The Power of One Word

neues_bild_0

Photo Source: International Partnership on Mitigation & MRV

In international legal commitments all the power is in the verbs. And in the most recent (and perhaps final) version of the Paris Agreement, the verbs used in Art. 4 on Mitigation strengthen the actions required by developed country Parties.

Article 4.4 is on the differentiated mitigation efforts required by all Parties to the Agreement. The text released this afternoon declares that, “[d]eveloped country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.” Conversely, the requirement for developing country Parties is that they “should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.”

Even after a quick read, the power and effect of the verb “shall” compared to “should” or “are encouraged to” is instantly obvious. The language of “shall” is stronger; we’ve known this since biblical times. The commandment was “thou shalt not kill,” not thou should not kill, or thou is encouraged not to kill. Shall is an obligation, a command. Should is just an expectation.

Under the current Paris Agreement, developed country Parties have a positive obligation to lead on economy-wide GHG emission reductions. On the other hand, developing countries have no GHG emission reduction obligations under Art.4.4. Instead, developing country Parties are expected, or perhaps have a moral duty, to enhance their mitigation efforts. A statement supporting developing countries to voluntarily choose to try and move towards economy-wide GHG emission reductions furthers the expectation that they will enhance their mitigation efforts.

While differentiation between developed and developing Parties may seem intuitive, the “shall” “should” dichotomy is quite new in Art. 4.4. In the draft version distributed two days ago, on December 10, 2015, all the verbs were “should.”

The text read: “Developed country Parties should continue to take the lead. Each Party that has previously communicated absolute economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets should continue to do so, and all Parties should aim to do so in light of different national circumstances and stages of development.”

Photo Source: ThinkProgress

Photo Source: ThinkProgress

This previous version of the text was a conglomeration of expectations, and all Parties were expected to be doing something to mitigate GHG emissions. But, no Parties were actually obligated to perform certain actions. As negotiations have progressed over the past two days it is clear that a hierarchy of actions has developed, and this hierarchy ensures that all Parties know what the Paris Agreement requires of them. Under this hierarchy:

WHO:                                     WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO:

  1. Developed Parties          Must lead on economy-wide GHG emission reduction targets
  2. Developing Parties         Expected to enhance their mitigation efforts
  3. Developing Parties         Economy-wide GHG emission reduction targets encouraged

As the final text is considered by the Parties tonight, it will be important to note whether this hierarchy of mitigation actions is preserved with “shall” and “should” or if we return to a list of “should” expectations as contained in the earlier version of the text.

***UPDATE: During the final meeting of the Comité de Paris the term “shall” was changed back to “should.” Therefore, developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. The power of one word changed this obligation back into an expectation. The COP Presidency explained that the use of “shall” was a technical, unintended error and that the term “should” was meant to be used in the Agreement.


The Sustainable Development Mechanism AKA The New Carbon Market Mechanism

 

climate-change-shutterstock-210114

Photo Source: IBNLive

The Sustainable Development Mechanism is a new mitigation mechanism established in Art. 3 ter of the draft Paris Agreement. The purpose of this mechanism is to “promote the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions [in developing country Parties] while fostering sustainable development….” In order to achieve its goals, the mechanism provides incentives for successfully mitigating GHG emissions. Under this mechanism, Parties that contribute to the reduction of GHG emissions in a host country Party can benefit from their mitigation activities by using the resulting emission reductions to fulfill their own mitigation ambition requirements.

Overall, the structure of the Sustainable Development Mechanism closely resembles the Clean Development Mechanism, which is the carbon market mechanism in the Kyoto Protocol. Carbon markets and offsets were created under Art. 6 of the Kyoto Protocol, which states that “…any Party included in Annex I may transfer to, or acquire from, any other such Party emission reduction units resulting from projects aimed at reducing anthropogenic emissions by sources or enhancing anthropogenic removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in any sector of the economy….” Additionally, the Clean Development Mechanism was established under Art. 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, which provides a process for handling all of the carbon credits created under Art. 6.

sustainability2

Photo Source: YaleNews

Ultimately, the major difference between the new Sustainable Development Mechanism from the Clean Development Mechanism is that carbon markets will no longer be limited to developed country Parties. Instead, all Parties will be able to participate in this mechanism. Expanding the scope of a carbon market mechanism to allow all types of Parties to participate in transferring mitigation GHG reductions is unprecedented. We don’t know how all Parties will use this mechanism or how successfully it will address sustainable development issues. Therefore, a  s a successful Paris Outcome appears to be on the horizon, this new carbon market mechanism is one more aspect of the Agreement that will be worth watching develop.

