Op-ed articles

International Negotiations and CO2 Emissions

Hervé Le Treut
Hervé Le TreutPhysicist, climatologist and director of Institut Pierre Simon Laplace

"We will never reach our targets, or at least get on the right track to doing so, if breakthrough innovations are not produced at some point."

Harnessing Technology to Save the Climate

Keeping the rise in average global temperatures below 2ºC is a very ambitious target, perhaps even too ambitious given the build-up of CO2See Carbon Dioxid in the atmosphere caused by human activity over the past 150 years. In this article, Hervé Le Treut, a climatologist who has taken part in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)Body established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988..., explains what measures must be taken to at least get on the right track.

At the COP21 climate conference, world leaders set a target of keeping the increase in average global temperatures to less than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels by 2100, which was seen as a minimum commitment. To achieve this objective, man-made greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... emissions need to fall to zero “by the end of the century”, according to analyses presented in IPCC reports. Although setting a more precise date is currently impossible, this timescale is extremely restrictive, and the models forecast that slightly longer will be needed. To reduce the CO2 “debt” already accumulated in the atmosphere, we will most likely have to generate negative emissions, which will involve removing carbon dioxide from the air on a very large scale within the next few decades. Today, however, we do not have the capabilities to do this.

The major challenge is returning to the balance of past times, with humankind continuing its development without emitting greenhouse gases, and natural carbon sinks capturing as much of these gases as the planet produces. This is the guiding objective, which may – or may not – be achievable.

To succeed, we need to implement a wide range of initiatives and, in particular, ensure that they are not competing with each other. If we do not explore all avenues, we will never achieve our goal. We have to activate every lever, carefully managing energy consumption, developing new infrastructure and making genuine technological breakthroughs.

Energy savings, which could immediately reduce emissions, are absolutely essential. For any given quantity of CO2 released, half is still present in the atmosphere one hundred years later. Reducing emissions of CO2 and other gases with long lifetimes today therefore means not having to worry about them in the future. Choosing not to take action now, on the other hand, means accepting responsibility for the irreversible consequences.

Infrastructure – for housing and transportation, for example – is a crucial driver, and we should not postpone its transformation. The low annual rate at which housing around the world is renewed makes it urgent to take action in this area. Generally speaking, a wide variety of approaches could help avoid the need for miracle solutions, that is, solutions in which we place all hope but which carry a risk that is hard to quantify. For example, electrifying all cars manufactured in France by 2040 would have a significantly positive effect on health in urban areas, but the wider environmental impactAny change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from human activity... is complex to predict and requires detailed analyses.

The Need for Technological Breakthroughs

New technologies will be an integral part of the solutions. Technological development must be ramped up to maximum levels, yet this urgent need does not receive enough public attention. One example is carbon capture and storage technology, which would be a game-changing solution if it could be made to work. Of course, many economic, technical and geological factors remain unknown, but I have the impression, as an interested citizen, that not enough has been done to assess the technology.

We will never reach our targets, or at least get on the right track to doing so, if breakthrough innovations are not produced at some point. This does not necessarily mean developing new forms of energy, but rather perfecting technologies that bring about a qualitative and quantitative change in the way existing energies are used, transported, stored and more.

Such technological breakthroughs are key to ensuring that emerging countries do not follow in the footsteps of their industrialized counterparts. This is where the biggest challenge currently lies: global emissions have doubled over the past 40 years, and the share of OECDFounded in 1960, the OECD promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world... member countries in the total has fallen from 60% to around 30%, but emerging countries use the same technologies that caused the build-up of emissions in the first place.

In view of this, there are two fundamental requirements:

  • Active research into all possible solutions. This naturally involves assessing their usefulness without, however, pitting them against one another or focusing on miracle solutions.
  • Effective public debate. The general public needs to take ownership of these issues, or else insurmountable misunderstandings will prevent the transition. Educating younger generations is absolutely critical to achieving this.

 

Hervé Le Treut, a graduate of École normale supérieure, is a physicist and climatologist. After a career at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), he now serves as a professor at the Sorbonne University and École Polytechnique and the director of Institut Pierre Simon Laplace (IPSL), a climate research organization. Hervé Le Treut has been a member of the French Academy of Sciences since 2005. His work on the digital modeling of the climate system and the impacts of climate change has received international acclaim and led him to participate in the various reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) until the 2013 publication. He was a member of the COP21 Steering Committee and co-organizer of the Our Common Future under Climate Change conference, which was held in the lead-up to COP21 at UNESCO and Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC).

