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The Daily Need

Countdown to Cancun for climate change

It’s November 1 and we’re 29 days out from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. (Throw away those leftover Halloween Milk Duds now, so you’ll look good in your organic hemp Speedos/bikini at Señor Frog’s.) Diplomats, advocates, scientists and journalists will converge on November 29 to try (again) to draft a more comprehensive global agreement on addressing climate change. The good news: Last year’s meeting in Copenhagen resulted in 2020 emissions targets for most of the world’s governments. The bad news: Details are sadly lacking on how to monitor whether those targets are reached and how to finance carbon cutting efforts. Expectations for Cancun aren’t very high. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said in October, “There is no possibility of having a legally binding treaty in Cancun. But it can be a very good effort to set the foundations and cornerstones.”

Figueres and other international negotiators are putting off their hopes of significant agreement until the 2011 meeting in Johannesburg, but many people aren’t waiting around for the gargantuan wheels of global diplomacy to start turning. Today, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) unveiled a “30 Ways in 30 Days” initiative that trains a spotlight on individuals, corporations, communities and countries that are having some scalable successes in combating the causes and effects of climate change.

As the month goes on and we count down to Cancun, Need to Know will highlight some of UNEP’s “30 Ways in 30 Days” solutions by adding context through analysis, criticism and — where they exist — descriptions of parallel programs in the U.S.

Today’s kick-off case study is a program in India that provides electricity to rural homes through solar power. More than 60% of Indian households don’t have reliable access to electricity and have to use fuels like wood or kerosene for heating, lighting and cooking. Part of the solution may be “clean cookstoves” that reduce fuel consumption and exposure to harmful smoke, but UNEP’s program may even go one better — providing light and heat. The UN worked with two of India’s largest banks to jump start lending for household solar energy systems, providing subsidies and  technical assistance. Nearly 20,000 solar home systems were financed between 2004 and 2007.

While cookstove smoke isn’t one of the U.S.’s major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, we’ve got plenty of our own problems. One innovative financial mechanism that hoped to address the issue here was a municipal bond program called Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing (PACE). which allowed homeowners repay the cost of solar panels and other energy efficiency improvements through a surcharge on their property taxes. But as Climate Desk partner Grist has been reporting, PACE’s future is in question because of objections from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (i.e., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).