Sean Kidney’s Doha blog: climate negotiations? Pffft…….

Observations from COP 18 in Qatar.

I’m in Qatar, a place slightly smaller than Connecticut, prosaically described in my travel guide app as “mainly flat and barren desert, covered with loose sand and gravel”. There’s not a lot of desert left in its capital, Doha, just a vast sea of choked-up highways (serious SUV traffic!) and low-rise buildings punctuated by monumentalist skyscrapers, all thanks to huge natural gas resources. Pity we’re going to have to leave a large part of that gas in the ground if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change. I’m here for the UN Kyoto Protocol conference, but I have yet to hear any optimistic noises coming out of the negotiations. Maybe there’ll be some last minute patching up of the semblance of progress, but it’s hard to see what there could be of substance. But, as in past years, there are various parallel conferences going on, and there are wall-to-wall sessions relating to climate & private sector finance. We’re going to have to complete the first stage of a global transition to a low-carbon economy with minimal help from a carbon price; luckily there are options, of which more in coming days. To get in the mood for Doha I caught up with some big reports released in recent weeks, like artillery opening up before a battle. They’re very good, but sobering:

  • The International Energy Agency’s 2012 World Energy Outlook is the the big gun. This has become IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol’s annual salvo across the world’s governments; he tells us again the world is “barreling” towards 6-7 degrees warming by the end of the century – “a catastrophe” – and we’re making zip all progress in changing that trajectory. (Yes, he can be glum when you actually meet him). The IEA does also outline how to fix the problem, or at least what to do to have a half decent chance of doing that – there’s hope yet.* The World Bank commissioned the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change to do an update on climate change: Link to update It essentially says “we’ve been wrong in our past projections about climate change, things are much worse that we’ve been thinking”, and we’re becoming “locked in” to that future. Yikes!
  • This month’s PwC broadside is good as well: “To limit global warming to 2C would now mean reducing global carbon intensity by an average of 5.1% a year, a performance never achieved since 1950, when these records began”. The report warns that “governments and businesses can no longer assume that a 2C warming world is the default scenario.” It adds that “any investments in long term assets or infrastructure, particularly in coastal or low-lying regions need to address far more pessimistic scenarios”. Well, that’s clear.
  • Oh. I nearly forgot UNEP’s The Emissions Gap Report 2012
    It says: “If the world stays on its business-as-usual trajectory, more drastic and expensive cuts will be needed after 2020.”
  • Finally, you might also be interested in the new World Meteorological Office bulletin which says: “The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2011”.

Aaargh! Glad we got that out of the way.
There are bright spots – but just one for today. At a UNEPFICMIA event we heard of an interesting experiment going on in Uganda: German State Bank KfW and Deutsche Bank are co-operating to help fund a feed-in tariff to support development of renewable energy. They’re providing a subsidy to cover the gap between the “levelised cost of electricity” (i.e. usual price) and the cost of the feed-in tariff. It’s essentially nicely targeted aid based on Deutsche Bank’s GetFIT model, developed by the now sadly axed Climate Change Investment Research unit and its head Mark Fulton. Could be a great model for other countries.
Sean Kidney is Co-Founder of the Climate Bonds Initiative. Read his blog