EU: Matching the walk and talk

Climate Policy JournalFor the EU’s climate change leadership to succeed, it must understand how its policies have performed to curb the EU carbon footprint to date.  This new article in Climate Policy analyzes the structure of the EU’s carbon footprint, as well as its drivers.  Importantly, it uses consumption-based carbon accounting rather than the usual territorial approach, to more fully understand how developed countries (and their policies) affect GHG emissions.  In this way, the portions of carbon footprint due to domestic and international trade drivers are made more clear and permit policy development apt for each set of circumstances.

The article’s key takeaways:

  • The EU has reduced its overall carbon footprint by 8% since 2007, primarily due to more efficient technology.  but at a slower rate than production-based emissions, and rarely faster than GDP growth.
  • Emissions associated with imported goods comprise one-third of the EU carbon footprint, which “grew strongly” until 2008 and have stabilized since then.
  • Consumption growth has had a much greater impact on the EU carbon footprint than the offshoring of production.
  • Trade, as reflected in both imports and exports, is important for the EU manufacturing sector, reflecting increased trade intensity related to specialization, not “wholesale ‘de-industrialisation’”.
  • At least two major sources of imported GHGs – mining and agriculture – are largely unavoidable results of European consumption patterns because they cannot not realistically occur within the EU.

Is this the EU’s time?

ursulaIn what was viewed as a surprise candidacy, Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s former defense minister, was elected president of the European Commission last week.  In a speech she gave just before the vote, von der Leyen laid out an unequivocal plan for EU leadership on climate change that includes:

  • increasing the ambition of the EU’s NDC to a 50% (rather than the current 40%) reduction by 2030 of GHG emissions from 1990 levels.
  • launching a Green Deal for Europe in her first 100 days in office that would legally bind Europe to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It also includes a biodiversity strategy, more emissions-trading, and a tax on companies “leaking” carbon by manufacturing in less stringent locales.
  • investing €1 / US$1.1 trillion over the next decade into climate projects, using the European Investment Bank for climate and clean-energy projects throughout the EU.

As we’ve blogged before, the Trump Administration’s lack of leadership on climate change has left a power vacuum that the EU and China have stepped into, in various ways. As John Kerry was quoted post COP24, “the Chinese understand what’s at stake.” The election of this EC president and her climate agenda is the boldest one to date. It’s an open question whether she can bring along coal-dependent countries like Poland and political parties like the Greens, who didn’t vote for her because she wasn’t bold enough.

Regardless of the inevitable compromises made along the way, it will be exciting to watch her lead on climate change, especially the steps that she takes during the next 100 days.  As Claudia Kemfert of the German Institute for Economic Research observed, “The Green Deal is groundbreaking and will create huge economic opportunities by opening up new markets and avoiding climate damage. Europe will set standards in this way.”

Maybe the specter of so publicly losing this advantage will spur US industry to push the Trump Administration more? Or help ensure that a new resident in the White House will lead on climate change when the Paris Agreement goes into full effect in 2020?

The Katowice Rulebook – and then some

image1024x768When the dust finally settled in Katowice in the wee hours of Sunday morning, December 16 – two days after COP24 was slated to conclude – a fair chunk of the needed Paris Agreement implementation guidelines were agreed on in COP decision.

Much was written about the outcomes right after. All point to the progress in providing detail for all of the Articles listed on the PAWP, except Article 6 on cooperative (markets) mechanisms. C2ES acknowledged the Rulebook achievement as “pivotal” while noting concern that the politics surrounding the COP’s tepid acceptance of the IPCC 1.5C report might signal the lack of high-level political leadership for putting them into practice. The World Resources Institute (WRI) concluded that “while not perfect, the Rulebook provides an important foundation for countries to move forward and operationalize the Paris Agreement.”  Carbon Brief noted that “countries wrestled with the ‘four-dimensional spaghetti’ of competing priorities as they clashed over how to recognize the IPCC special report on 1.5C ” and use those findings to spur greater ambition in the 2020 NDC revisions. The Wuppertal Institute saw the Rulebook as helping the Paris Agreement ship move out of dry dock – finally.

Here is my take on the three key Paris Agreement articles and their attendant COP24 guidelines, and how Parties “got to not no” on them.

