Bipolar on Climate Change at COP24

Choose one word to describe the results of COP24 and the state of climate change today. Bipolar … dramatically bipolar. We find ourselves torn between despair and hope, between optimiScreen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.08.08 PMsm and realism, between real progress and a Paris rulebook with no rules. Though Polish officials declared success, really the Paris rulebook that came from COP24 is an agreement to disagree and try again later.

The good news is that after weeks of marathon, overnight negotiating sessions the parties came to a 133 page agreement reflecting years of work since the Paris Agreement. What the agreement does do is affirm the Paris Agreement and allow parties to move forward. What it purports to do, but really does not do, is establish the framework, the rulebook as it is called. Yes, there is progress in the agreement, but to call it the rulebook it was supposed to be – that just stretches too far.

The World Resources Institute identified four key elements needed for a Paris Agreement rulebook: 1) common timeframes; 2) reporting and accounting methodologies; 3) transitioning to the new transparency framework; and 4) effective peer review processes. Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.26.14 PMOn common timeframes the agreement states that they agree there should be common time frames, they should discuss it in June 2019, and then approved by the COP with even a reference to what year it should be approved by deleted from the final text.   The development of a registry that would hold all the NDCs is critical to transparency and access by the public which helps hold Parties accountable. Here again the agreement agrees to have the UNFCCC work on a prototype, but it is subject to confirmation at the COP in November 2019 – another indicator that there were a couple of issues, particularly regarding a search function, that the parties could not agree on. Parties could not agree on the features each NDC should have and pushed consideration of further guidance out until 2024. The Parties did agree (per the Paris Agreement) that they would submit the NDCs based on common information in Annex I and be held accountable via common information in Annex II. However, they could not agree on how “target” should be defined and so the final text simply states – “general description of the target.” Still these Annex’s do call for the information required to at least have a skeleton framework for transparency.

The real big failure at COP24 was a complete breakdown on Article 6. All of the work on cooperative approaches and Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes, (see my earlier blog posts here and here) the work that enables the investment by developed countries into developing countries that is needed to accelerate progress, all of these sections were tabled until next year. They will use the progress in negotiations as a starting point, but without some agreement we cannot begin to create global markets that investors will trust enough to invest in.

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.22.10 PMFundamentally, they agreed – thus moving the Paris Agreement forward – to disagree – thus hampering acceleration and progress. As the Assistant Secretary General Elliot Harris quoted Vermont’s Bill McKibben: “If we don’t win very quickly in climate change, then we will never win. … Winning slowly is the same as losing.”

Despair and Hope: Throughout the week there was an endless stream of somber information regarding the reality we are facing.   The new UN Emissions Gap Report indicates the gap between what is being done and what is needed has grown significantly while countries fail to perform to their commitments. Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.19.57 PMFrom estimates that climate change will drive 140 million people to move within a little over 50 years as projected in the World Bank Group Report to entire countries and cultures being obliterated in the Marshall Islands. From the Unites States government report of a 10% impact on the economy double that of the recent great recession that will exacerbate environmental, social and economic inequalities – to the sad reality that we most likely cannot save our coral reefs and arctic ice is disintegrating at a faster pace that scientists had ever predicted.     AND YET, we must have hope to move forward – we cannot be crippled by despair. Climate change action is also predicted to yield direct economic gains of $26 trillion according to the New Climate Economy Report.Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.17.19 PM

Frankly that is the world we face now. One where we must simultaneously face the extreme consequences of our apparent failure while maintaining hope that if EVERY ONE OF US does our part we might, just might, avoid catastrophic failure.

“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” Everyday we will face and experience despair, and every day we must be bipolar and choose hope.


Feminist Electrification is about Health Care!

The United Nations Climate Action Awards were announced on December 11Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 10.58.13 PM at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24). One of the 15 Momentum for Change awards went to EarthSpark International for their work on energy poverty. Globally energy poverty is understood as a lack of access to modern energy services.  As I discuss in my October 14 blog, over three billion people rely on wood, charcoal, or dung for cooking resulting in more than 4 million deaths per year from household air pollution. Electrification IS about health.

Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 10.48.11 PMEarthSpark recognizes this crisis and also the disproportionate affect on women in rural areas. Women tend to be the ones that travel hours and hours per day collecting fuel. They also tend to be the ones tending and breathing these smoky fires for cooking. The EarthSpark winning project has a gender lens they refer to as “feminist electrification.” The projects range from small-scale clean energy projects such as solar lanterns and efficient cooktops to their current project creating 80 community scale microgrids in Haiti to bring electrification to these rural communities. These types of projects help address many of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

There are still 1.2 billion people without access to electricity. 1.2 billion people Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 10.58.27 PMthat can’t refrigerate food, cook on a stove, run a light to read by, or charge a phone to communicate (yes most rural communication is by cell phone). We have an opportunity to leverage today’s technology to bring smart infrastructure to these communities while we equalize gender opportunity.  Let’s build it right the first time!


Act NOW with the LONG view in mind.

Every report and every session at COP24 has emphasized that we need to do more – faster – sooner – NOW.  Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 1.18.46 AM There is also a real emphasis on the importance of long term planning – of looking to at least 2050.   Long term planning matters in climate change policy for three primary reasons.

First, a long-term strategy can inform short-term actions. For example, if a developing country understands and incorporates into its strategy electrification for its rural residents through renewables, then it can effectively bypass investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.   Developing countries still need to grow to meet the needs of their residents – but the paradigm shift must move from expanding to grow to intensifying to grow. Long-term investments in energy and water infrastructure must be done with this long-term strategy. But the developed world needs to assist the developing world in identifying what the future looks like so they can leap frog.

Second, a long-term strategy can help bring people together around a common vision because it goes beyond the immediate economic consequence to sectors or individuals. There are tradeoffs, people and industries that are impacted by the transition we must make. The more time we have, the easier it is to forge consensus about how we get there and do so justly and equitably. Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 1.19.11 AMPeople may disagree on tomorrow – but it is easier to agree in the long term. Long-term visions can also provide certainty for the private sector accelerating investment.

Third, building off the previous two, is the ability to create the more ambitious trajectory we need to save our planet. To be ambitious we must build the political support from the ground up. To be ambitious we must provide enough certainty to motivate investors to invest in the development of new technology and the projects that will build our future. To be ambitious we must not only understand where we need to go, but develop the strategies on how to get there.

For more information on long-term strategy, go to the World Resources Institute website for a collection of expert perspectives, case studies, and working papers.

 


Voluntary Cooperation (ITMOs) the Unknown Monster

An important item under negotiation at COP24 is the concept of voluntary cooperation in mitigation. Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 3.08.55 AMThis item is of huge importance as developing countries need funding and financing to engage in low-carbon development and adaptation but they don’t have mandatory mitigation targets. Developed countries are the ones with the economic resources but they also need ways to meet their mitigation targets. This is where the cooperation comes in: a developed country finances a project in a developing country and gets credit for some of the mitigation toward meeting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).   These are called Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes or ITMOs. But what are the rules around when and how these transfers can occur and how they are accounted for? Transparency, accurate accounting and avoiding fraud are essential to creating a system of integrity. (See my previous blog on blockchain for part of the potential solution.)

Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement is intended to provide some direction but it does so by leaving discretion to the Parties by saying that the framework should be consistent with guidance adopted by the COP. It does however specify that the framework needs to provide guidance to ensure that double counting is avoided. Michael Mehling of MIT released a report recently as part of the Harvard Project on Climate AgreementsGoverning Cooperative Approaches under the Paris Agreement. A concern identified by Michael Mehling is that this system could create a perverse incentive for developing countries to have low NDCs so that they can sell their ITMOs. Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 3.09.35 AMBecause NDCs are by definition nationally determined this cannot be addressed directly. However, the report stresses that the parties should be careful not to over-regulate with restrictions as it may limit participation and increase transaction costs. Mehling stated that lacking ambition in NDCs cannot be compensated for with restrictions on the cooperative approach. “Whatever its final shape, the governance framework for Article 6.2 should avoid being too weak or too restrictive, as either outcome would diminish the very benefits that prompted introduction of compliance flexibility in the first place.” (Mehling from Summary Doc.)

