China’s Looks to Improve Transparency on Climate Change

Public particip050409_china_protest_bcol7a.standard1ation plays a critical role in environmental discussions. Any good forward-thinking government should act in the best interest of their people. Public participation involves the input of citizens that lead to legislation decision making. Public participation should be a logical step in building trust and holding government officials accountable. Public participation is integral in article 6 of the UNFCCC that enables “public participation in addressing climate change and its effects and developing adequate responses.
Keeping within the spirit of Article 6, developing countries are slowly enabling public participation and education programs that help build awareness of the effects of climate change. China, even though it has a history of significant media censorship, has started campaigning and encouraging the public to learn and speak up on climate change. Today at COP24, the China pavilion hosted a presentation on its efforts to engage the public. Despite the many criticisms China faces in not doing more in combating climate change, one of the positive things about China is that it acknowledges that climate change is real. China has accepted that increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
China says that it is campaigning and hosting conferences that raise public awareness and transparency. Chinese media outlets are now implementing initiatives that enable greater access to the public. However, the media has also warned that the public responses should be objective and rational. The Chinese press is also filming a documentary on the effects of climate change in China.
Outside of the media, the Chinese government developed the China Center for Climate Change Communication. The organization is a collaboration between the Research Center for Journalism and Social Development of Renmin University and Oxfam Hong Kong. The organization’s mission is to exchange publications on climate change with other experts and NGOs.
Moreover, China is involved in joint ventures with India in building education programs that teach the value of conservation to young children. The program, called the Smart Cloud Campus Network, seeks to fundamentally change consumption behavior at an early age by developing lessons and activities that encompass the principals linked with the 17 elements of the SDGs published by the UNFCCC. The program’s secondary goal is to move towards making campuses carbon neutral.
China invited Greenpeace Poland to the discussion and served as a case study in which China hopes to follow in the same manner. Fifteen years ago, Polish citizens had no concept of renewable energy, nor the idea of climate change. Ten years of public awareness has started to shifted public perception favoring clean energy solutions. Surveys conducted recently in Poland show that 69% of the public wants to quit coal by 2030. The main message that helped initiate public climate action discussions by shifting from the climate change to human tragedies that affect community can also happen to us.
At negotiation sessions at COP24, China’s comments and suggestions subtly give away its position to build in flexibility allowing a balance between economic growth and climate change. Although China is known for suppressing negative stories and opinions to save face, we must give China an opportunity of good faith to make good on its promises. After all, can you name a country who has not censored speech against its citizens? China’s commitment to climate change appears sincere. I hope they don’t disappoint us.

Not a Happy Camper: Negative Reactions to the First Round of Iterations.

udsmcducmvd0rebfmfu3Despite the extreme cold (even for Vermont standards), the negotiations sessions were really heating up today. Yesterday, the secretariat released the first round of iterations–basically edits to the draft text the parties were negotiating during this past week. Theoretically, iterations are suppose to capture all the parties’s options they would have to decide on next week. But if I had a dollar for every time a party said the word “disappointed” in their interventions, I’d have enough to buy my ticket back to Vermont.

Of the many disappointments, the most heated I’ve experienced was during the common time frame negotiations. The discussion here is about (1) when to require the parties to communicate their second NDCs, and (2) whether that decision should apply to all subsequent NDCs. The original draft text (page 41) contained four options: (1) communicate every five years, (2) communicate every ten years, and either communicate or update the NDC every five years, (3) communicate by 2025 and decide on either a five or ten year timeframe (yeah, it is a blend of options #1 and #2), or (4) each country can nationally determine when they want to communicate their NDCs.

These discussions had distilled the options to two main proposals: China’s flexible proposal or “5 plus 5” proposal. China wants the second NDC communication to start in 2025 (5 years after the first NDC, as required by the Article 4.10 of the Paris Agreement), and have the NDC submitted by either 2030 or 2040. This proposal purposely excludes language mandating a five or ten year time frame to keep flexibility in the process. It also wants to decide on subsequent NDC time frames later for the same reason. The “5 plus 5” proposal suggests that parties will have the option to either submit or start working on their NDCs every five years, but can choose to extend it another five years if they want. This is basically option #3, but eliminates the need for options #1 and #2.

The newest iteration for this agenda item contained two options that were nothing like the proposals that the parties wanted to debate. It essentially blended together every parties’ proposal instead of listing each of them out separately for deliberation. Of all the parties upset, Saudi Arabia was the most emotion. Apparently, in the intercessional meeting the parties had in Bangkok in September, the co-facilitators promised Saudi Arabia that certain text discussed there would not end up in any iterations of COP24. Guess what was in this iteration. Saudi Arabia even went as far to express his distrust in the co-facilatators moving forward.

How can they mend the broken hearts of the session in the second iteration? Well first, put what the parties actually want! Parties worked long hours to get to those two proposals. It’s a shame that the hard work of everyone’s original proposals was lost when morphed together in an incoherent way. Second, no more new proposals. The Marshall Islands always makes a point to remind the parties they must come to a decision this COP. Adding more ideas to debate is pointless if countries already agreed on those two proposals. Third, find time for parties to hold more informal negotiations outside of the sessions. Parties have consistently complained about the lack of time, so work with them to secure some additional time.

