Undermining the Prospects for a Ambitious U.N. Climate Deal

At the close of the first week of the United Nation’s (UN) climate negotiations, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) reached $9.95 billion with Norway’s most recent pledge.  At the same time, the Oil Change International and Overseas Development Institute (OCI) released a new report. The report calls for a short stopped applaud on the GCF announcement, as the analysis shines a new light on the disparity between finance pledged and support for the exploration of new fossil fuel extraction.

The briefing finds that while these “climate finance pledges have been met with some enthusiasm” developed countries are still providing nearly three times more money for fossil fuel exploration alone. Supporting the search for more oil, gas, and coal, then they have pledged for the GCF. As the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis report reiterates that the majority of the proven fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground, G-20 governments’ are spending tens of billions of tax dollars each year on subsidies for fossil fuel exploration and development.

ff financingThe report shows support for fossil fuel exploration by Annex II governments totals $26.6 billion per year, nearly three times the current amount that these countries have pledged in climate finance to the GCF. For example, the United States (U.S.), whose $3 billion pledge is the largest commitment of the GCF thus far, provides more than twice the amount—$6.5 billion—in annual government support for fossil fuel exploration. A 45 percent increase in U.S. fossil subsidies since 2009, with President Obama’s “All the Above” energy policy alone.

Recognizing this deficiency, Parties are contemplating a firm decision to scale down fossil fuel subsidies and high-carbon investments. The option appears in the finance section Article 34.1(d) of the draft text complied by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. “So it’s in there, but it’s [only] an option—we need to make it a decision. Unless we defend it very strongly, there’s a high chance it may be left out,” said Climate Action International policy officer Alix Mazounie.

A provision to phase out fossil fuel subsides and investments should form a key part of the Paris agreement, Mozounie said. Especially, given that fossil fuel subsidies completely undermine climate action and contradict the UN climate negotiations aims, said Mozounie.


The Fossils of the Day

photo 1Today Australia and the European Union (EU) took home the Fossil of the Day Award presented by Climate Action Network (CAN). Australia received the gold medal after stating in an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) session that loss and damage should be an element of adaptation, not a stand alone part of the Paris Agreement.  This stands in direct contrast to the positions of the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts. Developing countries, including those from Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the Africa Group, and Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), want to see the agreement feature loss and damage as a separate issue, not bundled into adaptation. Developing countries argue that it is not possible to adapt to losing your land due to rising sea levels, nor is it possible to adapt to farmland lost to desertification.

The EU won the silver Fossil of the Day Award, calling for a ten-year commitment period. Critics claim this is a sure fire way to lock in low ambition in the future climate deal. The length of the current five-year commitment period for climate action is key to an effective 2015 climate agreement in Paris. Proponents of a five-year commitment period say a shorter commitment period avoids locking in low ambition, incentivizes early action, avoids delay tactics, and maintains political accountability. Those calling for progressive climate action urge Parties to decide on a common five-year period here and now in Lima.


Elements and Ideas for the 2015 Paris Agreement

ACT_2015_World_Resources_InstituteOn the sidelines of yesterday’s tense negotiations, the World Resources Institute and Agreement on Climate Transformation (ACT) 2015 offered their view on what a strong, comprehensive climate agreement could look like, launching a new report on the potential “elements” of such a deal. The proposal outlines the key ingredients to reach a global climate agreement in Paris next year. The study, “Elements and Ideas for the 2015 Paris Agreement” provides guidance on how to embed these elements into an ambitious, fair, and universal global impact.


Fossil-ing Away the Progression of the Day

Today in Lima, Japan won Climate Action Network’s (CAN) Fossil of the Day Award. CAN gives this award to countries based on their performances during the past day’s negotiations at the United Nations (UN) climate change conferences. Japan won the Fossil of the Day Award for “getting busted for funding coal and gas power stations in developing countries, in particular Indonesia, with money meant for scaling up climate action.” This slightly sarcastic yet highly prestigious award brings to light current issues, and hopes to publicly motivate the named recipient into climate action.