 

 


Will it Be a REDD+ Letter Day for Our Forests?

Photo Source: Shutterstock

Photo Source: Shutterstock

Yesterday, the Parties received a “clean” version of the draft Paris Agreement, and at 8PM the Parties convened to share their first impressions on this draft Agreement. One hot topic repeatedly discussed was the status of our forests. Many Parties are advocating that the Paris Agreement establish a mechanism that incentivizes the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and promotes the conservation and sustainable management of forests and enhances forest carbon stocks in developing countries, while also enhancing the non-carbon benefits (REDD+). Currently, a formal REDD+ mechanism is missing from the draft text, and many Parties are not happy.

In the ADP 2-12 Draft Paris Agreement, Article 3 bis established a formal mechanism on REDD+, but this mechanism was removed from the most recent draft Agreement. Instead, Article 3 bis in the most recent Draft Agreement simply encourages the Parties to conserve and enhance forests, and encourages them to incentive REDD+ actions without ever directly referencing the REDD+ acronym. The language of encouragement has received a variety of reactions from the Parties and from interested NGOs.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, Forest Trends, National Wildlife Federation, and The Nature Conservancy all issued a joint statement on Article 3 bis in the latest draft, saying:

1370267590_sumatran-orangutans_6779_600x450

Photo Source: Shields Energy Services

“This new text includes a specific provision that   would send a strong political signal to support better protections for forests in developing countries and encourage developed nations to provide the financial incentives to do so.”

Additionally, the joint statement declared:

“The new draft of the Paris Agreement makes it clear that countries can increase their ambition to address climate change by using the approach of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), as an enduring tool for reducing emissions and incentivizing countries to scale up their efforts to protect forests.”

While these NGOs support the language used in the most recent Article 3 bis, many developing country Parties raised objections over the language during the Comité de Paris meeting last night.

Panama, speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, explained that the Paris Agreement needs to demonstrate a collective, serious implementation of REDD+ through reinsertion of a REDD+ mechanism in Article 3 bis. Furthermore, Panama argued that no valid reason has been provided by other Parties explaining why a formal REDD+ mechanism cannot be launched in the agreement here in Paris. As a result, Panama submitted an edited version of the draft Agreement reinserting the formal REDD+ mechanism into the text to the COP Presidency. Panama closed its comments saying there must be a formal REDD+ mechanism in the Paris Agreement if the agreement is
going to truly be ambitious.

624144waterfall

Photo Source: Coalition for Rainforest Nations

Many developing countries supported Panama’s position on REDD+. These countries include: the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Tanzania, and many others commonly associated with the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. As Parties continue to meet and develop the draft Paris Agreement today and tomorrow it will be important to watch Article 3 bis to note if the language promoting REDD+ remains voluntary expressed through the term “encouragement” or becomes a formalized mechanism under the UNFCCC expressed in the terms “establishing a REDD+ mechanism.” In the end, this debate over language will determine the level of commitment the Parties agree to concerning the protection of forests under the UNFCCC.

 

 

 


Celebrating Gender Day at COP21

Today is Gender Day at COP21. In celebration, the Women and Gender Constituency of the UNFCCC recognized the winners of the Gender Just Climate Solutions competition. These winners were celebrated for their great work combating climate change in a “gender-just” manner.

Photo Source: Island Eco

Photo Source: Island Eco

Island Eco from the Marshall Islands won the Technical Climate Solution Award for its work in training young women how to install solar photovoltaic DC refrigeration. Under this project, young rural women learn the electrical and mechanical skills needed to assemble, deliver, and install solar powered lights, refrigerators, and freezers in the Marshall Islands.

Next, the Non-Technical Climate Solution Award was presented to Gender CC – Women for Climate Justice for its efforts to raise awareness on gender integration in climate change adaptation and resiliency building activities in Southern Africa. Gender CC’s project connects women leaders, government officials, and NGOs to local women farmers in order to provide awareness training and capacity building skills concerning the installation of biogas digesters, PVC solar units, and water harvesting tanks.

csm_GenderCC_South_Africa_Workshop_solar_651ba88acb

Photo Source: GenderCC

The final award was presented to Tulele Peisa of Papua New Guinea for its local relocation efforts, that are being led by the Carteret Islanders who face imminent extinction due to climate change impacts and increased numbers of extreme weather events on their home island. This project prepares and provides support to three communities on Bougainville in order to ensure there is adequate land, infrastructure, and economic opportunities for the Carteret Islanders when they choose to voluntarily relocate. The purpose of this project is to ensure that the Carteret culture and society continues to exist even after their home island becomes unlivable.

