Ireland set to miss EU carbon target

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Irish environmental protection agency releases new figures showing country unlikely to reduce its emissions 20% by 2020

Ireland is at significant risk of not meeting its EU 2020 targets even under the best-case scenario, according to figures released by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today.

Under EU legislation, Ireland is required to reduce its emissions by 20% by 2020 but the latest projections indicate the best-case scenario is that Ireland will breach its annual target from 2016 onwards.

Although the figures suggest that Ireland can comply with its Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas reduction obligations for the first commitment period from 2008 to 2012, they also suggest that strong projected growth in emissions from transport and agriculture will cause the country to fall short of its EU 2020 obligations.

Irish EPA deputy director general Dara Lynott said: "All sectors of the economy must contribute to emission reductions with a strong focus on those sectors - transport and agriculture - that dominate our emissions profile. Significant reductions are needed in the transport and agriculture sectors which are currently showing an increasing trend in emissions into the future."

Lynott claimed that recent reductions in Ireland's greenhouse gases have been a direct result of the current economic recession and the economic outlook for the future.

"Ireland cannot rely on recession to meet our long-term carbon-reduction requirements and needs to develop as a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy," she said.

Speaking at the launch of the EPA projections today, Irish EPA senior manager Eimear Cotter said that although it would be difficult to cost-effectively mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and transport, reductions in both sectors had to be achieved.

"Economic incentives can play a role in reducing emissions by stimulating a change in behavioural patterns. Areas that can make a difference include using resources more efficiently, travel behaviour, farming practice, energy efficiency and societal engagement," she added.

What is climate finance and where will it come from?

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Climate finance involves flows of funds from developed to developing nations to help poorer countries to cut their emissions and adapt to climate change. The sources and governance of climate finance has been widely debated since the 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen, where industrialised countries committed to giving $100 billion a year in additional climate finance from 2020 onwards. To get things going, immediate 'fast-start' finance of up to $30 billion was promised until the end of 2012.

Donor countries have met their initial commitment on fast-start finance. Over $30 billion in additional climate finance has been provided since Copenhagen. The UK has contributed £1.5 billion ($2.4 billion) so far, rising to £2.9 billion by 2015. But globally there is no clear path to ramp up support to the target $100 billion by the end of the decade – which is a concern given that rich countries have a history of not living up to aid promises.

Anothe concern is that meeting the target so far has involved the reclassification of some existing aid flows. Classification will always be a problem, particularly when it comes to dealing with the impacts of climate change ('adaptation'). Better education and healthcare, access to safe drinking water, improved disaster relief and the availability of micro-finance will all make countries more resilient to climate change, but they are also basic development objectives. Therefore if the aim is climate-resilient development, there is no clear delineation between adaptation assistance and development aid. Climate finance has been a central element of the international climate change agreements from the outset. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed in 1992, stated that developed countries shall provide "new and additional financial resources" to developing countries. In the early years this financial assistance was channelled through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), either directly or through dedicated funds which the GEF administers (in particular, the Least Developed Country Fund and the Special Climate Change Fund). But over the years developing countries have become critical of the GEF, which they see as dominated by developed countries.

The search for new institutional arrangements has therefore been an important aspect of the climate finance discussion. The outcome has been the creation of a new organisation, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which will be the main channel through which climate finance is allocated. The GCF, which is head-quartered in South Korea, is controlled by a Board on which developed and developing countries are equally represented. There has also been a push for more direct access to funding. Developing countries are keen to get financing without going through international institutions like the World Bank and being subjected to their rules and conditions. Many are setting up special national funds to secure direct access. Others look to the Norway-sponsored Amazon Fund as a potential model.

The process of creating new institutions and establishing a track record of financial probity is inevitably slow. In the meantime the climate finance landscape is dominated by bilateral aid agencies and international development institutions, which implement GEF projects and have set up their own climate finance initiatives. The most notable of them are the World Bank-led Climate Investment Funds.

The Adaptation Fund, which is financed through a levy on international carbon market transactions, is the only international climate fund besides the GCF that is independent of development finance institutions. However, the Adaptation Fund has seen its revenues drop when the international carbon price collapsed, demonstrating that government pledges aren't the only sources of finance that can prove unreliable.

