The Log-istics of Carbon Dioxide Removal

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

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/

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 Woman Saving the Planet

c_figueres_v3_400x400This week’s New Yorker leads off with a “Reporter at Large” article by science writer Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction), The Weight of the World: Can one woman get the U.N. to save the planet?  While ostensibly about UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres – answering the subtitled question, “can [she] persuade humanity to save itself?” –  it is just as much about whether the UNFCCC can do its job of preventing “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (laid out in the treaty’s Article 2 Objective).

Kolbert has nailed the nature of Figueres’s job: It “may possess the very highest ratio of responsibility (preventing global collapse) to authority (practically none).”  And for those who see her working the UNFCCC meetings, Kolbert’s interview quotes ring true: “I have not met a single human being who’s motivated by bad news – not a single human being.”  Hence Figueres’s contention that “all the nations of the world are now working in good faith to try to reach a climate agreement.”  Even Saudi Arabia, which prefers using “low emissions” rather than “decarbonization,” and South Korea, whose recent INDC filing was, um, underwhelming, at best.

Kolbert has also juxtaposed the international climate change negotiations and macro level emissions data with clear-eyed accuracy.  CO2 in the atmosphere has grown from 350ppm in 1992, when the UNFCCC was opened for signature, to 400ppm in 2015 – despite the Kyoto Protocol’s GHG emissions reduction targets. This is in part fueled by the countries not bound by the Protocol:  the US, which refused to ratify it even though it is the world’s largest cumulative emitter, and China, which had no mitigation obligations under the Protocol in 1997 (and still doesn’t) but now ties the EU on per capita emissions.  The EU surpassed its 2012 reduction targets, with some countries showing what the “conscious uncoupling” of economic growth and CO2 emissions can look like (e.g. Sweden, which has a carbon tax and where the economy grew 55% during the last 25 years, reduced its emissions by 23%). Nonetheless, given the impact of cumulative emissions, only decisive action to peak CO2 soon can keep atmospheric warming below the goal of 2C.

Cue COP21 in Paris and the INDC pledges currently being made.  I cannot agree with Kolbert’s description of the Kyoto Protocol as surviving US non-ratification “in a zombielike state.” The institutional apparatus that the EU enabled the UNFCCC to develop – market mechanisms like emissions reductions trading and energy efficiency and renewable energy investments via the Clean Development Mechanism – helped build models for low carbon development in both developing and developed countries.  China has learned from this experience when lowering its emissions. In addition, the continued engagement in the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol has fostered bilateral negotiations between the US and China, India, and Brazil.  The new “bottom up” approach of requiring all countries to make “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) builds on these ideas, institutions, and relationships developed during the last 20 years of international climate negotiations.  While this process component is easy to overlook, it’s more sharp-eyed and active than any zombie I know.

 

 


From Lima to Paris: The Road Ahead to COP21/CMP11

This post was written by Vermont Law School COP20/CMP10 Observer Delegation members Archer Christian, Catherine Craig, Rebecca Davidson, Carla Santos, Cynthia Sirois, and Professor Tracy Bach.

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From left to right: Cynthia Sirois, Tracy Bach, Catherine Craig, Archer Christian, Rebecca Davidson, and Carla Santos.

As the action in Lima comes to a close, the question becomes: What has COP20/CMP10 set into play for the negotiations in Paris next year? This COP was styled as an action-oriented one that would build on the “nuts and bolts” program of COP19 in Warsaw. In Lima, the Warsaw mandate tasked parties with further defining the elements of the new international agreement that would be codified in the Paris Agreement at COP21 and then take effect in 2020, as the Kyoto Protocol sunsetted. In doing so, Lima would mark the significant transition from the 1997 Protocol’s “binary approach” of internationally imposed greenhouse gas (GHG) emission mitigation commitments on developed countries only, to an all-in, “bottom up” approach of nationally determined contributions that, when tallied, would achieve the internationally agreed climate stabilization goal set out in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.

The Vermont Law School COP20/CMP10 Observer Delegation chronicled four critical parts of the Lima discussions, namely the next steps under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM); preserving forest “sinks” by building on the Warsaw Framework for REDD+; refinements to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), one of the Kyoto Protocol’s “flexible mechanisms” that allows developed countries to fund GHG reduction projects in developing countries and credit those reductions against their own mitigation caps; and decisions of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), the fulcrum for pivoting from the existing treaty regime for mitigation targets to one that goes beyond mitigation goals and binds all Convention parties. Having blogged about our daily experiences at COP20/CMP10, this summary of these four, key components of the Lima talks reflects on the overall process and outcomes and what it means for la route à Paris and COP21/CMP11.