The Article 4 guidelines on mitigation aspects of NDCs come in four decisions.  Decision 4/CMA.1 conveys the NDC information that Parties are expected to use when making mitigation pledges, beginning with their 2020 updates.  Annex 1 of the decision details the kinds of information required “to facilitate clarity, transparency, and understanding (CTU),” like base lines, time frames, scope of coverage, and methodologies. Annex 2 mandates using IPCC emissions accounting guidance,unless it cannot be applied to that kind of NDC pledge. Decision 5/CMA.1 sets out how to use the public registry for recording these NDCs.  Getting to not no on these guidelines was relatively easy.  On the technical level, most of these categories of information have been under discussion since COP19 and have been used under the Kyoto Protocol.  So few surprises, and sufficient time to get used to and make comprises on some.  On the political level, given that Parties retain the right to self determine what kind of mitigation pledge they make, the technical component form follows the nationally determined function … meaning that the pages of CTU information required ONLY apply once a Party makes a pledge that invokes them.  Again, given that Protocol countries are accustomed to gathering and communicating this kind of information, they had little to oppose.  Given that almost all developing countries made sectoral pledges, not economy wide ones, most of the CTU categories either don’t apply or are not formidable.  Hopefully this is a case where consensus means that behavioral norms are actually in line with the guidelines.

In contrast, Parties did not agree on common time frames for their mitigation pledges at COP24 in Decision 6/CMA.1.  While the Paris Agreement specifies that NDCs will be revised every five years, the timeframes for mitigation commitments made within them remain nationally determined.  For example, the US INDC pledges a 26-28% reduction by 2025 based on a 2005 baseline, while the EU’s 40% reduction is by 2030 and based on a 1990 baseline.  Consequently the Parties returned to the issue at SB50, where they again did not come up with a recommendation for COP25.   This negotiations will continue at SB51 during the first week of the COP.  What might be the consensus position on this one?  The range of options currently on the table indicates disagreement over what conceptually is the right timeframe to achieve both ambitious and feasible change, and how fast to start implementation.  Hence we see competing proposals to require all Parties to adopt a 5-year timeframe; a 10-year timeframe; have the choice between the two; and even mandate two successive 5-year timeframes (5+5).  As for implementation, there are calls for sooner (in 2025) and later (2031 and 2041 onward). At this point, it is unclear which approach will prevail in Santiago. Parties could not agree on submissions and technical reports on this point during the next six months, so it is hard to see how compromise positions will form before then.

The Article 13 guidelines on transparency get the award for length: Decision 18/CMA.1 comes in at a whopping 34 pages!  We know that knowledge is power.  While sovereign countries always seek information on others, they are careful when divulging their own. Careful wording takes more pages.

Within the internal logic of the UNFCCC, the length is also testimony to how MRV (measuring, reporting, and verification) has evolved over time.  The general requirements outlined in the UNFCCC produced data, but not in a way that helped measure progress.  Hence the Biennial Reports and Biennial Update Reports mandated later by COP16 decisions.  This change led to the Paris Agreement’s Biennial Transparency Report (BTR), which Parties will begin submitting in 2024, and will likely evolve to be the sole report (with national inventories inside or alongside them).

Another reason for length derives from Article 13’s negotiation over the course of 2015 into a two-part reporting system:  one on transparency of action (e.g. mitigation and adaptation) and one on transparency of support (e.g. finance, technology, capacity-building). That second part was hard fought.  Since 1994, developing countries perceived chronic shortfalls on these UNFCCC “means of implementation” commitments.  As a compromise, they negotiated their willingness to take on new mitigation obligations with developed countries’ willingness to be more transparent about how they provide support.

While long and detailed, the transparency guidelines are organized in a straight forward fashion, first giving an overview of BTR requirements in Part I before providing lists of the kinds of information and methodologies required for making a national inventory of emissions and removals in Part II.  Part III details the information needed to report on progress made on NDC pledges, which mostly  mirrors that described in the NDC guidelines. Part IV lists the optional information on adaptation that may be included in a NDC. Parts V and VI address the provision by developed countries and the receipt by developing countries of support, respectively, via finance, technology, and capacity building.  Guidelines on the technical expert review of these submissions are outlined in Part VII and multilateral review of them by the Parties is covered in Part VIII.

While the end product seems tidy and matter-of-fact, the negotiation of them during COP24 occupied most of the available meeting time.  This kind of detailed reporting – most of which most developing countries have not prepared for – was ground zero for advocating for different requirements for countries of different development status.  While LDCs and SIDs continue to be treated with “flexibility,” developing countries are really not. Almost all of the transparency provisions begin with the undifferentiated label of “Parties.” While developing countries may exercise flexibility “in light of their capacities” on some aspects of reporting, they must transparently show where and why they are doing so and communicate when their capacity will improve.  To help them meet these timelines, developed country Parties have pledge additional capacity-building support for transparency, via the CBIT fund located at the GEF, which was created at COP21.   A uniform transparency system was a red line for the US and EU delegations.  To get to not no required giving up an outside limit on how long developing countries could exercise this flexibility – and funding this kind of capacity building.

