Saturday, November 28, 2015

Climate Central - News

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  1. Transatlantic Airlines Show Big Fuel-Efficiency Gaps

    By David Morgan, Reuters

    The biggest transatlantic airlines are up to 51 percent less fuel-efficient than their smaller lower-cost rivals, which offer fewer first-class seats and maintain newer fleets of aircraft, according to a new report.

    A plane coming into Murcia San Javier airport in Spain.
    Credit: xlibber

    A 43-page study by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, German-based Air Berlin and Ireland's national flag carrier Aer Lingus had the smallest carbon footprints among 20 transatlantic carriers in 2014.

    British Airways, Scandinavian airline SAS and Deutsche Lufthansa AG had the worst CO2 performance, as measured by passenger mile per quart of fuel.

    The report by ICCT, the same independent group that uncovered the Volkswagen AG diesel emissions scandal, comes two weeks before world leaders are scheduled to meet in Paris to try to nail down binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

    Commercial aviation each year transports more than three billion passengers and 52 million tons of freight, while generating more than $600 billion of economic activity. But aircraft also produce about 770 million tons of CO2 annually.

    The ICCT's study of nonstop transatlantic flights between Europe and North America found that the average round trip produces 1.1 ton of CO2 emissions per passenger, equal to the emissions of a Toyota Prius driven on a 22-mile commute each day for an entire work year.

    Researchers were surprised by the 51 percent gap between top-rated Norwegian Air Shuttle and last-place British Airways, which is more than double that among U.S. airlines. They said the difference meant great potential for emissions reduction as the International Civil Aviation Organization works to finalize a fuel-efficiency standard for new aircraft in 2016.

    Seating configuration and fuel burn were the most important factors by far, accounting for about 80 percent of the variation in fuel efficiency. First-class and business seats accounted for 14 percent of available seat miles but one-third of overall emissions.

    Carriers with the worst fuel-efficiency performance also tended to maintain older fleets that included twin-aisle Boeing 747 aircraft. Low fuel prices may be providing airlines with an incentive to keep older aircraft in service to lower capital costs, researchers said.

    "The fact that market forces and fuel efficiency aren't well-aligned on these routes highlights the need for policies to reduce emissions," said co-author Daniel Rutherford.

    Editing by Bernadette Baum

  2. Global Investments in Climate Change on the Rise

    By Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation

    Global investment in activities to reduce planet-warming emissions and vulnerability to climate change grew 18 percent to $391 billion in 2014, as private backing for renewable energy technologies surged, researchers said.

    More money than ever before was channeled into action to curb climate change and its impacts, after funding leveled off in 2012 and declined in 2013, according to an annual report from the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), an advisory group.

    Workers walk among newly installed solar panels at a solar power plant in the Zhouquan township of Tongxiang, Zhejiang province. 
    Credit: Reuters

    "Two weeks out from the international climate negotiations in Paris, our analysis demonstrates that countries around the world are investing to drive their own economic growth and development," Barbara Buchner, senior director of the CPI and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

    Around three quarters of total investment and over 90 percent of private finance was raised and spent in the same country, the report noted.

    Worldwide, private investors poured $243 billion into renewable energy last year, up 26 percent from 2013, leading to record installation of solar photovoltaics and onshore wind power, with especially strong growth in China, the report said.

    Some renewable energy technologies are edging closer to becoming fully cost-competitive with fossil fuels, it added.

    Government investment, meanwhile, reached at least $148 billion in 2014, continuing its steady rise over the past three years.

    Yet, despite the 2014 increase in funding for cleaner, more resilient economies, the CPI said even greater effort and a wider geographic spread for investment are needed to keep global warming to an internationally agreed target of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

    The report noted that around $16.5 trillion is required between 2015 and 2030 to shift the global energy system in line with the 2 degree goal.

    More will be needed to curb emissions from deforestation and help societies and economies adapt to more extreme weather and rising seas, it added.

    "(Climate spending) is going in the right direction but more needs to happen, and clearly on the adaptation side as well," Buchner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Adaptation Funding Flat

    Funding for climate change adaptation - which includes protecting infrastructure from damage, switching to hardier crops and improving weather information services - stayed flat in 2014, at $25 billion or 17 percent of all public climate finance, the report showed.

