Who is representing the US at COP23?

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

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

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

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

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

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


It takes more than government

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

This interaction did not occur by accident.

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

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

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


Subnationals around the world stepping up to combat climate change

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Panel discusses city climate change initiatives at COP22 side event

While only sovereign countries can be parties to the Paris Agreement, that fact has not prevented cities, states, and regions from stepping up to take their own climate actions. Several subnational entities have joined groups like the C40 and Under 2 MOU, which create voluntary agreements to reduce emissions and develop more sustainable municipalities. Under the NDCs submitted so far, the parties to the Paris Agreement have not been stringent enough to meet the 2˚C (much less the 1.5˚C) goal. As a result of this and increasing urbanization, subnational actions will be crucial to protecting the earth from the devastating effects of climate change.

Subnationals have taken several approaches to becoming more sustainable. For example, the City of Edmonton, Canada, has focused on providing citizens with accurate climate change science information while stomping out climate change myths. Kaoshiung, Taiwan, on the other hand, created a month-long “Ecomobility World Festival” where citizens were not allowed to drive vehicles down particular roads; these roads were only for pedestrians and bicyclers. Kaoshiung used this event to help change residents’ behavior, which is an essential, but difficult piece of climate change policy. It will hold another “Ecomobility World Festival,” this time only a week long from Oct. 1-5, 2017. Individual states have also voluntarily committed to climate action. For example, the State of California has committed to various goals, including reducing its emissions by 40% by 2030. Vermont has also set a goal to obtain its energy from 90% renewable sources by 2050. Regardless of the United States’ national stance on climate change in the coming years, these individual states (and others) are committed to achieving environmental objectives.

In addition to coming up with unique ideas to address climate change, subnationals also frequently exchange ideas with one another to help other cities, states, and regions follow suit. Despite their lack of ability to make formal commitments under the Paris Agreement, subnatonals will play an important role in the future of the global environment.


The New Urban Agenda and the Important Role of Cities in Achieving Climate Goals

Dhaka, Bangladesh Source: UN Phto/Kibae Park

Dhaka, Bangladesh Source: UN Photo/Kibae Park

On October 20th, 167 countries adopted the New Urban Agenda, a document setting global standards for achieving sustainable urban development. The document was adopted at the close of the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development, or Habitat III. The New Urban Agenda calls for equal opportunities, cleaner cities, carbon emission reductions, respect for the rights of migrants and refugees, improved stakeholder connectivity, and accessible green public spaces. Joan Clos, UN-Habitat Executive Director and Habitat III Secretary-General, described the agenda as a “vision for a better and greener urban future, where everyone has access to the benefits of urbanization.” Through the document, city leaders have committed to increase renewable energy, provide greener public transportation, and sustainably manage their natural resources.

Why does sustainable urban development matter? When Habitat I convened in 1976 just over one third of the world’s population lived in cities. Today, half the world’s population (3.5 billion people) live in cities, a figure that is expected to grow to 70% by 2050. Climate change poses a threat to human health and well-being as well as to urban economic and social infrastructures. Additionally, while the world’s cities occupy just 3% of the Earth’s land, they account for 60-80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. Rapid urbanization also poses immediate environmental threats by compromising fresh water supplies, sewage systems, living environments, and public health. In light of these risks, cities must leverage urban planning principles in order to develop sustainably.

The New Urban Agenda seeks to bolster international efforts to address the impacts of climate change and to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cities play a key role in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, and as such they will be essential to help countries reach targets set forth in the Paris Agreement. As the first Habitat meeting since the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the ratification of the Paris Agreement, climate change was a major concern. Ban Ki-moon, in his opening statements, noted the profound effects urban pollution and urban consumption have on the environment. He stressed the need to transform towns and cities through better urban governance, as well as through planning and design, as ways to transform the world. Likewise, the threat of climate change and the need for mitigation and adaptation measures is woven throughout The New Urban Agenda. The agenda calls for measures to reduce disaster risk, build resilience and responsiveness to natural and man-made hazards, and foster mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Additionally, it supports access to funds, including the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility, and the Adaptation Fund.

