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Small climate deals forged outside int'l talks

December 13, 2010

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Robert Zoellick, world bank, climate change, cancun, cop16
World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick attends a press conference at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, Wednesday Dec. 8, 2010. - Photo by AP.

CANCUN, Mexico: Walmart is going green in its Chinese factories. George Soros is exploring investments in the restoration of drained peatlands in Indonesia. Denmark is joining South Korea in a new fund to transform developing economies.

As delegates to the latest UN climate talks struggled to come up with a modest pair of global warming accords, governments, businesses and individuals working behind the scenes forged ahead with their own projects to cut emissions.

''Regardless of what happens in these negotiations, we shouldn't be waiting. We should be doing practical things on the ground,'' World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in an interview before the talks wound up Saturday.

Nearly 200 governments have been working for 20 years toward an all-encompassing treaty to constrain human influence on the climate through industrial pollution, vehicles and agriculture.

The Cancun Agreements, adopted to cheers and ovations early Saturday after two tortuous weeks of talks, created a Green Climate Fund to manage and disburse tens of billions of dollars a year, starting in 2020, for green development in poor countries.

The fund also will help developing nations adapt to climate change that already has occurred, through such methods as shifting to drought-resistant crops or building sea walls against rising ocean levels and storm surges.

The accords also create a new mechanism for giving green technology to developing states and set guidelines to compensate countries that are preserving their forests.

The ideal global treaty _ the one on which governments have not been able to agree during two decades of talks _ would set targets and create incentives for countries and industries to reduce emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and invest in green economic growth.

Officials in both the public and private arena have decided not to wait for such a global agreement, instead taking the initiative on their own.

The sidelines of the Cancun conference provided a convenient platform to discuss old projects they were already working on as well as to unveil new ones, most of them valued at just a few million dollars.

There were actually ''two summits'' in Cancun, said Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Program, referring to both the official negotiations and project discussions outside the main conference.

''Individually, they may not sound like a lot...but the reality is, on the ground there is a tremendous groundswell of activity on climate change,'' he told reporters.

While the conference was under way, Zoellick announced a new $100 million World Bank fund to help countries set up carbon-trading programs.

China, India, Chile and Mexico are among countries that have expressed an interest in drawing on the fund, he told The Associated Press.

''People get lost in the negotiating part of this,'' he said. The fund is an example ''of an ongoing innovation that doesn't depend on treaty text.''

Three miles (seven kilometers) from the climate talks' principal negotiating venue, Walmart chairman Rob Walton attended a function that addressed using everything from cattle in Brazil to palm oil in Indonesia as sustainable sourcing for the giant retailer founded by his father.

Walmart says it plans to reduce its carbon footprint over five years to what would be the equivalent of taking 3.8 million cars off the road. Much of that will come by reducing the energy used by suppliers in China, where most of its nonfood products come from.

''People are spending less time on the negotiations and shifting more focus on concrete action,'' said Stephen Cochran, vice president of the New York-based nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, which works with Walmart in China and in the US.

That doesn't mean there isn't still a need for a global accord, however, Cochran added.

Such an agreement would set common rules and firm up guarantees that green investment pays.

Financier George Soros discussed a private rescue plan for depleted Indonesian peatlands. The former jungle areas, which were cleared for rice paddies or palm oil, release huge amounts of stored carbon as they dry out and burn.

Marcel Silvius of Wetlands International, who accompanied Soros to Indonesia earlier this year, said several billionaires were applying to Jakarta for concessions for degraded land. By blocking drainage channels and allowing the peatlands to re-flood, natural forests may regenerate, and local communities could be enlisted to manage the new growth.

Investors can make returns on carbon credits under the forestry strategy outlined in the Cancun Agreements. But some people, including Soros, see it as philanthropy from which they expect no return, Silvius said. He said 6 million to 7.5 million acres (2.5 million to 3 million hectares) of land, an area the size of the Netherlands, could be restored in Indonesia.