    But Buchner said the data was incomplete because it did not include adaptation investment by the private sector, where more transparency is needed.

    The numbers will be scrutinised by officials in the run-up to the Paris climate summit, beginning on Nov. 30, where some 195 countries are due to stitch together a new deal to curb global warming.

    Climate finance is a sticky topic for negotiators, with developing countries seeking firmer reassurance that rich nations will make good on a promise to mobilise $100 billion a year to combat climate change in vulnerable states by 2020.

    They also want to see $100 billion fixed as a floor for increased funding from 2020, and some are also looking for a separate commitment on government money for adaptation.

    A study issued in October by the CPI and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed donors are almost two-thirds of the way to the $100 billion goal, having spurred $62 billion in public and private climate finance in 2014.

    But just 16 percent of the $114 billion in funding for developing nations over 2013 and 2014 was allocated purely for adaptation measures, with 7 percent more going to projects that support both adaptation and mitigation efforts to cut emissions.

    Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering

  3. Paris Talks Could Improve Climate Pledges

    Until recently, global climate negotiations resembled wards full of newborn babies. Everybody seemed awfully upset about something, but with little idea what to do about it.

    Now the kids are growing. And they’ve been handing in their homework. What happens to that homework as countries’ climate policies mature could mean the difference between a humanity that’s afflicted by climate change, or one that’s devastated by it.

    Wind energy produces nearly no greenhouse gas pollution.
    Credit: NREL

    The way that countries will move together to act on climate in the coming years may start to become clear during the next two weeks in Paris, which is hosting what could be the most important round of United Nations climate negotiations in history.

    Following years of failed efforts to force specific climate pollution reductions on developed countries, most nations completed unprecedented climate assignments this year, which they submitted to the U.N. They drafted climate pledges, which are known as intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs. These INDCs describe high-level, but mostly underwhelming, targets for reducing or easing the amount of climate pollution that's being released.

    “The INDCs have lots of flaws right now,” said David Victor, a University of California at San Diego international relations professor who researches climate diplomacy. “They are a start.”


    Next, governments aim to work together to build their climate pledges into a fragmented but cohesive global plan for slowing global warming and, to a lesser extent, for adapting to it.

    That work begins Sunday with the start of this year’s major session of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. One of the key issues to be decided is how and when the INDCs will be reviewed. Some are proposing reviews of INDCs every three to five years, making the pledges relatively dynamic, helping them keep pace with energy industry advances. Others favor a more measured approach — perhaps with once-in-a-decade reviews for some or all pledges.

    “Review needs, ideally, to look not just at the big picture but the details — what’s working and not,” Victor said. “There are countries and firms willing to do things but not sure, right now, what works and how to link different policy efforts in different jurisdictions over time. So they are trying stuff and learning.”

    America’s six-page INDC promises a 26 percent reduction in annual climate pollution from 2005 to 2025, for example. The European Union has pledged to reduce its climate impacts 40 percent by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. China is pledging to halt its yearly growth in climate-changing emissions 15 years from now at latest. India’s pledge quotes Mahatma Gandhi, discusses “climate justice,” poverty and population growth, and describes how it will promote nuclear and renewable energy.

    While the pledges and approaches differ substantially, a collective examination of them makes it clear they won’t be enough to avoid dangerous levels of warming.

    Analysis has revealed that the targets in the pledges will set the world up for more warming than the climate negotiators’ goal of a 2°C, or 3.6°F, limit. Industrial activity has already warmed the Earth by 1°C, and island states and other countries most threatened by rising seas want a 1.5°C target adopted in Paris.

    “If the current targets are locked in through 2030, then we have a major problem,” said Jake Schmidt, who monitors climate negotiations for the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Countries were “conservative” in setting their targets, Schmidt said. “Technology development, implementation ability, and political will etc., will make it easier for them to do more before 2030 than they could envision at this moment.”

    Most countries’ climate pledges cover a 10-year period after 2020. Those by the U.S. and Mexico, by contrast, cover 2020 to 2025.