If all else fails, at least they all agreed that they hated the text.



BURs: One Small Decision Leads to Surprising Results!

The Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) is a hot topic at COP24. At the conclusion of COP24 is the deadline for all parties to put their heads together, develop, and finalize provisions for the modalities, procedures and guidelines (MPG) of the ETF. The MPGs might supersede and replace the current transparency framework called measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV). Completion of the MPGs marks a significant milestone for the Paris Agreement. Anticipation to see the final provisions and roll out of the MPGs has already caused ripple effects when it comes to reporting.

The UNFCCC cannot help but celebrate the ongoing progress in transparency. The UNFCCC is observing the fruits of all party’s efforts, despite some resistancbur1_552e, through increase rates of party participation in submitting annual reports, specifically Biennial Update Reports (BURs). The BUR was the brain child of PA parties committed to climate change at COP17 in 2012. BURs are reports submitted by non-Annex I parties. BURs generally contain updates to GHG inventories, mitigation actions, status, needs and support. BURs should be submitted every two years at the time of the first submittal. Least developed country parties (LDC) have the flexibility to submit their first BUR at their discretion. The BURs are purely collaborative and peer-reviewed by international consultation and analysis (ICA). The ICA is made up of teams of experts that consist of PA parties.

Although BURs on their face may not appear to be an exciting process, parties’ implementation, feedback and lessons learned have exciting benefits. At COP24, the UNFCCC hosted a side event which showed the progress of BURs and featured case studies from Brazil and China.

As of today, the UNFCC has received a total of 66 BUR reports. Recent submissions from Brazil and China help serve as ideal case studies for other non-Annex I parties.

When Brazil started preparing its BUR report, little did it know that the BUR would significantly enhance government workflow and increase environmental awareness. Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs led the BUR report and quickly learned the logistical nightmare and resources needed to complete the report. Brazil’s BUR report took about a year to complete. However, after the report was submitted, Brazil conducted a lessons learned exercise and found surprising results. Brazil learned that preparation of the BUR improved communication and exchange between ministries. Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) engaged with energy and agriculture agencies, which were unfamiliar with the UNFCCC and the BUR. The MOFA encouraged these officials to participate in BUR workshops and in turn the agencies spurred investigation and internal discussion adopting environmental initiatives in their respective agencies.

China’s BUR had similar benefits compared to Brazil. Lessons learned after China’s first BUR submission revealed adoption of procedures that heightened internal quality assurance and control. Additionally, China started building a national system to archive environmental and climate change data. Even more impressive, China pushed past its reluctant disposition and started sharing emission factor data and best practices with the ICA. China is in progress in submitting its second BUR report and is excited to see the differences from its first report.

The BURs play a key role in helping developing countries establish environmental reporting procedures. BURs can also have the indirect effect of facilitating government cohesion between agencies and pushing countries down a greener path.

China’s Effort to Limit GHGs

china-five-year-plan-infographicChina produces more carbon dioxide than any other country in the world: 10.357 million metric tons per year. To limit their impact on climate change, China includes environmental protection in their Five Year Plan (FYP). The FYP is the country’s blueprint that outlines the policy framework, priorities, economic, and social development goals for the 2016-2020 period.

In 2016, China released the 13th FYP which includes lofty goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and increase green manufacturing. Innovation is the crux of this FYP. Innovation builds on improving manufacturing and emphasizing a cleaner, green economy. A State Council executive meeting in 2015 discussed implementing an Internet Plus Circulation program. The program expands broadband connection to more rural areas so there is more efficiency in transporting items, like new agricultural products and equipment. The program will also allow rural populations to access health care. Air pollution is a key target for the FYP. Chapter 38, Section 4, ensures that the concentration of fine particulate matter is reduced by at least 25%. The current status of smog and air pollution affects public health. China is increasing regulations for coal-fired plants while requiring low-emission technologies and eliminating outdated industrial equipment and processes.

The carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets in the FYP contribute to China’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) 2030 target. The 13th FYP even put a first nation-wide total energy cap on all energy sources: it is set at less than the equivalent of five billion tons of coal over the next five years. These goals are reflected in the INDC filed on June 30, 2015. Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, provides that “[e]ach Party shall prepare…nationally determined contributions…with the aim of achieving the objectives…” of reaching a global peak of GHG emissions as soon as possible. During COP24 in December, China may include details about innovation and policy from the 13th FYP into the NDC because it is on track to meet the 2020.

China is fully embracing their 2020 goals by implementing green community projects. On September 28, 2018, Green Climate Fund announced that the board will consider projects, including China’s Green Cities program,targeting Central Asia and Eastern Europe. This project is among 20 other proposals totaling $1.1 billion to be heard during the next board meeting this month. It will be interesting to see how these project proposals will factor into each countries’ NDC during COP24.

Will the U.S. hand off the Paris Agreement baton to China?

