Science, Tech & Environment

The most important work at COP21 may have happened out of the spotlight

Solar panel in Mongolia.jpg

A family in Tarialan, Uvs Province, Mongolia, uses a solar panel to generate power for their ger, a traditional Mongolian tent in July 2009


UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

At the Paris climate conference, the primary focus was on the negotiators who represented more than 190 countries working to hammer out an agreement. But an equally, if not more, important process happened outside the main event.

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“Across a spectrum of issues, often outside of the convention, remarkable working coalitions have now formed and are making very substantial pledges,” explains Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s special envoy for climate change.

These "coalitions of the working," as Kyte calls them, were made up of governments, companies from across different sectors of industry and civil society organizations who came together on their own. Their motivating belief, says Kyte, is the need to act on climate disruption now and not wait for a global consensus.

One example is the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which primarily addresses short-lived pollutants like black carbon, methane and hydrofluorocarbons. This group includes companies with extended supply chains that are pledging to end deforestation and work toward sustainable energy for all, no matter what the official agreement says.

Another group includes more than 80 countries and thousands of individual groups and private companies pledging to deliver clean energy, to increase the amount of renewables in the global energy mix and to create a revolution in energy efficiency. The World Bank is a partner is many of these coalitions, Kyte says.

“We see how climate change is threatening our underlying mission to end poverty and build prosperity,” she explains. “So in responding to our client’s needs — developing countries and private sector — we've had to completely rethink the way we do our business.”

The World Bank is also an important provider of global climate finance on its own. The bank recently agreed to increase its [climate] financing by 40 percent. By 2020 it expects to channel $29 billion worth of public finance every year to developing countries. This is separate financing from the Green Climate Fund, Kyte notes, which hasn't met expectations.

A major source of private co-financing emerged when Bill Gates announced the creation of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of billionaire entrepeneurs commited to funding innovations that "will result from a dramtaically scaled up public research pipeline linked to truly patient, flexible investments committed to developing the technologies that will create a new energy mix." Gates has promised to spend $1 billion dollars of his own money supporting this effort.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that about $62 billion is disbursed to developing countries grappling with climate change. About half of that comes through multinational development banks, including the World Bank.

Not enough of that $62 billion dollars is targeted for adaptation, Kyte says.

“Remember, everything we're negotiating in Paris is for 2020 on,” she points out. “This is 2015. We have an immediate need to boost financing for resilience and adaptation now, over the next five years, because we know that the climate impacts are going to become more and more profound every year. We are going to lose lives, and we're going to lose enormous amounts of GDP growth. So every investment that we can make in resilience will save us funding in relief and reconstruction, and it will save lives too.”

The World Bank recently released a report that said it expected another hundred million people in severe poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change. Kyte thinks this can be avoided, but it's going to take some hard work and serious commitment.

“We believe aggressive action to mitigate climate change and concentrated investment in adaptation can make those numbers a distant threat rather than a reality,” she says. “But to achieve this means that countries have to do the things that are not rocket science — and they need to do them soon and need to do them well."

“So, we want to see carbon prices in all economies. We want to see harmful subsidies removed in both fossil fuels and agriculture. We want to see smart economic management, with long-term consistent signals that will allow the private sector and public procurement to move into lower carbon solutions," she says. “It's not easy. No country has ever walked this path before. But a lot of the tools that are needed are available to government already, and it requires political will to use them.”

This story is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Living on Earth with Steve Curwood