 
 
Audrey Rojkoff
Audrey Rojkoff Deputy Head of the Climate Change Division at French development fund Agence française de développement

"The already perceptible effects of climate change phenomena would require several tens of billions of dollars per year."

The Financial Aspect of the Fight Against Climate Change

The United Nations’ Green Climate Fund aims to finance projects linked to climate change in developing countries. It is just one part of a larger “climate finance” sphere, encompassing flows of public and private investments intended to contain the effects of global warmingGlobal warming, also called planetary warming or climate change... and secure the global energy transition. In this article, Audrey Rojkoff, Deputy Head of the Climate Change Division at Agence française de développement (AFD), discusses these issues.

The “$100 billion per year by 2020”, which we have been talking about for nearly ten years, refers to the commitment made by the developed world at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009 to assist developing countries in the fight against climate change. The “Southern” countries legitimized this request by highlighting the large quantities of greenhouse gases (greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases...) emitted by “Northern” countries during their industrial revolutions, which lasted over a century. Today, these gases are causing the planet to heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... up, and the Southern countries are now the first to feel the consequences.

This target of transferring $100 billion per year from the North to the South could possibly be achieved. But first, we must put it into perspective by considering the scale. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)1, offsetting the already perceptible effects of climate change phenomena (a process known as adaptation) would require several tens of billions of dollars per year. To allow for a transition to a low-carbon economy (known as mitigation), $1,000 billion would need to be provided every year until 2050 in the energy sector alone, and even more when taking into account the agriculture, forestry and waste sectors. These figures are well above the current reality: total climate finance flows in 2015 and 2016 were estimated at an average of just over $400 billion per year. However, awareness is growing among countries, large corporations, investors, regions and citizens.

From now until the fixed date of 2020, experts will try to measure the level of North-South investment, from both public and private sources. This figure is difficult to calculate precisely, but many reports estimate that it reached an average of around $50 billion per year in 2015 and 2016, or 12.5% of total “climate finance” flows. As the projects are public, they are funded by national, bilateral or multilateral development finance institutions, or by dedicated climate funds. One such example is the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is the most recent fund to have entered into the multilateral architecture of climate finance. In 2015, around 40 countries, including France, made their first contributions to the GCF for more than $10 billion. Headquartered in South Korea, the fund is managed by a board made up of 12 representatives from Southern countries and another 12 from Northern countries. It has already initiated 77 projects for $3.7 billion.

The GCF has ruled that funding must be divided equally between adaptation and mitigation. This is important, because developing countries are concerned about the lack of investment for repairing damage, which is urgent but does not always generate income.

Several Changes in the Focus of the Commitment

We are currently seeing a growing amount of South-South investments, chiefly from China in other Asian or African countries. China is rather discreet in the GCF. While it could theoretically benefit from the fund’s assistance, its economic and financial powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... makes this difficult to justify. The GCF could focus its funding on the least developed countries, particularly those in Africa, and on small island developing states.

The United States is in an unusual position. President Donald Trump has announced his country’s withdrawal from the Paris production sharing contract (or agreement)Oil contract under which the oil that is produced is shared between the state and the oil company..., but “philanthropic” investors, such as Michael Bloomberg, have expressed their desire to cover America’s public contribution so that their country can continue to play a part in climate efforts.

As the One Planet Summit demonstrated in December 2017, the world’s major economic and financial players are taking more and more notice of the climate impact of their activities, and are committing to developing new resilient, low-carbon technologies. An increasing amount of research is being undertaken into the risk that extreme weather events may pose to infrastructure. Furthermore, investors are hesitant to launch new products that risk being contested a few years later for their high GHG emissions, such as new dieselDiesel is the name of an internal combustion engine that works by compression-ignition... vehicles. Private entrepreneurs do not have the choice; if they continue doing business as usual, they will lose market share.

Private sector commitment is absolutely crucial to climate finance. It provides more than 90% of worldwide renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... funding, for example, representing a four-fold increase in investment since 2013.

 

Audrey Rojkoff is Deputy Head of the Climate Change Division at French development fund Agence française de développement (AFD), where she is specifically responsible for matters relating to climate finance, international partnerships and the work of the Green Climate Fund. Before joining AFD, she worked for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an international NGO and the African Development Bank. As part of her various activities, she has accumulated 11 years of experience in the field in Africa, notably in Egypt, Tunisia and Côte d’Ivoire.

 

 

Source:

(1) See the United Nations Climate Change Convention

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