The New Urban Agenda is not without its critics. Criticisms included concerns that the agenda guidelines are too vague and aspirational for cities to implement, that current financing is insufficient to effectively support agenda standards, and that there are not enough mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing progress. Critics also worried that the document does not reflect all voices within the global community. It appears UN-Habitat attempted to address this concern by hosting Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador. It was the first meeting to be held in the global south, which was significant considering the disproportionate impacts climate change has on developing countries in this region and that an estimated 95% of the world’s urban expansion will occur in the developing world. There have also been concerns that the agenda is weakly interlinked with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, as it does not directly link any standards to specific targets in either document.

It seems unclear what kind of impact the New Urban Agenda will have on addressing climate change in the coming decades. However, with the momentum of international efforts, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the ratification of the Paris Agreement, and the recent developments under the Montreal Protocol, the New Urban Agenda could provide enough motivation for city leaders to put the environment on their agendas. With the right support, cities could be a driving force in helping the world achieve global climate goals.


Subnationals to the rescue – again

Sea Level Rise 6 metersIt would be unconscionable for these issues of grave concern for the people of Florida to not be addressed in the upcoming debate.”

So wrote more than 20 Republican and Democratic mayors in Florida in a letter to moderators of this week’s presidential debates about the need to address climate change.  This group of mayors represents coastal cities located from Miami to Tampa that are particularly concerned about sea level rise.  The mayors ended their letter by providing three questions on climate and sea level rise for candidates from both parties, who will meet in Miami on March 9th and 10th for the primary debates.  Primary voting will take place on Tuesday, March 15.


Adaptation Economics Reveal Insufficient Adaptation Activities

When national and local economies are faced with calculating potential climate-impacted losses, decision-makers face difficult financial-planning decisions.

6355818699_492128f721_oNature Climate Change published a study comparing adaptation responses between global megacities based on spending measures. The study found that cities varied their adaptation spendings between £15 million and £1600 million. Developed cities allocate most of their adaptation funds to energy and water, developing countries to health and agriculture.

Overall, the study concluded developing cities’ wealth, and not the amount of vulnerable individuals, drive adaptation spending. Thus, “current adaptation activities are insufficient in major population centers in developing and emerging economies.”

 


California Leads Subnationals in Setting a High Bar for COP21 Negotiators

Mary Nichols, Chair of the CA Air Resources Board presents to UCLA & Vermont Law Students (Photo courtesy of Tracy Bach)

Mary Nichols, Chair of the CA Air Resources Board presents to UCLA & Vermont Law Students (Photo courtesy of Tracy Bach)

The VLS delegation had the privilege yesterday to attend an intimate presentation given by Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, and Ken Alex, the Director of the Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Planning and Research. Mary and Ken candidly addressed a group of professional students and professors from UCLA and Vermont Law School while a documentary crew followed Mary’s every move and captured the group’s reaction.

These representatives of the California state government offer a surprisingly powerful presence at COP21. The commitments and strategies of subnational groups have been a major topic of conversation this week since these groups, including U.S. states, represent key stakeholders in the movement to address climate change. According to some sources, “in order to keep global temperatures from rising 2˚C by 2050, the world needs to cut 8 to 10 gigatonnes of carbon emissions by 2020.” Our mitigation goal will be even higher if the negotiators ultimately agree on maintaining temperature rise at or below 1.5˚C. Yet, the U.N. Environmental Program reports that agreements between subnational governments to reduce emissions could prevent 3 gigatonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere by 2020. Cooperation and ambition amongst subnationals is therefore crucial to reaching our COP21 goals.

Governor Brown speaks for subnationals (From: the Office of Governor Brown)

Governor Brown speaks for subnationals (From: the Office of Governor Brown)

California is a particularly important piece of the puzzle. According to Ken Alex, the state represents 1.3% of global emissions and has a larger economy than 188 of the 195 countries that have ratified the UNFCCC. The state therefore has a large role to play, and so far, it has exceeded expectations. California is leading a group of more than 123 subnational jurisdictions (including Vermont), which represent $9.9 trillion in GDP and 720 million people, in pursuing more ambitious goals than those identified in the anticipated Paris Outcome. This group of signatories to the Under 2 MOU is aiming to reduce emissions 80 to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050, or to achieve a two tons per capita CO2 emissions limit.

Under Governor Brown and Mary Nichols’ leadership, California is making progress toward addressing these goals. The California cap and trade scheme is gaining traction, partnering with Quebec and, hopefully soon, with other states. The state is also the only one in the country allowed to implement its own, more rigorous, mobile air emissions standards. These standards have subsequently been adopted in other international cities, including in Beijing.