Japan gave Indonesia $1 billion in loans to build three coal-fired power plants in the name of climate finance under the United Nations. Japan says these plants burn coal more efficiently and are therefore cleaner than old coal plants. However, they still emit twice as much heat-trapping carbon as plants running on natural gas, and are the biggest human source of carbon pollution.smokestacks

Outside of naming the clear Fossil Day Award winner, CAN highlighted an overarching issue regarding climate finance. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has no definition of what climate finance is and there is no watchdog agency that ensures the climate finance funds are spent in the most effect way. Japan allocated the funding to Japanese companies under UN loans described as “thermal power plants,” with no indication that they were coal-fired projects.

There are no rules against counting such projects as climate finance under the United Nations. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, unaware that the Japanese-funded coal plants in Indonesia were labeled as climate finance, stated “there is no argument” for supporting such projects with climate money. “Unabated coal has no room in the future energy system,” she told AP News.

CAN, a worldwide network of over 900 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in more than 100 countries, continues to promote government action to limit human-induced climate change by bringing theses issues to light.

Fossil of the Day

The Green Climate Fund, which has similar goals to help poorer nations adapt to the warming climate, also has no watchdog agency or formal definition of climate finance.The power of “public shaming” presented by CAN’s Fossil of the Day Award, not only galvanizes climate action commitments, but instills a new fire within climate activists.


No Need to Re-Invent the Wheel

At today’s side event forum, hosted by the Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), panel members called for governments to stand behind the CDM. Comprised of Executive Board members of the CDM, renowned representatives from the Parties and the private sector, World Bank and Green Climate Fund (GCF) the message was clear, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. “We need to work with what we have,” said Phillip Hauser of the GCF.

Despite current funding issues, panelists made the case that governments already have a powerful tool in the CDM that they can use now. Following the central message from the 81st meeting of the CDM Executive Board, panelists urged governments to release the full potential of CDM for strong climate action. “We urge countries in Lima [ ]and in Paris next year to renew their commitment to the CDM,” said CDM Executive Board Chair Hugh Sealy. “This is one of the most effective instruments governments have created under the United Nations Climate Change Convention. It drives and encourages emission reductions, climate finance, technology transfer, capacity building, sustainable development, and adaptation—everything that countries themselves are asking for from the new Paris agreement,” he said. Countries need to set a strong market signal to ensure the stability of the CDM. “They can do this by increasing their demand for Certified Emission Credits (CERs) before 2020, by recognizing the value that the CDM can add to emerging emission trading systems, and by recognizing the mechanism’s obvious value in the international response to climate change after the new agreement takes force in 2020,” he said.

Acknowledging that the CDM is far from perfect, Sealy said that the “learning by doing” mantra has provided valuable insight into building on the success of the market mechanism. As the largest, most widely recognized baseline and crediting mechanism in the world, the CDM has the potential to reduce 2.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by the end of 2020. Over the past nine years, the CDM has reduced over 1.5 gigatonnes of emissions and saved $3.6 billion in Kyoto Protocol compliance costs. In addition, the CDM has encouraged $138 billion in climate finance, leveraging privately 10 times the amount of public investment. Compatibility---Wind-And-Agricultural-Farming450px copy

However, despite the success of the CDM, the demand for CDM is plummeting. This year saw a continuing decline in the size of the CDM program, which had about a tenth of the number of registered projects in the preceding reporting periods, said Dirk Forrister, President of International Trading Association.  As Sealy explained, the demand from traditional markets (especially the European Union Emission Trading System) has contracted severely, with the spot price of a secondary CDM CER crashing from over 30 USD in 2008 to around USD 0.30 in 2014. Investment in new CDM projects is almost non-existent and significant hemorrhaging in the private sector is occurring. The price drop in CERs has lead to a decreased incentive to continue projects and develop capacity. Ultimately, “all this jeopardized the long-term partnerships of the UNFCCC Parties and the private sector, in the midst of a growing need for global climate action.

Increased demand is the key to addressing the CDM’s current challenge, said Sealy. The CDM is too valuable to discard, especially now that we have figured out most of the kinks, said Forrister.


Nations Commit $9.3 Billion Towards Climate Action: Is it enough?

