Three Reflections a Day Keeps the Teacher Away

At today’s meeting of the ADP on Section K (Time Frames and Process Related to Commitments/Contributions) of the Co-Chairs’ Non-paper on Elements for a Draft Negotiating Text, the Chinese delegation took the floor for a particularly lengthy period and put forth many suggested changes, additions, and deletions to the Non-paper.  In general, China has been quite vocal at all the meetings I have attended at the COP and its comments have received the endorsements of many Parties, indicating China’s ongoing ascendancy to the status of a responsible global leader.

One particular comment made by the Chinese delegation today caught my attention. Paragraphs 64-70 of the Non-paper set out the potential elements for a mechanism to review implementation of the Convention.  The opening paragraph of this section states that “[t]he governing body shall regularly conduct a strategic review of the aggregate effect of implementation in order to asses progress towards operationalizing the ultimate objective as set out in Article 2 of the Convention pursuant to paragraph 3.”  After the governing body does so, under Article 67 it “shall recommend action to harness unrealized opportunities to mitigate and adapt to climate change and to mobilize the necessary financial support.”

The Chinese delegation stated that it wanted to offer some improvements on Article 47.  Specifically, they proposed inserting a requirement for Parties to conduct a “domestic reflection” in order to identify ways they could improve their mitigation and adaptation efforts.  They likened the idea to the “reflection note” issued by the ADP Co-Chairs after each session of the ADP.  According to the delegation, the concept chairman maoof self reflection is deeply rooted in Chinese cultural traditions.  There’s a Chinese saying – “three reflections a day keeps the teacher away.”  They argued that in the climate change context it would be a very good way to promote “self learning” and to increase domestic ambition.  After all, the delegation stated that Chairman Mao Zedong often promoted self reflection (or, perhaps more accurately described as self criticism) as a good way to increase one’s performance and ambition.

It was certainly one of the most unique comments I heard here at the COP. It will be interesting to see whether this element of Chinese culture makes it into the next iteration of the elements

China’s New Climate Economy

tsinghua logoToday I had the pleasure of attending a side-event on “Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change in China” organized jointly by Tsinghua University’s Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy, the China Green Carbon Foundation, the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the Peoples’ Republic of China, and the China Certification and Accreditation Institute.  All of the presentations were fascinating and demonstrated some of the finer points of China’s efforts to address climate change.  For an agenda of the event, see here. In particular, Professor Fei Teng gave a presentation on the Tsinghua Institute’s research to promote a “New Climate Economy,” which aims to address climate change through integrating smarter economic growth, energy security, and environmental protection.  I urge you to check out the report here.

A Debate Brewing with Regard to Accounting and Transparency of Mitigation Commitments

Today the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Advancement of the Durban Platform (ADP) had a meeting to discuss the ADP cochairsproposals for mitigation commitments contained in the ADP Co-Chairs’ November 11, 2014 Non-Paper on Elements for a Draft Negotiating Text.  In somewhat typical fashion, the meeting finally got off to a start about an hour behind schedule.  Given the widespread interest in the shape that mitigation commitments will take in the “protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force” that is supposed to be adopted at the COP in Paris next year, the room was packed to capacity and people were overflowing into the hallway.

Some predictable patterns emerged once things got off to a start.  India emphasized that the Parties are not negotiating a new Convention and made oft-repeated calls for the draft text to contain references to the Convention’s principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities” and equity.  Several other Parties, including Bolivia, Jordan, Venezuela, Argentina, and Cuba supported this view.  On the other hand, Parties including Japan, the United States, Switzerland, and Canada stated in various ways that they did not support the binary approach of the Convention.

accountingOne interesting divergence that emerged during the course of today’s negotiations concerned scheduling and accounting methods for mitigation actions and, by extension, transparency.  The United States said that the mitigation section of the draft text should require each party joining the agreement to submit a schedule for its INDCs that it intends to implement.  Initially, each Party’s mitigation contribution should relate to a common timeframe of 2025.  Each party should also accompany its mitigation contribution with clarifying information and should report periodically, in accordance with an agreed timeline, on its progress toward implementing the contribution.  The United States also stated that the Parties should agree in Paris on procedures for reviewing Parties’ implementation of their mitigation contributions.  Australia supported this position, adding that there should be accounting in the land sector as well.  Switzerland also joined in, emphasizing the importance of transparency, and stated that the Parties should elaborate on the requirements and procedures for transparency in Paris in 2015.  However, Brazil and some other countries opposed these suggestions, stating that the Non-paper already contained many provisions regarding transparency and there was therefore no need to add it in to the mitigation section.

As stated by the World Resources Institute, transparency is key to an effective climate regime because it enables Parties and other stakeholders to assess how their emissions reductions compare with other Parties, which may build trust and contribute to the implementation of the agreement.  Additionally, it can build confidence in the agreement and strengthen its credibility.  Whether the United States’ proposal regarding accounting and transparency would strengthen or improve the the draft text over the transparency provisions already there is an open question.