US CHina ratificationIn London today, Myron Ebell told participants at a climate denier conference that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris Agreement: “He could do it by executive order tomorrow or he could do it as part of a larger package.” Ebell is a well known U.S. climate denier who was tapped by the Trump Administration to lead the pre-inauguration EPA transition team.

While Ebell’s statement confirms Trump’s campaign rhetoric, it also appears to contradict the Trump Administration’s nominee for Secretary of State.  Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson recently testified at his confirmation hearing, “I think it’s important that the United States maintain its seat at the table in the conversation on how to address threats of climate change. They do require a global response. No one country is going to solve this alone.”

Meanwhile, Representative Leutkemeyer of Missouri introduced a bill last week to prohibit U.S. participation in the IPCC, UNFCCC, and the Green Climate Fund. The bill’s co-sponsors are Representative Graves (also from MO), Duncan (SC),and Gosar (AZ). H.R.673 – To prohibit United States contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Green Climate Fund – was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on January 24, 2017. As of today, the Library of Congress’ reports that the bill’s text is not yet available, citing transmission delays from the Government Publishing Office.

As we observed after COP22, the BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India, and China – are poised to lead Paris Agreement implementation, with or without U.S. participation. President Xi Jinping declared at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that “countries should view their own interest in the broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.” A Desmog blog post today, entitled “How Politics and Pollution Could Push China Into the Climate Leader Role the US Is Giving up,” underscores China’s multilateral leadership interest while also exposing its internal motivations. In sum: China is both “eager to fill the vacuum in climate change leadership” and “to eat America’s lunch in the renewable energy sector.” Professor Angel Hsu of the Yale School of Forestry warns that “the U.S. economy stands to suffer with Trump’s denial of clean energy. If Trump wants to create jobs like he says he does, ignoring the potential of green jobs would be a huge oversight.” According to President Xi, China’s green investments are already “paying off”.




NDCs Public Registry – Pandora’s Box – Who would’ve thought?


Today, at the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) second informal meeting related to the development of modalities and procedures for the operation and use of a Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) public registry referred to in Article 4, paragraph 12, of the Paris Agreement (PA), the discussion took an interesting turn of events when the Co-Facilitators, Ms. Madeleine Diouf (Senegal) and Ms. Traude Wollansky (Austria), presented the Parties a draft on the possible elements for draft conclusions regarding this agenda item.

By conducting negotiations under this agenda item, the SBI is complying with its mandate proposed at COP21. Also, at COP21 the UNFCCC Secretariat was requested to make available an NDCs interim registry, in the first half of 2016, pending until the modalities and procedures regarding a final public registry are adopted by the CMA.

At the SBI’s first informal meeting, held on Tuesday, Parties expressed their views on the agenda item, especially emphasizing that there is a difference to be struck and understood by the Parties between the SBI and Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) agendas. The APA is currently holding informal meetings on NDCs features, information and accounting. The Parties stated that while the APA will discuss the NDCs from a more political and substantive manner, the SBI should limit its discussion and draft conclusions/decisions on the technical issues raised by the utilization of the NDCs Public Registry. Most Parties agreed on Tuesday that the NDCs Public Registry should be accessible, user-friendly, contain a record for each Party’s NDCs, including historical records and keeping track of any amendments made by the Parties to their NDCs. Also, some Parties were in favor of continuing and building upon the work that has already been done with the NDCs interim registry. The Co-Facilitators even stated at the beginning of the first informal meeting that after the first meeting is over they will start drafting conclusions and bring them at the second informal meeting for Parties consideration.

At the second informal meeting, some Parties were surprised by the Co-Facilitators action to draft and present the respective draft to the Parties. Further, some Parties considered the Co-Facilitators expectation that Parties will start discussion on the draft as highly inappropriate, especially when not all Parties have expressed their views on the agenda item. The strongest voice in this regard was China’s, that took the floor more than five times, talking on behalf of the LMDC. He vehemently called for the suspension of the informal discussion until an outcome is reached on the APA’s NDCs agenda item. Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia echoed China’s statement, considering the Co-Facilitators decision to present a draft on the possible elements as premature. Tuvalu discussed China’s point, stating that from a procedural point of view the Co-Facilitators have acted correctly and within their mandate and the Parties have to discuss the draft conclusions. Also, Tuvalu did not understand China’s point on why the SBI should wait for the APA to complete its work on the NDCs agenda item. Canada was torned on the subject, as although recognizing the Co-facilitators authority to propose the draft conclusions it also sympathized with China’s position, as the ADP discussions are very delicate.

The Parties frustration and fear with this agenda item comes from the slow motion of ongoing discussion and statements at the APA’s informal meeting on NDCs features, information and accounting. After three APA’s informal meetings, the Parties were able to reach consensus on few items such as: the principal characteristic of the NDCs is their national character and this should be included as a feature; the features are rooted in the PA; and the work under this agenda item should respect the PA.

Confusion and slow actions are reigning over the negotiation sessions of the APA and the SBI with respect to NDCs. We can only wait and see what the next days of COP22 have in store for these agenda items.