Yesterday international leaders pledged $9.3 billion towards the United Nations (UN) Green Climate Fund (Fund) at the first Pledging Conference in Berlin, Germany. Formally established in Cancun in 2010, the Fund aims to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. In this way, the capital would help those countries least to blame for, but most at risk from, climate change. The Fund would provide grants, loans and private capital for renewable energy and green technologies. big mills It is a step toward the far more ambitious goal announced in Copenhagen in 2009 for industrialized nations to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 for broader climate finance.

The initial capitalization of the Green Climate Fund is critical to the intergovernmental negotiations. The pledges act as an economic and political catalyst, spurring international climate action. “The [Fund] is the epicenter that determines the direction of both public and private investment over the next decades,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Resources allocated to the Fund unlock financial flows from the private sector. Private investments are viewed as essential to the transition to a low-emission, climate resilient economy. These investments are stimulated through application of concessional public financing from the Fund.

Politically, the pledges build trust between developed and developing countries. “The result of today’s capitalization of the [Fund] is foremost an unmistaken sign of trust building,” said Hela Cheikhrouhou, Executive Director of the Fund. “This creates a positive atmosphere for the start of successful negotiations in Lima in less than two weeks,” stated H.E. Mr. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of the Environment of Peru.

Twenty-one nations made pledges, including contributions from four developing countries. Their combined contributions are the “largest amount the international community has ever mobilized for a dedicated climate finance mechanism,” said the Fund executive members.  Earlier this week at the G20 Summit in Australia, the 20 biggest economies in the world emphasized their commitment to “strong and effective action to address climate change.” The United States pledged $3 billion and Japan $1.5 billion to the Fund.Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, broke from his usual ally on climate issues, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, when announcing Canada’s commitment the Fund.

At the Pledging Conference, Germany and France each promised $1 billion, Britain pledged more than $1.1 billion and Sweden contributed over $500 million. Other countries that made pledges include the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxemburg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea and Switzerland. big graphUN Secretariat Ban Ki-moon said the pledges “demonstrate that governments increasingly understand both the benefits derived from climate action and the growing risks of delay.

Nevertheless, some wonder if momentum is building towards meaningful climate action. Critics point out that the international community failed to meet the UN goal of $10 billion. Oxfam called the $9.3 billion “a bare minimum” compared to the $10-15 billion it and developing countries call for. Oxfam further pointed out that Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Ireland have not yet made any pledges. “Financial support from developed countries should be a building block for a global climate agreement, not a stumbling block,” said the group’s Alison Woodhead. Marlene Moses of Nauru, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), called the pledges “still well short” of the target. “If it’s a struggle to get $10 billion once-off, how difficult is it going to be to get to $100 billion every year?” said Yvo De Boer, who oversaw the UN global warming talks from 2006 to 2010. “Much more has to be done if the promise made to developing countries to provide financial support of $100 billion per year in 2020 to tackle climate change,big fireStephen Krug, a policy analyst at Greenpeace in Germany said. “While climate change is developing faster than expected, the financial support for those who are the most affected still evolves at a snail’s pace.

Climate experts have warned that time is running out in the battle against climate change. Are world leaders committed to meaningful climate action? Does $9.3 billion reflect the pressing need to combat what is proclaimed the “most defining issue of our time?” Only time will tell.


Conservative Backlash to the U.S.– China Climate Agreement

The United States–China climate change agreement announced this Wednesday already faces strong resistance in the U.S.  As detailed here, the U.S. and China, which combine to produce nearly half of the world’s emissions, struck a deal to strengthen their reduction commitments. The U.S., which has already pledged to reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, now promises to reduce them by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. China promises to cap its emissions by no later than 2030 and to produce one-fifth of its energy from zero-emission sources by then. The historic agreement has the potential to serve as a “wake-up call” for the international community. Deemed a gamechanger, analysts and policy advisers say the agreement could galvanize large-scale cooperation in Lima, setting the pace for a binding climate treaty in Paris 2015.

taylor postHowever, Republican leadership in the U.S. Congress has vehemently opposed the climate change partnership and threatens to derail U.S. committed emission reduction efforts.  After last week’s midterm elections, conservative leadership will control next year’s Congress and thereby U.S. climate policy. Next year’s Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), was one of the first to condemn the U.S.–China partnership.  Calling the plan “unrealistic” and part of President Obama’s “war on coal,” he said that it would lead to a loss of U.S. jobs. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) agreed with McConnell, stating that the plan is “the latest example of the president’s crusade against middle-class families.” Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Fred Upton (R-MI) member and Chair, respectively, of the Energy and Commerce Committee, also criticized the agreement. Both lawmakers said the deal meant that China is “promising to double their emissions while the administration is going around Congress to impose drastic new regulations inhibiting our own growth and competiveness.” Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who authored The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” also declared the agreement a “charade.”