From: LA Times & Christophe Petit Tesson (EPA)

Governor Brown and former Governor Schwarzenegger meet to discuss climate change. (From: LA Times & Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA)

To promote California’s progress and inspire other global leaders, several California representatives have presented at COP21 over the last several days. Governor Jerry Brown welcomed new signatories to the Under 2 MOU in the German Pavilion at Le Bourget. Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke on behalf of Austria at the beginning of the week, and later conducted meetings with the current governor of California. Other state representatives, like Mary Nichols, are also participating in discussions throughout the event, including in a session dedicated entirely to California at the U.S. Pavilion.

We will continue to track the inspiring action of subnationals throughout the event, particularly those of U.S. states like California and Vermont.


Will You Under 2 MOU?

The subnationals are firmly in the game.  At COP19 in Warsaw, they had their orange pinnies on while stretching and sprinting on the sidelines, showing the ADP coaches that they were ready.  “Bring in the subs” was my favorite 2014 blog headline.

CuomoYesterday New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo decided that California’s Jerry Brown shouldn’t get all the playing time. Cuomo signed the Under 2 MOU, committing his state to take actions to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Under 2 MOU “brings together states and regions willing to commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and will galvanize action at the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris this December.” Thus far, forty-three other subnational governments have signed this MoU, ranging from Canadian provinces British Columbia and Ontario to cities like Los Angeles and Nampula, Mozambique, and regional governments in Spain’s Basque Country and Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.

What will the Empire State do after the ink dries?  Governor Cuomo announced several specific actions, some new and some that build on those already in play.  One new plan is to expand the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and link it with the Western Climate Initiative, creating a North American carbon market. Another new initiative is requiring the State University of New York (SUNY), the largest statewide public university system in the U.S., to install renewable energy in its 64 campuses by 2020. SUNY currently has 20% energy efficiency improvement and 30% GHG reduction goals for 2020.  Governor Cuomo challenged private colleges and universities to match SUNY.  Finally, in the category of adding new to old, a commitment to bring solar energy to 150,000 more homes and businesses by 2020 builds on the $1 billion of public funds invested inNY Rev New York’s solar industry in 2013 via NY SUN Initiative and the additional $270 million and solar installations in 30,000 homes and businesses since then. A new twist in this 2015 announcement is the Shared Renewables program, which allows commercial projects to share power generated on their properties with surrounding community members.

Earlier this year, as part of the 2015 State Energy Plan, New York pledged to reduce GHG emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 below 1990 levels. To do this, New York started Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which we have blogged about.

At yesterday’s Under 2 MOU signing ceremony, Cuomo did not mince words about the need for subnational action on climate change. Failure to address the causes of climate change represents “gross negligence by government,” the Albany Times Union quotes him as saying, along with the public’s failure to hold their elected representatives responsible.  “In the case of climate change, denial is not a survival strategy.”


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.”


Cities tackle climate change adaptation

st kjeld beforeIncluding subnational governments like cities in the UNFCCC discussions has been on the front burner since COP19 in Warsaw.  While only sovereign countries may enter treaties, State Parties recognize that achieving Article 2’s goal of climate stabilization will take effort from other governmental jurisdictions, as well as civil society and private businesses.

And so this article about the first climate change-adapted neighorhood stood out.  Not only is the engineering and landscape design feat recently unveiled in St.Kjeld intriguing, it is striking that this neighborhood is in Copenhagen, Denmark, site of the 2009 COP15, which launched the idea of nationally determined contributions that now forms the backbone of negotiation for the new Paris Agreement at COP21.

“Climate change is a reality and we have to be prepared for floods, storms and rising sea levels,” says René Sommer Lindsay, the city official in charge of St. Kjeld’s transformation. “The [2011] cloudburst was really a wake-up call. We said, ‘Instead of doing pinpoint projects, let’s develop a rainwater master plan.’ Rainwater is only a problem if it goes where you don’t want it to go.”