28 countries and almost 42% of global GHG emissions

US CHina ratificationIn the last 10 days, ratification of the Paris Agreement jumped from 25 countries representing a very small amount of global GHG emissions to more than half the countries and 80% of the emissions required to bring it into force.

As we blogged last April after the signing ceremony in New York, the magic numbers per Article 21 are 55 countries and 55% of emissions.   The Marshall Island predicted a few weeks ago that this could be achieved in 2016.  About 10 days ago, on the eve of the G20 meeting, the U.S. and China deposited their instruments of ratification with the UN, thereby binding each country to the Paris Agreement.  Three days ago, Brazil ratified the Agreement domestically.  Although it has not yet deposited its ratification instrument with the UN, it intends to do so next week.  While the UNFCCC website ratification counter still shows 27 counties and 39% of emissions, the World Resources Institute’s tracker has added in Brazil’s ratification, thus ending this week’s progress at 28 countries and 41.56% of global GHG emissions.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is hosting a high level event on September 21 to encourage countries to ratify the Agreement during the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting in New York. Climate Home quotes Ban’s chief climate adviser, Selwin Hart, stating that 20 countries plan to ratify the Paris Agreement next Wednesday, including Mexico and Brazil.  Although the EU could put ratifications over the top, both in terms of countries (28) and emissions (about 12%), EU leaders have indicated since last December that the federation’s ratification process does not move quickly and so has signaled a 2017 ratification, at the earliest. Nonetheless, European leaders currently meeting in Bratislava to plan for a post-Brexit EU say that they are trying to speed up the process.  Jos Delbeke, the European Commission’s director general for climate, says that “We’re all accelerating our procedures. If the leaders could discuss speeding up ratification processes at the national level and if they could agree on a light procedure for the EU ratification, then we could make it by Oct 7. If that happens then the EU will probably trigger the entry of the agreement into force.”

Coal plant capacity decline worldwide

global coal plant trackerThe Global Coal Plan Tracker reports this week that the “coal plant pipeline” (defined as coal-fired generating capacity in pre-construction planning) dropped 14% during the first half of 2016. This 158 gigawatts (GW) reduction (from 1,090 GW in January 2016 to 932 GW in July) almost equals the EU’s total coal-fired generating capacity.  The report points out significant drops in Asia, with China leading the way at -114 GW followed by India at -40 GW.  Both countries made policy announcements to decrease coal usage in the past year. In addition, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines have made announcements or taken actions to reduce their use of coal.

Despite this trend, the report underscores that the amount of coal-fired energy capacity in planning and construction phases will nonetheless exceed the global carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5°C.  For more detailed analysis, including by geographical region, country, and types of plants, read here.

US-China Paris Agreement Bilat Blooms

Obama and XiOver the course of the UNFCCC’s 24-year history, the relationship between the US and China on climate change has changed dramatically.

Since COP15 in Copenhagen, the gradual movement away from a hard line between developed and developing country obligations has been eased by the two countries’ improving bilateral working relationship. In November, 2014 – just a month before COP20, a pivotal point in the Durban Mandate’s search for a new climate change agreement that would bind all UNFCCC parties – President Obama and President Xi Jinping announced at the close of the Pacific Rim conference in Beijing new U.S. targets for carbon emissions reductions and a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing by 2030.  As one senior Obama administration official put it, “the United States and China have often been seen as antagonists. We hope that this announcement can usher in a new day in which China and the U.S. can act much more as partners.” Jairam Ramesh, a member of the Indian Parliament and climate negotiator, was quoted at the time observing that “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.

In last Thursday’s U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change, the two countries took the lead again.  Affirming that “over the past three years, climate change has become a pillar of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship,” Presidents Obama and Xi announced “another significant step in their joint climate efforts” – signing the Paris Agreement.  Specifically, the two presidents stated that “the United States and China will sign the Paris Agreement on April 22nd and take their respective domestic steps in order to join the Agreement as early as possible this year.”  In addition, they “encouraged” other UNFCCC Parties to do the same, to bring the Paris Agreement into force as soon as possible.

In addition, both countries reaffirmed their bilateral work with each other, as well as with other UNFCCC Parties, focusing on the following specific actions:


China now sets its cap on energy consumption

china capChina just announced in its 13th Five Year Plan (2016-202) that it will set an energy consumption cap.  Its goal: to improve industrial efficiency and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The consumption cap will be 5 billion tons of standard coal equivalent by 2020.  China also pledged to cut carbon intensity by 18% by the same deadline.  The Five Year Plan nonetheless predicts that GDP will continue to grow, by 6.5% per year during this period.  According to a new study from the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute (to be published in Climate Policy this week), China’s carbon emissions may have already peaked, due to a reduction in coal use and its economic slow down. As we blogged recently, China has already taken steps toward cutting 500 million tons of surplus coal capacity in the next five years.

China pledged in Paris to reduce its carbon intensity 60-65% below 2005 levels by 2030 and peak its GHG emissions by the end of next decade.  Analysts believe that the top GHG emitter in the world will beat this target by at least five years.

