The climate change jargon bingo: How to stay afloat in the debate, part 3

A jargon bingo! To cross out when you hear people throw around terms they know most people don’t understand. In this post and in this, you can find some thoughts on the first six buzzwords of this bingo – and here come the last three!

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So what is…

The Green Climate Fund

Short answer: A promised 100 billion dollar in support of poor countries’ adaptation to climate change, still largely existing on paper.

Long answer:

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Read more on loss and damage from climate change

At the 15th global climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, a promise was made to allocate 100 billion US dollar a year by 2020 to support those countries hardest hit and least resourceful in their response to climate change. The Green Climate Fund was then formally established a year later in Cancún, as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, you know the UN loves its acronyms).

The idea is great, right – as mentioned under the buzzword climate justice, developing countries are those contributing least to global warming, but are usually harder hit by effects such as increased extreme weather conditions, draughts and floods, and rising sea levels. In addition, their state budgets are those with least resources available to pay for climate adaptation and mitigation projects – think innovative water supply systems, reforestation, or support for local farmers in diversifying their crop towards climate resilient species. There is a number of interesting looking projects presented on the fund’s website – although I really hope that someone somewhere has a more detailed plan for each of these.

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Criticism of power and lending ideas at the GCF

As with all things in international politics, things get complicated and frustrating when you look at implementation of great ideas. Here are some unanswered questions:

  • When will the promised projects be put into practice, given that hardly any funds have been handed out six years after its inception?
  • How will the fund make donor countries pay up to their promise?
  • What role for the private sector in financing the GCF?
  • Will the GCF make grants, loans, or equity investments?
  • Should the money be given to governments, corporates, or non-profits?
  • How can it avoid replicating bad decision-making models and instead base its choices on input of those affected, with the most knowledge of the issue and the area?
  • Which institutions should be accredited to hand out the GCF money (there was strong opposition to allowing private banks with a record of investment in coal and other climate harming technologies to get accredited)?
  • Will projects coming out of the GCF be enough to mitigate the effects of climate change in the most affected areas, given that some experts estimate 1 trillion dollars a year would be needed?
  • Why on earth would you be able to fund coal-fired power generation (as we all know one of the chief culprits of climate change) with the GCF??

However, it is important to keep in mind that this is probably the best chance we all have to move from climate change damage, poverty and questionable international aid in developing countries to funding locally developed solutions for resilience and low-carbon development. So it’d better get going.

 

The Low-Carbon Economy

Short answer: An economic system that does not rely on burning fossil fuels and exploiting finite natural resources.

Long answer:

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Low carbon economy: how do we get the transition right?

There are more clear definitions for what a low-carbon economy, also termed low-fossil-fuel-economy or decarbonised economy, NOT is, than what it is. The reasoning behind it is simple: our planet cannot afford having more than 7 billion humans relying on fossil fuels for their everyday life, so we need to make our society and economy work without them. How? Well that’s where it gets more complex. (check this link for why that is not the same as a circular economy or sustainable development, two other important buzzwords here)

It’s mainly about renewable energy production and efficient consumption, thus the avoidance of climate-harming greenhouse gas emissions. This goes along with behavioural and social changes towards more sustainability – i.e. a more seasonal and regional diet (no it’s not trying to make everyone vegan, although that would help a lot), using less cars and flights, improving heating in our homes… A low-carbon economy is pictured not only as climate-friendly, but also as more equal, promoting innovation and opening up new jobs, thus giving more people (especially women) more opportunities.

A lot of economic-statistical modelling has been done by people with expert titles, resulting in tools with which we can measure how countries’ economies are decarbonising. Track record so far: not too bad, but way short of what is needed to keep the earth from warming more than 2 degrees. Not surprising, but good to know. Check out the EU’s plan for a low-carbon economy, some policy recommendations for industrialised countries, and some more detailed scientific publications on how to achieve it.

 

Geoengineering

Short answer: Technological interventions into earth’s processes and what we have done to them, to reduce global warming.

Long answer:

Geoengineering or climate engineering refers to – up to now, ideas and pilots of – technologies that capture, store or reflect greenhouse gases away from the atmosphere. So the focus is not on how to avoid emitting greenhouse gases through industrial and behavioural change, but on getting rid of those we have already (and continue to produce).

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Get a clearer picture of this at the Guardian

Ways to do that include:

Solar radiation management – reflecting solar energy back into space so that it cannot increase temperatures down here. That could involve reflectors in space, or putting reflective particles into the atmosphere.

Carbon engineering – capturing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and storing it so that it cannot escape and cause warming. That could mean planting loads of trees, big sci-fi type machines that suck carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the ground, making little organisms in parts of the oceans multiply who live on carbon dioxide, or making lots of minerals react with carbon dioxide in the air and oceans.

Geoengineering is – depending 0n your perspective – either a brilliantly or a dangerously cheap option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the solutions outlined above have a significantly lower monetary cost than changing an entire economic system into a low-carbon economy. A fair amount of scientists is sceptical as to whether all the problems created by climate change could be fixed by technological solutions such as these.

  • While we have no idea whether these technologies work as we think they would, would it be able to save the oceans from acidification?
  • What happens if, for political or whatever reasons, a geoengineering project has to come to a halt – with no economy focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we would suddenly be emitting and warming up the planet faster than ever?
  • Geoengineering gives all the power to the corporates building and the (wealthy) governments controlling them, destroying the potential a shift to a low-carbon economy has for equality and justice, for disadvantaged community taking control of what affects them – climate justice. Is that justifiable?
  • Do we really want another moral hazard – a super-technology on which the future of humanity depends in the hands of the rich and powerful (think both nuclear power and solar management)?
  • Is geoengineering just another way for humans to apply a plaster to the symptoms, rather than tackle the root causes of the problem – as avoiding climate change means changing how we (people in industrialised countries) live every-day life?

However, we have to be realistic in what current politics and public mood let us achieve – if we want global temperatures to stay below 2 or preferably 1.5 degrees higher than in pre-industrial times (and we’d better), we need significantly more action than currently planned, from both governments, corporations, and individuals. We may indeed need some geoengineering technologies to make up for the damage already done through decades of ignoring the urgency of climate change. It cannot be the panacea for humanity’s way out of a very awkward problem, but it could be contributing to a comprehensive solution.

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