City planners tore up neighborhood squares and replaced the asphalt with a hilly, grassy carpet interspersed with walking paths. When the next big storm hits, these mini-parks will become water basins, able to collect run-off water from surrounding buildings’ roofs as well. Streets with raised sidewalks will become “cloudburst boulevards,” serving as canals that channel rainwater away from the city to the harbor.  In the meantime, the new greenery cools the air as summer temperatures rise in northern Europe.  “Climate change is a huge opportunity to build greener cities,” Flemming Rafn Thomsen of Tredje Natur, the Danish architecture firm chosen for the project, explains. “We should stop pushing nature away and stop pretending that we can push the weather away. It’s a whole new paradigm.”

Noting that a city like Mumbai, which the World Bank ranks as the world’s fifth most exposed to floods, may not be able to afford Copenhagen’s climate-change adaptation strategies, this article points out how many cities actually can. Seven of the 10 most exposed cities, including New York and Tampa, Florida, are located in developed countries. New York, which has committed $20 billion to climate-change adaptation, is opting for floodwalls, while the Dutch delta city of Rotterdam has gone even further, designing a plan for floating neighborhoods. Several others are experimenting with mini-parks, which Morten Kabell, Copenhagen’s deputy mayor in charge of environment and technology, credits to people liking “blue and green, not gray. Countries talk,” he adds, “but cities know they have to act.”


Spotlight on India at COP20

“We have forgotten to live with nature,”  India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, told a group of school india modikids in September.  Urging them to conserve electricity by switching off fans and lights when not in use and turning off tap water when brushing teeth, he connected energy use with climate change impacts.  Modi wrote a 2011 e-book, Convenient Action (a play on words on Gore’s more well known An Inconvenient Truth), which chronicled his climate change mitigation work as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.

As the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the U.S., India’s approach to the climate change negotiations that will start next Monday at COP20/CMP10  is under a particularly glaring spotlight after the US-China climate change announcement two weeks ago.  In India, coal use is rising,India nationa-emissions-and-projected leading to a carbon dioxide emissions increase last year (5.1%) that surpassed China’s (4.2%) and the United States’ (2.9%).

Yet India has a very large number of poor people, with national income levels several times lower than those of China.  According to World Bank, 25% of India’s population lived at the poverty level of $1.25 a day or less in 2011, compared to 6% of China’s population.  Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Modi faces huge pressure to develop economically; he already promised on the campaign trail to provide around-the-clock electricity for all citizens by 2022, given the current prevalence of power blackouts.

Modi’s approach domestically is called “Development Without Destruction,” with an emphasis on windIndia RE energy (doubling capacity over the next five years) and energy efficiency of cars, appliances, and buildings. His government has also recently called for a fivefold increase in solar power usage, targeting total renewable energy use at 100 gigawatts by 2022.  This internal stance is in line with its voluntary pledge at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 to cut the “intensity” of its carbon emissions and thereby reducing CO2 emissions from economic output by 20-25% from 2005 levels by 2020.  Nonetheless, coal now accounts for 59% of India’s electric capacity and the country seeks to lower coal imports and double domestic production to one billion tons during the next five years.

According to Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow and India expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, “India’s willing to make commitments to its own people” but not to the world. “I would not expect any big shift in India’s climate policy in the next year or two … It’s not ready to make binding international commitments.”

Perhaps India’s growing miindia killer airddle class, suffering under the same degree of illness-inducing air pollution as its Chinese peers, will provide a new internal push for clean energy production and energy efficiency? The  World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 13 of the top 20 cities worldwide with the dirtiest air are in India – not China, as many believe.

 


Preview of IPCC Working Group 2 Report

The Guardian reports that IPCC Working Group 2’s report — entitled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, which is due to be debated by WG2 next week in Yokohama, Japan and released to the public on March 31 — underscores that developed countries will avoid the worst impacts of southeast asiaclimate change caused by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere in the first half of the 21st century while developing countries in low latitudes, particularly those along the coast of Asia, will suffer the most.  Hundreds of millions of people living in cities in coastal east, south-east and south Asia are likely to lose their homes as flooding, famine and rising sea levels sweep the region.  Forecasting with “very high confidence,” WG2 says that “heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, as well as drought and water scarcity, pose risks in urban areas with risks amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in exposed areas.”

But the draft report authors also warn that other climate change effects will be global and affect bothWG2 report cover developing and developed countries.  “Climate change throughout the 21st century will lead to increases in ill-health in many regions, as compared to a baseline without climate change,” the report states. “Examples include greater likelihood of injury, disease, and death due to more intense heatwaves and fires; increased likelihood of under-nutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions; and increased risks from food-borne and water-borne disease.”