The advantage to voluntary cooperation through ITMOs is that it effectively creates a market mechanism, it provides ways to achieve mitigation at a lower cost and should facilitate an overall increase in ambition. However, Juan Pedro Sira, a negotiator on this issue at COP24, said that when the concept was developed in Paris they didn’t know the kind of monster they were creating.

The key is that simple rules are created that are transparent and robust in terms of environmental integrity by addressing ambition, agility, and transparency.   This will help create predictability benefitting developing countries that want to create projects ready for this process and private investors that want to invest. The sense is that this issue is very complicated but extremely important to the success of increasing ambition sufficient to avoid our pending disaster.


Using Blockchain to Avoid Double Counting While Empowering Everyone to be Part of the Solution

Today’s side event at COP24 for Blockchain Technology for Enhanced Climate Action emphasized the importance of distributed ledger technology (DLT) to accelerate mitigation solutions for climate change and empower non-country parties to work together. The event featured the Climate Chain Coalition Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.12.56 AMfounded just one year ago but already bringing together 140 organizations with a mission to mobilize climate finance and enhance monitoring, reporting and verification of climate goals.

Blockchain technology is a form of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). (For a good explanation of this technology see this World Bank Group 2017 report.)Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.22.55 AM It functions as a decentralized database that can securely store data and digital assets, like environmental credits or certificates. Transparency is increased because the data recorded on the blockchain is a permanent ledger that cannot be modified. Trust between parties is increased because the data is not stored in a centralized location but rather through peer-to-peer transactions. Transaction costs are reduced enabling much smaller transactions that are accessible to more individuals.

A new report issued this week by the Climate Ledger Initiative (a collaboration of several think tanks aiming to accelerate climate action) Navigating Blockchain and Climate Action identified three main areas where blockchain has the most potential to accelerate climate action: 1) next generation registries and tracking systems; 2) digitizing measuring, reporting and verification; and 3) creating decentralized access to clean energy and finance.

The UNFCC has identified blockchain technology as a disruptive technology that has the potential to solve the solution to the main challenge of “how do you attribute the climate contribution while avoiding double counting.” Under the Paris Agreement (PA), a country steps up by submitting their commitment to mitigation measures as their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Theoretically, the development and continued revision of these NDCs will govern the Parties and their climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. But the Paris Agreement also encourages developed countries to finance projects in developing countries. Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 5.41.57 PMWho gets the credit toward the NDC – the country financing the project or the country implementing the project? How do we ensure that one country (or entity) doesn’t take credit at one stage of a project and another take credit at a different stage? The security and transparency of blockchain may be the solution. (However, keep a healthy dose of skepticism, said CEO of Goldstandard, Marion Verles, because many times technology solutions are being proposed that don’t actually solve the real world problem.)

Climate change is the seminal issue of our generation and requires all hands on deck. As Massamba Thioye of the UNFCCC said today, “We need to mobilize ALL stakeholders, suppliers, financiers, consumers, citizens, policy makers so that they make the right investment.” The challenge being faced is how do we all work on the solution and create market incentives. Ms. Verles identified the importance of DLT technology in the supply chain to help corporations get the critical data they need to make decisions on the impact that a good has on the planet (carbon impact, water impact, etc).

See GLOCHA - the Global Citizen Empowerment System

See GLOCHA – the Global Citizen Empowerment System for Full Poster

This information can move to the end consumer. If you knew, and could compare, the carbon impact of items you were purchasing, would you pay a little more to make a cleaner purchase? The bottom line is that blockchain has the potential to add a value stream to products that represents the intentional choices of individuals, companies, and countries to work toward a cleaner, safer planet.