At SB50, the focus on the transparency framework’s mechanics continued with negotiations on common reporting tables and tabular formats for this information.  The Parties left Bonn with pages of ideas, an invitation to submit more, and a decision to continue negotiating the specifics at SB51 with dedicated time for discussing how exactly to put those flexibility options into practice.

The Article 14 guidelines on the global stocktake (GST) are captured in Decision 19/CMA.1 in a comparatively short 5 pages.  Yet they give a fair amount of detail on both the procedure and data inputs for this collective review of all the Parties progress (or not) on achieving the Article 2 goals, which is set to start in 2023 and continue every five years thereafter. On procedure, the implementation guidelines divide the stocktake into three phases: 1) information collection and preparation, 2) technical assessment of it per the Paris Agreement goals, and 3) using that assessment to inform Parties’ updating of their NDCs to enhance ambition. While the SBI and SBSTA will jointly assist the process, a “technical dialogue” will be convened to help assess both the inputs and outs of the stocktake.  Not surprisingly, inputs will provide information on the current status of emissions and removals, overall NDC progress, adaptation and loss and damage efforts, financial flows, challenges faced by developing countries, good practices, and “fairness considerations.”  Data for these inputs will come from individual NDCs and BTRs; reports from the IPCC, SBI and SBSTA, and relevant constituted UNFCCC bodies; synthesis reports requested of the Secretariat, as well as reports from other UN bodies and regional organizations; and submissions from Parties and observers.  The technical dialogue looks to be an important method for focusing the assessment of evidence-based actions, akin to the structured expert dialogue that set the stage for the inclusion of 1.5C in Article 2’s aims and the COP requesting the IPCC’s special report on 1.5C. Perhaps it will be equally skilled in diplomacy, as the GST turns the focus from individual country actions (and inactions) to global action (and inaction)?

Taken together, these three sets of implementation guidelines provide something for everyone yet enough top down in common to drive compromise.

“The Paris Agreement could have died in Katowice,” Li Shuo, head of Greenpeace-China, said in a Rolling Stone article post COP24. “Instead, it lives. The question now is, ‘Who will step up and show some ambition and political leadership?’ ”

COP24: Getting to not no

IMG_4306Multilateralism aims to forge agreement among countries to solve problems that span sovereign borders. Achieving success requires careful balancing of the number of participants with the strength of their commitments and their willingness to  enforce them.

In tackling climate change, we see this triad playing out differently between the UNFCCC (197 Parties, qualitative and not quantitative commitments, soft enforcement mechanisms), Kyoto Protocol (much smaller group of countries with quantitative mitigation targets reviewed by a compliance committee), and the Paris Agreement (185 Parties pledging both quantitative and qualitative contributions with enhanced transparency requirements to promote accountability). It’s safe to say that getting a multilateral environmental agreement’s structure right isn’t easy.

Ditto on its governance.

The international climate change agreements housed under the UNFCCC operate their brand of multilateralism by consensus.  While the Conference of Parties (COP) need not achieve unanimity, one country or group of countries can stop decisions in their tracks by voicing disagreement. Sometimes dissenting views can be managed through diplomatic techniques.  A recent example is the promise of ongoing consultations made by COP21 President Laurent Fabius to Turkey in 2015 in order to gavel the Paris Agreement into being.  Other times they cannot, and the Parties do not come to consensus, as happened in 2009 with COP15’s “Copenhagen Accord.”  Given that the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and Paris Agreement Parties achieved consensus on their COP24, CMP14, and CMA1 decisions respectively, it is worth exploring how they got to “not no” in Katowice, Poland.

A first consideration is the motivation to keep climate change multilateralism intact.

Despite the United States’ 2017 threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and the anticipation of something similar from the new president of Brazil, the vast majority of Parties want to continue this treaty forum. The European Union states – notably Germany, France, and the UK (still, despite Brexit negotiations) – are making a full court press on putting the Paris Agreement into practice. Why? The EU has invested deeply in these multilateral climate change negotiations since the beginning.  Member countries bore almost the entire load of the Kyoto Protocol mitigation commitments.  While member states continue to tussle internally on when and how to move away from fossil fuels – with COP24 host Poland serving as Exhibit A of a coal-dependent economy dragging its heels – there is no doubt about the EU’s climate change policy direction since the early 2000s.  Whether via carbon markets or renewable energy targets or electric vehicle production prioritization or financial and capacity-building aid to developing countries, EU member states have made significant political and financial investments in climate change multilateralism.