    U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern, left, and his boss, Secretary of State John Kerry, at climate negotiations in Peru last year.
    Credit: UNFCCC/flickr

    “Our view was that a shorter target — a 5-year target, rather than 10 — would actually enhance ambition,” President Obama’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, said during a U.S. State Department press briefing on Tuesday. “In 2020, we will be able to put forward a target for 2030 much stronger than we would be able to do if we were trying to kind of guess on what a 2030 target would look like now.”

    The different approaches to INDC cycles are reflective of different ideas for how the pledges could be reviewed and updated in the years ahead. The proposed evaluation approach is being calling a “ratcheting mechanism,” because it could help ratchet up the ambitions that underpin the climate pledges.

    In Paris, the U.S. will be pushing for all countries to adopt 5-year INDC and INDC review cycles. India, frustrated that it’s being called upon to curb its substantial overall climate pollution while its per-person impacts remain low, and wary of inquisitions from the West, wants to wait a decade or so before its INDC is subjected to an initial review. During the negotiations, the U.S. will be trying to allay those concerns, which it fears could stunt the development of a climate-friendly humanity.

    “Nobody is thinking here of a punitive review — that wouldn’t fly,” Stern said. Instead, he said he supports the concept of “a strong facilitative review that looks at what a country has done and says, ‘That looks good, you’re on track,’ or, ‘That doesn’t look so good. How can you be helped to do better?”’


  4. Interactive Map Unveils the Mystery of Wind Turbines

    A road trip through Iowa, Wyoming or eastern Colorado features plenty of twirling wind turbines, and they might beg a question: How much wind power can those turbines generate?

    And how big are those turbine blades, anyway?

    Each dot on this USGS interactive map signifies a wind turbine or cluster of wind turbines.
    Credit: USGS

    A new U.S. Geological Survey mapping tool, using data published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Data, lifts the veil on the mystery of more than 49,000 wind turbines spinning above fields and mountaintops across the country. Combined, those turbines generate about 31 percent of all renewable energy in the U.S., or more than 61 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power nearly 15 million homes.

    Renewables such as wind power are critical in a warming world because they generate low carbon energy and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and America’s reliance on fossil fuels for electric power generation.


    As the demand for wind power grows, there’s also a growing need for data about the nation’s wind farms. Scientists are studying how turbines affect wildlife and radar equipment, and how wind turbine wakes create microclimates.

    “In 2008, USGS scientists began studying energy infrastructure and found sparse and often spatially inaccurate publicly available information regarding wind turbines and their locations. This eventually led to an effort to map wind turbines across the entire U.S.,” the study says.

    To help answer those questions, the USGS compiled decades of wind turbine construction records and data from the Federal Aviation Administration on height, blade length and power generating capacity of every individual utility-scale wind turbine across the U.S. All told, the agency compiled data on 48,976 wind turbines that are at least 30.5 meters (100 feet) tall.

    Click on a turbine, and its height, blade length and other specifications appear. This turbine is southwest of Chicago.
    Credit: USGS

    The result is an interactive map that allows users to pinpoint a wind farm, click on a turbine and learn all its specifications. And, it shows how wind farms are distributed throughout the U.S. (The map makes it clear that the Southeast, for example, has almost no wind farms.)

    So, if you’re driving southwest out of Chicago on Interstate 55 and wonder how big the wind turbines near the town of Odell, Ill, are, the USGS map can tell you.

    Those turbines, part of the Streator Cayuga Ridge Wind Farm, are huge — 438 feet tall with blades 142 feet long, each with the capacity to generate 2 megawatts of electricity.


  5. This is the Globe’s Hottest Five-Year Period on Record

    No matter how you stack it, the first half of the 2010s will be remembered for its record heat. The five-year period from 2011-15 has been the hottest such period ever recorded. And with last year setting the hottest year mark, only to be surpassed by a wide margin this year, it’s clear that the planet has changed.

    Ahead of the Paris climate talks, the World Meteorological Organization released its annual state of the climate report on Wednesday. It documents the excessive heat that’s been building up around the world and causing changes from the depths of the oceans to the top of the atmosphere.