Ursula 2

Ursula Rakova was called upon by the Carteret Elders to lead Tulle Peisa. She accepted the award on behalf of Tulle Peisa. Photo Source: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Thin Lei Win

Overall, the Gender Just Climate Solution awards highlighted amazing groups led by inspiring women who are all working to ensure that climate change decision making provides equal access for both women and men to effectively participate and address local concerns caused by the effects of a changing climate.


Are State INDC Mitigation Pledges Strong Enough?

 

UNEP

Today at COP21, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) hosted a joint presentation on the 2015 UNEP Emissions Gap Report. This sixth Emissions Gap Report was published in November 2015. The report assesses country mitigation commitments based off their submitted INDCs. Then it compares the resulting emission levels for 2030 with what scientific studies require in order for the world to be on track to stay within the maximum global temperature increase goal of 2°C. Many of the report’s authors attended the presentation and the official presenters of the report included:

Mr. Steiner explained that based on current INDCs, GHG emissions would decrease 25% by 2030. While this reduction shows progress, it is still not sufficient to achieve the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 2°C by 2100. As the INDCs stand today, accounting for both conditional and unconditional mitigation pledges, the COP is 50% of the way to achieving a GHG reduction of 42 GtCO2e, the amount needed to stay within 2°C. The fact that current INDCs are halfway to their reduction goals indicates that significant further mitigation efforts are required. Mr. Steiner stressed that the Parties have not run out of time to reach their goal, but the longer they wait the less cost-effective and more difficult it becomes to successfully achieve these mitigation goals. Mitigation action over the next four years, or during the pre-2020 timeframe, is material to staying within the 2°C threshold. With each passing year, the risk of inequity grows exponentially between developed countries and countries most vulnerable to climate change; this inequity is unacceptable because many vulnerable State Parties are already paying a higher price as they suffer more and more extreme weather events caused by climate change.

The UNFCCC Director of Strategy, Mr. Thorgeirsson, furthered the discussion on INDCs with three interesting, and mostly optimistic, reflections. First, he explained that the 2°C and 1.5°C temperature goals, which are often called long-term goals, are not necessarily at odds with one another. According to Mr. Thorgeirsson, the 2°C limit would serve as “a guardrail or defense line,” meaning that at bare minimum Parties’ mitigation efforts would limit the global temperature increase to 2°C, but this guardrail would be supplemented with the aspirational goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Ultimately, Mr. Thorgersson believes the two temperature goals should converge to create a joint narrative.

In his second reflective thought, Mr. Thorgeirsson encouraged the audience to not be disheartened by the submitted INDCs because the mitigation commitments in these documents reflect current realities based on current technologies and political situations. Therefore as technologies and political situations evolve so will mitigation pledges.

Lastly, Mr. Thorgersoon declared that answering the question of whether the Parties are on the right track in their mitigation efforts is an impossible question to address. States across the globe are in the process of transitioning from a fossil-fuel economy to economies based on different assumptions. These new types of economies contain many unknown factors that make it difficult to definitively know the effect of the Party’s mitigation pledges.

Ms. Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientist for UNEP, was the final presenter of the 2015 UNEP Emissions Gap Report. In her presentation, Ms. McGlade explained that the UNEP report has been released in various stages in order to capture and present more accurate carbon emissions data as more Parties submit their INDCs to the UNFCCC. This drafting difficulty is an on-going dilemma. Ms. McGlade explained that over 40 INDCs have been submitted since the latest stage of the UNEP report was released. She then assured the crowd that after COP21 concluded she and her team would resume updating their study to reflect the new mitigation pledges.

Ms. McGlade concluded the presentation with a final call to action, explaining that under the current INDC mitigation pledges there is a 66% chance of the global temperature increasing 3-4°C by 2100. A temperature increase of 3-4°C would result in catastrophic effects, but with focus and action the 1.5-2°C goals can still be reached. The COP21 process has revealed an unprecedented level of engagement in addressing climate change as an international issue. This engagement is a promising indicator that the Parties’ are committed to successfully fulfilling their long-term mitigation goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5-2°C.


