COP22/CMA1: Transparent Reflections

1114161521aWhile transparency forms the backbone of the Paris Agreement, COP22/CMA1 did not proceed in a very transparent manner. Nevertheless, parties made progress behind mostly closed doors toward a more transparent future. Additionally, the assistance our observer delegation was able to offer to our service learning partner made this experience especially meaningful.

In light of how quickly the world ratified the Paris Agreement, the APA made notable progress in its 1-2 session. In the context of the transparency framework, global stocktake, and implementation articles (Art. 13, 14, and 15 of the Paris Agreement), the APA did not fully develop the PA’s framework, but it nevertheless made progress. In its decision on Monday, the APA set a roadmap to resolve the major issues in the near future. Parties have the opportunity to make submissions early next year on the transparency framework, global stocktake, and implementation committee, which are guided by questions in the decision text. Then for transparency, the APA will host a workshop in May before the Bonn intersessional to address the parties’ submissions. While plenty of work remains, the parties at APA 1-2 achieved progress by creating a plan to expedite this work. The Bonn intersessional will provide more insight as to what the transparency framework, global stocktake, and implementation articles will look like under the PA.

One irony of the entire process, however, was that observers like us were excluded from a majority of the negotiation sessions this week. Parties discussed most of their disagreements behind closed doors, and only allowed observers to sit in after they reached a consensus. While some privacy among negotiating groups is expected, observers this week could only be in the room for a handful of the action. This runs contrary to the spirit of the Paris Agreement itself, which strives for integrated transparency.

1116161052However, even without a party badge, the limited sessions I attended and the side events were very enriching. These discussions provided an insightful peek into the world of multilateral negotiations. Reading about the negotiations and outcomes only scratches the surface; being in the room allows observers to feel the emotions of the parties during negotiations. It is an experience you simply cannot learn in a classroom setting.

Additionally, while watching these developments unfold was an invaluable experience, the work our delegation performed for our service learning partner was the most meaningful. Choosing side events and negotiation sessions based on their interests added another dimension to the work we were doing at COP22. One notable challenge included framing daily notes and the end-of-the-week briefing for a non-legal audience. It forced me to really think about transparency from multiple perspectives so that I could relay the information in a way that made it applicable to their interests.

Both our service learning partner and I felt frustrated at times with how slow the international legal process moves. While the transparency framework was set to be established by the CMA1 at its first session, the world ratified the Agreement faster than anyone ever imagined, and the APA could not complete all of the mandated work so quickly. Therefore, while the process may feel slow, the international momentum behind the Paris Agreement is huge. This spirit of immediate action on climate change persisted throughout COP22/CMA1, and there is good reason to be optimistic about the future.

Backbone of the Paris Agreement has undertones in ICAO’s CORSIA scheme

International aviation emissions are not explicitly addressed under the Paris Agreement, but their successful regulation nevertheless relies on the same elements of transparency and global stocktake as in Articles 13 and 14 of the Agreement.

Earlier this fall, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) passed the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) as one of the tools in its “basket of measures” to obtain carbon neutral growth by 2020. While there are many tools in this basket that are designed to work together to achieve ICAO’s carbon neutral goal, CORSIA, the final tool, strives to fill gaps with offsets. However, several details surrounding these offsets remain unclear.

Jos Delbeke offers his perspective on ICAO’s CORSIA at COP22

Regardless of the specific details on CORSIA’s offsets, one thing is clear: transparency will be essential to its success. Like Article 13 of the Paris Agreement, transparency will help build trust among the parties. It will deter cheating and allow other countries to hold each other accountable. ICAO will provide transparency through a registry, which is currently under development.

