20 October 2009: Major economies talk money, not targets

Most international discussion about climate change this week has been about finance, not targets. This is good news. Targets are important, but mainly for focussing attention. The Kyoto targets are supposed to be legally binding, but there is no effective enforcement mechanism (see The practical effect of Kyoto targets). Anything agreed at Copenhagen will be similarly unenforceable. Therefore, a business plan for the low carbon transition, and substantial money for forest protection and for adaptation to the now-inevitable impacts of climate change, is urgently required.

The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) was created by Barack Obama earlier this year. It is made up of the US, Canada, Japan, Russian, the EU (Commission and Presidency), UK, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark (this year only, because the summit is in Copenhagen), Australia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, China, India, South Korea and Indonesia. These countries account for about 80% of global emissions.

On 18 and 19 October 2009, MEF met in London to discuss finance to help poor countries prepare for and adapt to climate change, and to develop more cleanly. Six particularly vulnerable developing countries were invited to attend: Ethiopia, Maldives, Algeria, Bangladesh, Lesotho and Costa Rica. The final communiqué said that there was “substantial agreement” that significantly scaled up financing will be important and that this must include substantial public finance in addition to the private sector and carbon market. The G20 finance ministers will continue these discussions at their meeting in November 2009 (see Fifth Meeting of the Leaders’ Representatives of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate).

There are no agreed numbers, but it is still positive that rich nations have at least agreed that they have an obligation to help the developing world. Indeed, the EU is said to be getting closer to a deal on supporting the low-carbon development of emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil:

According to plans currently being worked out by EU member-state negotiators, transfers of clean technologies such as wind turbines would take place along country-specific roadmaps, supervised by an international panel of experts. A UN forum would meet once a year to assess progress made by emerging economies in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions beyond business as usual. It would then allocate international funding according to progress made. The European Commission estimates that developing countries’ overall financing needs will hit €100 billion a year by 2020. Between €22-50 billion would come from the international public sector.

(See EurActiv: Eu nears tech transfer deal climate change.)

Opening the MEF meeting, Prime Minister Brown warned that a “catastrophe” awaits us if there is no radical action. He is right and has a good record on international financial issues. Therefore, it is helpful that he is engaged in the climate negotiations. However, warning of catastrophe is not the best way to avoid it. Ed Miliband, the UK Climate Secretary, often points out that Martin Luther King did not begin his most famous speech by saying “I have a nightmare”.


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