(Note bitcoin uses blockchain technology in a very energy intensive manner that is not healthy for our planet – see fellow VLS student Ben Canellys blog here.)

 


Two New UNFCCC Reports Emphasize Using Cooperative Initiatives and Non-Parties to Boost Ambition in NDC’s

Two more reports with Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 4.37.16 PMdire warnings and cautious optimism were issued last week  from the UNFCCC. They illustrate that not enough is being done to slow the growth of GHG emissions and suggest that collective participation through cooperative initiatives and non-party work is necessary to boost the ambition of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
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On November 20th, the UNFCCC issued the Talanoa Synthesis Report. The Talanoa Synthesis Report summarizes the preparatory phase of the Talanoa Dialogue which was initiated at COP23 and provides a basis for upcoming political phase at COP24 and beyond.   Based on a series of reports submitted under the Talanoa Dialogue, not only do ‘NDCs fall well short’ but even ‘their full implementation would lead to a median increase in global temperatures of about 3.2 C by 2100’(2.2.1). However, many of the reports submitted also expressed the opinion that everyone has something to contribute and the importance of multilateralism (2.3).

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 4.07.33 PMAlso on November 20th, the UNFCCC issued the Yearbook for Global Climate Action 2018 under the Marrackech Partnership. The report highlights that climate action is growing globally and that cooperative initiatives are increasingly delivering outputs in low or middle-income countries. The report emphasizes that NDCs alone cannot meet the Paris Agreement goal. We need non-party stakeholders to drive change and help push ambition on NDCs. We need the success of these cooperative initiatives.

The Talanoa purpose is to share stories and build empathy in order to make wise decisions for the collective good.  We must reach out to others to put the puzzle pieces together.  Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 4.13.23 PMAs the Parties are set to meet in Katowice, Poland for COP24 it is no wonder that both reports emphasize the absolute necessity of cooperation and collective action as well as more ambitious NDCs to achieve success.


Energy Justice: Mitigation, Adaptation, AND Sustainable Development Goals in the IPCC Special Report

Cooking in MyanmarOver three billion people rely on wood, charcoal or dung for cooking, with primarily women spending 15-30 hours per week collecting these resources. Household Air Pollution (HAP) results in over 4 million deaths a year. The second most impactful climate change pollutant is black carbon and HAP contributes 25% of black carbon. Clearly, we can integrate mitigation, adaptation, AND sustainable development.

The first sentence of the Global Warming of 1.5°C IPCC Special Report references the Paris Agreement’s enhanced objective “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” (Article 2) The IPCC report references and builds on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved and adopted by national leaders in September 2015. The SDGs consist of 17 goals and 169 targetsSustainable Goals developed as a sustainability framework. Top goals include the elimination of poverty and hunger; an increase in health, education, and gender equality; and access to clean water, sanitation and affordable energy. Additional goals address economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, sustainable cities and responsible consumption, life below water and on land, climate action, peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals.

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 1.29.54 PMThe IPCC report highlights one of the largest differences between 1.5°C and 2°C as the disproportionate impact on poor and vulnerable populations, furthering inequities. However, addressing these inequities through sustainable development can also become a positive. One bright spot in an otherwise dire report is the potential for significant synergies between sustainable development with mitigation and adaptation strategies. But ONLY IF we think about the issues holistically and find mechanisms to cooperate internationally. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement recognizes “the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches” and mentions supporting and promoting sustainable development in Paragraphs 1,2,4, and 9. A failure to consider mitigation and adaptation strategies in the context of sustainable development and the SDGScreen Shot 2018-09-30 at 1.28.58 PMs could result in the opposite effect of creating long term negative impacts on the health and survival of those populations that contributed the least to the problem and have extremely limited resources to weather the consequences.

Let’s strengthen our sustainable development goals through enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and provide some accountability with some teeth in Katowice.