Beyond adaptation: Loss and Damage experienced now by the poorest countries

The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) was established at COP19 last year to recognize and begin to address the particular needs of those countries most vulnerable to loss and damage. Millions of people around the globe will experience the kind of certain and permanent losses that surpass their ability to adapt to climate change. Earlier this year, Kiribati bought land in Fiji for its anticipated climate refugees, the first nation to do so. At COP19, the UNFCCC Parties gave themselves a deadline for finalizing the Mechanism’s Executive Committee and two-year workplan in Lima.

At COP20/CMP10, the December 5th SBSTA/SBI combined recommendation to the COP contained approval of the two-year workplan submitted by the interim Executive Committee before the COP and three different proposals for the makeup of the permanent Executive Committee. In the end, the Parties agreed to an Executive Committee composition of 10 non-Annex I Party members and 10 Annex I Party members. Eight of the non-Annex I Party members are stipulated in the decision: two each from the African, Asia-Pacific, and the Latin American and Caribbean States, and one each from Small Island Developing Sates and Least Developed Country Parties. The two remaining non-Annex 1 slots are not designated.

Interestingly, the final Executive Committee composition looks like a new equation for a UNFCCC mechanism. The related Adaptation Committee is made up of 16 members, with representatives of the 5 UN regional groups (2 each), SIDS (1), LDCs (1), Non-Annex I (2) and Annex I Parties (2).) Some observers wished for greater explicit LDC and AOSIS representation on the permanent WIM Executive Committee, despite the fact that the two undesignated non-Annex I seats could potentially go to these groups. At least the WIM work can now begin.

The larger question asked repeatedly in the final 36 hours of COP20/CMP10 was how deeply anchored the concept of loss and damage generally, or the WIM specifically, would be in the ADP decision that lays the groundwork for COP21’s Paris agreement. The absence of both in the draft ADP decision text published early Saturday morning (Dec. 13) caused most developing countries’ refusal to agree to that document. Despite the fact that loss and damage can be found in the “Elements for a draft negotiating text” referenced in the draft decision’s Annex, the multiple options for how it might be addressed range from deeply anchored to not included at all. In the end, the final text accepted by consensus in the wee hours of Sunday morning referred to progress on the WIM in the preamble only. With this section’s language having no legal force, Parties’ comments made after acceptance and included in the meeting’s official record made it clear that a Paris agreement is expected to and would have to go further.

The nitty gritty of using REDD+ to “sink” carbon in the world’s forests

The Warsaw Framework for REDD+ adopted at COP19/CMP9 included seven decisions that build on the Cancun Agreement on REDD+ established at COP16/CMP6. The REDD+ Framework includes decisions on national forest monitoring systems; safeguards; forest reference emission levels; measuring, reporting and verification (MRV); results-based financing; drivers of deforestation and forest degradation; and an information hub on the UNFCCC web platform for publishing results information. Importantly for COP20/CMP10, the safeguards decision required developing country parties to start providing summary information in their national communication, including via the web platform of the UNFCCC, after implementation of REDD+ activities begins.

At COP20/CMP10, with the $10 billion Green Climate Fund 2014 goal met, REDD+ projects are already lining up around the block for funding. The question remains whether safeguards and methodological guidelines will be put in place in order to protect the rights of forest communities who will be impacted by these projects. At COP 20, SBSTA made no progress on the Warsaw REDD+ framework on safeguards.   During SBSTA negotiations, the Philippines, Sudan, the EU, Bolivia and the US advocated for developing further guidance on safeguards, but Panama, on behalf of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, said that now is the time to implement REDD+, not to develop further guidelines.

Yet many side events at COP20/CMP10 highlighted the necessity of developing safeguards. During a side event, Looking Forward: REDD+ Post 2015,  Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People, spoke of a dire need to create governance structures that would protect indigenous people during implementation of REDD+ projects. Notably, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) reported that REDD+ can lead to reduced access to natural resources and land tenure insecurity for locals.  CIFOR presented evidence that in order for REDD+ to offer non-carbon benefits, and indeed for it to accomplish its goal of curbing both deforestation and emissions, public participation should be integrated into the REDD+ framework under SBSTA, pursuant to principles of free, prior and informed consent.