Cleaning up India’s energy mix

dehli pollution2015 marked the first time that the average Indian was exposed to more air pollution from fine particulate matter than the average Chinese, reports Greenpeace. In response, India has introduced new taxes aimed at cutting pollution and reducing emissions.  The country’s finance minister announced this week a tax of up to 4% on new passenger vehicles.  It’s estimated that almost 40% of Dehli’s air pollution comes from vehicle emissions alone.

India is also taking aim at cleaning up its energy mix, both for local pollution abatement gains and for global GHG mitigation.  When announcing the car tax, the finance ministry also announced a doubling of its tax on coal, which comprises 70% percent of India’s energy mix. With an eye toward low carbon energy sources, the government plans to allocate $430 million for nuclear power development.

It also continues to emphasize solar energy development. The BRICS development bank, along with the World Bank and the Asian Development india solar missionBank, recently announced that they will each provide $500 million in financing for rooftop solar in India. These loans will be used to provide a 30% subsidy to public institutions that set up rooftop solar power systems. India aims to have 100 GW of solar power capacity operational by April 2022, with 40% of it coming from rooftop solar. Currently rooftop solar contributes only 10% of the total 5 GW solar power capacity.  To spur development, the Indian Cabinet recently approved a rooftop solar subsidy of $770 million by 2022 for public institutions, to complement the international development bank loan pledges.


Peeking into China’s Peak

2014-09-10-ChinablogpicUPDATE: China’s National Bureau of Statistics (analyzed by Greenpeace) just confirmed that the country’s CO2 emissions fell by 1-2% in 2015 while 2-4% less coal was used and 32.5 gigawatts of wind and 18.3 gigawatts of solar were used in 2015.

China’s imports of coal fell to the lowest in four years in 2015, dropping 30% as a combination of air pollution laws and economic slow downs have decreased demand. Overall coal consumption was down more than 5% last year. Beijing has already announced that it will end coal usage in the capital city and its surrounding areas by 2020, using natural gas instead to meet electricity needs.

Looking ahead, China’s peak promises, made in its INDC filed in June 2015, are gaining more traction.

The decline in CO2 emissions from coal burning in China may accelerate after the head of China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) announced this week that the government would restrain the construction of new coal-fired power plants.  This policy shift includes withdrawing some approvals already given in regions with the biggest capacity surpluses.  In addition, China will close more than 1000 coal mines this year, which lowers total production capacity by 60 million tons. China has a total of 10,760 mines, and 5,600 of them will eventually be shuttered under a policy to close those with an annual output lower than 90,000 tons, the China National Coal Association has estimated. The country produced 3.7 million tons of coal last year and has an estimated capacity of 2 billion tons per year. The NEA announcement on Monday confirmed that these closures were part of a plan to shut down as much as 500 million tons of surplus production capacity within the next three to five years.

Interesting, this same NEA statement also spoke of renewable energy, urging parties to solve the alleged problem of limiting renewable energy in regional grids, where local governments tend to favor major coal companies over renewable generators.





Are US COP21 pledges in trouble? UPDATE

IMG_24022/19/16 UPDATE:  Since my post on Monday, Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, has weighed in.  Speaking from Brussels, where he was meeting with the EU’s Climate and Energy Commissioner, Stern was quoted as saying “it is entirely premature, really premature to assume the Clean Power Plan will be struck down but, even if it were, come what may, we are sticking to our plan to sign, to join. We’re going to go ahead and sign the agreement this year.”  He pointed out how different the situation President Obama faces when signing the US on to the Paris Agreement than President Clinton’s support of the Kyoto Protocol that was then abandoned by his successor, President George W. Bush. “Paris was seen as such a landmark, hard-fought, hard-won deal that, for the U.S. to turn round and say we will withdraw, that would inevitably give the country a kind of diplomatic black eye that I think a president of any party would be very loath to do.”  He added:  “We think we are going to prevail in the court but we are going to go ahead and sign the agreement this year. Period. And we are not in any way going to back away from our 2025 targets.”
* * *

obama at COP21This has been the question of the week in the US environmental community (and to some degree, in the international community as well).

The US Supreme Court granted a stay on Tuesday to the plaintiffs challenging EPA’s authority to devise the Clean Power Plan (CPP) under its Clean Air Act rulemaking authority.  In Paris and at home, the CPP has been described as the cornerstone of US pledges under the Paris Agreement.

While a stay is only a procedural decision that stops implementation of a challenged law during litigation, the fact that five out of nine SCOTUS justices granted it caused a collective gasp last Tuesday night in the enviro law community.  Why?

First, and foremost, no one was expecting it.  The plaintiffs’ motion for a stay had already been denied by the D.C. Circuit (which will hear the case on the merits in June).  This ruling was accepted by both sides of the lawsuit as well grounded in precedent.  In fact, many saw the appeal to the Supreme Court as a “hail Mary” pass.  (No Cam Newton jokes here.)  Second, the stay indicates that at least five justices think that the plaintiffs could be harmed by complying with a rule that, when it inevitably arrives at the Supreme Court after the D.C. Circuit’s decision, may be held invalid.