    “The state of the global climate in 2015 will make history as for a number of reasons,” Michel Jarraud, the head of the WMO, said. “2015 is likely to be the hottest year on record with ocean surface temperatures at the highest level since measurements began. It is probable that the 1°C threshold will be crossed. This is all bad news for the planet.”


    A Climate Central analysis attributed almost all of 2015’s record heat to carbon pollution from human activities with El Niño and other natural phenomenon also playing smaller roles. The year-to-year horse race of warmest years, while an indicator of global warming, also includes some noise. That’s why the WMO looked at five-year periods, which offer a more robust look at the changes occurring to our planet.

    The finding that it’s been the hottest five-year period on record on land and at sea underscores the need to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to avoid further dramatic changes. The WMO warned that continuing on a business as usual path of rising emissions could put the world on track for 10.8°F (6°C) increase in the global average temperature.

    There are also concerns that oceans, which currently absorb more than 90 percent of the extra heat being trapped by human greenhouse gas emissions, could eventually release some of that back to the surface, speeding up the surface temperature rise.

    Beyond the long-term record, the past five years have been punctuated by extreme heat events around the globe, the most recent being an extreme heat wave in India this summer that left 2,500 dead. Other notable examples of extreme heat during that period have increasingly been linked to climate change.

    All of this has occurred as atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have continued to rise. Last week might have been the last time CO2 was below 400 parts per million in our lifetimes, underscoring that the impacts of climate change are here to stay for decades to come even if a strong climate deal is reached in Paris.

  6. Global Warming Key Driver of 2015’s Record Heat

    It is virtually certain that 2015 will be the warmest year on record, with one of the strongest El Niños ever recorded combining with manmade warming to send global temperatures soaring. But which of these is more responsible for the record heat this year?

    Global warming fueled by the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere is the overwhelming contributor, according to a new analysis by scientists involved with Climate Central’s World Weather Attribution program and at the University of Reading.

    The gray line on this graph shows observed surface temperatures from 1880 to 2015. The red line shows the effective temperature forcing of greenhouse gases and aerosols (converted to CO2), and the blue line shows the forcing from both those manmade sources and natural factors, like solar radiation. Early on in the temperature record, the red and blue lines diverge because natural factors meant the full impact of greenhouse gases on temperatures wasn't being felt, but in recent years, the two lines match closely, showing how much greenhouse gases are dominating global temperatures. 2015 is slightly above the red line because of a small push from El Niño as well as even smaller contributions from solar radiation and random weather variations.
    Click image to enlarge.

    That analysis, which broke down the effects of a number of different possible influences on the global temperature, found that El Niño provided only a relatively small, though still noticeable, assist. And with 2015 not even officially yet in the record books, 2016 could see even more of a warming boost from El Niño, thanks to the delayed effect it has on temperatures.

    “2015 is a climate milestone in several ways. Atmospheric carbon dioxide has now passed 400 [parts per million] for the foreseeable future. It will also be the warmest year on record, primarily because of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, with CO2 being the main culprit,” Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, said in an email.


    The average global temperature for 2015 is well ahead of last year, the current titleholder of warmest year. October provided a particularly large boost, with a temperature that was above average by more than any other single month in the past 135 years. By NASA’s reckoning, October was more than a full degree Celsius (nearly 2°F) above the average from 1951-1980, the first month that has ever happened.

    The new analysis underscores what climate scientists have long been saying: The unabated accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is steadily raising the planet’s temperature. The CO2 levels that are currently rising above 400 parts per million are unlikely to drop below that mark for the foreseeable future — a stark difference from the 280 ppm that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution.

    But despite that steady climb, not every year is warmer than the one before it, thanks to the vagaries of weather, the influence of natural climate cycles, and the effects of events like volcanic eruptions. (The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines depressed global temperatures by nearly 1°F, or 0.5°C, for a couple years afterward.)

    To figure out the relative contributions from all these potential factors, the WWA program team did a simple analysis that matched up surface temperature measurements going back to 1880 with two other sets of data. One just included the effective influence on temperatures from manmade forces (including greenhouse gases and aerosols, which tend to have a cooling effect), while the second included both manmade and natural ones (including volcanic activity and solar radiation).

