The Arctic Report Card published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that 2016 was a year of record air and sea temperatures in the Arctic, along with record low snow and ice cover.
These news set the context for mitigation initiatives announced, including the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund which will invest in new low-carbon technologies, new members joining the UNFCCC's Climate Neutral Now Initiative.
Other mitigation-related news address operationalization of REDD+, renewable energies and UNDP's success in achieving climate neutrality for its global operations for the second year in a row.
15 December 2016: The 2016 version of annual Arctic Report Card of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US confirms that 2016 has been a year of unprecedented records in terms of temperature increase and declining ice cover, making the mitigation initiatives highlighted in this Update all the most urgent and necessary.
Another Set of Climate Records in the Arctic
After the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported in its Provisional Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 2016 that the current year is “very likely the hottest year on record,” NOAA’s Report Card demonstrates that the Arctic is particularly affected by these changes. Temperatures in the Arctic continued to increase at double the rate of global temperature increase, reaching 3.5ºC above 1900 levels. This resulted in several record measures minimum for ice and snow, including: record low snow cover in the North American Arctic, falling below four million square kilometers, which is the lowest since the beginning of satellite observations in 1967; a smaller Greenland ice sheet, marking the 14th consecutive year of net ice loss; record low sea ice, with minimum sea-ice extent at 28% below the average minimum for 1981-2010; sea surface temperatures of 5ºC above the average for 1981-2010; and higher Arctic Ocean productivity due to higher exposure to sunlight in ice-free areas. The Arctic Report Card also includes essays providing in-depth discussion of other consequences of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, including ocean acidification, changes to the carbon cycle, and impacts on small mammals, as an early indication of broader consequences of environmental change. [NOAA Press Release] [Arctic Report Card 2016] [SDG Knowledge Hub Mitigation Update of 18 November 2016]
Against this backdrop, ambitious mitigation action become all the more necessary and urgent. The past weeks have seen the announcements of various initiatives aimed at reducing GHG emissions from a range of actors including the private sector, national governments and UN agencies. This Update highlights, inter alia, the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund, new members joining the UNFCCC’s Climate Neutral Now initiative, and several other news items on forest mitigation and renewable energy.
Private Sector Commitments
Microsoft Founder Bill Gates announced that the Breakthrough Energy Coalition launched its first investment vehicle: the Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund, endowed with US$1 billion available for investments in emerging technologies with significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction potential. Established in 2015, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition is a group of individuals and institutions committed to invest in new energy technologies emerging from publicly-funded research. The Fund will provide risk-tolerant, long-term venture capital to enable the commercialization of new technologies for electricity production, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction that have the potential to deliver substantial GHG reductions.
By providing “patient” capital, the Fund aims to close the gap in financing for scaling up technologies that are proven to be scientifically and economically viable, but considered too risky in the short term by the majority of conventional investors. The Fund will chose technologies for investment from among the outcomes of publicly funded research programmes such as Mission Innovation, a global initiative of 22 countries and the EU that have committed to double research funding for clean energy research and development by 2020. The selection criteria for investment include: potential to reduce GHG emissions by at least 500 megatons of CO2eq; potential to attract additional investments; scientific proof of concept; and attributes suitable for venture capital investment. [MIT Technology Review Article] [Breakthrough Energy Ventures] [Mission Innovation]
Climate Neutrality Efforts
In efforts to scale up participation in a different type of private sector initiative, the UNFCCC Secretariat asked major companies and sports organizations to join its Climate Neutral Now Initiative. Under the Initiative, UNFCCC is inviting individuals, companies, organizations and organizers of major events to pledge to become climate neutral by the second half of the 21st century. Specifically, the pledge includes commitments to: measure and report GHG emissions for an agreed period of time, reduce emissions as much as possible, and offset remaining emissions with UN Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs). In a press release, the UNFCCC Secretariat calls on major companies and sports organizations to become leaders in taking the pledge. [UNFCCC Press Release] [Climate Neutral Now] [FIFA Press Release] [Microsoft Carbon Neutral Operations]
