Public-private partnerships feature in latest UN climate talks

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations always have been considered primarily an intergovernmental process, in which national governments come together to ideally back up the political rhetoric and achieve progress on climate change-related issues to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. But at the latest session, COP 19, which took place Nov. 11 to 22 in Warsaw, there was significant discussion about the important role the private sector can play in curbing environmental problems.

Increasingly, due to the complex and cross-cutting nature of climate change, engagement with the private sector is necessary to develop a comprehensive range of solutions that drive systemic change. As businesses increasingly realize that they need to better understand the opportunities and risks presented by a warming planet, there is an amplified need to turn political rhetoric into clear action. Given the need for both public- and private-sector actors to work together to develop solutions, it seems somewhat counterintuitive to exclude key stakeholders from the climate change negotiations. Yet unfortunately, this is the current state of affairs.

The power of public-private partnerships

Despite this typical exclusion of the private sector from proceedings, the new buzz phrase heard at COP 19 was "Public Private Partnerships (PPP)." One innovative approach to PPP's was announced this week by the U.S., U.K., Norwegian and German governments: Through their BioCarbon Fund, they've launched a $280 million initiative for sustainable forest landscapes that's designed to tackle the drivers of deforestation. Critically, these efforts are being made in collaboration with the private sector across technologies and geographies to protect forests and promote climate-smart agriculture.

The main drivers of deforestation include the production and trade of palm oil, soya, beef, leather, timber, pulp and paper. These are responsible for more than 50 percent of deforestation and account for nearly 10 percent of global emissions, according to the recently issued Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. In addition, with a growing population, pressure on our forests is likely to increase. Demand for food is set to grow by 14 percent over the next decade, compared with an anticipated decline in agricultural yields over the same period of 2 percent.

The BioCarbon Fund's Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes [PDF] represents a major investment to ramp up and transform current efforts to promote sustainable forest landscapes. The initiative is essentially targeting landscape-level programs and leveraging the BioCarbon Fund's experience to develop a number of portfolio investments.

Important COP 19 outcomes

It's assuring to see the establishment of an international mechanism to guide developing nations on how to cope with the damage caused by unavoidable climate impacts. But the ultimate mandate and scope of this mechanism will need to be strengthened at future COPs.

More important, negotiators failed to deliver a clear roadmap for achieving the strong, binding climate deal due at COP 21 in Paris in 2015 (COP 20 is slated to take place in Peru in December 2014). This causes problems when it comes to incentivizing and mobilizing climate action on a timely basis.

From a financial perspective, developments were mixed. The adaptation fund achieved its $100 million fundraising goal, but again, there was no clear deadline as to when and how the Green Climate Fund will receive its $100 billion of funding a year by the 2020 commitment. The end of COP 19 leaves developing countries without any clarity on a predictable flow of climate finance, and as a result there's little incentive for climate action.

The future of climate change solutions

Given the urgency of the climate change situation and the need to involve a diverse group of stakeholders to develop timely, innovative and effective solutions, it is somewhat comforting to see that despite a lack of progress and clarity around a 2015 deal, multilateral action is taking shape or being planned. Significant initiatives include not only the BioCarbon Fund, but Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC). Initiatives such as these provide clear frameworks to incentivize public and private sector actors to plan and undertake climate action. And they can be used to supplement longer-term regional and national efforts as they begin to develop.

Although Warsaw ultimately hasn't delivered on the progress that was desired, such actions promise important change -- even if that progress isn't quite at the scale ultimately needed by the next negotiations.

Image of Warsaw by Jacek_Kadaj via Shutterstock