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Climate change efforts reach crunch time

Korea Herald

Asia should play a pivotal role in fighting global warming as the fast-growing, populous region will account for the bulk of growth in world energy use over the next two decades, a senior World Bank official said.

Vinod Thomas, a World Bank senior vice president, stressed that much progress has been made in reducing carbon emissions in the region. But there is still much to do if the region is to keep growing while mitigating damage to the planet, he said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“Asia’s large size and rapid growth means that it will account for about two thirds of the growth in world energy consumption over 2008 to 2030 in a business-as-usual scenario,” said Thomas who heads the Washington-based bank’s Independent Evaluation Group.

“This gives Asia the chance to play a critical role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

The group assesses the efficiency and accountability of the international lender’s projects committed to balancing world development. It recently released a study reviewing progress in the World Bank’s efforts to tackle climate change.

The Brazilian-born economist visited Seoul to attend an international conference hosted by the Korea Development Institute on Monday.

He noted Asia and Oceania currently account for about 40% of the total emissions, though per capita emissions there are far lower compared to the average for OECD countries.

He praised China, Korea and other emerging countries for their efforts to improve energy efficiency and promote environmentally-friendly development.

China is investing heavily in wind power, Vietnam has made big improvements in energy efficiency, and Korea has been a leader in green stimulus spending. Indonesia is an example for effectively reducing fuel subsidies while protecting poor people with social safety nets.

“In many ways these countries are leapfrogging the stalled climate negotiations and finding domestic reasons to support green growth,” he said.

Leaders of nearly 200 countries will meet in Cancun, Mexico, from Nov. 29-Dec. 10 to try to forge a new climate accord to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.

Last year’s U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen failed to generate a new treaty due to wide gaps between industrialized and developing countries.

In a preparatory meeting in Tianjin, China, in October, the U.S. and China, the world’s largest carbon emitters, blamed each other for blocking progress.

“Cancun would be a very important landmark,” he said. “There is considerable concern within the time that remains over political tensions. But going beyond Kyoto is absolutely essential as it needs significant revisions and improvement.”

“Climate change can’t be avoided. At the moment, they’re producing more.”

He noted that carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere now stands at 385 parts per million, with an annual increase rate of 2.2 ppm.

Scientists argue when atmospheric CO2 goes beyond 450 ppm, the planet will become ice-free and sea levels will rise 75 meters higher than today. They say the safe upper limit is between 300 ppm and 350 ppm.

If countries fail to reach an agreement in Cancun, he said, climate progress will depend largely on actions on the country level.

“Many developing countries are in fact taking bold action in reducing emissions even in the absence of an agreement,” he said.

There are many feasible ways to advance climate goals, in which private-sector initiatives and national actions are crucial, he said.

In its paper, the IEG sorted out five promising areas - energy efficiency, forest protection, appropriate project finance, technology transfer and accelerated learning.

“To meet the urgent challenges of financing development, adapting to climate change, and promoting greener growth in a recession-battered world, it is crucial that efforts focus sharply on areas of greatest effectiveness,” he said.

The economist stressed the importance of energy efficiency especially for low-income countries.

Unlike other projects like renewable energy development, maximizing energy efficiency does not require large-scale investment and long-term financing, he said.

“Adopting environmentally-friendly policies and actions in low-income countries need not be an expensive luxury. Even the poorest nations can make money while mitigating environmental impacts,” Thomas said.

“In fact, there is huge scope for emission reductions that can be achieved at low or negative cost, particularly by increasing energy efficiency. It’s a win-win policy in principle.”

For instance, households in Bangladesh and Ethiopia are currently using efficient light bulbs, helping to avoid building costly fossil fuel power plants. In Vietnam, efficiency improvements have been a key element in expanding electricity access. In China, energy-efficiency lending through banks and utilities has yielded large energy savings.

He also stressed the need for greater efforts to reduce fossil fuel subsides.

“While significant progress has been made in bringing domestic energy prices towards global market, further work is still needed in this area. Removing energy subsidies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by several %age points.”

In its latest annual outlook, the International Energy Agency projected fossil fuel subsides to reach $600 billion worldwide by 2015, while renewable energy subsidies will top $100 billion by then.

Phasing out fossil fuel consumption by 2020 would curb global energy demand by 5% and carbon emissions by nearly 6 %, the report showed.

For their part, industrialized nations including Korea should transfer more technical and financial innovations related to low-carbon development, while increasing assistance to poor countries in reducing emissions, Thomas argued.

“The commitment by industrialized countries has to be serious and sizeable. They are key players in technologies, finance, institutional mechanism, urban transport, and so on,” he said.

On the global level, there has to be greater investment in research and development to make clean energy affordable in the long run, he added.

He affirmed the World Bank’s commitment to combating global warming and narrowing “green gap” between rich and poor countries.

“The World Bank can play a small but important part in the climate arena,” Thomas said. “We mobilize resources for aid and compensation in forms of loans, grants, policy advice. Amounts involved are huge numbers.”

The bank scaled up annual investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency from $200 million to $2 billion between fiscal years of 2003 and 2008, with sizeable further increases since then.

In 2008 it adopted a policy framework on development and climate change, subsequently mobilizing an additional $5 billion in concessions for greenhouse gas reduction.

The new IEG report recommends that the World Bank rebalance its efforts toward higher-impact sectors and instruments, with relatively greater emphasis on energy efficiency, such as lighting and improvements in electricity transmission and distribution.

The institution also should actively assist clients to move away from coal, using energy-system-wide analyses to find cleaner, more cost-effective alternatives that can be financed, it said.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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