Photos courtesy of Carla Frisch.

Photos courtesy of Carla Frisch.

RMI Raising Ambition at COP24

For the first two weeks of December 2018, thousands of delegates converged on a coal-mining city in Poland to provide forward momentum on global climate change commitments. A key question was how governments plan to respond to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the need to contain global warming to less than 1.5Cº if we’re to avoid the worst of climate change impacts. Working up to the final hour (and a little beyond), the 24th annual Conference of Parties (COP24) achieved its objective: translating the bold ambition of the Paris Climate Agreement into a rulebook for action.

As negotiations unfolded, Rocky Mountain Institute staff were on the ground in Katowice, taking part in driving decision-making and thought leadership among the committed parties. On an international stage where the United States’ leadership has been undermined by its stated intent to withdraw from the accord, work done by powerful sub-national coalitions and partnered by RMI mitigates federal inaction. RMI has been working to demonstrate that America can lead on the city, state, and business levels and will continue to do so.

“There’s a lot of hope coming out of this summit,” RMI Managing Director Paul Bodnar told Colorado Matters on his return from Katowice. “Two hundred countries agreed, by consensus, on a detailed rulebook for how exactly they’re going to use the Paris agreement to ratchet down their greenhouse gas emissions.…That is a major achievement, considering that getting all the countries of the world—including the United States—to agree by consensus to anything is quite difficult. Most countries in the world have decided that it’s in their national interest to shift to clean energy, not just because of climate change, but because they’re concerned about air pollution, they’re concerned about the health effects on children, they’re concerned about energy security.”

The University of Maryland’s Nate Hultman, America’s Pledge research co-lead, and Carla Frisch
Fulfilling America’s Pledge

While the feat of determining guidelines to fully implement the Paris Agreement is momentous, Bodnar hopes that current focus on climate diplomacy can give way to a focus on climate action. With the framework of the Agreement now in place, the world now faces the challenge of meeting its aims, with the IPCC estimating that we have just over a decade in which to do so. “The time for negotiations is over,” Bodnar says. “Success on achieving [the goals of the Paris Agreement] depends entirely on national, sub-national, and business action.” He expresses hope that the same energy that powered these talks can go into driving decarbonization at home in major economies and sectors.

There’s evidence that it is. The America’s Pledge research program is co-led by RMI and had an active presence at the COP demonstrating the gains being made on US climate action. A Facebook Live event was held on America’s Pledge, featuring RMI Principal Carla Frisch.

Frisch said during the event that “we’re talking more than 3,600 cities, states, businesses, faith-based groups, hospitals, and universities” that have committed to up to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Does that add up to something significant? Yes, it does. It gets the US really close to meeting our target, even without the federal government.” The entities that have made pledges, the America’s Pledge analysis determines, represent more than half the US population, and together would be the third-largest economy in the world.

Georgetown University and the University of California, Davis hosted an official side event on North American transportation initiatives, one of the half-dozen events America’s Pledge was involved in. Frisch shared findings from the Fulfilling America’s Pledge report and highlighted recent US state, city, and business actions to reduce transportation emissions.

Reinventing Climate Finance

One of the outcomes of this year’s COP was the formation of a Climate Finance Leadership Initiative. The press release announcing its creation by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres explains that it “will work to fulfill the private financing objectives included in the landmark Paris Agreement, which reaffirmed the goal of mobilizing at least $100 billion per year by 2020 through a combination of public development finance and private foreign direct investment.” Targets beyond 2020 have not been identified.

Finance has long been a key variable in the success or failure of global efforts to tackle climate change. Because climate finance historically has been narrowly couched in terms of volumes of “clean” and “dirty” finance flows, there has been an incomplete framework for achieving long-term climate goals. RMI’s new report, Reinventing Climate Finance: Four Levers to Drive Capital Stock Transformation, proposes a new, integrated way to think about how climate finance can foster the achievement of long-term climate objectives.

The report posits that it’s necessary to “move beyond the fixation on that $100 billion goal, and instead position finance such that it can achieve deep decarbonization of our economies,” said RMI Associate Tyeler Matsuo, one of its authors. “Accelerating the removal of the dirty assets that are actually driving global emissions has to be part of the equation as well.”

Powering Past Coal

The United Kingdom and Canada hosted an event for the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a coalition of countries committed to phasing out coal power. Frisch presented RMI’s playbook for managing the coal capital transition, which was received with interest and enthusiasm by those in attendance. The playbook is a global survey of approaches that can help ease the financial burden of coal retirement on asset owners and their shareholders while offering policymakers a clearer path toward transitioning the power sector onto a below-2Cº pathway.

More from RMI about COP24:

RMI Managing Director Paul Bodnar on Colorado Public Radio before the COP.

Bodnar in The New Yorker magazine.

RMI Principal Carla Frisch on National Public Radio.