22 September 2009: A crucial week for the climate

Today, there is a UN Climate Summit, which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called to inject momentum into the Copenhagen negotiations. And later this week, there will be intensive climate discussions between developed and rapidly developing nations at a G20 meeting. So, by the weekend, we will have a clearer idea of whether world leaders are serious or not about controlling climate change.

The UN has the main formal role – Kyoto is a Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, so the Copenhagen Summit is a UN one. Ban Ki-moon has been very active and constructive and the UN’s chief climate change negotiator, Yvo de Boer, says he expects an important announcement from the Chinese government this week (see BBC News: China vows climate change action). This will probably be about a willingness to accept a target and, if the Chinese government does this, the political effect would be very positive.

Targets are useful in focussing attention. However, they are less important than delivery, and low carbon delivery requires substantial funding. China is now the world’s largest climate polluter, but the Chinese, Indians, South Africans and other developing nations point out – quite correctly – that North America and Europe, together responsible for 60% of the historic contribution to climate pollution, got rich using cheap fossil fuels. Therefore, if the developed world wants the developing world to develop cleanly, it must contribute to the additional cost of doing so.

European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, who has been very constructive in EU climate policy, recognises this. As he says:

We need to make a credible financial commitment to the developing world. The equation is straightforward: no money, no deal, but if there are no actions, no money.

Let’s hope that other world leaders take the same approach and, in particular, accept that actions are more important than targets.

However, where is the money to come from, since North American and European governments are not exactly rolling in spare cash at the moment? Part of the answer is that extra money could be raised by means of what are referred to as Green Bonds. That is, governments should issue a series of green government bonds aimed at institutional investors, offering a fixed return over a period of 15 years or more. The revenue should then be invested by a publicly owned, green infrastructure bank in low carbon projects (see Green Alliance: New economic policies for a new carbon future).

But the question always remains: will it be?

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