WARSAW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - To keep climate change to a relatively safe level, scientists say the world’s emissions of climate-changing gases need to peak in 2020, and then begin declining.
However, a planned new global climate agreement, which U.N. talks in Warsaw are working towards this week, would only take effect in 2020. So how can enough action take place before 2020 to keep the world on track toward only reasonable levels of climate change?
Hugh Sealy, a climate change negotiator who lives in the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, thinks the answer is to narrow down to a simple focus – improving energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy – and showing countries their economies will win more than lose by taking strong action on those.
“All economies are constrained by high energy costs,” he said. Changing that “would make a tremendous difference.”
A proposal from Sealy’s Alliance of Small Island States, being considered at the Warsaw talks, argues that the years leading to 2020 are a chance to fundamentally shift the way the world thinks about taking action on climate change.
Instead of countries battling to avoid shouldering the painful and costly burden of reducing emissions – one of the main focuses of the current negotiations – they could focus on solutions already shown to work best in many places, the barriers to implementing them more widely, and ways those might be overcome.
Figuratively speaking, the countries would not have to undergo painful remedies that are onerous, expensive and potentially devastating, and could instead address climate change by starting an exercise programme, which could hurt at first and require a personal trainer but would pay off in the end.
“If you try to convince 200 governments to share the losses, you won’t get anywhere,” noted Jacques Lapouge, France’s climate change ambassador, at an event in Warsaw Thursday.
GRENADA OR “GREENADA”?
Grenada is one example of how such a switch in focus could be effective. Right now the country spends nearly 10 percent of its GDP on diesel imports to provide energy. Its tourism, hotels and other businesses pay some of the highest energy costs in the world, and manufacturing is uncompetitive because of high energy costs, Sealy said.
The island has huge potential for solar and wind energy, thanks to its sunshine and trade winds, but its big debt burden and already high fuel costs leave little cash left to fund things like putting solar panels on hotels and homes.
However, a few loans – and political support - could make a transformative difference, Sealy argues.
If Grenada could find money to invest in renewable energy, it could quickly save a fortune in cash and emissions, while cutting diesel imports. That new space in the national budget could then fund additional clean energy and energy efficiency investment that could further lower energy costs to businesses and families, make manufacturing more competitive and cut even more emissions.
“A little bit of money, $150 million, would let us turn Grenada into ‘Greenada’,” Sealy said. “This is the way to transform our economies.”
MAKING A QUICK DIFFERENCE
Each country faces different energy challenges, he said, from general inertia to the lack of capacity to write a good funding proposal. Change also can be quicker and easier in smaller economies than big ones. Even in big countries, however, its cities, states and regions can move first, paving the way for action at a national level.
Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed Thursday that revolutionising countries’ energy systems is the key way forward.
“The quality of energy on this planet determines the quality of life in the future,” she told youth delegates to the climate negotiations.
The Alliance of Small Island States proposal is not the only one at the U.N. climate talks on how to spur ambition ahead of 2020. Brazil wants to focus on expanding use of biofuels, and “carbon capture and storage” - catching power plant emissions and putting the carbon into underground wells.
The European Union agrees that renewable energy and energy efficiency are a good focus, but also wants action on curbing fossil fuel subsidies and climate-changing gases such as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, used as refrigerants, as well as greater emphasis on cutting forest losses.
But the proposal by the small island states, its backers say, could be just focused enough to make a quick difference.
“If emissions have to peak by 2020, but we twiddle our thumbs until then, how are we ever going to curb them in time?” Sealy asked. “We can’t lose this opportunity.”