The Log-istics of Carbon Dioxide Removal

Trees are the coolest source of CO2 Removal on the planet.

Trees and vegetation are known to help cool ambient air temperatures through evapotranspiration.  If left undisturbed, forests can also be a vital source of carbon storage.  Estimates from the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA 2015) show that the world’s forests and other wooded lands store more than 485 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon: 260 Gt in the biomass, 37 Gt in dead wood and litter, and 189 Gt in the soil.

In the most recent IPCC Special Report Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the world’s leading climate scientists assess the pathways the global community can pursue over the next few decades to prevent overshoot ofScreen Shot 2018-10-08 at 3.58.11 PM warming beyond 1.5°C.  The fact that all pathways to limit global warming to 1.5°C require mitigation via some form of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is not to be overlooked. But these removal amounts vary across pathways, as do the relative contributions of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and removals in the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector.  BECCS sequestration is projected to range from 0-1, 0-8, and 0-16 GtCO2/yr, in 2030, 2050, and 2100 respectively; the AFOLU-related measures are projected to remove 0-5, 1-11, and 1-5 GtCO2/yr in these years.  These contributions appear meager, and they are… but every little bit counts in this climate.

A reasonable argument can be made for increased investment in and use of CCS to achieve emissions reductions.  The SPM makes it clear that forests alone won’t be able to make a significant numerical difference in reduction of CO2 from the atmosphere.  And as the New York Times aptly points out, “the world is currently much better at cutting down forests than planting new ones.”

On the surface, CCS seems like a logical outgrowth from the nature of GHG emissions production.  The IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Capture and Storage (SRCCS) describes CCS as a mitigation activity that Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.37.30 PMseparates CO2 from large industrial and energy-related point sources, which has the potential to capture 85-95% of the CO2 processed in a capture plant.  Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies like ClimeWorks remove CO2 from the air. Proponents argue that DAC is a much less land-intensive process than afforestation: Removal of 8 Gt/CO2 would require 6.4 million km² of forested land and 730 km³ of water, while DAC would directly require only 15,800 km² and no water.

However, as our blog has cautioned readers in the past, CCS requires significant financial investments from industry and government and are only regionally accessible.  Only places that have sufficient infrastructure and political support can pursue this path of technological sequestration, leaving underdeveloped countries at a major disadvantage.  A recent report published in Nature Research further emphasizes that BECCS will have significant negative implications for the Earth’s planetary boundaries, or thresholds that humanity should avoid crossing with respect to Earth and her sensitive biophysical subsystems and processes.  Transgressing these boundaries will increase the risk of irreversible climate change, such as the loss of major ice sheets, accelerated sea level rise, and abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural systems.  Above all else, CCS ultimately supports the continual burning of fossil fuels. CCS technology may capture carbon, but it also has the potential to push us over the edge.

Money tree

Mitigation has historically been the focus of the FCCC and other collaborative climate change efforts.  Global climate change policy experts are familiar with the binding language associated with activities related to mitigation in the multilateral environmental agreements: Article 4(1)(b) of the Convention calls for commitments to formulate, implement, publish and update national programs containing measures to mitigate climate change; and Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) calls for Annex I Parties to account for their emissions reductions in order to promote accountability and activity guided by mindful emissions production.  In the waning hours of the KP, the Paris Agreement has become the new collective rallying document, whose ambitious emissions reduction target has inspired the likes of the IPCC to offer us pathways to get there.

If we are not currently on track towards limiting GHG emissions well-below 2°C in the grand scheme of the FCCC, why not insure some success, however small, buy securing CO2 in forests, not CCS?  Forests are a well-established CDR technology that do not have the associated risks with CCS.  While the most recent UN Forum on Forests report kindly reminds us that forests are also crucial for food, water, wood, health, energy, and biodiversity, the SPM upholds that mitigation contributions from carbon sequestration technology are numerically minuscule in the face of the large-scale change necessary to avoid CO2 overload.  A much more engaged energy overhaul is needed.

The ideal SPM pathScreen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.10.17 PMway states that afforestation can be the only CDR option when social, business, and technological innovations result in lower energy demand and a decarbonized energy system.  A more middle-of-the-road scenario achieves necessary emissions reductions mainly by changing the way in which energy and products are produced, and to a lesser degree by reductions in demand.  This speaks to the need for a broad focus on sustainable development rather than continuing business as usual.  Regardless of the pathway, forests need to be preserved, whether it be for carbon sequestration, their cooling effects, or merely beauty.