Looking ahead to COP 21 in Paris, it is clear that REDD+ will continue to be a debated issue between indigenous people and project developers. Perhaps, because REDD+ is a market-based solution to climate change, it will always fall short of what is socially just. Regardless, REDD+ is moving forward on a global scale, and human rights advocates will continue to call for close monitoring of its interactions with local communities.

Cleaning up the CDM with an eye toward life post Kyoto Protocol

ADP Parties came to Lima with an important agenda: ensure that the clean development mechanism (CDM, for short) modalities and procedures were improved. However, little progress was made in the SBI and SBSTA meetings held during the first week – in fact, most of the mandates and analysis were further postponed to both subsidiary bodies’ forty-second and subsequent sessions (FCCC/SBI/2014/L.35, FCCC/SBI/2014/L.31, and FCCC/SBSTA/2014/L.24). The second week started with the CMP negotiations for a CDM draft decision. Besides providing further rules to key CDM issues, the CMP decision also aimed to guide the CDM Executive Board for the coming year. The CMP negotiations lasted three days, with many hours of long debates and tireless disagreements. Countries were clearly divided in two groups, even though some members often shifted from one side to another. Brazil and the European Union, one of the biggest CDM host countries and the biggest CDM regional market, respectively, expressed opposite opinions about several of the key issues, including voluntary cancellation of emission reductions units (CERs) and double-counting concerns.

Yet the negotiations concluded on Wednesday night. After the Parties finished the third read of the draft text, the CMP convened again at 9 pm. At that point 20 paragraphs were already agreed, several were agreed to be deleted, but other 23 paragraphs, with several alternatives, were still under consideration. After a long debate about what procedure should be adopted to help the negotiations move on, several Parties remind the Chair that a fourth read of the proposed text was not feasible or desirable. The Parties decided to delete all the paragraphs that were not agreed upon, leading to a final CMP decision regarding CDM. The final decision compiled a number of mandates for the CDM Executive Board to comply within the next year. In particular, the Parties requested further analysis on issues such as the revision of CDM’s baseline and monitoring methodologies, and their streamlining, registration of project activities that qualify as automatically additional, and alternatives methodologies to ensure environmental integrity. Besides the CDM Executive Board mandates, the Parties were able to agree on two issues: the adoption of a voluntary procedure for deregistration, and the flexibility regarding the verification timing for afforestation and reforestation projects.

While the CDM negotiations were intense, the uncertainty regarding CDM’s future was a clear ghost in the room. The CDM negotiations happened under the CMP, but the Doha Amendment – which established the emission reduction commitments for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – continues to not be in force. And without an emission reduction market, CDM has no future.

But CDM can once again gain force if Parties agree to an ambitious post-2020 agreement. Looking ahead, Brazil has proposed an “Advanced CDM” or simply CDM+ to the ADP. The new mechanism is explained in three simple paragraphs, and contains one main element: the possibility of voluntarily cancelled CDM CERs to be used to account for countries ’ nationally determined contributions (NDC) financial targets and pledges. Despite the lack of information regarding the proposed CDM+, several countries are already criticizing it. The European Union, for instance, used the expression “double-counting” of CERs continuously during this week’s negotiations, showing great dissatisfaction with the Brazilian proposal. While the double-counting language was not included in the final CMP decision regarding CDM, the issue will continue to surface in future negotiations if a CDM+ is considered in the new agreement.

ADP: Shifting to global peer pressure to mitigate GHG emissions through INDCs 

As was the case in Warsaw last year, final ADP decision-making was pushed to the last minute, of the last hour, of the last day of the COP20 in Lima. The ADP was originally scheduled to close on Thursday afternoon. Not for the first time at this COP, negotiators worked into the wee hours of the night on Friday hoping to come together on issues addressing how Parties will communicate their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), as was directed under paragraph 5 of Decision 1/CP.17 and how parties should contribute to closing the pre-2020 ambition gap. With a newly drafted decision in hand on Saturday morning (officially after the close of the COP), Parties still held clear differences on specific language and its implications.

The COP20 President, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, had taken a very active and open stance during the last few weeks, and many have complimented his efforts to promote clarity and transparency for all Parties. As the close of the meeting neared, and with the draft decision still far from being adopted, his guidance became stronger and more determined. Recalling that Lima had been called a tipping point for the new agreement, he pled with the delegations to “help me . . . don’t leave me alone. We need to help ourselves. We are representing the world, and we are representing what the world is seeking.”