 


Back story on PlaNYC

In my earlier post on the increasing role of subnationals at future COPs (and hence in the negotiations for a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol), I spotlighted Mayor Bloomberg’s climate change planning push via PlaNYC.

Here’s some more of the back story.

mta floodingA report by a research group led by Klaus Jacob of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory estimated that after a 100-year storm (e.g. Superstorm Sandy), it could take about three weeks to get the subway system back to 90% capacity. Taking into account all potential damage, the authors warned that “permanent restoration of the system to the full revenue service that was previously available could take more than two years.” The report estimated that the economic losses, due to the failure of infrastructure systems in the entire New York metropolitan region, could range from $48 billion to $68 billion. It offered suggestions for redesigning and shoring up vulnerable infrastructure in New York and concluded that for every one dollar spent today, four dollars in subsequent costs could be saved.

More fuel for my hunch that Mayor Bloomberg’s new consulting firm will not just play a benchwarmer role at the ADP’s meetings in 2014.


Bring in the subs

As Lindsay chronicled here and here, COP19 officially acknowledged the importance of climate change mitigation and adaptation activity at the subnational level.  Even though the UNFCCC is premised on negotiation between nations (state parties), all involved recognize the groundswell of climate change laws and projects at the city and regional levels, where the rubber literally meets the road.  The stats of C40, asubs coming in consortium of the 40 largest cities in the world, pack a punch:  8% of the world’s population, 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 21% of the global GDP.  No second string players here, and tremendous potential for actual change, if there really is no I in team.

Looking ahead to the legally binding agreement that will take the Kyoto Protocol’s place, the COP19 ADP decision and conclusions consciously include cities and other subnational governments to participate in upcoming ADP-sponsored technical meetings and forums to share mitigation and adaptation best practices culled from their work to date.

pacific coast action planGiven this international spotlight on local climate change work, a couple of recent publications emphasizing subnational climate change activity in the U.S. merit a closer look.  In VLS’s Top Ten Environmental Watchlist, my colleague Hillary Hoffmann analyzes the Pacific Coast Action Plan as a possible “blueprint for locally driven climate and energy policy.”  By signing it, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, and the premier of British Columbia agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy incentives along the Pacific Coast – and bypassed their respective federal legislatures!  As Washington Governor Jay Inslee summed up subnational pride and can-do attitude, “on the West Coast, we intend to design the future, not to wreck it.”

Together, California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia have a population of 53 million and a GDP of $2.8 trillion, making it the world’s fifth largest economy.  Given how their economies are regionally linked, the Action Plan’s signatories agreed to1) link carbon-pricing programs for “consistency and predictability;” 2) “harmonize 2050 targets for greenhouse gas reductions;” 3) ground all policies in the “scientific understanding of climate change;” 4) “adopt low-carbon fuel standards in each jurisdiction;” 5) have 10% of all “new public and private vehicle purchases” be electric by 2016; 6) support high-speed passenger rail service throughout the region; 7) support “emerging markets and innovation for alternative fuels;” 8) streamline “renewable energy infrastructure;” 9)“integrate the region’s electricity grids;” and 10) work together to “press for an international agreement on climate change in 2015.”

Hmmm, a bunch of leaders sitting in a room amidst their jurisdictions’ flags, negotiating mitigation targets, science-based standards, consistent carbon accounting rules . . . sound familiar, n’est-ce pas?

NYC high lineKudos to the Left Coast. So what’s happening on the Atlantic?  A recent article in the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, tells “a tale of two cities,” New York, NY and New Bern, NC, to emphasize how differently two East Coast cities are responding to climate change predictions in their urban planning.  In New York City, where the NY City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) predicts that storms like Superstorm Sandy will occur every two years by 2100 and almost a million people will be living in flood-prone areas by 2050, Mayor Bloomberg launched PlaNYC. Its goal: reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030. How?  By renovating skyscrapers to use less energy, increasing green space, and improving walkability and bikeability. Der Spiegel notes that the city has already planted 800,000 new trees, made Times Square a pedestrian zone,  and constructed over 600 miles of bike paths, resulting in a 16% reduction in CO2 emissions since 2005.  On the adaptation front, flood wall construction is in the mix, along with other beach and land erosion techniques.