In addition, CORSIA contains a counterpart to the global stocktake in Paris Agreement Article 14. Beginning in 2022, the CORSIA offset scheme will be reviewed every three years. At today’s panel on ICAO’s offsetting scheme, Jos Delbeke, Director General, DG CLIMA, European Commission recommended that ICAO use this review to vamp up the ambition of the scheme. He suggested that these reviews take into account scientific evidence to be sure the scheme is in line with the global goal of keeping the earth’s temperature increase below 2˚C (with efforts to stay below 1.5˚C). In this way, ICAO could bolster NDCs from the parties to the Paris Agreement.

The enormous momentum behind the Paris Agreement has spurred climate action among various entities, like ICAO, who do not fall directly under the treaty. However, in addition to momentum, the Paris Agreement has also provided a model for transparency and global stocktake that these entities can use when creating their own climate actions. Together, these elements will be essential to keeping temperature rises below 2˚ or 1.5˚C in the coming years


Subnationals around the world stepping up to combat climate change


Panel discusses city climate change initiatives at COP22 side event

While only sovereign countries can be parties to the Paris Agreement, that fact has not prevented cities, states, and regions from stepping up to take their own climate actions. Several subnational entities have joined groups like the C40 and Under 2 MOU, which create voluntary agreements to reduce emissions and develop more sustainable municipalities. Under the NDCs submitted so far, the parties to the Paris Agreement have not been stringent enough to meet the 2˚C (much less the 1.5˚C) goal. As a result of this and increasing urbanization, subnational actions will be crucial to protecting the earth from the devastating effects of climate change.

Subnationals have taken several approaches to becoming more sustainable. For example, the City of Edmonton, Canada, has focused on providing citizens with accurate climate change science information while stomping out climate change myths. Kaoshiung, Taiwan, on the other hand, created a month-long “Ecomobility World Festival” where citizens were not allowed to drive vehicles down particular roads; these roads were only for pedestrians and bicyclers. Kaoshiung used this event to help change residents’ behavior, which is an essential, but difficult piece of climate change policy. It will hold another “Ecomobility World Festival,” this time only a week long from Oct. 1-5, 2017. Individual states have also voluntarily committed to climate action. For example, the State of California has committed to various goals, including reducing its emissions by 40% by 2030. Vermont has also set a goal to obtain its energy from 90% renewable sources by 2050. Regardless of the United States’ national stance on climate change in the coming years, these individual states (and others) are committed to achieving environmental objectives.

In addition to coming up with unique ideas to address climate change, subnationals also frequently exchange ideas with one another to help other cities, states, and regions follow suit. Despite their lack of ability to make formal commitments under the Paris Agreement, subnatonals will play an important role in the future of the global environment.

Parties come to decision on transparency framework



APA celebrated a successful transparency framework negotiation with a group photo

Today the subsidiary bodies winded down in preparation for the first session of the CMA to begin tomorrow. Happily, APA discussions around transparency framework modalities, procedures, and guidelines (MPGs); Global Stocktake; and Implementation generally ended on a high note. In particular, the APA informal meeting on transparency framework this morning left parties in good spirits.

The decision was unanimously and enthusiastically adopted by the parties. On Saturday, APA Co-Facilitators created a draft informal note that captured the Parties’ views on transparency framework developments.  This note highlighted a work plan, which includes an organization scheme, tools for success, and future steps for the parties to take regarding the transparency framework.

Several components of the work plan merit highlighting. First, the countries acknowledge work should proceeding in a “balanced, holistic and logical manner.” During discussions today, the importance of this point was reiterated by several parties. In addition, the draft note states that the CMA1 will continue to build on the transparency framework during its session, so the APA’s end does not signal the conclusion of transparency discussions this week. As for the tools under the work plan, the parties intend to use workshops in advance of APA sessions, submissions before intersessional workshops, and potentially technical or synthesis papers in the future. Finally, the next steps include submissions in response to specific questions in the draft decision, and a workshop in 2017 ahead of the Bon conference in May.