As Parties gave their final interventions, all agreed that the draft decision was not ideal for anyone. However, a dichotomy emerged with some parties endorsing adoption of the decision as it stood subject to more negotiation in Geneva this February, while others drew the red line and declared the draft unacceptable as is. Switzerland on behalf of EIG and Chile on behalf of AILAC were willing to move forward with the current draft, along with the EU, US, Japan, Russian Federation, and New Zealand. Surprising some, Singapore, Belize, and the Marshall Islands also urged Parties to move forward with the current text. Noting that his country is running out of time and its very existence is in danger from sea level rise, the delegate from the Marshall Islands made a very compelling plea: “We cannot leave Lima with empty hands on road to a successful Paris agreement.” Yet parties such as Sudan on behalf of the Africa Group, Malaysia for the LMDCs, India, China and Tuvalu were not willing to compromise the vulnerable people that they represent, and asked the COP President to reconsider the draft. The delegate from Tuvalu, in particular, noted that we should not let this COP be the one where the world’s poorest are denied.

With no consensus on this text, the meeting continued for 10 more hours, shifting to intense, behind-closed-doors negotiations with COP President Pulgar-Vidal and ministers of Singapore and Norway empowered by him to speak with parties on his behalf.  Finally, just before midnight, the COP20/CMP10 final plenary convened, a new final draft decision text was presented, and the gavel was banged. Nonetheless, despite the COP’s consensus position, Tuvalu asked for the floor and spoke intensely and purposefully to register concerns about the need for stronger loss and damage inclusion (besides the WIM progress recognition in the text’s preamble). Many other parties laid out their specific concerns about missing references to the Convention’s principles, notably equity and common but differentiated responsibility and respective capacity (CBDRRC).  Likewise concern was expressed about the changes in external review of the promised INDCs, from well before COP21 convenes in Paris on November 20, 2015 to just a month before.  Behind these specifics lies continued disagreement by developing countries over differentiation and eliminating the so-called binary system of responsibility.

In this way, the route à Paris has been laid out as a bumpy one, littered with the potholes and frost heaves borne of unresolved applications of the major shift away from “top down” international climate change obligations (as embodied in the Kyoto Protocol) to nationally driven commitments.  This mistrust — often referred to as the ghost of Copenhagen —   lingered from the opening to the closing plenary statements. The barebones text adopted in the wee hours, now referred to as the Lima Accord, necessarily deferred detailed discussions to the regular meetings scheduled in 2015 leading up to the COP21 next December in Paris.


Is a CDM+ underway?

cdmAs previously debated in this blog, the future of CDM remains greatly uncertain. To try to tackle this uncertainty, Brazil has submitted a proposal for an Enhanced Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM+. The proposal, submitted to the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), is a response to the new market-based mechanism requested in decision 2/COP 17.
Brazil has great interest that CDM continues under the new international framework.  Besides being one of the countries that most benefited from CDM projects during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, Brazil already has in place the necessary institutions and knowledge to enable even more CDM projects. Thus, proposing that the new market-based mechanism be similar to the well-known CDM does not come as a surprise. But one particular aspect is different under the new proposal: the possibility of voluntary cancelled CERs still be accounted towards countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDC) financial targets and pledges.

The proposal is a good attempt to save CDM, which in the past years has lost debate space to other mechanisms (e.g. loss and damage, and REDD+), and has barely reached ADP discussions. But the proposal is already being deeply criticized by other countries, in particular the European Union. The expression “double-counting” of CERs in different markets was continuously used during this week negotiations, in a clear reference to the Brazilian proposal for after 2020.  While the double-counting language was not included in the final CMP decision regarding CDM due to lack of agreement, the issue will continue to underline future discussions as Parties move on to a new international agreement.


What does the future hold for Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism?

UntitledOn my first day at COP 20 / CMP 10, I had the opportunity to watch CDM’s draft decision discussions – thanks to the European Union, which defended observers’ opportunity to watch the session. It was five hours of long discussions and little progress. Despite the particularities of many of the debated paragraphs, there was only one ghost in the room: the uncertain future of CDM in the post-2020 agreement.

CDM was a mechanism created in a time when international environmental agreements were drafted for two, distinct worlds: developed and developing countries. But since 1997, much has changed.  With China’s GHG emissions surpassing the United States’ emissions by far, the post-2020 agreement will no longer be able to give amnesty to developing countries that are also large emitters.