Likewise emerging economies like China and India have moved to the multilateral forefront by bringing developing country interests and concerns to the climate change negotiation table. Along with Brazil and South Africa, they form the BASIC negotiation group that is critical to forging deals.  As industrializing developing countries, they can see the costs and benefits of mitigation and adaptation commitments from both the economic status they have been and the one that they are growing their economies into. China’s early experiments with regional carbon markets have now manifested nationwide. Its use of renewable energy is growing ahead of its pledged targets.  It is THE largest electric vehicle market in the world, fueled by domestic policies that make it easier for consumers to buy them. India highlights the mitigation impact of its majority Hindu population’s vegetarianism.  It also vies for solar energy bragging rights with China and incentivizes the use of electric vehicles.  By taking domestic mitigation and adaptation actions while also pursuing economic growth, these large developing countries provide leadership for the smaller developing countries who are also industrializing. They also partner with the EU to build multilateral bridges strong enough to withstand unilateral defections.

A second consideration is the structure of the Paris Agreement itself, as explored in this earlier post, and the rules needed to implement it that were the key deliverable of COP24.

Unlike the UNFCCC, in which country parties imposed on themselves only process requirements like collecting and reporting emissions data, the Kyoto Protocol set country-specific emissions caps that would add up to a 5% reduction from 1990 global emission levels. How countries achieved their reductions was up to national governments, in light of the many options embodied in the Protocol. But because only developed countries took on these reduction targets, the Protocol affected the practices of a minority of UNFCCC Party countries who were the historical polluters. By 2005, when the Kyoto Protocol entered into force, China had surpassed the U.S. as the top emitting country, illustrating the growing impact of the emissions from developing countries as they industrialized. The Paris Agreement was specifically designed to include all UNFCCC countries in a mutual system of national “bottom up” pledges governed by a set of international “top down” accountability rules.

It is this treaty language  with its “constructive ambiguities” that the Paris Agreement implementation guidelines must clarify.  Hence the past three years of negotiations under the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) that focused on some seven Agreement articles (4,6,7,9,13,14,15) and culminated in COP24 decisions that total 100 pages.

Of these seven, the COP24 outcomes – sometimes referred to as the Katowice Rulebook – on three of them merit closer scrutiny, namely Article 4 on NDCs, Article 13 on transparency, and Article 14 on the global stocktake.  The first one focuses on the kinds of mitigation targets countries set for themselves and how to account for their impact.  The second sets the ground rules for regularly reporting on NDC progress. The third holds the entire COP responsible for assessing whether the Paris Agreement parties are achieving the Article 2 goal of keeping the rise in atmospheric temperature to well below 2C degrees.  It is on these three building blocks that current climate change multilateralism is based.  Understanding the details of their implementation guidelines is thus a critical first step to making it work.

Check out my next post that captures key guidelines finalized at COP24 and SB50, and how Parties reached consensus on them.

Why COP24 was just as important as COP21 – prelude

Copenhagen. Paris.  COP15.  COP21.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 10.09.47 PMThese are the most recent international climate change  meetings that everyone knows.  COP15 in Copenhagen marked a low point in multilateral environmental cooperation, with the “back room” deal by the top global emitters not accepted by the 197 Parties who must agree on its actions by consensus at its closing plenary.  Hence the Copenhagen Accords were seen as a political document, not a legal one.

Six years later, after annual negotiation sessions, these same Parties adopted the Paris Agreement, a new treaty under the UNFCCC that was ratified so quickly – only 11 months – that the Parties were caught unprepared with the specific rules on how to implement it. A definite political high point.  Knowing that, the Parties created a work programme to put the necessary pieces of the Paris Agreement puzzle in place.  The deadline for completing it was last December, at COP24 in Katowice, Poland.

In2018-10-24 the run up to COP24, Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa described the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) as “more than a set of rules, it will unleash the power of the Agreement itself.”

How is that?

It’s because 185 Parties – 184 individual countries and the EU – agreed to design the Paris Agreement around three legal obligations intended to harness “bottom up” participation and ambition. These are:

  1. pledging nationally determined contributions or NDCs,
  2. transparently and regularly reporting their progress on them, and
  3. collectively taking stock on how current NDCs are achieving the goal of keeping global temperature rise “well below” 2C.