In contrast, when the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) issued a report predicting a sea-level rise of more than one meter and the NC Department of Public Safety determined that this rise would cost $7.4 billion to rebuild homes, office buildings, and public facilities wiped out by storm surges, the state legislature responded:  with a law that says that the sea level off the North Carolina coast will not rise more quickly than it has in the last 100 years. Period.  Thus urban planners, like those in New Bern, are instructed to disregard the CRC’s science-based advice, because North Carolina legislators forbid the seas to rise.

Maybe they recommend flood insurance, just in case?  (Read here to learn more about recent federal attempts to reform the National Flood Insurance Program.)

Stay tuned.  It will be interesting to watch how these subs change the state of play as they enter the international arena — and challenge some starter spots.

 

UPDATE:  The NYT 12/15 reports that as he prepares to leave office, Mayor Bloomberg is creating a consulting group to “reshape cities around the globe” staffed by many of his top NYC employees.  This development alone will fuel significant subnational activity at next year’s ADP negotiations.


Extra, extra! Read our COP19 wrap-up in the Huffington Post!

Congrats to our Week 2 Observer Delegation on its recent publication in the Huffington Post courtesy of climate and energy reporter Ben Jervey.  In it, we recap COP19/CMP9’s last week of activity, analyzing what this “nuts and bolts” COP did and didn’t achieve. Specifically, we take a close look at adaptation, loss and damage, subnational initiatives, new REDD+ rules, and technology, all in light of the ADP’s struggle to find common ground on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, and capacity-building to ensure maximum participation in the legal agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2020.

VLS COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation Week 2

VLS COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation Week 2

P.S.  Given that the Huff Post version did not include all of our links, I’m pasting below the draft that includes them.

As COP19/CMP9 comes to a close, the Vermont Law School Observer Delegation reflects on what it witnessed during the second week of the climate change meeting. As the high-level ministers began arriving on Monday, the pace of negotiations ramped up. Beginning with several days of speeches about the contours of the legal agreement post-Kyoto Protocol, financing mechanisms, alternative energy, and adaptation needs in developing countries, the technical discussions of COP19’s first week turned to long days and nights of political bargaining.

In this piece, we explore what this “nuts and bolts” COP did and didn’t achieve. Specifically, we take a close look at adaptation, loss and damage, subnational initiatives, new REDD+ rules, and technology, all in light of the ADP’s struggle to find common ground on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, and capacity-building to ensure maximum participation in the legal agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2020. For more detail about these subjects and play-by-play of the most contentious issues, see our blog.

Adaptation Activities Accelerate

Although adaptation is still a relatively new idea under the UNFCCC, COP19 expanded its reach by conducting workshops to showcase achievements to date and negotiating a new loss and damage provision (covered in the next section). COP16 established the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAN), which sought to enhance action on adaptation under the Convention. National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) were established at COP17 to help countries assess their vulnerabilities and climate change risks, and adapt to them. NAPs aim to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change by building adaptive capacity and resilience. They contain four main elements: (1) laying groundwork and addressing gaps, (2) preparing preparatory elements, (3) creating implementation strategies, and (4) reporting, monitoring and reviewing data.

Bangladesh is currently working on a NAP that looks at health security, disaster management practices, and infrastructure. It currently experiences storm surges and flooding, which impacts crops and food security. Malawi wants to implement a NAP due to its vulnerability to road flooding. It currently lacks sufficient policy, institutional, and legal frameworks, and faces low awareness, skills, and know-how among the general public.

While adaptation has clear benefits, it can be expensive and so the parties ask: is it worth it? Presentations at COP19 answered in the affirmative. Emergency responses to remedy damage from climate change can be even more expensive than investing in adaptation measures. Climate change impacts, like the recent Typhoon Haiyan, often cause GDP to decrease, as developing country governments spend their limited budgets on disaster relief. By investing in adaptation up front, disasters do less damage when they hit, so not as much money is spent on reactive remedies.

While COP19 included much discussion of mitigation, parties acknowledge that even the most stringent mitigation efforts cannot avoid climate change. This makes adaptation necessary. It’s not an either/or proposition.  As the UNFCCC makes increasingly clear, international climate change law must address both.

The (R)evolution of Loss and Damage

The tragedy wrought in the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan placed the concept of “loss and damage” center stage in Warsaw. Loss and damage would pick up where adaptation and mitigation fall short, helping developing countries to improve risk reduction and assessment, strengthen adaptation, enhance capacity building to deal with slow-onset events like sea level rise or extreme effects like typhoons, and compensate them.