But how will CDM adapt to a world divided into developed, developing, and least developed countries?

During this second week of COP20/CMP10, Parties continue to discuss improvements to CDM’s accounting system, modalities and procedures.  But it is noticeable how little effort is truly invested in moving the discussions forward.  The lack of certainty regarding CDM’s future, especially for developing countries that host a great number of CDM projects, casts a long shadow on these negotiations, producing a lack of commitment to really improving CDM’s rules.


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.


Carbon Capture Use and Storage: Still Deep in Controversy

At the ADP’s Technical Expert Meeting: Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCS), a panel of State Party and industry representatives discussed CCS challenges and ccs imageopportunities, focusing on financing and technology. CCS is the process for separating and then capturing CO2 from industrial and energy-related sources, then injecting it deeply into porous rock reservoirs. Though growing, there are currently a limited number of CCS projects worldwide. While addressing some of the some of the barriers to wide implementation, the panel on Tuesday presented an optimistic future for CCS in deceiving climate change mitigation targets.

Industry experts on implementation asserted that CCS is safe and that its main challenges come from lack of stable government regulation and financing, not inadequate technology. To demonstrate CCS technology’s safety, Norwegian Olav Skalmerås said his offshore natural gas processing plant had not seen any “surprises” since the project started in 1996. However, describing a regulatory barrier, Scott McDonalds, a biofuels development director from the US, said a developer must spend $10-15 million–just for permitting. Finances were mentioned in each presentation and the experts explained how current CCS projects depended on public financial incentives (or disincentives). For example, Shell’s David Hone said Canadian projects relied on $865 million in support from the Canadian government. Similarly, the US government has given subsidies for CCS projects. However, in contrast to projects depending on government aid, Norway’s high carbon tax served to precipitate CCS projects there.

Despite these hurdles, the panel envisioned a bright future for CCS. State party representative Matthew Bilson said that CCS is the cheapest way to fight climate change and is an absolute necessity for the UK, since it is a “small island” with little room for nuclear energy options. Though developing CCS infrastructure is currenlty hugely expensive, Bilson hopes that by the mid-to-late 2020’s CCS projects will be fully commercial, receiving “virtually no government support.” To increase implementation of CCS, the panel advocated greater collaboration between nations in transferring technology, regulatory models, and finances.

But, while these panelists painted a positive picture of CCS’s future, others would prefer to see a future with little or no reliance on CCS for climate mitigation. The concerns with CCS are numerous and come from sources as varied as AOSIS, Greenpeace, and Stanford. And even the panelist, when stressed during questions, admitted some other areas of concern, such as leaks or spills during transportation or blowouts in pre-injection processes.

Concerned with the injection itself, a group of Stanford researchers argue CCS, like other forms of geological injections, is likely to cause earthquakes. These researchers state, “Because of the critically stressed nature of the crust, fluid injection in deep wells can trigger earthquakes when the injection increases pore pressure in the vicinity of preexisting potentially active faults.” Brittle crusts, or potentially active faults, exist nearly everywhere on earth. Even if seismic activities are not strong enough to endanger people, they could compromise storage seals, causing leaks of stored CO2. Earthquakes from natural causes in the vicinity could similarly compromise CCS storage. Both resulting in negating the benefits of CCS. These researchers noted that highly porous, permeable, and weakly cemented geological formations may provide the safest storage locations, but limiting CCS to these areas makes it improbable or impossible as a method for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace attacks CCS on a number of fronts, including those mentioned above, like the high financial costs and potential for leaks. But adds the additional concern that CCS “uses between 10 and 40% of the energy produced by a power station,” so a power station must make more energy just to support its CCS process. Thus plants using CCS must increases their environmental impact. Greenpeace argues adopting CCS on a wide scale would “increase resource consumption by one third.” Accordingly, Greenpeace does not see CCS as a viable climate mitigation strategy.

In 2011 submission, the Aliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) expressed concerns with CCS and part of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol. Though the Kyoto Protocol and its CDM may not be the vehicle driving future climate mitigation, AOSIS’s concerns are still relevant to future international climate discussions. AOSIS acknowledges the potential problems discussed above, involving leaks, impermanence, and negative environmental impacts, but still recognizes CCS as a valuable technology. AOSIS’s main issue with CCS is not its use generally, but its use as an offset mechanism. “Offset mechanisms do not contribute to global emission reductions,” so nations implementing CCS should not view those projects as a means of shirking emission reduction targets.  ADM-Plant_2

At the heart of the CCS debate is an issue of principles: CCS enables people to continue burning fossil fuels. This has its benefits: it has strong industry support and doesn’t threaten changing day-to-day lifestyles. But it also has its drawbacks. CCS encourages business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, but to stay below the IPCC’s target (raise global temps by no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels), we may need a much bigger shift in the way we live and work.

