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A long way to COP 15

Steve Sawyer, GWEC

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC)'s Steve Sawyer takes stock of the achievements and failures of COP 14 in Poznan, and looks at what needs to be done before COP 15 in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

In the run up to the 1980 US presidential election, I confidently predicted that the American people would never be so stupid as to elect Ronald Reagan president. Since then, I've been somewhat more cautious with predictions. Nonetheless, in October 2008 I set out three conditions for success at the Poznan conference:

  • that Barack Obama would be elected president of the USA;
  • that the European Union would achieve a political agreement on its “20/20/20” climate package before the conference started;
  • that we would begin to see the beginning of the end of the crisis of confidence in the international financial system. Without these conditions being met, Poznan would be a damp squib.

Well, unfortunately, this time I got it right. Although the general international euphoria surrounding Obama's election and his early statements on the climate issue improved the atmosphere, the EU exhibited its trademark ability to shoot itself in the foot by finally agreeing the climate and energy package the day after the conference concluded, and as a result was unable to show any real leadership during the proceedings.

In fact, some recalcitrant Governments cynically seized upon the disingenuous antics of the European fossil fuel and energy intensive industries to delay and weaken the package and prevent its agreement in time. However, having said that, what remains is by far the most progressive and positive piece of “domestic” climate legislation anywhere in the world. It's just a pity that they couldn't take advantage of it to further the international agenda. And of course we're still waiting to see the bottom of the credit mess.

Despite the fact that COP 14 was more just a marker and not a major milestone at the halfway point between Bali and Copenhagen, some things were accomplished. The Adaptation Fund was finally fully operationalised, and will finally begin disbursing much needed funds for adaptation to climate change impacts early this year. This unique pot of money is based on a 2% fee, sliced off the value of Certified Emission Reduction (CER) credits (from Clean Development Mechanism activities) when they are issued, through the UNFCCC process. It is therefore not “donor” money, and comes only with strings attached which must be fully agreed by all the parties. This fund, though relatively small at this stage and by no means adequate to deal with the rising costs of climate change adaptation, provides a new model for financing the international agenda.

While an attempt to broaden the levy beyond the CDM to include the other “flexible mechanisms” under the Kyoto Protocol failed, this issue will no doubt come back in later stages of the negotiations.

The parties also adopted something called the Poznan Strategic Programme on Technology Transfer, which merely gives a name to the complicated body of work which goes under the name of “technology transfer”. This is an obligation accepted by industrialised countries at the inception of the UNFCCC in 1992, but without having any clear idea of what it means, or what it implies that countries should do. This rather unusual discussion may warrant a future column of its own, but for now, the Poles are happy that at least some part of this process will force us to remember that we all spent two weeks in Poznan in December 2008.

As is often the case, the most interesting conversations were held in the corridors, bars and restaurants, and at side events, of which there were many hundreds, on every imaginable topic. For the first time, the wind energy industry was there in force. We had our own “Wind Power Works Pavilion” near the entrance of the modern conference complex, housed in what was the original building on the site. This was the venue for the launch of the Wind Power Works campaign, an industry-wide campaign for the 12 month period between Poznan and Copenhagen, highlighting the key role that wind power can and must play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Also unveiled at the Pavilion was a photo exhibition highlighting 12 different wind power projects in key countries around the world, each demonstrating one or more of the key reasons why wind power is the key supply side technology for the power sector in the near future – in a carbon-constrained world. For more info, see:

We also hosted a number of side events and receptions on the subject of wind power, renewable energy, and climate change mitigation, and we also made the hall available for other events and meetings.

One high point of the conference was a guest appearance by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director and UN undersecretary general Achim Steiner at the Wind Power Works launch reception. Ever a big supporter of renewable energy in general, and wind power in particular, UNEP and Steiner have made support for renewables a top priority in their call for a “Global Green New Deal” to combat the climate, energy and economic crises facing us at present. Officially named the Green Economy Initiative, the UN-wide effort led by UNEP calls for major efforts to create green, clean jobs and sustainable economic growth through investment and policies designed to support clean energy, sustainable agriculture, reduced deforestation, sustainable cities and the required infrastructure.