Through the NDCs, individual countries commit in writing what they will do to mitigate their GHG emissions and adapt to locked-in climate change impacts.  Developed countries – the ones whose industrialization caused this warming – also say in their NDCs how they will help other, less developed countries to mitigate and adapt through financial, technology, and capacity-building support. The range of NDC pledges reflects the range of countries’ development status.The good news is that so many countries filed them.  The task for COP24 was agreeing on implementation guidelines that promote a uniform understanding of them.

Then, through an “enhanced transparency framework,” countries file reports via a publicly available UNFCCC portal on specific actions taken.  For mitigation, this means totaling up how many GHG emissions have been reduced or sequestered, by gas and sector.  These kinds of calculations have been required of developed country parties to the Kyoto Protocol for over a decade.  Given the learning curve for other countries, the precise contents of these reports and whether all countries will make them every two year were the key facets of these Paris Agreement guidelines.

Finally, the global stocktake or GST serves as the linchpin for these individual country efforts.  Every five years all the Paris Agreement parties will collectively assess whether their individual contributions, when added up, have been enough to meet the Paris Agreements goals of staying well below 2C, and mid 21st century carbon neutrality.  The October IPCC special report on 1.5C underscored the existential importance of meeting the more ambitious goal expressed in Article 2 of the Agreement. So agreeing on what information should inform the GST and how to conduct it were the core implementation guidelines negotiated at COP24.

So how did it come out?  See my next post for my view on it.


Before you do, consider Espinosa’s comments about the IPCC 1.5C report at the pre-COP.

patricia krakowWhen opening the meeting, she underscored how warming poses risks to all of humanity and why action at COP24 in response is critical.

“Let us never forget that climate change, if left unadressed, will take almost every single challenge humanity faces and make it worse.

It will destabilize the global economy, which will affect all nations. By 2030, the loss of productivity caused by a hotter world could cost the global economy 2 trillion dollars.

It will create conflict over resources and impact migration. It’s estimated that climate change could displace between 50 million and 200 million people by 2050.

Worse, it will result in incredible suffering and hardship for people and societies throughout the world.

But addressing climate change, and committing to a low-emissions future—one that is more resilient and sustainable—offers incredible opportunity.

It’s not just an opportunity to do the right thing—it’s an opportunity to completely transform the way we produce and consume, and the way we live.

And that means new markets, new businesses, and, for so many people throughout the world, new jobs…quality jobs…a just transition to a future that is just for all people.

As Secretary-General Guterres so clearly put it, the idea that tackling climate change is expensive and could harm economic growth is nonsense. In fact, the opposite is true.

The International Labour Organization reports that the green economy could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030.

Ladies and gentlemen, incredible opportunity exists if we embrace a low-carbon future and unleash the power of the Paris Agreement.

But we must first achieve our very specific goals at COP24.

I ask all of you to take one message back to your countries: that people of the world want us to achieve results at COP24 and we intend to reach those goals.”


This guest post was written by COP23 VLS student delegate Maria Paula Gonzalez Espinel.  Maria Paula graduated with her LLM from VLS and now works in Bogota at Colombia Macias Gomez & Asociados Abogados, one of the largest environmental law firms in her country.

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 1.29.54 PMOver the years there has been an increasing understanding that women face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change but also that they are critical in implementing climate change and sustainability solutions. Parties to the UNFCCC at COP23 established the Gender Action Plan (GAP) under the Lima Work Program on Gender with five priority areas recognizing the importance of including women and men equally in the UNFCCC processes and in the development and implementation of national climate policies that are gender-responsive. The five priority areas are:  (a) Capacity-building, knowledge sharing and communication, (b) Gender balance, participation and women´s leadership, (c)Coherence: on gender and climate change across UNFCCC and UN system, (d) Gender-responsive implementation and means of implementation and (e) Monitoring and reporting.

COP24 is the halfway point of this plan.  Because of that, there is going to be a lot of events andPerempuan_Adat_Harus_Dilibatkan_dalam_Negosiasi_Perubahan_Iklim activities in Katowice showcasing how Parties are implementing these priority areas. In addition, governments will consider the Gender Composition Report prepared by the Secretary to assist the Parties in tracking their progress towards meeting the goal of gender balance in advancing gender-sensitive climate policy.

The report reveals that more than half of the Bodies in this COP have female representation  and that  there is a record number of female delegates elected to the position of Chair or Co-Chair of the Bodies. patricia krakowEven though this shows improvement in the participation of women in bodies of the COP, what we really need is an equal number of women and men taking place in the negotiations. There is still plenty to do, as Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, said: “Women and girls must be empowered to be agents and leaders of climate action. (…) most of the work still remains to be done. If we want to reduce the gender gap, we need to use every single opportunity to act.”