Today, the parties met to discuss this draft note. Party after party exuberantly supported the note. In their statements, several parties acknowledged the fantastic cooperation among the group. In fact, China was met with a round of applause when it called for a group photo to commemorate this group’s successful negotiations. More substantively, many parties reiterated support of proceeding quickly in a balanced fashion to achieve the goals of the transparency framework.

While much work remains on the MPGs of the transparency framework, the parties’ enthusiasm for urgent and cooperative work moving forward shows much promise for Bon in May 2017 and beyond. As the backbone of the Paris Agreement, robust transparency framework will set the stage for the parties to meet their goals in other articles of the Agreement as well. These developments, therefore, are key to preventing the global temperature from rising more than 1.5–2 degrees Celsius. In the next few months, parties will begin to address the specific components of the MPGs, enhancing the transparency under the Convention, flexibility for developing countries, and more.

In addition to transparency framework, the APA also wrapped up the discussions on the global stocktake and implementation articles under the Paris Agreement. These items both leave several questions unanswered that parties will work to develop in the coming months.

The APA was scheduled to conclude its session this evening, but at the request of the parties, APA1-2 was suspended. It will resume discussions in May 2017 at Bonn.

Global aviation CO2 emissions cap almost clear for takeoff

While global aircraft emissions do not fall under the purview of the Paris Agreement, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has nevertheless been making strides toward regulating aviation carbon dioxide emissions.

Photo: Miranda Jensen

New ICAO scheme seeks to cap CO2 emissions at 2020 levels. Photo: Miranda Jensen

Last week at the conclusion of its 39th Assembly Meeting, ICAO members recommended for adoption “the first-ever global market-based measure adopted by an entire industry sector.” The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) standards are designed as market-based measures to work alongside the airline industry’s whole “basket of measures,” with the goal of achieving “carbon neutral growth from 2020.” Other tools in the basket include technology improvements, alternative fuels, and operational changes.

The airline industry is among the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide emissions, currently responsible for more than 3% of the world’s GHG emissions and projected to “increase seven times by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.” While aircraft manufacturers have already made significant progress on the technology front, ICAO claims that those developments alone would not achieve carbon neutral growth.

CORSIA will complement other developments in aircraft emissions regulation. Earlier this year, ICAO proposed the first global carbon dioxide emissions standards for aircraft. These standards call on aircraft manufacturers to use certain technologies in new models of aircraft starting in 2020 in order to improve fuel efficiency. Together with the other items in the basket of measures, these carbon dioxide emissions standards and the CORSIA program will help mitigate the aviation industry’s impact on climate change.

According to ICAO’s 2016 Environmental Report and Appendix B of the draft resolution, the CORSIA scheme requires airlines to purchase offsets to compensate for their portions of carbon dioxide emissions that exceed the country’s baseline. This baseline is calculated based on airline market shares and the country’s projected 2020 aviation emissions levels. The program will apply in a series of phases. The pilot phase (2021­­­–2023) and first phase (2024–2026) will both be voluntary for any country that would like to begin participating in the program before 2027. Indeed, a surprising number of countries have already signed up to do so. In the pilot phase, countries will have flexibility to choose the basis for offsets whereas the first phase will require a specific calculation for determining the offsets. CORSIA goes live in 2027, when all countries except LDCs, SIDS, LLDCs, and “states with very low levels of international aviation activity,” will be required to implement the scheme. However, if one or both countries on the route is exempt and not participating in the program, CORSIA offsets will not apply to that route.

Some claim that ICAO’s CORSIA scheme does not go far enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Groups like Transport and Environment question the effectiveness of offsets and argue that the standards are not rigid enough to achieve carbon neutral growth. However, others such as Boeing are supportive of these new measures, applauding ICAO for helping industry curb aviation emissions.

In addition to these developments at ICAO, the United States has also been constructing the framework to regulate aviation GHG emissions. In August, EPA issued an endangerment finding, which concluded that six greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) “endanger public health and welfare” under the Clean Air Act. This conclusion paves the way for EPA to regulate aircraft emissions domestically.