In other climate neutrality-news, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has reported that 2016 was the second year in which the organization achieved that goal for its global operations. In a press release, UNDP announced it assesses its GHG emissions, takes steps to reduce them where possible, and offsets remaining emissions through the purchase of carbon credits that fund mitigation projects. According to the release, UNDP’s emissions in 2015 from operations in headquarters and country offices totaled 68.391 metric tons of CO2eq. In 2016, the level was further reduced through measures undertaken such as using energy efficient lighting, transportation and IT equipment. UNDP indicates it plans to further reduce emissions by 10% over the next five years through, among other measures, installing photovoltaic systems to reduce GHG emissions and increase energy security in country offices. [UNDP Press Release]
Renewables and energy efficiency was also the focus of a recent report. The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) has released its 2016 Annual Report titled ‘Connecting the Dots: Convening Multi-stakeholders on Renewable Energy.’ The report provides an overview over the Network’s activities during 2016 and its latest publications, as well as an outlook for 2017. The document states that more than 800 renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy access experts, contributed data during 2016, with 180 experts contributing to the Renewables 2016 Status Report. At the end of 2016, REN21 counted a total of 2050 expert members. Other activities included regional workshops on cooling and heating and outreach activities in Central and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. [REN21 Annual Report][MEXIREC 2017 Announcement]
REDD+ Efforts Get Technological Support
Operationalizing the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+) requires advanced technical and human capacities in monitoring the state of the forest to determine whether changes add up to net emissions or removals of CO2. Part of this challenge is to develop applications that allow analyzing satellite data to survey large swaths of tropical forest that cannot be effectively monitored from the ground. Collect Earth is a software tool that allows doing just that. The tool enables forest specialists to collect and analyze high resolution satellite data provided by Google Earth and Bing Maps, using the Google Earth Engine to create multi-phase National Forest Inventories, Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) assessments and other products for forest monitoring. Collect Earth is part of OpenForis, a collaborative effort of public and private institutions hosted by the Forest Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO). During the first week of December, FAO trained around 100 forest experts from countries including Cuba, Papua New Guinea, South Africa and Tunisia in using Collect Earth to monitor GHG emissions from forest areas in order to comply with requirements for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) under the UNFCCC REDD+ programme. As the software, platform and the archives of data and satellite imagery are free to use, participants can now use their new skills to conduct necessary assessments and train others in doing so. [FAO Press Release] [OpenForis] [Collect Earth] [Video Interview with a Workshop Participant from Papua Guinea]
In other REDD+ related news, the UNFCCC Secretariat released its technical assessment of Peru’s proposed forest reference emission level (FREL), concluding that the assessment is overall in accordance with the relevant provisions under decisions relating to REDD+. FRELs are an important tool to determine the benchmark against which to assess a country’s performance in REDD+ activities. Broadly speaking, an FREL describes the emissions or removals of a forest area expressed as CO2eq for a certain reference period that is accepted as baseline for REDD+ activities. Countries are required to develop reference levels in a transparent manner, taking into account historic data, in accordance with their abilities and circumstances. Each submission of a reference level that is to be used in the context of results-based payments is subject to a technical assessment by UNFCCC to confirm its validity. The technical assessment for Peru’s FREL, which applies to the region of the Peruvian Amazon, concludes that the FREL was produced in accordance with the guidelines for the submission of FRELs, noting certain issues that affect the FREL’s accuracy, such as the potential inclusion of non-anthropogenic emissions and exclusion of certain carbon pools, activities and gases. The technical assessment therefore recommends several areas for future technical improvement, while acknowledging that these are subject to Peru’s national capabilities and policies, and noting the importance of support. [Report on the Technical Assessment of the Proposed Forest Reference Emission Level of Peru Submitted in 2016]