Reading the blogs and Tweets of the last six days, it’s safe to say that the jury is out on what this SCOTUS decision means for the CPP and for the Paris pledges. One slice of expert opinion talks everyone off the ledge by reminding us that it’s just a short-term procedural victory, not a decision on the merits.  David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) embodies this effort in this interview.

On the impact of the stay at home, there’s a difference of opinion.  The Washington Post reported that “about 48 hours after the court’s decision, major utility companies are reacting to the move with a collective shrug.”  The largest trade association of electricity providers, Edison Electric Institute, was quoted saying that “electric utilities are investing in clean energy and pursuing energy efficiency” regardless of legal challenges to the CPP — even companies, like AEP, who are listed among the plaintiffs.  Pointing to Congress’s recent renewal of clean-energy tax credits and increasing private sector investments in clean-energy projects, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy adds that “the CPP is underpinning a [market] transition that is already happening and will continue to happen.” States like New York and California immediately called press briefings to state their continued implementation of the CPP.  A variety of state official responses, similar in tone, have been collected by the Georgetown Climate Center.  Yet Justin Pidot of the University of Colorado School of Law reads the stay as a sign that the coal industry is “too big for EPA to regulate absent an express congressional directive.”

On the international impact of the stay, observers express concern at the high level of international relations more than in the nitty gritty detail of achieving the Paris pledges.  Michael Gerrard of Columbia’s Center for Climate Change Law emphasizes that while the CPP is important to the US plan for mitigating GHG emissions, it’s not the only game in town.  Gerrard points to several facts in his blog post on Wednesday that the mainstream media hasn’t clearly picked up.  First, the CPP doesn’t fully kick in until well into the longer-range US INDC pledges.  Citing the US’s Biennial Report (a required communication under the UNFCCC) that was filed just last month, Gerrard points out that the CPP’s actual emissions reductions do not begin until 2022, and thus don’t affect the 2020 pledge of reducing 17% below 2005 levels.   In terms of the 2025 pledge of 26% to 28% reduction, Gerrard sees that the US was also relying on fuel economy and energy efficiency standards, phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, reducing methane emissions, and for the ultimate reach, counting forests and other vegetated land masses as GHG sinks.

In contrast, Michael Wara of Stanford Law School believes the US’s international reputation for making good on the Paris Agreement pledges — already weakened by our unreliable behavior on the Kyoto Protocol — took a hit from the stay, especially given our bilateral negotiations with China and India and the role that the CPP-based reductions played in them.   (He also sees “significant ramifications” for the U.S. electric power sector given that continued uncertainty in regulating carbon hurts long-term electric utility investments, which could result in higher prices for consumers and competitive disadvantages in trade. (This post from the law firm of Stoel Reeves provides more details on this point.))

Now, with Justice Scalia’s death two days ago and the ensuing debate about who will appoint his replacement, the role of the Court in US domestic climate change law and its international commitments is even more acute.



“Legally binding enforcement system … will reassure investors”

john kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in Paris this week for the COP21 negotiations, is making the Obama Administration’s case for the new Paris Agreement (or Paris Outcome, as it was renamed last week at China’s suggestion). “A legally binding enforcement system will reassure investors, who have to carry the low-carbon economy beyond what governments can do.” With one phrase, Kerry switched the focus from the U.S. government being a global climate leader or good international neighbor to more simply enabling capitalism to address climate change.

“It’s not that we’re going to leave here knowing that everything we do is going to hit the 2 degree mark,” Kerry is quoted as saying. “What we’re doing is sending the marketplace an extraordinary signal – that those 186 countries are really committed – and that helps the private sector to move capital into that, knowing there’s a future that is committed to this sustainable path.”

While there are currently 196 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (195 countries plus the EU as a regional party), Kerry was referring to the countries who filed their intended nationally determined contributions or INDCs before coming to Paris to negotiate a new climate change agreement.  Most of these countries are developing countries that, under the Kyoto Protocol, do not have hard GHG mitigation obligations.  Under the Paris Outcome, they would.  In return, developed countries signing on to this new agreement would help them fulfil these commitments through direct financial support.  While all developed countries who are party to the UNFCCC acknowledge that industrialization has largely caused atmospheric warming, and that their relative wealth enables them to finance mitigation and adaptation in the developing world, the form of this climate finance is currently one of three major sticking points in the last 36 hours of COP21.

Hard at work, waiting.

Hard at work, waiting.

As we blogged earlier, the OECD recently reported successful progress toward the $100 billion per year starting in 2020 promised by developed countries in COP15 in Copenhagen.  As of 2014, OECD calculates that some $62 billion per year has been pledged.  While developing countries look at this number critically, it is the source of these funds that rankles even more.  These UNFCCC parties who expect public financing – donations from governments – to make up this $100 billion.  Thus Kerry’s quote today speaks volumes about the US approach to climate finance – and the current “divergence” (in negotiation speak) that has the 20,000 people here tonight at COP21 waiting for the public side of the negotiations to resume.

