A stumbling block at COP 23 – Finance

huddle-Fiji-in-BonnThe cost of mitigating climate change is estimated at 200-350 billion Euros (236-413 Billion USD) per year by 2030. It is a manageable sum in terms of a global burden, only 1% of global GDP. In terms of who pays and how much to pay, however, it becomes a disputed figure. For example, developed countries agreed in 2010 to “mobilize” 100 billion USD annually by the year 2020 in paragraph 98 of the COP16 decision 1/CP.16. Unresolved issues regarding this commitment remain, even in 2017.

Philosophically, this divide has on one side the developed countries as having the ability and the responsibility to pay. Developed countries use more energy than under developed countries. On the other side, the underdeveloped countries need financing and the know-how to ensure that future development in their countries is environmentally friendly and sustainable.

At COP23, this issue came to the forefront where it stopped the APA closing plenary dead in its tracks on Wednesday afternoon, the day the APA was scheduled to close. Negotiations lasted through the night. The underdeveloped countries, led by the G77, wanted developed countries to make concrete commitments through the biennial communication requirements as required by Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement. The G77 also referred to Paris Agreement Articles 13 (transparency) and 15 (compliance) to make this requirement enforceable.greendollars

In response the developed countries argued that Article 9.5 is a procedural matter and that the G77 countries want to discuss the dollar commitments. They argued that this is beyond the scope of the Paris Agreement.

The result was to urge both sides to act on their commitments and to refer this matter to a High Ministerial Dialogue for further discussion.  In other words, onwards to 2018.


Lets get on the same page

Capacity Building Initiative on TransparencyThe Paris Agreement, ratified by 170 Parties, at last count, has a clear goal for the world: Hold the rise in average global temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. While the goal is clear, the solutions are complex and challenging. This is especially true for Least Developed Countries (LDCs). LDCs lack the capacity and technical expertise to tackle these problems.  The United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognized the disparity between developed and LDCs in article 4.9 and implemented mechanisms to assist LDCs build capacity.

One of the recent mechanisms to be implemented as a part of the Paris Agreement is the Capacity Building Initiative on Transparency (CBIT). The goal of this initiative is to “strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of developing countries to meet the enhanced transparency requirements of the Paris Agreement.” In this context, transparency is more than access to information; it also refers to accuracy and standardization. Transparency allows all Parties to measure and compare the collective progress made by each country’s pledged climate change actions.

CBIT calls for transparency on two fronts: the first is transparency of actions and the second is transparency of support:

  • Transparency of actions is completed through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as called for by the convention in Article 4.1(f). Simply, NDCs are a set of measures taken by a country to limit GHG emissions. But this task is a more complex process than it seems. In order to meet the requirements of the PA Article 13.5, NDCs need to be backed by scientific data that can be Measured, Reviewed, and Verified (MRV). LDCs need to develop expertise in the methodologies used for collecting data. As an example, the first NDC submitted by Papua New Guinea (PNG) presented data with “considerable uncertainty”. To address that gap, PNG received financial assistance through CBIT to hire the expertise needed to collect the data needed to MRV its pledged actions. As the NDCs are evaluated collectively, they are compared to the ultimate goal of the PA. In turn, as delegates meet annually, they can evaluate climate change actions against the goal more effectively.
  • The PA in Article 13.6 requires “transparency of support.” The PA tasked the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with administering fund distribution. In order to facilitate that, the GEF publishes a report that details the support given under the CBIT fund. In its recent report of early November, 2017, $17,389,995 in CBIT funds was distributed to fourteen countries for transparency capacity building. This report also lists funding from other sources, including almost $19 million in co-financing for these projects.

In terms of spending on climate change actions, the CBIT fund doesn’t readily draw attention. However, it is an important part of combating climate change. By providing these practical measures, in addition to the climate change policies, the COP and its entities provide more holistic solutions. CBIT can be seen as one brick in giant wall of solution options. I would like to think of it as a corner stone that supports this wall far beyond its size would indicate.

We are working on it!