Despite the resistance to the U.S.–China agreement David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council says the agreement attempts to jump one of the highest hurdles in international climate negotiations the “vicious cycle of finger-pointing.” The agreement deflates a vital tenet of right-wing dogma: “limiting our carbon emissions would serve no purpose, since other countries in general, and China in particular, would never agree to limit theirs.”

mcconnellHowever, strengthened by an influx of climate change deniers and fossil fuel pundits, Republicans have made it known they plan to launch an all-out war on Obama’s climate legislation, starting with the President’s Climate Action Plan. McConnell has said as Senate Majority leader, his top priority next year is to “do whatever [he] can to get the EPA reined in.” Previously, McConnell said a viable tool Republicans have is the federal budget process, which they can use to constrain the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) funding. He also mentioned earlier this year that he could look to a rarely used law—the Congressional Review Act—to repeal the EPA’s regulations on automobile and power plant emission and mercury reductions. The EPA’s ability to regulate emissions is central to U.S. climate change policy.

McConnell’s efforts to derail domestic and global climate action are joined by other climate deniers like Senators Jim Inhofe and Ted Cruz. Inhofe, who is slated to take over the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, voted against federal disaster relief for Sandy and has compared the EPA to the Gestapo. Despite the fact that 97 percent of the world’s scientists claim unequivocally that anthropogenic climate change is real and happening now, Inhofe thinks the UN invented the idea of climate change to “shut down the machine called America.”

Similarly, Cruz, who was re-elected last week and is in line to chair the Subcommittee on Science and Space, which oversees agencies like NASA, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation, also denies climate change realities. In an interview with CNN last February, Cruz said he doesn’t think the Earth is warming. “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened,” said Cruz.

republican leadershipOther newly and re-elected congressman like Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Steve Daines (R-Montana), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), and Shelly Capito (R-West Virginia) all ran for election and won on a platform that denied the existence of climate change, promoted opening up more federal land for oil and gas drilling, and supported the Keystone XL pipeline. In September, Senator Sullivan, a former Alaska attorney general, said “the jury’s out” on whether climate change is man-made. Senator Cotton, has stated “[t]he simple fact is that for the last 16 years the earth’s temperature has not warmed.” Cotton has also pushed for new coal power plant construction and the Keystone XL pipeline. Senator Daines has already signed a pledge that he will “oppose any legislation relating to climate change.” Claiming global warming, to the extent that it exists, is probably caused by solar cycles. Similarly, House member Lankford called climate change a “myth,” and along with Gardner, Cotton, Capito, and Daines voted to prevent the Pentagon from considering the national security impacts of climate change. U.S. conservative leadership is also likely to use the federal budget to prevent the State Department from offering funding to the UN’s Green Climate Fund. A fund that is essential to help the world’s least developed countries adapt to the effects of climate change.

ipcccThe conservative backlash threatens to derail the most ambitious efforts the world’s largest emitters have taken to lead an aggressive stance on climate change. Jake Schmidt, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program, warns that “[a]nything that undermines the President’s ability to follow through on his climate plan will undermine Paris.” In issuing the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, chair Rajendra Pachauri called the work “yet another wake-up call to the global community that we must act together swiftly and aggressively.” The report released this month confirmed once again that “human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions are the highest in history.” The report warns that to avoid the most damaging and potentially irreversible impacts of climate change (e.g., “substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on common human activities, and limited potential for adaptation”) we must switch to renewable energy, phase out fossil fuels, and set emission reduction goals. Despite this most recent report, the conservative leadership mentioned above stands on a policy platform that is in direct opposition to the report’s recommendations. How far will political posturing and scientific reality diverge? Only time will tell.