Tomorrow, on December 11th at COP24, the UNFCCC will celebrate Gender Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of the GAP, and highlighting women’s leadership in climate action, gender, and climate technology. This is a great opportunity to participate and play our part in fulfilling the objectives of the Paris Agreement for everyone and with everyone worldwide. Please #ActOnTheGAP and follow the action list of this year’s COP!.

Day 1 (?) at COP24

opening ceremonyToday began with the typical pomp and circumstance of a climate change Conference of Party (COP). Cultural symbolism, music, and speeches dominated COP24’s official opening ceremony and “high level segment,” where heads of government and state gave national statements about their achievements and aspirations. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres challenged the Paris Agreement parties to find the “political will to compromise: let’s start today doing the work to make the world we want.” The President of Nauru emphasized the intergenerational accountability of everyone in the plenary hall, asking them to think about youth activism on climate change taking place around the globe and the impact of the Parties’ inaction on this generation’s legacy.  Remarks by the Captains Regent of San Marino and the President of Slovenia took aim at some current political leaders’ negation of the Paris Agreement.  The former observed that “narcissistic politicians” can only see the short term and hunt votes accordingly, and called for “bold and expensive political choices very quickly.” The first sentence of the Slovenian leader’s speech put it bluntly: “The Paris Agreement is not a contract.”

week 1-3Amidst the hoopla, the Vermont Law School Observer Delegation got to work.  We started the morning at the RINGO coordination meeting, meeting delegates from universities, think tanks, and research centers from around the world.  Some of us then attended the opening ceremony and high level segment, catching Sir David Attenborough launching the #TakeYourSeat campaign. Others peeled off to join the first ever Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture workshop, the multilateral assessment of four developed countries’  and “facilitative sharing of views” on four developing countries’ reports on progress made on their climate change goals, and sessions on the Paris Committee on Capacity Building and Africa day. Check out today’s posts on this potpourri of COP24 issues.

Tomorrow the Parties will get down to negotiating the nitty gritty of the key outcome of COP24: the Paris Agreement Implementation Guidelines, more colloquially referred to as the Paris “rulebook.”  Without these, the Paris Agreement cannot really function as designed. The VLS delegation will focus on five key negotiation issues this week: adaptation (Amanda), AFOLU (Liz), loss and damage (Brian), NDCs (Gabriela), and transparency (Charlie).  Tuesday is filling up with “informal consultations” in which the Parties work together on each separate issue to wrestle the current 307-page Paris Agreement Work Program (PAWP) into a more manageable set of rules.

Oh, and the question mark in the title? It challenges the concept of opening day at this COP.  week 1 -2Normally COPs start on a Monday with the ceremonial welcome and speeches.  So in many ways, today looked like usual practice.  But in fact the COP, CMP, CMA, SBI, SBSTA, and APA held their opening plenaries yesterday – a change announced only in early September, well after many participants had made their travel plans. Sunday was a quiet day at the Spodek culture venue in Katowice, punctuated by only a couple of agenda disagreements (e.g. Russia counting Ukraine emissions as their own and Turkey asking yet again to be delisted as an Annex 1 or developed country).  Although the atypical start day caught many off guard, in the end it achieved its goal:  opening COP24 early so that the high level segment could take place today without slowing down the negotiations.  Tomorrow we will be in the thick of the specifics.  Stay tuned.

A bottom up look at climate finance

climate scorecardAmanda’s post on the outcomes of the recent Green Climate Fund board meeting gives us a constructively critical top-down take on climate finance in the run up to COP24, which will take place in Katowice, Poland fro December 2 – 14, 2018.  This week’s Global Report #8 by Climate Scoreboard provides another.  Innocuously titled “The Status of Climate Finance in Leading Greenhouse Gas Emitting Countries,” it is a crowd-sourced, bottom up, and critical account of where cli fi is and isn’t coming from that provides context for the GCF’s report on its own activities.

Climate Scorecard describes itself as “a participatory, transparent, and open data effort to engage all concerned citizens to support The Paris Agreement.” Its Global Reports are part of a “Spotlight Project” focused “on pressing the top 20+ greenhouse-gas emitting countries to meet the pledges they made in the Paris Agreement.” This campaign seeks to raise public awareness of these countries’ action and inaction on their pledges, to build national political will in each one that compels increased pledges before the Paris Agreement begins in 2020. Climate Scorecard is a collaboration of The Global Citizens’ Initiative (TGCI) and EarthAction, two non-profit organizations working on environmental protection and citizen engagement.

climate scorecard 2Here are a few highlights from Climate Scorecard’s report that counter balance the GCF Board report:

  • Brazil’s new forestry sector policies are putting its international cli fi at-risk (and this was BEFORE the country elected a new president yesterday who is a climate skeptic!).
  • China needs to find funds in its national budget to make good on its pledges to help other developing countries.
  • France and the UK, both large cli fi donors, have experienced a decrease in assistance.
  • Japan’s accredited global climate finance institutions do not adequately to disclose their fossil fuel industry ties.
  • Mexico needs better monitoring and accounting of cli fi received, while Thailand needs to devise a better plan to attract it.
  • Russia has provided support to former Soviet Union countries, but can do much more.