The Growing Trend of South-South Cooperation on Climate Change

Su-WeiOn Monday China’s Chief Climate Negotiator, Mr. Su Wei, offered some interesting views at a COP20 side event on a significant and growing trend in the efforts to tackle climate change – South-South cooperation.  The event, “Perspectives on the 2015 Paris Deal: Options on the road from Lima 2014 to Paris 2015,” was organized by the South Centre and the Third World Network and also featured representatives from the Africa Group on ADP and India.  Mr. Su Wei stated that while China welcomes the announcements of pledges totaling $9.7 billion to the Green Climate Fund, the goal was to reach $10 billion by the time the Parties convened in Lima.  Moreover, according to Su Wei, though we have heard many pledges that developed country Parties will contribute up to $100 billion per year by 2020, we still have no clear road map as to how those funds will be raised.  On top of that, countries such as the United States and Japan, which have pledged a total of $4.5 billion between them, must still gain approval from their respective legislatures in order to actually live up to their pledges.  This task will certainly be difficult in the United States, where the Congress has already vowed to block the US contribution.

Su Wei stated that developing countries can no longer continue to wait for developed countries to provide the climate funding they are legally required to provide.  Therefore, China has begun to fill in where it perceives the developed world to be lagging behind and started providing financing of its own to developing countries.  For example, at the 2012 Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development Premier Wen Jiabao announced that China would “make available 200 million yuan to help least developed countries and those in Africa tackle climate change.”  More recently, China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli announced at the September UN Climate Summit that China would pledge $6 million to support South-South cooperation on climate change.  Finally, Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed at the G20 Summit in November that China would establish a South-South Cooperation Fund on Climate Change.

Su Wei’s remarks reflect the growing trend of South-South cooperation on climate change.  The UK think tank Foreign Policy Centre has reported that in 2013 “there was $92.7 billion in new investment in renewable energy in developing countries and $121.7 billion in developed countries,” representing a very significant narrowing of the gap gcf_logobetween the two since 2007.  Additionally, FPC noted a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report that in 2012 “South-South development bank clean energy flows totaled $7.5 billion, up from $2.8 billion in 2008 and compared to 2012 North to South flows of $9.9 billion.”  In a “break with tradition,” developing countries Mexico and Mongolia are also actually beginning to invest in the Green Climate Fund.  Therefore, it seems that as the developed nations continue to drag their feet with respect to their pledges to provide climate financing and enhance the implementation of the Convention, developing countries are starting to pick up the slack and forge ahead.

On December 8 the National Development and Reform Commission of China, UNEP, and the UNDP are co-sponsoring a forum on South-South Cooperation on Climate Change in Lima.  The forum will bring together ten leaders from various countries and international organizations to discuss strategies to enable a rapid scaling up of South-South cooperation initiatives.  It should prove to be a very interesting event.

Developing INDCs: Experiences from Developing Countries and Emerging Lessons

cdkn-logoOn the sidelines of the first day of COP20, the Climate and Development Knowledge Network hosted an event on lessons and experiences from developing countries in formulating their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).  While Parties continue to debate what elements the INDCs must ultimately consist of and how they should be communicated, many developing countries are still struggling to find the technological capacity to develop their INDCs in the first place.  Two organizations, Ricardo-AEA and NewClimate Institute, gave very interesting presentations on their work supporting developing countries in this endeavor.  To learn more about their efforts, see here and here.

Reading Between the Lines on the US-China Climate Agreement

Obama and Xi JinpingAs noted on this blog yesterday, at the close of the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Beijing, President Obama and President Xi Jinping issued a joint US-China “announcement” on climate change.  The United States announced that it intends to achieve economy-wide emissions reductions of 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, while China for the first time announced its intention to commit to peaking its CO2 emissions by 2030 and to increase its share of renewable energy consumption to “around 20%” by 2030.  This agreement between the two countries has been described variously as a landmark agreement, a gamechanger, and historic.  But is the agreement really all it is cracked up to be?

First of all, some commentators have opined that the agreement’s targets are simply not ambitious enough. For instance, climate scientist Kevin Tyndall recently expressed to chinadialogue that if we wanted even a reasonable chance of achieving the goal laid out in Copenhagen of limiting global temperature increases to 2C, China’s GHG emissions would have to peak at least as early as the mid-2020’s. Second, even if the United States and China are able to meet the targets set out in the agreement, enormous challenges would remain.  By 2030, the GHG emissions of the two countries would account for over half of the carbon budget that would give us a 50-50 chance of staying within the 2C goal.  This would leave little room for rising economies such as India and Brazil to continue to grow. Third, some have noted that this agreement does not amount to much because it largely reflects what the US and China are already doing anyway.  A Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst told the Daily Beast that “the commitment on the U.S. side is a summation of a variety of commitments that have already been made.”  Morever, three years ago the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory had already predicted that due to a variety of factors, China’s GHG emissions would peak by 2030.  And finally, the agreement is lacking in detail, but what detail it does contain has been a cause for alarm for some environmentalists. While renewable energy is mentioned only once in the agreement, the promotion of carbon capture and sequestration and advanced coal technologies is featured prominently, mentioned no less than six times.  The agreement also promotes the increased use of shale gas without mentioning control of methane, which, according to the director of Food and Water Watch, simply amounts to “more promotion of fracking under the guise of climate action.”