    To come up with a final temperature for this year, the analysis assumed that November and December would differ about as much from average as August and September did (given that October had a boost from particular weather patterns). With that assumption, the year would finish out 1.05°C (1.89°F) above the average from pre-industrial times, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has defined as 1850-1900.

    Click image to enlarge. How temperatures across the globe ranked for January - October 2015.

    The analysis showed that of that temperature difference, about 1°C (1.8°F) was due to human-caused warming. The remainder was predominantly the influence of El Niño with some smaller contribution from random weather fluctuations and slightly elevated solar radiation. (There was no significant volcanic activity.)

    Negotiators are meeting in Paris next week to try to hammer out an international agreement to limit warming to no more than 2°C (3.6°F) from pre-industrial times, a mark the analysis makes clear the world is already halfway toward reaching.

    The contribution from El Niño depended on how long the delay in its effects on temperature was determined to be. The analysis calculated a delay of about five months, which resulted in El Niño contributing about 0.05°C (0.09°F) to 2015’s elevated temperature. Shorter delays, as others have calculated, raise that contribution up to about 0.1°C (0.18°F).

    The delayed effects of El Niño mean it is likely to have a larger impact on 2016’s temperature than it did this year. This also happened during the major El Niño of 1997-1998, which had its biggest temperature impacts on that second year.

    Of course, how 2016 will ultimately rank is impossible to say at the moment, given other factors that could come into play and can’t yet be predicted, but, as this analysis makes clear, the heat steadily building in the atmosphere is the major force pushing Earth’s temperature ever higher.


  7. Where Cows and Coal Rule, So Does CO2

    In Wyoming, a sparsely populated state where cattle outnumber people more than 2-to-1, electricity is cheap, coal is king, winters are cold and distances are so vast that driving dozens or even hundreds of miles to reach a shopping mall or healthcare is a way of life.

    That formula makes the Cowboy State the nation’s leader in per capita carbon dioxide emissions related to burning energy, according to a new U.S. Energy Information Administration report published Monday. The report ranks states by their carbon emissions per person, providing a look into energy and emissions efficiency across the country.

    Wide open spaces and long distances are part of Wyoming's identity.
    Credit:  Bri Weldon/flickr

    Carbon dioxide emissions are the driving force behind climate change and the prime target of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants and boost energy efficiency.

    Per-capita carbon emissions from burning energy are falling slightly in most states, and the general trend in emissions is “down and stable,” EIA analyst and report author Perry Lindstrom said.

    The EIA ranks states by both total energy-related carbon emissions and per capita emissions. Texas, the nation’s top energy producer and home to 26 million people, is king of total emissions. The states with the lowest per capita emissions are generally on the coasts and use a lot of renewables and natural gas, or are simply home to a lot of people.


    New York, Vermont, California, Rhode Island and Connecticut are the top five states with the lowest per-capita emissions. Those with the highest per capita emissions are Wyoming, North Dakota, West Virginia, Alaska and Louisiana.

    Wyoming, with a population of just 584,000, is a standout state, burning 117 million tons of carbon dioxide per person in 2013 — seven-times the national average. By contrast, New York, with a population of 19.7 million, burned 8 million tons of carbon dioxide per capita in 2013.

    Wyoming is the nation’s second-largest energy producer, producing nearly 40 percent of all the coal mined in the U.S. All of that coal contributes to the state’s cheap electricity — the third cheapest in the U.S., according to the EIA — nearly 90 percent of which comes from coal-fired power plants.

    Credit: EIA

    “The mining of coal — there’s energy that goes into that, obviously,” Lindstrom said.

    And, like North Dakota, the second-highest per capita carbon emitter, winters are bitterly cold in Wyoming, averaging between 5°F (-15°C)  and 10°F (-12.2°C). That means a lot of energy is burned just to keep homes warm, Lindstrom said.

    But just because a state is in a cold climate and has a low population doesn’t necessarily mean its emissions are high. Vermont, a geographically smaller state, is both of those, but most of its electricity is produced using hydropower and natural gas.