In 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon established a high-level advisory group and tasked it to find the best sources of climate finance. The group concluded that a combination of sources was needed, including aid-style government pledges, market levies and possible new sources such as a tax on international aviation and shipping, which would begin to regulate this so-far uncapped source of emissions, or a financial transaction tax, a policy that has been much-debated in Europe as a way to increase financial stability. A large share of income would also have to come from the private sector through mechanisms like carbon trading.

Little tangible progress has been made on the additional sources of finance since the high-level advisory group has reported. In the meantime, developing countries have started to spend their own funds, particularly on adaptation, and the private sector continues to invest in low-carbon technologies like renewable energy. The UNFCCC debate is only the tip of the climate finance iceberg.

• This article was written by Samuel Fankhauser of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE in collaboration with the Guardian

Climate change: our sin of omission

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Betrayal is a word not to be used lightly. But no betrayal is worse than the betrayal of children, and the Department for Education's attempt to remove all explicit reference to climate change from the national curriculum guidelines up to the age of 14 would, if it succeeds, betray a whole generation of children.

The purpose of education is to prepare us for the challenges we will face in life. Climate change, and our success or failure in dealing with it, will be a defining challenge. A successful response would take all the major economies to a carbon-neutral energy system in little more than a generation. The social and political consequences of this transformation will be as dramatic as any we have ever experienced. We cannot let our children face such a journey without equipping them at the earliest possible stage with a compass.

But that transformation has yet to begin. Without a dramatic acceleration soon, the current global response to climate change will be looked back on as the greatest failure of politics in history. My generation, with its hands now on the levers of power, has hardly begun to grasp the urgency and intensity of the challenge. Elites across the major economies talk about their commitment to deal with climate change while continuing to lock us ever more tightly into a high-carbon future.

There are two paths now available: one leads towards a world in which by mid-century the basic needs of 9 billion people can be met by co-ordinating a successful response to climate change. The other looks increasingly like descent into competition, fragmentation and conflict, as the interconnected stresses of food, water, and energy insecurity become unmanageable.

If anyone has a right to be informed about what is at stake at this threshold, it is today's children. Equally, what is now clear is that their voices – already speaking out – need to be heard more than ever. Those who are young today will, for better or worse, have to bear the brunt of the decisions made by my generation. That gives them a unique right to be listened to on climate change. We should be stretching every sinew in our schools – as many excellent teachers up and down the country have been doing – to instil in our children the knowledge and confidence to make themselves heard.

I recently had the privilege of leading a lesson on climate change for a class of eight-year-olds. I had asked each to bring a relevant object from home. One brought a slice of bread. He explained: "To make bread you need wheat. To grow wheat you need the right amount of sunshine, and the right amount of rain." The argument that eight-year-olds, let alone 14-year-olds, are too young to learn about climate change is patronising.

The proposed new guidelines do not, as their advocates point out, prohibit teachers from mentioning climate change. But they would make it legitimate not to do so. What is not mentioned cannot be reflected upon, debated, and brought to life in the choices we make.

The intent behind the current proposal is not clear. It may simply be a result of inattention; an unhappy byproduct of an otherwise laudable attempt to simplify the curriculum. Or may derive from motives that would be familiar to Orwell, who understood the relationship between language and political outcomes. It certainly bears a striking resemblance to the now notorious efforts by the Bush administration to remove the phrase "climate change" from as many official publications in the US as possible.

But whatever the intent, the effect would be a weakening of the basis for learning and debate about climate change in schools at a time when it needs to be further strengthened. At the very least, climate change and its human consequences should remain explicit in the new geography guidelines.

Japan's 'frozen gas' is worthless

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There's only one way of knowing whether or not governments are serious about climate change: have they decided to leave most of their fossil fuel reserves in the ground? We have already discovered far more carbon than we can afford to burn, if we are not to commit the world to very dangerous levels of heating. Only if most of it – four-fifths according to a detailed estimate – is left where it sits is there a good chance of preventing more than2C of global warming.