Sometimes there is no turning back.

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.


Opening the scope of NDCs: “Blue Opportunities”

thMENSJTZMIn a press briefing today, Natalya Gallo and Dr. Lisa Levin from the Scripps Institutions of Oceanography, USCD, Julio Cordano on behalf of Chile and Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador talked about the importance of including oceans and marine ecosystems in the NDCs.

Natalya Gallo stated that out of the 161 INDC communicated by June 2015, 112 contained references to oceans, 14 included costal zones while the rest did not contain any reference to oceans and marine ecosystems. The oceans were included as part of the adaptation, mitigation or as a climate change marine risk. Also, most attention is given to ocean warming while ocean oxygen loss, ocean acidification receives little to no attention. Mangroves and coral reefs were almost always included. In terms of parties, the Annex I parties did not include oceans in their INDCs while the SIDS were leading the path in this area. The factors that influenced whether oceans were included in the parties INDC varied from percentage of population living in low lying areas to large exclusive economic zones areas and development status of the respective countries.

Julio Cordano, on behalf of Chile, emphasized that although the oceans were included in the Paris Agreement there has been no implementation endeavor. Nevertheless, we must state that the oceans are indeed included only in the preamble of the Paris Agreement, which is non-biding part of the agreement. Therefore, the inclusion of the oceans is a sign of a global awareness and symbolic victory. Mr. Cordano further believes that any future work should built upon the NDCs as a building block of the Paris Agreement. However, he acknowledges that the NDCs were a compromised formulation as first proposed and there is still a delicate discussion on what to include. The inclusion of too many sectors and perspectives may wash down on the content of the NDCs and lead to ineffective mitigation action.  Also, there is the fear that opening the discussion with respect to oceans would raise the question of whether the NDCs should include other sectors such as energy. Following last year Because the Ocean Declaration, this year, Chile plans to launch a second declaration on 14th of November.

Dr. Lisa Levin talked about the ocean research needs, as countries specifically provided in their INDCs the need for additional research in the following areas: sea level rise and coastal zone monitoring; fisheries; blue carbon; climate observation system; biodiversity research; oceanography and climate; ocean training and capacity building/academic collaboration. The research needs can be addressed by looking at the research infrastructure and the available funds in place today, such as the GEF and the Ocean Sustainability Bank.

Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS Issues, recognized that it is natural for them to include oceans in their NDCs. However, they recognize that there is a lack of research, as for example they do not have an accurate and complete overview, among others, on the impacts of climate change and the marine species in need of protection. That is why, the University of Seychelles started a research institute called the Blue Economy Research Institute to advance their knowledge and have access to accurate and complete information that can help them put forward an ambitious NDC. They also decided to be an example and lead the way by starting reviewing and upscaling their NDCs so as to achieve the 1,5°C goal.

We can only hope that at future APA meetings, the Paris Agreement will act as a spokesperson for the oceans and marine ecosystems, as currently they do not have one.

The Sustainable Development Mechanism AKA The New Carbon Market Mechanism



Photo Source: IBNLive

The Sustainable Development Mechanism is a new mitigation mechanism established in Art. 3 ter of the draft Paris Agreement. The purpose of this mechanism is to “promote the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions [in developing country Parties] while fostering sustainable development….” In order to achieve its goals, the mechanism provides incentives for successfully mitigating GHG emissions. Under this mechanism, Parties that contribute to the reduction of GHG emissions in a host country Party can benefit from their mitigation activities by using the resulting emission reductions to fulfill their own mitigation ambition requirements.

Overall, the structure of the Sustainable Development Mechanism closely resembles the Clean Development Mechanism, which is the carbon market mechanism in the Kyoto Protocol. Carbon markets and offsets were created under Art. 6 of the Kyoto Protocol, which states that “…any Party included in Annex I may transfer to, or acquire from, any other such Party emission reduction units resulting from projects aimed at reducing anthropogenic emissions by sources or enhancing anthropogenic removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in any sector of the economy….” Additionally, the Clean Development Mechanism was established under Art. 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, which provides a process for handling all of the carbon credits created under Art. 6.


Photo Source: YaleNews

Ultimately, the major difference between the new Sustainable Development Mechanism from the Clean Development Mechanism is that carbon markets will no longer be limited to developed country Parties. Instead, all Parties will be able to participate in this mechanism. Expanding the scope of a carbon market mechanism to allow all types of Parties to participate in transferring mitigation GHG reductions is unprecedented. We don’t know how all Parties will use this mechanism or how successfully it will address sustainable development issues. Therefore, a  s a successful Paris Outcome appears to be on the horizon, this new carbon market mechanism is one more aspect of the Agreement that will be worth watching develop.