COP18 set a legal mandate to establish institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate on developing countries.  Covering both economic and non-economic losses, it could include the loss of livelihood, damage to property, food insecurity, climate migration, loss of identity, and potential human rights abuses. Due to Russia’s blocking of the agenda, the June 2013 SBI meeting did not go forward and work on this mandate was delayed to the COP19 SBI meeting.

At COP19, negotiators worked on this SBI agenda item around the clock, trying to draft text that was responsive to developing countries’ compensation needs and developed countries’ liability concerns. Tired of Australia’s antics to scuttle constructive discussions, the G77 negotiator, Bolivian Rene Gonzalo Orellana Halkyer, walked out of the meeting at 4 am this past Wednesday morning and other G77 countries followed suit. Undaunted, high-level party delegates, co-chaired by ministers from Sweden and South Africa, attempted to hammer out a text, debating whether it should be an institutional arrangement, work program, or task force. Would it get its own mechanism under an UNFCCC institution, like the Clean Development Mechanism does, or be housed under the SBI or SBSTA, or simply sit under the adaptation pillar?

At the closing plenary, delegates approved “the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts.” Controversially, it is organized under CAN’s adaptation pillar. G77+ China, AOSIS, and Yeb Saño from the Philippines made it known that this text was inadequate, as loss and damage meant “beyond adaptation.” This opposition sparked an hour huddle, with U.S Special Envoy Todd Stern and Fiji’s Sai Navoti discussing the use of “under” while surrounded by at least 50 other negotiators.

Afterward, the COP19 President announced consensus on retaining the word “under” while including an amendment requiring review of the mechanism at COP22 in 2016. Going forward, the executive committee to the Warsaw international mechanism will meet and develop a work plan by COP20; a two-year review will take place at COP 22; and the COP will make an “appropriate decision” on loss and damage governance based on this review.

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

On Thursday, November 22, during the first-ever COP Presidency Cities and Sub-national Dialogue of the Cities Day, one environmental minister declared that “the only people with the power to actually change anything are the local elected officials.”

While international agreements on climate change have languished, cities around the world have acted. For good reason: two-thirds of urban dwellers live on the water, subject to sea level rise and lethal heat waves from the urban heat island effect. The Cities Climate Leadership Group C40 membership  comprises 40 of the 50 biggest cities of the world and represents 8% of the world’s population, 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 21% of the global GDP. Together, cities have the collective clout to get something done.

The COP19 Dialogue of the Cities Day, organized by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), C40, and EUROCITIES, highlighted work that is already happening in local municipalities around the world, and sought support for it from the national and international levels. Roundtable discussions focused on adaptation, transportation, waste, and buildings. A recurring theme was the potential for a bottom-up approach that empowers local governments to combat climate change by creating a platform for continuous dialogue between cities, national government, and UNFCCC parties.

Building on this event, ICLEI (which coordinated the adoption of the Nantes Declaration of Mayors and Subnational Leaders on Climate Change in September, 2013)  advocated for a more substantive forum for identifying key priority areas of collaboration on mitigation and adaptation at the city and subnational levels during the next ADP session in June, 2014. Although the ADP decision text changed throughout the last few days of negotiations, and ICLEI did not receive all it sought, the final iteration includes cities and subnational governments in technical meetings “to share policies, practices and technologies and address the necessary finance, technology and capacity-building” and a subnational forum “to help share among Parties the experiences and best practices of cities and subnational authorities in relation to adaptation and mitigation,” both to be held at the next ADP session. In short, this COP19 decision means more meetings, reports and business as usual for the UNFCCC. But with this clear recognition of a subnational role in UNFCCC lawmaking may come more resources for the people actually doing the work on the ground.

REDD+ Is a Go

One of the more significant outcomes of this week was the package of decisions, known as the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries), that the COP approved to provide a formal framework, safeguards, and funding in hopes of cutting deforestation in half by 2020 and halting it by 2030. Every schoolchild knows that the forests are the world’s lungs: this is the UNFCCC’s smoking cessation program.

