Day 3 at COP19: Finance, the Private Sector and NASA

  COP 19 hall Ban Ki-Moon speakingby Harrison Kahn T’14

Day 3 was another exciting day at COP19. We explored the critical themes of climate finance and the role of the private sector. We finished a busy schedule with an incredible NASA movie plus a delicious meal in Warsaw’s Old Town.

To begin the day, Difu, Brian and I attended the High Level Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Finance. The keynote speaker was none other than Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, who started his talk by announcing, “Climate Change is the single biggest challenge to peace, prosperity and sustainable development.”  Following Ban Ki-Moon was a series of very impressive speakers, including Jakaya Kikwete (President of Tanzania), Naoko Ishii (CEO of the Global Environment Facility) and Hela Cheikhrouhou (Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund). In the audience were finance ministers from all over the globe and representatives from civil society.

Representing civil society in the back of the room, the three of us sat next to Nicholas Stern, Baron Stern of Brentford and former Chief Economist of the World Bank. Stern is famous for his Stern Review, a call to action on climate change that he published in 2006 when serving as second permanent secretary of Her Majesty’s Treasury. The Stern Review takes on the topic of the carbon externality and describes climate change as “the greatest market failure the world has seen…The problem of climate change involves a fundamental failure of markets: those who damage others by emitting greenhouse gases generally do not pay.”

The speakers of the day echoed Stern’s words. All of them pleaded with the ministers gathered to find ways support the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a mechanism founded at COP16 in Cancun as a means to transfer funds from developed countries to developing countries and to finance projects related to both mitigation and adaptation. Unfortunately, the GCF moved beyond its initial fast-track financing period in 2012 and now sits like an “empty shell” waiting to be operationalized with the 100 billion US Dollars the fund is seeking per year by 2020.

COP 19 public private panelAfter our morning with the finance ministers, we attended three panel discussions featuring various combinations of leaders from the public and private sectors. COP19 has made an effort to include CEOs and other members from the private sector in side events. Companies represented today at the COP included Alstom, Dow Chemicals, Philips, Unilever, IKEA and others. During our last panel, which took place at the US Pavilion, we heard opening remarks from Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality and Lance Pierce, Executive Director of Ceres, a Boston-based non-profit affiliation of companies founded in 1989 in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The companies walked us through some of their efforts to adopt more sustainable practices. For example, Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer at IKEA, talked about how IKEA’s UK stores have begun selling no-assembly-required PV panels to residential homeowners. I asked several of the private sector participants if their companies have perspectives on whether or not there should be a price on carbon. The majority of the panelists argued that there must be a price on carbon and that the price should take into account some of the issues related to international fairness. They also acknowledged, however, that their organizations lacked the relevant expertise to put a stake in the ground regarding what the fair price of carbon should be or whether it should take the form of a tax or an allowance system.

COP 19 delegation with Dr Bruce Doddridge NASAIn the early evening, we walked over to the NASA exhibit at the US Pavilion to where a crowd had formed to witness NASA’s “Hyperwall” display. Dr. Bruce Doddridge, Head of the Chemistry and Dynamics Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center, curated various high-definition animations of hurricanes and cracking ice shelves. The visuals were gorgeous, but also stark reminders of the need for a meaningful agreement on tackling climate change. In his final animation, Dr. Doddridge showed a simulation of the earth as it might have looked if chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone depleting chemicals had not been banned through the Montreal Protocol in the 1980s. I highly recommend watching the NASA videos. You can access them through the Scientific Visualization Studio’s web site, http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov.

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