“The competitive economies of tomorrow will be built around clean energy such as wind power,” Steiner said. “There are many good examples of how wind, solar, and other renewable energy technologies are – today – providing carbon free energy while creating jobs and contributing to local economic growth, but these need to be promoted more widely. UNEP is proud to support the Wind Power Works campaign as it is perfectly aligned with our own efforts to help countries in their efforts to move towards a greener economy.”

With these words we march forward into an uncertain future, with the only sure thing being an increased number and increased intensity of negotiations towards a post-2012 climate regime over the next 12 months. What needs to be done? The Bali Roadmap agreed a year ago requires that the package to be agreed on in Copenhagen must have four pillars: mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance.

On mitigation, industrialised countries must put forward commitments which will form the basis of new legally binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol track, and these commitments need to be in the range of 25%–40% below 1990 levels if we are to heed the warnings of the IPCC. Negotiators have agreed that this is the appropriate range, but the only bloc to have agreed anything (and they did it two weeks too late) is the EU, which agreed to a 20% cut by 2020, with an agreement to go to 30% as part of a new international agreement, as well as a landmark agreement to source 20% of its final energy from renewables by the same date. Australia announced very disappointing targets the Monday after the conference − 4% below 1990 levels (5% below 2000 levels) by 2020, and President-elect Obama's opening salvo, delivered to a gathering of western governors in the weeks running up to Poznan, was to return the US to 1990 levels by 2020.

This would mean an approximate 16% reduction compared with today's levels. This is ambitious given the recent history of the US, but nowhere near enough. Japan, Canada, and Russia, the other big players among industrialised countries, have yet to lay their cards on the table. Suffice it to say that this pillar of mitigation will need a lot of work.

On adaptation, it will require billions to address the plight of the world's poorest struggling to adapt to the increasing impacts of climate change, and other than “tithing” a global carbon market, nobody seems to have any idea where this money is to come from.

On technology, countries need to be realistic and come up with an agreement that works to support the rapid and widest possible diffusion of existing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, as well as adaptation technologies. This would be a welcome redirection of the current discussion. This discussion is either conducted at levels of abstraction which make for meaningless generalisations, or it is focused on future technologies which may or may not make it out of the laboratory to the demonstration stage. Will these technologies make it from there to commercialisation at some point in the future? That is the question.

On finance, the notion is widespread that there are somehow going to be many tens or hundreds of billions of Government funds available annually for the climate. And that the USA and other Governments will descend into the basement of their treasuries to print lots of notes to bail out the financial sector. This notion has not helped to dissipate this illusion. However, a well-financed version of UNEP's Green Economy Initiative could go a long way towards creating the right conditions.

Some are saying that this is too much to achieve in time for Copenhagen, and it is indeed a lot to do in 12 short months. But with the right political leadership this, and more, could be done. In the wee hours of 5 November 2008 I was, for the first time in decades, along with hundreds of others gathered at the Amsterdam Hilton, proud to be the owner of a blue passport with an American eagle on the cover. I am old enough to remember a time when the USA was a leader in global environmental issues, and I think I've now lived long enough to see that time come around again.

With Carol Browner leading a strong team as climate czar(ina?), Steven Chu heading the Department of Energy and John Holdren heading up the science team, Mr. Obama has demonstrated a clear break with the past and a clear commitment to the future. Let's just hope that the Obama administration ushers in the era of hope that we need, and that those hopes are not dashed by the time this article goes to print (so far so good! Ed).

About the author

Steve Sawyer joined GWEC as the first secretary general on 2 April 2007. He has worked in the energy and environment field since 1978, with a particular focus on climate change and RE since 1988.

He spent 30 years working for Greenpeace, primarily on a wide range of energy issues. He was the ceo of both Greenpeace USA (1986 − 1988) and Greenpeace International (1988 – 1993), and he served as Head of Delegation to many Kyoto Protocol negotiations on climate change. He also lead delegations to the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002 and numerous sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development. He is also a founding member of the REN21 Renewable Energy Policy Network and was a member of the Steering Committee of the Renewables 2004 ministerial conference in Bonn. He has also been an expert reviewer for the IPCC's Working Group III.


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