Secretary Kerry is no stranger to climate change negotiations.  He understands well how his comments resonate in this international arena, as well as within the DC Beltway.

In a White House press release today, he reacted this way to a reporter’s question on the importance of a deal in Paris.

“I was in Rio. I’ve been in successive COPs, including Kyoto, managed Kyoto on the floor of the Senate in a senate that would do nothing unless China were deeply involved, which is one of the reasons why I went to China two years ago to try to get China involved. And I think that we wouldn’t have 186 countries with INDCs if China hadn’t joined in, so I think that’s been a very important synergy.

But I know it’s – people, you have to sort of try to find the right level of concern to express, because if you go too far people think you’re over the top. And a lot of what is happening can lend itself to conclusions that people will judge to be over the top, but they’re real. They’re absolutely real. Science is science. I keep trying to say this to people. I mean, this is not based on a supposition, what we’re doing. It’s not based on a theory. It’s not an ideology. It’s based on years and years of scientific analysis and study. 

So it’s important because we could have massive human dislocation on the planet. [T]his is a matter of how we organize ourselves as human beings on the face of this planet. And it’s – but what we need to grab on to, and many of you here, particularly those in business already have, is this is not – this doesn’t have to be disruptive in a negative way with respect to economies. This is the most extraordinary market opportunity in the history of humankind. The market of the 1990s which created the greatest wealth our nation has seen since the days of no tax and the Rockefellers, Carnegies, et cetera, Mellons, we created the greatest wealth in the 1990s in America – and we shared it, by the way, with everybody. Every quintile of American society went up.

Venezuela's #2 prepares for tonight's meeting.

Venezuela’s #2 prepares for tonight’s meeting.

 But this is a bigger market. That was a $1 trillion market with 1 billion users. This is already a 4 to 5 billion user market and valued at multiple trillions of dollars, and we’re going to spend at least 17 trillion in the next ten years on new energy projects, et cetera. So that’s why AT&T and Microsoft and Apple and Google and Walmart and GE and a whole bunch of companies have signed on to the President’s business initiative. And they’re already making pledges to make sure that their products are produced without a huge chain of deforestation, with a virtuous fuel cycle, with sustainable practices and outcomes. 

And that’s going to be the difference that young people growing up now, all of whom are in touch with each other 24/7 around the world, are not going to stand for the hypocrisy and they’re not going to stand for the delay. They’re going to demand products and goods and options that are sustainable, and we owe it to them. That’s why this is what is so important in Paris. 

Media waits too.

Media waits too.

Now, a final comment. I don’t expect Paris and I never expected Paris, given the Kyoto experience, to come out with a firm, we’re going to hit 2 degrees and everybody’s going to live by the same standard. That didn’t work. It’s not going to work. The virtue of this is that every country is designing their own plan, and every country is coming to the table with what it can do, not what it’s being told to do. And that differential is going to create a huge momentum.

And I believe the reason it is so singularly important is that that market that I just talked about, it’s going to explode if we get the right market signal coming out of Paris. And I’ve never looked to the government to be the savior here. 

The government isn’t going to make this decision. You are. Businesses are. This is going to be a business-driven transformation that will take place combined with just consumer demand and voter demand ultimately. And you’re seeing it in China. I mean, China just shut down its schools for two days and its transportation and said no open fire burning. And you see on the news today the pictures of what Beijing looks like. They have to do it. And they’re concerned that if they don’t do it, it could be destabilizing to the party and to the party’s interests and control of the country. So I think you’re going to see a mass movement here, particularly if Paris comes out with the judgment we hope.

COP21 Begins in 24 Hours: Will a Paris Agreement [Decrease] [Solve] [Do Nothing On] Climate Change?

imagesIf all politics are local, but greenhouse gases find their way into the atmosphere’s international space, how can the global community act collectively on climate change? In 1992, the solution was to adopt an international treaty. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) declared climate change a “common concern of mankind,” and committed 166 countries to tackling it. Most UNFCCC parties were developing countries, who had contributed relatively few emissions given their pre-industrial poverty but were nonetheless already experiencing the irreversible, negative effects of climate change. Under the convention’s principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities” (CBDRRC), developed countries and top greenhouse gas emitters like the European Union and the United States agreed to take the lead.

Yet, progress has been slow. In 2007, this leadership took the form of the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol, which placed clear greenhouse gas emission limits on developed countries while imposing none on developing countries. When the United States refused to ratify, its emissions, along with those of rapidly industrializing developing countries like China, India, and Brazil, escaped international regulation. Consequently, when negotiations for continuing the protocol beyond its first 2008-2012 period faltered at COP15 in Copenhagen, a new approach to international limits on greenhouse gas emissions began to CO2take shape. It gained momentum at the two subsequent conferences of parties (COPs) held in Cancun and Durban. Now, almost six years on, there is emerging agreement that all parties—developed and developing countries—should make individual, international climate change mitigation pledges determined by each party’s national government.