For more specifics, check out the detailed country reports.

Local climate data at your finger tips


The scientists at Climate Analytics – the ones that gave us the invaluable Climate Action Tracker (CAT) – have done it again.

They have taken the global research and stats featured in the IPCC’s reports and scaled them down to more locally understandable and useful info. Thus far they have developed four online tools that allow you to learn how:

  1. the warming climate will affect staple crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa,
  2. the projections of local sea level rise for different warming levels,
  3. climate projections will affect extreme weather conditions at the African national and provincial levels, and
  4. to attribute global warming increases.

Bookmark this site, for Climate Analytics is due to publish more tools in the next few months.

IPCC 1.5C Report: Not drastic enough?

1.5v2Drastic.  Dire.  PainfulWorse than expected.  That’s how the media greeted last week’s release of the IPCC’s analysis of the impact of a 1.5C vs. 2C degree increase in global atmospheric temperature.

As our blog has analyzed already, the IPCC’s report offers pathways for avoiding some of the climate change consequences likely at a 2C degree rise while at the same time achieving sustainable development outcomes that help achieve climate justice.

But this op-ed in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists challenges the IPCC and argues that the new report didn’t go far enough.

Nobel prize in chemistry winner Mario Molina, 2013 UN Champion of Earth Veerabhadran Ramanathan, and IGSD founder Durwood Zaelke point out several omissions and conclude that “to put it bluntly, there is a significant risk of self-reinforcing climate feedback loops pushing the planet into chaos beyond human control.”

These oversights include:

  • Not accounting for self-reinforcing feedbacks and tipping points, which the authors call “the wildcards of the climate system” and
  • Not discussing the 5% risk that existing levels of climate pollution, in and of themselves, could result in locked in and runaway warming (the “fat tail” risk)

In the end, the op-ed worries that the IPCC’s 1.5C report “may mislead world leaders into thinking they have more time to address the climate crisis” while also pointing out the Churchill-ian challenge before them.

US sinks to new low in climate change ambition

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 10.09.47 PMIn 2015, the United States submitted an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) that committed the country to doing its fair share to keep the global temperature from increasing beyond “well below 2C.” In it, the US specifically promised that it “intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%.” This INDC became a binding international treaty commitment on November 4, 2016, when the Paris Agreement entered into force.  Under Article 4.2, the US agreed that it “shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.” 177 of the 181 Paris Agreement Parties that have submitted their own NDCs relied on the United States’ promise when preparing, communicating, and maintaining their nationally determined contributions.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries like the US agreed, in Article 4.9, that “[e]ach Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years in accordance with decision. In addition, under Article 4.3, each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution “will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition.” Article 4.11 highlights that a Party “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.” Yet no Paris Agreement article permits NDC adjustments of lower ambition.

The Trump Administration’s efforts not to maintain adequate national laws and policies to achieve the current US NDC hit an new low last week. That’s when the Washington Post broke the story of a “startling assumption” located “deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement”: “On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous seven degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) by the end of this century.” According to the IPCC, this kind of warming is beyond human history records and would imperil food security and drinking water sources, and lead to sea level rise that wipe out most coastal cities.

tailpipeWhile this admission is scary enough, the Washington Post noted that how the Trump Administration was using it was even scarier.  “[T]he administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.”  Essentially the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) drew this conclusion to justify the decision to freeze Obama-era federal fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built after 2020. The logic is that global temperature will increase nearly 3.5C above the average temperature between 1986 and 2005 regardless of whether Obama-era tailpipe standards take effect or are frozen for six years – so why bother?

No ambition at all.


Disappearing wetlands and climate change

Deforestation has long been noted as a driver of global warming.  Burning acres of tree cover to produce grazing land emits CO2 into the atmosphere. Simultaneously, those missing forests can no longer act as a reservoir to soak up CO2 emitted by energy production, transportation, and manufacturing.

wetlandsNow, a new report of the Ramsar Convention — the inaugural Global Wetland Outlook — concludes that wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. Almost 87% of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1700 with some 35% lost between 1970-2015 and the loss rate accelerating annually since 2000.