    “If you’re a coal state, you use coal,” Lindstrom said. “If you’re next to a lot of hydropower, that’s how your system evolved over time.” 


  8. These Tiny Satellites Could Keep an Eye on Wildfires

    Close your eyes. Imagine a world where satellites smaller than a shoebox could tell you about every fire burning on earth.

    Now open them. You’re living in that world (or at least you will be in just a few years). NASA has announced an ambitious plan to surround the earth with hundreds of tiny satellites that could monitor wildfires in near real-time within the next three years.

    A proposed constellation of satellites with thermal infrared imaging sensors that could locate wildfires.
    Credit: NASA

    The program, dubbed FireSat, could be incredibly valuable in a world where large fires are becoming more common due, in part, to climate change. Those large fires also release carbon dioxide, contributing to more climate change.

    Numerous small fires, like those burning in Indonesia this year, create huge climate, air quality,  and health problems as well as wreak havoc on the climate. Add in the cost of fighting fires, which has increased more than sixfold since the mid-1980s, and the benefits of improved monitoring become clearer.


    To keep an eye on blazes, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is developing sensors that can be loaded onto private-sector communication satellites that Arthur Lane, FireSat’s coordinator, said would likely be about half the size of a shoe box. The piggybacking will allow NASA to put the 200 or so sensors needed for global monitoring into space much faster than they’d otherwise be able to.

    The host of mini-satellites can spot fires as small as 35 feet wide and will be able to alert authorities of their existence within 15 minutes of spotting them. They could then provide continuous updates on a fire’s behavior, allowing fire managers to make more informed decisions.

    The first launch is targeted for late 2017, with the full system coming online as early as June 2018. While NASA released the news last week, the project has been under consideration since 2011. But the reason it has become a reality is the same reason your iPhone 6S is so much faster than your iPhone 4S while still costing the same price.

    “It’s been driven by a confluence of technological maturity, new thought processes and software that is now becoming compact enough to be placed in small, powerful processors that have sufficient computational speed to work with the images,” Lane said.

    The new system is expected to allow fire managers to target interventions more effectively. In locations like the western U.S. and Alaska, where large fires have become more common and destructive and put an increasing strain on wildfire fighting budgets, the satellites could help better allocate firefighting resources. That will become even more valuable as the world warms and wildfires become increasingly more common.

    Lane said the satellites could also be used to monitor oil spills and, though it hasn’t been thoroughly vetted yet, gas flaring as well. The latter is also a contributor to climate change and improved monitoring could help rein in emissions.


  9. The $100 Billion Climate Question

    What’s a difference in opinion worth?

    When it comes to interpreting a climate pledge by richer countries to help poorer ones tackle the problem of climate change, about $60 billion last year.

    That’s the difference between the amount of money that developed countries provided to those in earlier stages of development in 2014 to help them deal with global warming — depending on how the figure is calculated.

    By one interpretation, $62 billion was provided last year. By another: $0.

    Climate change is expected to exacerbate the drought conditions that afflict the small and poor African nation of Djibouti.
    Credit: IFCRC/Flickr

    One of the great showdowns looming during United Nations climate negotiations in Paris in the coming weeks revolves around whether richer countries can demonstrate that they plan to meet a promise they made during 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen for “mobilizing” $100 billion a year of climate financing by 2020.

    “We need to agree on a definition of what ‘climate finance’ is in the first place,” said Pa Ousman Jarju, a Gambian minister who negotiates on behalf of least-developed countries during U.N. climate talks.

    The $100 billion a year was supposed to help developing countries adapt to changes being wrought by climate change, and to help them bypass fossil fueled development in favor of cleaner alternatives.

    “Poor countries are suffering worst from climate change that they had almost no role in creating,” said Timmons Roberts, an environmental studies and sociology professor at Brown University. “Now, they're being asked to put off development that could happen with cheap fossil fuels.”


    In Paris, developing countries will be asking richer ones to show how they plan to mobilize that amount. Meanwhile, rich and poor alike will be debating the very meaning of the word mobilize.

