stranded asset investments”.

“There is now no case for new coal plants on economic grounds,” they add. Canada, the US and the UK have all implemented policies of “no new coal without CCS”.

With 288GW of capacity, the US has more than double the coal-fired generation of the other G7 members combined but is making the most positive progress of all. It has announced the closure of over 84GW by 2020, and introduced new policies that will reduce coal pollution and encourage investment in clean energy.

The next interesting development on the road to Paris will be on 30 October, when the UN Climate Change Secretariat will present its analysis of what the combined national climate action plans of all the countries in the world that have submitted them will mean for the future of the planet.

David Thorpe is the author of: