Climate Negotiators To Focus on Renewables and Rainforests

by | May 23, 2023

Rows of Solar Panels NYSERDA

(Credit: NYSERDA)

The global community will meet in Bonn, Germany, in June to discuss the fate of the climate — the halfway point till COP28 in December in Dubai. Two central themes will emerge: the energy transition and the rainforests, a de facto CO2 vacuum, and a natural solution. 

The aim is net zero by 2050, requiring a tripling of renewable energy by 2030 and a rapid escalation beyond that. At the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that deforestation contributes to 15% of global carbon emissions and that natural solutions will significantly reduce atmospheric CO2. The goal is to make the trees worth more alive than dead. 

Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber is the president-designate of COP28. He is the Minister of Industry for the United Arab Emirates and the Chairman of Masdar, the state’s clean energy arm. 

“The world needs to commit to tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030 and to double it again by 2040. In the 17 years since the UAE’s leadership established Masdar in 2006, the cost of a kilowatt hour of solar energy has plummeted to under 2 cents, and we need to harness this pioneering spirit of innovation now more than ever,” said the president-designate, in a release.

Paris aims to keep temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century compared to pre-industrial levels to mitigate such things as droughts, floods, and food and water shortages. Scientists say we are nearing the 1.2 degrees mark and on track to hit 2.7 degrees. Before Paris, the trend was 4 degrees Celsius. Rising temperatures lead to more frequent natural disasters.

Last year, the globe added a record 300 gigawatts of renewables. The International Renewable Energy Agency says that green energy now makes up 40% of the total installed capacity worldwide. Despite the progress, Director-General Francesco La Camera says the energy transition is off track: renewables must hit 1 terawatts annually to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive.

He told this writer that the key to the energy transition is to rebuild the global infrastructure to support wind and solar energies. Will the industrial sector support it? It produces about 25% of the global gross domestic product. Still, it also emits 28% of greenhouse gas emissions — a paradox, given that business will only consume more energy as it expands.

Let It Rain

The other focus will be on preserving the tropical rainforests. But to do so, these countries — the Global South — need climate finance. That can come in many forms. For example, Norway and Great Britain have invested directly in Africa and Asia — to keep the trees standing, and to avoid using them for timber. Jeff Bezos has given millions to Africa. They can also issue carbon credits, which countries or corporations can buy. 

There are generally two forms of carbon credits: voluntary and sovereign. This reporter is the editor at large for a group representing 53 rainforest nations interested in issuing sovereign credits — sold by the countries. They compete with the voluntary ones, which brokers issue. COP27 in Egypt put rainforest nations on a de facto fast track to attracting private finance, making it easier for companies to support national efforts to slow deforestation through sovereign carbon credits.

“We need to go from a project approach to a national approach, which is more coherent and drives economies of scale,” says Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, chief climate negotiator for the Congo, in an interview with this writer. “The current voluntary approach is too fractured, with little oversight or transparency. We need to ensure that the citizens of those rainforest lands are fairly compensated and that the bulk of the money does not end up in the hands of investors or bureaucrats. When the money goes to local communities, it must be transparent.”

Take the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has 100 million people and a gross domestic product of $55 billion: for every dollar invested in saving the rainforests through voluntary carbon credits, local and national governments get about 50% after administrative expenses, and investors get 50%. Meanwhile, the individual landowners or the citizens living on that land receive 10% to 15% of the money from the government’s cut.

Companies first use more renewable energy and deploy energy efficiency to hit net zero. To get the rest of the way, they buy carbon credits. 

The voluntary carbon market has taken a hit in the popular media. The Guardian did a nine-month investigation and wrote a major feature story critical of the voluntary carbon credits. The World Economic Forum said they need a lot more transparency. As a result, Xpansiv reports that brokers traded 9 million tons of project-based forestry projects early this year versus about 47 million tons in the first quarter of 2022.

Under the sovereign approach, each country must do 54 things before issuing a carbon credit. And those 54 strategies are reviewed twice by the UN, taking a country about four years to complete. More than 86% of countries issuing such credits had to revise and resubmit their evaluations and results. 

The rainforest countries distribute nearly all the money to entice corporate and national buyers. The money is not just used to save the rainforests but also to build infrastructure to mitigate the effects of climate change. Remember, many are low-lying nations vulnerable to rising tides and droughts. 

To that end, the UNFCCC approved the West African country Gabon for 90 million tons of emissions reductions for slowing deforestation between 2010 and 2018. Gabon will reinvest 10% into its forest, creating an eco-tourism industry. But the money will also go into rural development (15%), a Gabonese sovereign fund that invests in future generations (25%), debt service (25%), and health, education, and climate infrastructure (25%).

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