Island in the oceanAttending COP23 as an observer is a privilege because you are able to attend international multilateral negotiations. You witness established alliances use their power as a block and observe the dynamics of side negotiations. In these international multilateral negotiations, delegates agonize over words and paragraphs. They set their lines in the sand early and often. All of it done with diplomatic speak and collegiality but sometimes some get close to stepping over the line. Most of all, it is a privilege because you get to see the world trying to solve a problem collectively. With all this privilege, there is no denying that at times, these negotiations are frustrating. On rare occasions, the frustration causes one to think that the process is not working.

In a conversation with a delegate, I asked whether he is experiencing such frustration. Stalled talks are particularly challenging for him because he is from a Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which the United Nations considers as vulnerable nations because of climate change effect.  SIDS are usually located in the paths of hurricanes, which are happening with more frequency and more force. In the summer of 2017, for the first time, this delegate’s country issued mandatory evacuations from one of the outlying islands because no available shelter was adequate against the wrath of the coming storm. In the aftermath, the island became uninhabitable.

Additionally, SIDS are very vulnerable to rising sea levels. If water levels continue to rise, the oceans will soon reclaim these islands. Their challenge is their reluctance to make these issues public. Because their economy is dependent on tourism, climate change effects will drive off tourists, which will hurt an already fragile economy.

To answer my question, the delegate simply smiled. Then he started looking around at the other delegates and asked how many countries are represented. I told him there are delegates from 170 countries. He asked what are they all doing here? I told him that they are working on climate change issues. He replied with an even bigger smile, “exactly!” and repeated shortly after– We are working on it.

It is true that the COP process is complicated. One is instantly overwhelmed by the structure. There are three processes contained within the COP (UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement). Furthermore, each convention, protocol, or agreement has its own framework, and they sometimes intersect with each other. Having said that, the complexity of the process really lies in the magnitude of participants. At last count, there are one hundred and seventy countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement. These countries represent different needs, levels of development, levels of ability, and a different sense of urgency. Even with the common shared goal of limiting the increase in the Planet’s average temperature, the complexity is how to arrive at the desired results. In other words, who does what and who pays for what is the main source of difficulty at the COP negotiations, but…..

We are working on it!


Negotiation agenda

Who is representing the US at COP23?

COP 23You are on your way to COP23, the place to be for everything climate change. You walk through the doors and find yourself among hundreds of people from all over the world, running from one session to the other, with a quick stop perhaps for a cup of coffee. You attend negotiations and presentations, and develop an understanding of what is important to a country or a block of countries as they attempt to reverse the alarming rise in the planet’s temperature.

After a day or two, the chaos becomes normal and all the different languages you overhear start having a familiar tone. You begin to appreciate the setting: located by the Rhine and intersected by a city park, dotted with ponds where ducks, geese, and swans keep residence. It is beautiful. Then, as you are waiting for an electric car/bus to take you between the Bula and Bonn Zones, you notice a white dome shaped building to the side. Curious, you head there and find a sign for the U.S. Climate Action Center.  Peppered throughout the place is the hash tag #wearestillin.

You feel surprised because the U.S. declared its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. But a list of this Center’s events shows these presenters: Al Gore, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, Governor Jerry Brown of California, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon, and Governor Jay Inslee of Washington.  In other words, a collection of American environmental rock stars and members of the U.S. Climate Alliance fill the place.

But then you notice that the U.S. delegation is hosting a “side event” titled The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation. Unlike events held at the U.S. Climate Action Center, which attracted many attendees, this event drew protests. So who is representing the United States?

A closer look at the U.S. Climate Action Center shows that it as an effort by California Governor Jerry Brown that is funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It has attracted a collection of states, counties and municipalities; colleges and universities; businesses; non-profit organizations; faith organizations; and ordinary citizens. All told, the U.S. Climate Action Center spans all fifty states, 127 million Americans, and $6.2 trillion, all intent on honoring continued U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement. A delegation called the People’s Delegation at COP23 pledged to the UNFCCC that “we are still in.”