Past as Prologue? Joint Implementation and the Future for Flexibility Mechanisms

TradingA recent report by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) raises some serious questions about the integrity of the Joint Implementation (JI) program, one of the Kyoto Protocol’s main flexibility mechanisms. Since flexibility mechanisms are a core part of Geneva Negotiating Text, this report raises the question of how the UNFCCC will learn from its past mistakes as it enters into the new, post-2020 agreement.

JI is one of three flexibility mechanisms created under the Kyoto Protocol (KP) to assist Annex I Parties in meeting their emission reduction targets. JI allows Annex I countries to meet their targets by purchasing emission reduction units (ERUs) countries.  The JI program design is a creature of the changing political landscape of Europe in the early 1990s. Most JI projects transferred ERUs from Economies in Transition (EIT) countries to other Annex 1 countries in Europe. EITs were the Russian Federation and the former Soviet bloc countries emerging from communism in the early 1990s.

The KP built special exemptions into the JI program to help EITs in their transition to a market-based economic system. Decades of central planning left the EITs with inefficient and outdated manufacturing and energy production facilities that could not compete in the EU marketplace. To give the EITs an advantage, the KP let them set their emission baselines at or before 1990 levels. Since their pre-1990 emissions were significantly higher than their post-1990 emissions, the EITs immediately had a surplus of ERUs to sell into the JI market. As of March 2015, almost 872 million ERUs have been transferred through the JI program with four countries – Ukraine, Russia, Poland, and Germany – accounting for 94% of ERUs issued.

The SEI report indicates “significant environmental integrity concerns” for 80% of the ERUs from Ukraine and Russia. What are these concerns?  The main concern is the faulty determination of a JI project’s “newness” of emission reductions.  One of JI’s key requirements is additionality, which means that the emissions reduction would not have occurred without the project. The SEI report revealed that additionality claims were not plausible for 43% of the projects and 73% of the ERUs. For example, seventy-eight projects received credits for preventing the spontaneous combustion of coal waste piles, projects that cannot plausibly produce additional emissions reductions. The report estimates that unqualified JI projects resulted in an extra 600 million t CO2e of global GHG emissions from 2008-12, the first commitment period of the Protocol. How did this happen?  One main reason given was that host countries established their own lenient rules, without international oversight, for approving projects and ERUs.

This happened because KP rules allow JI projects to be approved under two very different tracks. Track 1 allows host countries approve and issue ERUs and determine if the reductions meet the additionality requirement. Track 2 gives the Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee, an UNFCCC body, the power to review projects and requests for ERU issuance and to certify JI auditors. 97% of the ERUs have been issued under Track 1, demonstrating the JI program design incentivizes countries to self-approve non-additional reductions.

Flexibility mechanisms are going to be a crucial element in getting Parties to agree to a post-2020 agreement in Paris, but they need to change how they measure and verify reductions. The SEI report lists a number of options to improve reporting and measurement practices including improving the program’s transparency by making all documentation publicly available, implementing an internationally accepted verification methodology, and banning the practice of retroactively crediting projects. These recommendations need to be implemented in the post-2020 agreement. The past doesn’t need to be the prologue for Paris and beyond.

Behind the scenes of the US-China negotiations

Rolling Stone recently published this intriguing backstory of the US-China climate change announcement made just two weeks before COP20 kicked off in Lima, Peru.  Obama and Xi Jinping

The bilateral conversation started last February with a phone call from U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern to his Chinese counterpart, followed up by a private letter to President Xi from President Obama a month later. (Xi had already traveled to the U.S. in the summer of 2013 just after becoming China’s president, to meet with Obama for two days of informal talks that resulted in an agreement limiting HFC emissions.) In early June, the EPA formally announced the Clean Power Plan, aimed to cut carbon dioxide from power plant emissions by 30% by 2030. This development showed the Obama Administration’s seriousness about using its executive branch power to limit GHG emissions.  According to Rolling Stone, “a few weeks later, a swarm of U.S. diplomats, including Kerry, Podesta and Stern, flew to Beijing for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a high-level diplomatic meeting between the United States and China.”  Despite private, data crunching meetings with Chinese officials, they left without a deal.  President Obama then sent President Xi “a focused two-page letter on what could be delivered during the November APEC visit to Beijing, and it emphasized the climate joint announcement.” In September, when Xi turned down Ban Ki-Moon’s invitation to the UN Climate Change Summit (going to India instead, where he and Prime Minister Modi signed new trade deals) and sent his VP in his place, little was expected from China in New York.  But behind the scenes, VP Gaoli told Obama that Xi wanted to do the deal and announced it at the upcoming APEC meeting.  This development set off a flurry of negotiation on the details that still weren’t set when Obama traveled to Beijing for the regional economic meeting.

