Bob Dylan’s new album gets released. Another Star Trek film gets released. Lindsay Lohan gets released. All major events at one time, in certain media anyway, but now nobody really cares that much. I get the impression it’s the same with the COP climate conference. Who can remember what it did after the Kyoto Protocol? Where and when was the last one? Where and when is the next one? The answers to the last two questions are Durban last year and Doha today. Any media coverage tends to be about the fact that it’s in Qatar which, as even the state-sponsored Al Jazeera admits, has the worst CO2 emissions rate per person in the world: 53.4 tonnes a year, three times more than the US.
So what is COP 18 hoping to achieve? At COP 16 in Cancun two years ago, governments agreed that emissions needed to be reduced so that global temperature increases could be limited to below 2 degrees Celsius. Fans of treaty talk will have noticed that they agreed that emissions “needed to be reduced”, not “agreed to reduce emissions”. As we wrote here a couple of weeks ago when the International Energy Agency’s new World Energy Outlook was published, there’s no chance of hitting the 2 degrees target the way things are going. Global energy demand is expected to grow by more than one-third by 2035 in the IEA’s central scenario, with emissions corresponding to a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C. Even the “Efficient World” scenario talks about a rise of “under 3 degrees” rather than 2.
The OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 is even more pessimistic, projecting that without a significant change in policies, global greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 50%, primarily due to a 70% growth in energy-related CO2 emissions. Global average temperature would then be 3 to 6 degrees C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century according to the Environmental Outlook.
Nobody expects the world to wake up and take action as a result of the Doha meeting, but the OECD will be presenting ideas and analyses on issues that have to be addressed. An event on November 30 will showcase new work by the OECD/IEA Climate Change Expert Group on the design and governance of carbon market mechanisms. The Environmental Outlook suggests that curbing GHG emissions by putting a price on carbon through carbon taxes or emission trading schemes can help raise significant revenues. For example, if industrialised countries implement the emission reduction actions they pledged at COP 2009 in Copenhagen through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme with fully auctioned permits, they could generate more than $250 billion extra revenue.
On December 4 the spotlight will be on other forms of “climate finance”. Transitioning to a low carbon and climate-resilient economy, and more broadly, “greening growth”, takes money, but public finance and traditional sources of private capital such as banks are unlikely to have the means, or the will, to finance the investment needed because of the impacts of the crisis on budgets and financial sector performance. The OECD has launched a project on long-term investment focusing on the role of institutional investors as a source of direct financing for green infrastructure projects. This builds on numerous networks of experts in financial markets, insurance, pensions and environment and ongoing work on institutional investors and long-term investment.
The COP event will emphasise the need to scale-up and shift infrastructure finance, to avoid lock-in of carbon-intensive and climate vulnerable development pathways in developed and developing countries alike. A major part of the infrastructure required to meet development goals is still to be built in areas where climate change mitigation and adaption action is needed, such as transportation, energy, water, or urban development.
Maybe COP 18 will surprise us all. After all, Lindsay Lohan has just made a film.