CLIMATE CHANGE: THE PARIS CONFERENCE Day 3
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North Coast resident, Jim Hight, gives his thoughts on the Paris Climate Conference:
NAMA-sté from COP 21 Day 3:
It’s 7 PM on day three of COP21 (COP = Conference of the Parties, and the Parties are countries), and I have yet to see any actual negotiations. But that’s OK because most of the meetings are closed, those that are open are technical sessions with bizarre titles like, “ADP informal informal of the spin-off group on articles 12-25.” (I’m not making that up.)
There’s also an incredible number of terrific presentations and other so-called side events, as well as national pavilions where countries strut their stuff and host interesting discussions. (India wins my style award. Germany has the most comfortable seats and best free coffee and food, while the U.S. has the best high-tech visuals.)
“It’s too bad we can’t clone ourselves to attend several events at the same time,” said a Finnish woman from the Nordic Development Fund. I met her while strolling through the huge exposition of NGOs, foundations and businesses—including Facebook, which is showing off its low-energy data center technology. (“You don’t use chillers?” marveled an Indian engineer?)
The exposition area is also where I found some terrific graphics about NAMAs, or “Nationally appropriate mitigation actions, the topic of today’s piece.
Understanding NAMAs will help you understand what is going on over here, and what will be going on at future COPs. And there will be future COPs. Lots of them.
The global climate negotiations are not going to get resolved this month, next month, next year or next decade. Our climate is changing rapidly because of the way we produce and use energy, grow food and manage forests. To stop overloading the atmosphere with GHGs, we have to change pretty much everything about how we live and do business. To borrow a phrase from Naomi Klein, “This Changes Everything.”
Back to NAMAs and (sorry) another acronym: INDCs, or “Intended nationally determined contributions.” (The “contribution” is what each country is going to do toward realizing the global goal of reducing GHGs enough to stabilize the climate).
Every country but a rogue handful (you can google it) have submitted their INDCs showing roughly how they’re going to stabilize or reduce their GHGs and how they’ll accomplish those goals. It’s not enough, of course, but it’s a good start. Since each INDC is determined nationally—as opposed to being part of an international treaty—it can be strengthened at any time.
Developed countries will accomplish their INDCs with their own resources. The United States will get most of the job done by phasing out coal power plants and bringing on more clean renewable power—victories for which we can thank Obama and his EPA, which have used executive power to work around Congress.
Most developing countries will need financial help to achieve their INDCs, and that’s where their NAMAs come in. NAMAs describe each developing country’s prime opportunities for slowing down the growth of its emissions in the near term and eventually reducing emissions.
One of Kenya’s best NAMA opportunities is to develop new geothermal power plants, while in Costa Rica, making coffee production greener will be a cost-effective way to reduce GHGs.
According to Mexico’s NAMA, it can cut a lot of GHGs by making public transport in cities more modern and efficient. This would be done by replacing old, diesel-guzzling vehicles—most owned by private operators who jealously guard their routes, no matter how inefficient—with an optimized network of hybrid or even all-electric buses.
Mexico, Kenya, Costa Rica and other developing countries might eventually do these sorts of things themselves—or they might not. They’ll do them a lot faster with money from developed countries.
I rode on the COP21 shuttle yesterday with the head of an environmental agency from a developing country. She was lugging her own suitcase and headed for low-cost lodging somewhere far from the beauty of central Paris (where I’m staying).
Since I didn’t identify myself as a journalist, I’m not going to identify her or even say what continent she was from. But I feel comfortable summarizing what she said because it represents what has been said publicly by her government and scores of developing country representatives.
She believes her country is already suffering from climate change, and she and her government want the developed countries to pay for the “loss and damage” they’ve suffered and will continue to suffer. After all, it was we—not they—who overloaded the atmosphere with GHGs by 200 years of burning fossil fuels.
At past COPs, developed countries promised to build up a climate fund that will be worth $100 billion per year by 2020. This money would be earmarked to help developed countries build low-carbon energy systems—implementing their NAMAs.
And it would help them build more climate-resilient communities by doing things like moving coastal residents to higher ground, being more efficient with water in farming, improving urban drainage systems and even building dikes like those that allow the Dutch to live below sea level.
Developing countries expect this $100 billion to be new climate-related money, but so far, they have good reason to think that most of the “climate finance” commitments announced so far are just traditional aid “re-branded” as climate aid.
“Most of it is now new aid,” said my acquaintance.
Like other tropical countries, hers is suffering from drought which has sharply cut back the availability of water to generate hydropower. “We have blackouts almost every day.”
When I asked about her country’s options for developing new power generation capacity, she mentioned wind and solar, but it would take many years to build a reasonable amount of generation capacity. Nuclear would be emissions-free, but very expensive.
Their cheapest option would be new coal power plants.
While we could rightly blame her country and others like India for building new coal power plants—plants that will emit heavy GHGs for decades—we can’t deny their imperative to live a modern life, with the health and convenience that reliable electricity provides.
Of course, they know that any new coal power plants they build will worsen the climate impacts they’re already feeling. Maybe they’re bluffing to some extent—playing a high-stakes game of poker over there in those closed negotiation sessions.
I can’t say how much of the billions that developed countries are promising is truly new climate aid—although I know some NGOs are tracking that question with rigorous analysis.
Nor can I imagine how the U.S. is going to come up with its share of a $100 billion annual climate fund, since Congress is the only branch of government that can appropriate money.
I also have questions about how much of the money from a climate fund would actually go to the intended purposes, given the high levels of corruption in many developing countries. Here again, we’ll have to rely on persistent NGOs to follow the money.
But it seems clear that a lot of checks must be written to developing countries over the next decades to avert a climate catastrophe.