China’s cities surpass 2030 carbon peak promise

In the run up to COP21’s opening plenary on Monday, November 30, 2015, countries have been pledging their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These public announcements submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat describe how each Party will mitigate its GHG emissions, obama and chinaas well as implement adaptation strategies, help developing country Parties finance these kinds of actions, and participate in capacity building and technology transfer programs. Submitted INDCs number 35 as of today, which represents 63 Parties, given that the EU’s INDC covers the EU-28 or the 28 member states of that regional economic integration organization. China filed its INDC at the end of June, a detailed statement about the country’s past, present, and future climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Its overall objectives comport with the November 2014 joint announcement with the United States in which both countries described their individual mitigation targets and joint programming. Notably China pledge to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner.

That’s why yesterday’s announcement at a joint US-China meeting that 11 Chinese cities and provinces will see their emissions drop sooner than the national target year caught my eye. Beijing and Guangzhou, two of China’s largest cities, committed to peak their carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, while Shenzhen pledged to do so by 2022. These three cities are part of the China’s Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities. This Alliance represents 25% of the country’s urban carbon emissions — the equivalent of Japan’s or Brazil’s national emissions. Wow!

The focus on the potential for cities and other subnational governments to implement mitigation and adaptation in a big way has been in the forefrontCHina air quality of the Paris negotiations on a new international climate change agreement. Nongovernmental organizations like C40 and ICLEI have built strong partnerships among the world’s largest cities. These partnerships have shared successful mitigation strategies, policies, and programs. This announcement yesterday by China’s major cities and provinces, and today’s anticipated joint declaration by municipal and regional leaders from both countries (including from more than a dozen U.S. states and cities) at a meeting on low-carbon cities in Los Angeles reinforces the message to UNFCCC State Parties: subnational governments have a major role to play in keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

And one more unexpected benefit of this city-centered work on climate change: it keeps the two largest GHG emitting countries focused on climate change, away from the distractions of other geopolitical tensions between them. Presidents Xi and Obama are expected to challenge each other on cybersecurity when the Chinese president comes to the United States next week. As a Reuters journalist observes, “Climate change is one area where the two countries largely see eye to eye, a fact the White House is happy to highlight.”


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.

 

 


Clean Energy to Go Around

Countries, states, and the private sector took center stage last week with an array of energy announcements from around the world.

When visiting the US at the end of June, Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, announced with President Obama that both countries pledged to source 20% of their energy from nonhydro renewables by 2030.  China, when filing its INDC on June 30 with the UNFCCC, kept in line with the joint rousseffannouncement it made last November with the US when pledging to reduce the amount of carbon emitted relative to the size of its economy by 60 to 65% by 2030; it previously had declared that it would reduce it by 40 to 45% by 2029 and is already down 33.8%, so on track to achieve the INDC pledge. Scotland generated 49.8% of its electricity from renewables in 2014, effectively meeting its 2015 target. The country’s next benchmark is 100% renewable by 2020. Scottish wind farms currently produce enough to power some one million U.K. homes for a year and overall renewables make up about 30% of the UK’s total. More than half comes from wind, about a third from hydro, and a much smaller percentage from solar.    A leaked EU Commission paper says that Europe overall is on track to sources 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

At the local government level, New York State announced that its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) 2030 targets include a 40% cut in GHGs from 1990 levels and a 50% statewide goal for renewables.  The plan also seeks $5 billion over 10 years to support programs like the NY-Sun solar initiative and the New York Green Bank, and an additional $1.5 billion to promote large-scale solar and wind projects. Some friendly competition for California, given its recent announcement?

On the private side, Google will convert an old coal-fired plant in Alabama to a data center powered by renewable energy. About 46% of Google’s data centers are powered by renewable energy, lagging behind Apple, with 100% clean energy fueling its centers.  BMW is still aiming to convert allbmw of its vehicles to an electric drivetrains.  Bloomberg Business reports that solar power will draw $3.7 trillion in investment through 2040, out of a total of $8 trillion invested in clean energy. That’s almost double the $4.1 trillion that will be spent on coal ($1.6), natural gas ($1.2) and nuclear plants ($1.3). Interestingly, large utility-scale solar will dominate in developing countries while smaller-scale solar will comprise most of the investment in developed countries. And oil and real estate billionaire Philip Anschutz plans to turn his Wyoming cattle ranch into the world’s largest onshore wind farm with 1,000 turbines sited in one of the windiest parts of the country. It is estimated that it would produce more than 3,000 megawatts of power, four times the electricity produced by the Hoover Dam and enough to power every home in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It could also cut carbon emissions by as much as 13 million tons a year. Anschutz’s spokesman, Bill Miller, colorfully put this renewable energy project in perspective: “I just look at it as energy, pure and simple. A wind turbine is just an oil well turned upside down.”

 


Climate diplomacy

thediplomat_2015-01-28_13-37-24-386x253Scott Moore, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, published a thoughtful op-ed on current U.S. climate diplomacy in yesterday’s Diplomat.  On the heels of the recent mission to India, and last November’s US-China bilateral announcement on GHG emission reductions, he asserts that “[b]y reclaiming the leadership role that it effectively surrendered by refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol some fifteen years ago, the United States has a rare opportunity to simultaneously cement its relationships with emerging powers, address a critical threat to stability in fragile states, and position itself at the center of the low-carbon economy that can and will power prosperity for the rest of the twenty-first century.” Read more about his suggested “three basic pillars” of a U.S. climate diplomacy.

This piece also briefly points out that “[t]he U.S. should also coordinate this activity with its European allies, many of which have significant experience in climate diplomacy.”  Exhibit A:  This “diplomatic offensive” approved by the EU last week to send “90,000 diplomats in over 3,000 missions lobbying to win new pledges on carbon cuts from countries ahead of a crunch UN climate summit in Paris this December.”


Behind the scenes of the US-China negotiations

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

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

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

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

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

 

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