    The high stakes of the debate were highlighted last month, when the OECD published a report that concluded wealthy countries have already made “significant progress” toward meeting their $100 billion a year promise. The report, which was criticized for its methodology, concluded that “climate finance” reached $52 billion in 2013 and $62 billion in 2014.

    The report relied on what Jarju described as “very broad definitions” of climate finance. But he pointed out that it concluded that less than a fifth of the $62 billion went to projects designed exclusively to help developing countries adapt to climate change. The rest went to helping them reduce their climate impacts. To many, that finding was illustrative of a lack of commitment from richer countries to help developing ones adapt to the global warming that they have done the most to cause.

    “Sixteen percent went into adaptation and adaptation actions — and that, for us, it’s on the low side,” Jarju said. “We need to see adaptation finance going upward.”

    Critics point out that the OECD’s figure included aid that was only tangentially related to climate change. More jarringly, the OECD included the full value of loans made to developing countries in its calculation — including loans that must be fully repaid along with full interest.

    “I don’t see any justification for counting market-rate loans,” said Brandon Wu, a policy analyst at ActionAid USA. “It’s pretty common practice in development finance to count the grant element of concessional loans. But this study counted the full value of concessional loans and of market-rate loans.”

    The 2009 Copenhagen agreement stated that the $100 billion would “come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.”

    The ambiguity of that aspect of the agreement has led to what Romain Weikmans described as “extreme discretion” for developed countries regarding how they measure climate financing. Weikmans, a postdoctoral research fellow in Roberts’ lab at Brown University who has been researching the topic, said, “countries have consequently adopted a large variety of accounting practices.”

    It was this ambiguity that shaped the OECD’s rosy conclusions.

    A 150-megawatt power plant in Kuraymat, Egypt.
    Credit: Green Prophet/Flickr

    “We cannot, as the OECD, rule on what should or should not count as climate finance relating to the $100 billion commitment,” said Simon Buckle, the OECD official who led research for the report. “This was an exercise above all in transparency in terms of reflecting developed countries’ own reporting.”

    The 2009 agreement said a “significant portion” of the $100 billion a year should flow through the Green Climate Fund, which is a U.N. body that was subsequently set up specifically to administer the money. Another way of measuring progress toward the $100 billion goal would be to measure the value of funding for projects provided by that fund.

    The Green Climate Fund has so far received pledges from nations worth about $10 billion, but received less than $1 billion of that. It approved its first projects this month, when it agreed to divide $363 million among eight projects in Africa, Latin America, Bangladesh and Fiji.

    By such a measure, none of the promised $100 billion a year in climate financing flowed to developing countries last year, and just 0.4 percent of it has been committed to projects this year.

    During the two-week round of Paris climate negotiations, which begin Nov. 30, developing countries will be calling for a “road map” to be agreed upon by richer countries to show that they’re serious about providing the developing world with $100 billion a year by 2020.

    “It seems like you’re spending a lot of time coming up with really different methodologies to count a few dollars and cents,” said Annaka Peterson, a program officer at Oxfam America who focuses on efforts by communities in developing countries to adapt to climate change. “So much energy is being spent on counting things, and not on funding things that work.”


  10. 2° Challenge: Try to Avoid Disastrous Climate Change

    By Alyson Kenward, Eric D. Larson, Curt Merrill, Todd Sanford and John D. Sutter

    This quiz is a partnership between and Climate Central.

    There’s one goal of international climate change negotiations: Stop warming short of 2 degrees. At 2 degrees Celsius of warming, low-lying island nations are expected to be under waterdroughts and storms will become supercharged and a third of species may be put at risk for extinction. Not to mention the increased risk of deadly heat waves. It’s a dangerous threshold, one world leaders agree we don’t want to cross.

    But what will it take? Answer the questions below to see if you can beat the 2-degree target. If you succeed, the thermometer at right will turn green. If it stays red? Well, let’s just say your grandchildren likely won’t be thanking you. When you finish the quiz, you’ll be asked to share your results with diplomats who are meeting November 30 to December 11 in Paris. They’re trying to sign a new climate change agreement, and they probably could use some help.

    Scroll to take the quiz