In addition to providing a somewhat breathless account of these secret negotiations, this gripping article analyzes a number of pragmatic points about the deal.

COP20 decisionFirst is the potential political payoff from closer climate change relations between the world’s current highest GHG emitter (China) and the country it unseated for the top spot.  For the U.S. (and other developed countries), it means a breach in the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol wall between developed (Annex 1) and developing (nonAnnex 1) countries.  As Jairam Ramesh, a member of Indian Parliament and climate negotiator, was quoted, “In one move, Obama and Xi broke the logjam of climate politics. Until now, China has insisted that the U.S. and the EU are largely responsible for climate change. But this raises the bar for other nations.”  Of note is China’s influence on other advanced developing countries, like Brazil, South Korea, India, Mexico, and Indonesia. The deal also provides a retort to the U.S. climate change skeptic argument that any U.S. GHG reductions would be for naught given China’s high emissions.  As Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island was quoted saying, “now China is doing something pretty significant, while Republicans are still huddled in the dark castle of denial.” For China, with the dramatic announcement on the eve of COP20, President Xi had proven his diplomatic skill by cutting a deal with a world superpower while simultaneously attending to the national need to reduce China’s infamous air pollution.**  Second is the economic pay off of this deal for both countries. The stated focus on renewable energy while weaning themselves off carbon-based fuels provides clear signals from the U.S. and China to the business community about where to invest money.

john podesta in greenMost interesting for this blogger is the central role that John Podesta is credited for playing in bringing the deal to fruition.  Recall our opening question when he was hired by the Obama Administration last December?  While he may not have had an impact on last March’s special ADP meeting in Bonn, there is no doubt that he will at this February’s special ADP meeting in Geneva. And more to come in the long term, if Rolling Stone’s conclusion about his role in the next administration proves true!


**This news update: With asthma cases alone on the rise, the Asia Asthma Development Board says that China has the world’s highest mortality rate from asthma, with 36.7 out of 100,000 patients failing to survive.

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.

Countdown to COP19/CMP9

CC clockAmbition.  Annex B targets.  Second commitment period.  Flexible mechanisms.  State parties.  Green Climate Fund.  Loss and damage.  Reforestation, deforestation, and afforestation.  Joint implementation.  Annex I.  Annex II.  Monitoring, review, and verification.  Adaptation funding.  Common but differentiated responsibilities.  Clean development mechanism.  Carbon emissions trading.  IPCC.  SBI.  SBSTA.  ADP.  AAU.  CER.  ERU.

These are some of the concepts our student observer delegation is mastering as we prepare to witness the next step in international climate change law making at the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 9th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol – a.k.a. COP19/CMP9 – that will kick off in Warsaw, Poland in just 10 days.cop19 logo

From the Berlin Mandate to the Kyoto Protocol, the Bali Road Map and Cancun Agreements to the Durban Outcomes and the Doha Gateway, all eyes turn to Warsaw to watch how countries will commit themselves to mitigating the human drivers of climate change.

A month ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most recent report on the physical science, Climate Change 2013, stating in a press release that warming in the climate system is “unequivocal” and that it is “extremely likely” that human influence has been the dominant cause of it.

WG1 2013According to Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I, “observations of changes in the climate system are based on multiple lines of independent evidence.  Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”

As a result, his Co-Chair Thomas Stocker adds that “heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer.  As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.”

What kind of “substantial and sustained” actions should we look for at COP19/CMP9 that will help UNFCCC parties progress toward a new comprehensive climate change agreement to be signed in Paris in 2015?

Here’s what Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of thechristiana figueres UNFCCC, highlighted in her October 21 speech in London :

  1. ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol;
  2. implement the finance and technology agreements already negotiated to support developing countries;
  3. operationalize the Green Climate Fund;
  4. create mechanism for asserting loss and damage claims; and
  5. clarify the elements of the envisioned Paris 2015 agreement that will create an “ambitious and clear” draft for review in Peru in 2014.