The U.S. delegation, with representatives from the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is the delegation of record.  It, and only it, has the authority to negotiate on behalf of the U.S. (at least till the U.S. projected exit in 2020). But I believe the delegation that can effectuate the goals of the Paris Agreement has the upper hand. If “we are still in” manages to reduce GHG emissions in the U.S., then they are the delegation of record!

It takes more than government

green roof busHundreds of people, from all over the world, gather in Bonn, Germany for the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23). At first glance, COP23 appears to be policy driven, science based, and a negotiations filled conference. It is that and more. It has become the place for green industry where 850 different organizations applied to participate in COP23 and offer their products and services.

This interaction did not occur by accident.

When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, it called for enabling the private sector to “promote and enhance the transfer of, and access to, environmentally sound technologies” in Article 10 (c). In the Paris Agreement, which entered into force in 2016, Article 6.4 (b) calls for incentivizing the public and private sectors to participate in mitigating green house gases. These treaties create the conditions for private sector involvement in mitigation. So private/non-profit organizations are active participants in COP23 and not simply vendors at a trade show.

A good example of such partnership is in transportation, which is one of COP23’s Global Climate Action (GCA) themes. ABB, a for-profit company with over 136,000 employees spread over a 100 countries, works on projects as varied as sun powered rickshaws and clean energy buses. Non-profits have also played a role in shaping climate change policies. Organizations like the Institute for Transportation and Development Policies (ITDP) work with policy makers on an international level and also seek to influence policies at the local level in urban areas.

These organizations go beyond the boundaries of a country and provide needed technical expertise that policy makers sometimes lack. In a recent GCA meeting at COP23, representatives of these organizations pointed out the need for different climate friendly policies in Barcelona, Spain than in Atlanta, GA. Even though they have populations similar in size, Atlanta occupies an area that is over twenty five times larger than Barcelona.

Is the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement a conservative act?

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“We’re definitely, completely, undoubtedly leaving the accord.” With these words, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. This decision did not come as a surprise, although it disappointed many around the globe. Now the question is, will it impede global progress toward limiting the rise in temperatures?

Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton climate scientist and co-editor of the Journal of Climactic Change thinks it could, saying “if we lag, the noose tightens” — despite the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s estimate that the US is forty years ahead of forecasts in renewable energy growth.

Surprisingly, the same conservative Republican Party principles that led the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement are also preventing lag. A strong military, free market and support for business, and a limited federal government that favors more state-based regulations are peppered throughout the 2016 Republican Party platform. Here is how these segments react to climate change. First, the military’s response to climate change: as a part of its readiness program, the Department of Defense (DoD) prepared a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, where it states “among the future trends that will impact our national security is climate change.” This document then describes adaptation strategies that are reminiscent of the ones required by the Paris Agreement Article 7.

The business community — specifically big business — urged the president to keep the US in the Paris Agreement. The CEOs of Exxon Mobil, BP, and Chevron took out an ad in a major U.S. newspaper to declare, “by expanding markets for innovative clean technologies, the agreement generates jobs and economic growth.”

Finally, in the face of President Trump’s decision, state governments have jumped in to mitigate GHG emissions and spur climate change adaptation. The United States Climate Alliance is a consortium of 14 states and Puerto Rico that represents 36% of the US population, $7 trillion of the national GDP, and 1.7 million jobs in green energy. The Alliance has affirmed its commitment to achieve the US’s Paris Agreement pledge. Along with a 14% increase in economic growth, it has already achieved a 15% reduction in GHGs as compared to 2005 levels. It is on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of 26-28% reduction in GHG emissions by 2025 as compared to 2005.

Nonetheless, we should continue to be disappointed by the announced withdrawal (and thankful for the slow withdrawal procedure detailed in Article 28). The US withdrawal is based on a dangerous idea. This idea depicts climate change policy as a choice between environmental conservation and economic growth or between jobs and regulation. Framing climate change in these terms allows people to think that the issue is a matter of trade-offs. It leads to thinking that, at some point, providing jobs is most important so the environment must take a back seat. However, in reality, climate change is an existential threat and needs to be dealt with.