The question is whether CCS should be one part of this shift or if it is antithetical to the goal. CCS requires huge monetary and resource investments that could perhaps be more fruitfully spent in other sectors. However, the industries with the means have the most interest in CCS, so why not let them finance it? (Here we can see the implications from different approaches: Norway’s high carbon tax strategy incentivized CCS without taking public funds away from other investments. The same can not be said where the US and Canada directly funded projects.)

Whether people should invest in CCS, they certainly are. As the first commercial scale CCS facilities are switched on, these benefits or banes will soon manifest. And as technology continues developing new techniques, concern and praise may have to adjust accordingly.  For example, a Texas company recently launched a project that not only captures the CO2 but recycles it by creating sodium bicarbonate and other products for sale. In a few decades, these efforts may surpass current expectations and leave us with a different world of CCS discussion.


Side (event) . . .

Side events can more than occupy one’s time at a COP.  Presented by a range of actors — academics, activists, businesses, government agencies — they can range in content and quality.  Thus I was fortunate that the few I attended at COP19, given my focus on tracking the ADP negotiations, were fascinating and informative.

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Joana Abrego of the Centro de Incidencia Ambiental, at right.

On the Saturday mid-COP, a day-long conference on human rights and climate chance organized by the Yale University Governments and Environmental Markets Initiative, UNITAR, and the law faculty of the University of Warsaw (that Heather covered well) sought to bring together activists and academics “to
examine how substantive and procedural rights can be used to support, design, and implement effective and equitable solutions to address climate change.”  The third session of the day addressed “human rights, safeguards, and climate mechanisms.”  Dr. Constance McDermott of the University of Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests & Environmental Change Institute provided an overview of forest program safeguards, noting that while the context for the COP19 discussion is REDD+, that these safeguards are rooted in financial institutions like the World Bank.  Joana Abrego of the Centro de Incidencia Ambiental encouraged academics to research the actual implementation of public participation requirements of CDM and REDD+ programs, not just their theoretical constructs.  She described conditions in Panama, where 33% of the territory is protected area, 76% is inhabited by indigenous peoples, and more bird species exist than in U.S. and Canada combined.  She spoke of Panama’s interest in hosting CDM projects, almost all hydropower projects.  With 19 registered projects and 48 in the pipeline, required community engagement and participation have varied significantly.  Abrego described one proposed CDM project, Barro Blanco, which indigenous people fought because of the effect on their river but was nonetheless approved for CDM registration, and Bonyic, another dam project within indigenous peoples’ territory that was rejected by the CDM.  Given this uneven human rights track record, she underscored the need for both research and activism on developing clean energy while protecting IP rights.

Allie Silverman '12 of CIEL.

Allie Silverman ’12 of CIEL.

Allie Silverman of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) focused on safeguards within the REDD+ program of the UNFCCC.  She began by acknowledging that these safeguards, which are procedural and substantive in nature, can be seen by different beholders as either a market-based way to reduce emissions by protecting forests and communities or an attack on indigineous communities, given their traditional place outside international markets.  While CIEL doesn’t take a pro or con position on REDD+ safeguards, it does see the risks of the relatively minimal safeguards, especially as they are put into play on the ground. Allie, VLS’12, who is one of my amazing former students, described CIEL’s rights-based approach to REDD+ project development, implementation, and ongoing monitoring (harkening back to Abrego’s point) and specific projects to extend its reach.  For example, she previewed a web tool (currently in beta form, undergoing peer review) that will provide access to a variety of legal instruments for countries considering REDD projects (e.g. those on self-determination, right to participate, ILO 169, information and consent), intended to help lawyers and legal activitists do their work more effectively.  CIEL is also creating a community guide that builds on the more technical legal information in the web tool to strengthen work with civil society groups like indigenous peoples groups.

In sum, an incredibly exciting side event session, where I learned about one slice of international climate change law as applied and studied from both the ground up and the top down.

And had the joy of watching a former student show her passion for her work post VLS.  Lex pro urbe et orbe.  Law for the community and the world.


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.