At COP21 in December, the current 196 UNFCCC parties will decide if they can sign on to this new paradigm of international climate change regulation. The Durban Mandate requires the parties to “develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” by the end of 2015. In Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 2015, the parties will have their last opportunity to shape the international climate change law that will take the place of the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in 2020.

copDuring four negotiation sessions this year, the parties drafted a “Paris Package” that consists of a core legal agreement based on a system of nationally determined contributions and several COP decisions addressing implementation and political issues. The current 31-page draft agreement outlines how parties’ individual contributions will be internationally measured, reviewed, and verified. These pledges no longer focus solely on mitigation. Consistent with appeals from the developing world, the draft agreement pays almost equal attention to adaptation and finance actions. Likewise, it sets out conditions for transparent international reporting. Under it, parties take responsibility for determining whether their national efforts collectively keep global temperature rise below the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recommended upper limit of 2 degrees Celsius.

This new system of national pledges that are internationally made and scrutinized for sufficiency had a World Resources Institutetrial run this year. By Oct. 1, 2015, 147 parties had submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), covering approximately 86 percent of total global emissions. While each INDC derives from national priorities, overall they tend to include substantive contributions on mitigation, adaptation, and finance, as well as important process pledges on reporting and verification, technology transfer, and capacity building. Developed countries have pledged absolute mitigation targets and resources for vulnerable developing countries. Higher-income developing countries like Brazil, China, and Mexico have made concrete greenhouse gas mitigation pledges. Other developing countries have described their mitigation and adaptation efforts and goals, but made them conditional on receiving financial assistance. Transparency in this pledging process has been prioritized: INDCs are publicly available at the UNFCCC website and have been reviewed closely by the UNFCCC secretariat, non-governmental organization (NGOs), and the press.

CAT_thermometer_20141207That’s the good news. The bad news is that, at least in the short term, these intended contributions do not add up to keeping atmospheric warming below the 2-degree Celsius goal. A Nov. 1, 2015, UNFCCC report concluded that while the INDC pledges—if fulfilled—would slow down the global rate of greenhouse gas emissions, they will not maintain the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. Likewise NGOs like Climate Action Tracker (CAT) and Climate Interactive reach the same conclusion. CAT calculates that achieving the unconditional INDC pledges would still likely lead to a 2.7-degree Celsius increase. Climate Interactive’s math adds up to a predicted 3.5-degree Celsius increase.

So how could COP21’s Paris Package address this shortfall and result in a new international agreement that leads parties to bend the global emissions curve to a 2-degree Celsius or lower pathway?

  • First, it would use these INDCs as a starting point only and include provisions in the new agreement that require all parties to increase their contributions in regular, transparent cycles. In this way, COP21 serves as “a way station in this fight, not a terminus,” as Bill McKibben recently wrote.
  • Second, it would emphasize the need for all parties to adapt to changes already locked in by historical emissions, and recognize the permanent loss and damage experienced by the most vulnerable developing countries.
  • Third, to achieve these first two, it would show agreement on the amount and kind of financing available for developing countries to achieve their pledges. COP15’s promise of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation activities is still on the table. A recent OECD report indicates that climate finance reached $62 billion in 2014. But many note that mobilizing private finance is not the same as pledging public funds, and call for developed country governments to do more.
  • Fourth, it would include a COP decision that ramps up the INDC pledges before the new agreement takes effect in 2020. From now until then, non-state actors like cities, states, and provinces, as well as businesses and consumer groups, have focused their subnational powers on renewable energy and energy efficiency actions intended to narrow the emissions gap.
  • Fifth, it would reflect a new understanding of CBDRRC. While this core principle no longer translates into developing countries getting a bye on greenhouse gas emissions limits, it also does not exempt developed countries from their historical responsibility for climate change and their capacity to provide finance and technology for low- or no-carbon development. The deep tension over how to fairly bring all parties into a common framework that recognizes different starting points permeates the draft text through heavily [bracketed] language.

The UNFCCC requires consensus to lift these brackets. The negotiations thus far have produced little of it. Instead, despite its fractured international politics, the G77+China has flexed its negotiation muscle IMG_0920through disciplined coordination of member countries that otherwise align with the diverse agendas of the Africa Group, Arab Group, and Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs). AOSIS, which represents low-lying countries whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, works with the least developed countries group (LDCs) to press for strong adaptation and loss and damage provisions. The E.U. and U.S. are committed to market mechanisms for achieving mitigation reductions and private climate financing along with government contributions. Two negotiating groups, the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) and AILAC, seek to find common ground. The EIG is the only group that includes both developed and developing countries. AILAC’s members are middle-income Central and South American countries that are growing rapidly yet can still reorient toward low-carbon pathways. But these national negotiators can go only so far: While they are masters of the technical details and crafting precise legal language, it appears that the true power to compromise resides in their national capitals.

Leading up to COP21, weekly meetings of heads of state and their environmental, foreign affairs, and finance ministers have taken place. In this way, local politics are actively engaged on the international problem of climate change. All parties preparing for Paris have said clearly what they want to avoid—no repeat of COP15, no “ghosts of Copenhagen” haunting COP21. It will be a day-by-day proposition with some bumpy rides along the way. Follow the journey here till its finish!