Why worry? Wetlands include salt marshes, sea grass beds, and mangroves, which are carbon-dense ecosystems. Peatlands store twice as much carbon as forests (despite occupying only 3% of the world’s land surface). Wetlands help reduce disaster risk by mitigating floods and protecting coastlines. And as go wetlands, so too go the species that live in them. Since 1970, wetland-dependent species declines have affected 81% of inland wetland species populations and 36% of coastal and marine species.

The Outlook highlights key steps in conserving healthy wetlands, including:

  • “enhancing the network of Ramsar Sites and other wetland protected areas; integrating magroveswetlands into planning and the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda;
  • strengthening legal and policy arrangements to conserve all wetlands;
  • implementing Ramsar guidance to achieve wise use;
  • applying economic and financial incentives for communities and businesses;
  • ensuring participation of all stakeholders in wetland management; and
  • improving national wetland inventories and tracking wetland extent.”

Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, lauds the Global Wetland Outlook as “a wake-up call – not only on the steep rate of loss of the world’s wetlands but also on the critical services they provide. Without them, the global agenda on sustainable development will not be achieved.”


The public health crisis that is climate change

lancet 2017The Lancet, the leading global health journal, just came out with a searing report on how climate change affects public health. “Climate change is happening, and it’s a health issue today for millions worldwide,” said Anthony Costello, a co-chairman of the commission that produced the report.

Based on research done at 26 universities and intergovernmental organizations around the world, the Lancet report notes that atmospheric CO2 was at an all time high in 2016, reaching a concentration not seen for more than 3 million years, that has caused:

  • 306 weather-related disasters per year between 2007 to 2016 – a 46% increase since 2000
  • the forced migration of at least 4,400 people
  • an estimated 5.3% decrease in work productivity for people doing manual labor from 2000 to 2016 due to increasing temperatures (productivity fell 2% just from 2015 to 2016)

The Lancet’s health impacts of CCreport is exhaustive, addressing impacts and exposures, mitigation and adaptation, finance and economics, and public and political engagement.  And it’s timely too: for the first time in the UNFCCC negotiations, there will be a high-level event on “Health Actions for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement” at COP23, hosted by the Fiji presidency on Sunday, November 12 in the Bonn Zone.  As a vulnerable low-lying island state, Fiji’s leaders know climate change’s public health impacts all too well.

As Jeff Nesbit, former director of legislative and public affairs at the National Science Foundation during both the Obama and Bush administrations, observed in his NYT op-ed yesterday entitled Climate Change is Bad for Your Health, “This is now a medical and public health fight, not just an environmental one.”

Seeing is believing

cat 5 stormThe poll numbers on the U.S. electorate’s perceptions of climate change have changed over the years. After the most recent spate of tropical storms out of the Atlantic, a new poll by Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 68% of Americans think weather disasters seem to be worsening.  Moreover, almost all of this 68% attribute this increase in extreme weather events totally or mostly (46%) to human-induced climate change or at least in combination (39%) with natural variability.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US has experienced 15 weather disasters that cost $1 billion or more. The Associated Press’s analysis of 167 years of federal storm data concludes that “no 30-year period in history has seen this many major hurricanes, this many days of those storms spinning in the Atlantic, or this much overall energy generated by those powerful storms.” Having experienced the recent storms first-hand, Greg Thompson, a retired pest control researcher in New Orleans, sees it this way: “When so many things are happening and so many of them (storms) are intense and so many of them are once-in-500-year levels and they’re all occurring, it’s a pretty good sign global warming is having an effect.”

A solar high

renew2017MRSAccording to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy in 2016, beating out all other energy sources, including coal. New solar capacity increased by 50% globally in 2016, with China accounting for almost half of this expansion. Despite current uncertainty about renewable energy policy in the United States, the US is still the second-largest growth market for renewables. By 2022, India is expected to more than double its current renewable electricity capacity.  The IEA predicts that these three countries alone will account for two-thirds of global renewable energy growth by 2022.  According to Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, this rapid growth in 2016 indicates a “new era” for solar energy, which is driven by continuous reductions in the technology’s cost and market dynamics in China resulting from policy changes.

Looking beyond solar energy, renewables overall accounted for two-thirds of all new energy capacity in 2016. IEA sees renewables growing “by about 1,000 GW (gigawatts) by 2022, which equals about half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build.” According to Birol, “while coal remains the largest source of electricity generation in 2022, renewables close in on its lead.”