Religion & Climate Change: How the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change Affects COP Negotiations

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger [of] ending life as we know it on our planet.” Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change

Islamic Declaration Photo

On August, 18th, 2015, a group of Muslim scholars, leaders, scientists, and clergy members made a call to action in the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul. This call to action urged the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and all nations across the globe to actively combat climate change by phasing out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and by committing to a 100% renewable energy strategy. The declaration specifically calls upon the Conference of Parties (COP) to “bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion” at the December 2015, meeting of the Parties in Paris.

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change is part of a movement by many faiths and denominations who are all calling on governments to take action at COP21 in Paris. In June, Pope Francis released an encyclical letter declaring climate change a moral issue that must be addressed. Additionally, over 300 rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption. With over 84% of the world’s population religiously affiliated global support by faith groups for effective climate action has the potential to reach large audiences.

In response to the Islamic Declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said:

A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other. Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.

Global responses to the Islamic Declaration have been overwhelmingly positive. For example, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, welcomed the declaration “with great joy, and in a spirit of solidarity.” He pledged that the Catholic Church would work with the declaration’s authors to protect their common earthly home. Additionally, NGO’s such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund have commended the declaration as a positive display of climate leadership.

So far the actual effect of the Islamic Declaration is unclear. While the majority of country Parties with high Muslim populations have filed INDCs, the quality of pledges has greatly varied. For example, Climate Action Tracker rated Morocco’s INDC as sufficient based on the country’s target reduction goals. A sufficient rating is encouraging because it means that Morocco’s targets are ambitious and that Morocco is pledging to its “fair share” of global efforts to keep warming below 2°C.  Conversely, Climate Action Tracker rated both Turkey’s INDC and Indonesia’s INDC as inadequate.

Even though INDC’s for Muslim countries do not definitively support the Islamic Declaration, many news sources still view the declaration as a step in the right direction because it “turns up the heat” for government officials by signaling an ongoing shift in the zeitgeist, or spirit of our time. In the words of Bill McKibben, “[t]he real effect of documents like these, though, is less immediate policy shifts than a change in the emotional climate. Most of us identify with one or several groups—Islam or Christendom, our alma mater or our union. As these begin to emphasize an issue, it becomes easier to make it part of our mental furniture.”


Animal Adaptation to Climate Change: Looking Through the Lens of the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly

Climate change affects animals. This is not a new revelation. The first IPCC Assessment Report, released in 1990, discusses how climate change negatively impacts polar bears. But the conversation on animals and climate change often neglects the stories of how animals survive by adapting to climate changed conditions.

Many species adapt by broadening their diets and changing other behaviors, such as migrating patterns, mating habits, and hibernation lengths. For example, the National Wildlife Federation reports that the Quino checkerspot butterfly was disappearing in the late 1990’s. The butterfly was dying because hot weather in California was causing its host plant to dry out before any caterpillars could enter adulthood.

This endangered subspecies was considered a “goner,” but then the Quino did something surprising. Surrounded by desert, the butterfly could not migrate butterflynorth to wetter terrain. Instead, it moved to higher ground. The Quino population resettled at a higher elevation and most importantly, adapted to using a new host plant. This adaptation is exciting because it indicates what one scientist calls “a genetic revolution.”

Moving to a new host plant isn’t as easy as it sounds. The butterfly genes governing its search image and its natural instinct to lay eggs on a particular plant have to change. This one genetic change can create a domino effect on the genetic make-up of the Quino. For instance, the butterfly might have to alter the number of eggs it lays because of the new host plant’s capacity to nourish young caterpillars. In turn, the young caterpillars might need to develop new enzymes in order to eat the new host plant.

If the decision to move to a higher elevation is able to change what type of enzymes the next generation of Quino produces, the capacity for animal adaptation to climate change is immense. This past summer, researchers discovered polar bears have started eating dolphins. As northern seas become ice free, dolphins are migrating farther north, which in turn provides starving polar bears a new source of food.

Animal adaptation to climate change will not stop global warming, but it does illustrate why the UNFCCC is making an effort to enable the human animal to adjust to a climate-changed world. In order to mitigate climate change, humans must be able to adapt to the changes already occurring. The new agreement draft text shows that Parties are trying to balance mitigation and adaptation efforts in their commitments to address climate change concerns.