Nevertheless, despite the agreement’s limitations, it still provides much cause for optimism.  Indeed, it represents the first time the world’s two largest GHG emitters have publicly expressed a willingness to cooperate on climate change. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted, the United States and China must cooperate on joint efforts to reduce GHG emissions – otherwise, there is simply no hope of solving this problem.  Besides this symbolic importance of the agreement, it also includes some practical bilateral measures that are encouraging, such as expanding the US-China Joint Clean Energy Research Center, enhancing cooperation on phasing out HFCs, jointly launching a new initiative on Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities, and promoting trade in green goods.

Perhaps most importantly, the willingness of the two largest economies and two China-deal-638x532largest GHG emitters on the planet to come together to announce action on climate sets a good example for both developed and developing countries.  According to Zou Ji, deputy director of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy, this agreement will set the tone for the 2015 Paris climate negotiations and as such, could have “wide-reaching impacts on the global low-carbon transition.”  By one estimation (see graph), if developing countries were to follow China’s lead and developed countries were to follow the United States’ lead, we could slash global carbon emissions from the “business as usual scenario” by an enormous 2500 billion tons by the end of the century. The fact that these two countries have stated publicly their intention to act on climate change essentially leaves no excuse for others to not take action.  Now let us hope that they are serious.

China: Cause for Despair? Or Cause for Hope?

China FlagAs the nations of the world wrapped up last week’s ADP negotiations on the key elements of the 2015 Paris agreement, many observers remained focused on China.  Simply put, the actions that China takes (or doesn’t take) in the next decade or so could very well determine whether humanity can successfully avoid a full-blown climate catastrophe.  Even though China is still considered a developing country under the UNFCCC, the world, and China’s position in it, has changed dramatically in the more than two decades since that treaty was negotiated.  China has been the world’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions since 2006, it consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and its energy demand is expected to double by 2030.  According to an excellent recent Rolling Stone article on US-China climate discussions, China now emits 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, which is expected to increase to over 15 billion tons by 2030.  The article quotes Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, expressing his opinion that if this increase happens, the world’s chances of avoiding catastrophic climate disturbance are “virtually zero.”

As such, some may become discouraged by China’s insistence that “developed” countries bear responsibility for mitigating climate change based on their historical emissions.  For example, with regard to ADP workstream 2, the ENB’s summary of ADP2-6 noted that a Conference Room Paper submitted by China on behalf of the LMDC’s called for “unconditional commitments by Annex I parties to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.” With regard to workstream 1, the closing statement submitted by the G77+China expressed concern that the ADP Co-Chairs’ draft text on information on INDC’s in the context of the 2015 agreement lacks “central elements” such as the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.  In short, China has shown resistance to international pressure to commit to curbing its greenhouse gas emissions based on its belief that the current climate crisis is largely the industrialized West’s fault.  Its position: Developing nations such as China should not have to bear the burden of solving a problem they didn’t create.  While there is a lot of truth to this argument, it seems to fall short of the reality of the climate challenges the world faces today and into the future.

Nevertheless, China’s recent actions indicate that China’s leaders take the threats associated with climate change seriously and are doing something about it.  For one thing, China’s leaders fully recognize that the environmental degradation caused by its breakneck economic growth over the last several decades, most of which was supported by the burning of coal, is not sustainable.  This heavy reliance on coal has resulted in untold amounts of damage to the country’s air, surface and groundwater, and soils.  Public health has taken a heavy hit as well – a report published last year found that outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010.  Accordingly, earlier this year Premier Li Keqiang announced a “war on pollution.”  Among other things, this war will consist of shutting down outdated small coal-fired power plants and industrial plants, reforms in energy pricing to boost renewables, and increases in government spending on measures to address water and soil degradation.  China is outperforming the United Stateswind_power_464 on renewable energy, which now makes up about 20% of China’s energy mix.  China produces more wind and solar power than any other country on the planet, and in 2013 over 50% of new generation was renewable.  There are also indications that China’s coal use may peak as early as this year.

China is also a step ahead of the United States with regards to regulating carbon emissions.  It has introduced pilot cap-and-trade programs in five cities and two provinces that are designed to be replicated and implemented at the national level sometime between 2016 and 2020.  According to a recent study by Resources for the Future, these pilot programs increase the coverage of global emissions by carbon markets from less than 8% to more than 11%.  While the study notes that the pilot cap-and-trade programs are not perfect and could use some improvements, they nevertheless indicate that addressing climate change is in fact high on China’s list of priorities.

China is therefore, somewhat paradoxically, the source of both hope and despair when it comes to confronting the challenges presented by climate change.  It will certainly be very interesting to see how this paradox plays out in the upcoming climate negotiations on Lima and in Paris.