REDD+ has been implemented on the ground by various development organizations, including the World Bank, USAID, and the World Wildlife Foundation, in a somewhat haphazard and experimental fashion since its conception in Montreal in 2005 and development in Bali in 2007. It was met with serious criticism by indigenous peoples around the world as another form of colonialism, with Bolivia in particular championing to keep market mechanisms out of this mitigation activity. This new version of REDD+ hopes to address those concerns. The safeguards included for biodiversity, ecosystems, and indigenous peoples’ territories, livelihoods, and rights are commendable. It may even serve as a mechanism for governments to more formally recognize indigenous land rights. Hopeful thinking? Perhaps. We will have to watch carefully how the new REDD+ decisions improve its implementation on the ground.

Good News About Technology

Developing nations will require new technologies to achieve their goals of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. At COP16 in Cancun, the UNFCCC established the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), a technology transfer mechanism that collaborates with national governments to develop and implement desired climate technologies. Two months before COP19’s start, the CTCN Advisory Board approved the CTCN Modalities and Procedures for adoption at COP19. While both SBSTA and SBI adopted the CTCN’s report, and forwarded a draft decision for approval, , the COP did not reach the agenda item.  Instead it will instead take up these items at SBSTA 40 and SBI 40 in Bonn next year.

Nevertheless, a COP19 side event organized by the UNFCCC Secretariat marked the official opening of the CTCN. While most of the world may not have noticed, COP19’s advancement of CTCN is crucial for developing nations striving to fulfill their commitments under the UNFCCC. The CTCN can now accept requests from countries’ Nationally Designated Entities (NDEs), which is good news for achieving international, on-the-ground progress for mitigation and adaptation.

Developing countries can now request from CTCN resources to develop and implement clean energy technologies. Clean energy is essential for reaching all parties mitigation targets, and CTCN can supply the requisite experts to deploy these innovative technologies. At the CTCN event, Zambia announced plans to submit a request for clean energy projects. Bangladesh has described plans to request agricultural technologies from CTCN, in order to improve crop yields. Agriculture is a main cause of deforestation, and improving agricultural practices has the direct and immediate impact of keeping more carbon out of the atmosphere. Of course, new technologies will be necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change. Following Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines will request a collaboration with CTCN to rebuild with clean energy.

ADP:  2(b) or not 2(b)

By 2am Saturday morning – two hours after COP19/CMP9 was due to end – tired and tense negotiators left the room where they had spent the last eight hours locking horns over language in the fourth draft decision the ADP had debated since Monday. Environment ministers from Venezuela, E.U., U.K., and U.S. were in the room working directly with their negotiating teams. Yet even they left not knowing if the parties would achieve their COP19 mandate of determining the elements of the new legal agreement to be negotiated in Peru next year, signed in Paris in 2015, and put into effect in 2020.

The contested language reflects the main sticking points between developing and developed countries about constructing mitigation targets, setting timelines, balancing pre- and post-2020 mitigation, and financing.  For example, Article 2(b)’s language of post-2020 mitigation targets was changed from commitments to contributions in the final round.  This obligation, applicable to all countries under the Doha Amendment, focuses on parties doing “domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions” and reporting them “in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency, and understanding” of them as early in 2015 as possible.  Subpart 2(d) was added to request financial support for developing countries doing this domestic work. Notably this language of differentiation eschews references to Annex 1 of the UNFCCC, even though the G77+China and AILAC asserted in every ADP session that the post-2020 agreement is made under the Convention and thus the Annex applies as is.

All parties agreed that pre-2020 mitigation commitments under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period is lacking, whether in terms of number of countries (participation) or amount of GHG emissions avoided (stringency). Thus Article 4 calls on developed countries to make or enhance their national emissions reduction targets, and for developing countries to do the same with their nationally appropriate mitigation actions. Article 3 urges developed countries to follow through on the financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building work that it has already committed under the Convention, noting its ability to leverage compliance with Article 4.

How to complete the ADP’s work and how to fund it reached some resolution by the closing plenary.  On process and timelines, delegates agreed to meetings of high level ministers at both the June inter-sessional meeting in Bonn and at COP20, as well as an additional sessions in March and possibly another one between June and December. The ADP decision also noted the U.N. climate change summit that Ban Ki-Moon will host on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly’s September meeting. Thus the parties will have up to five meetings next year to turn the COP19 ADP decision into a working draft to kickstart COP20 discussions.   On finance, however, there was less resolution. Developing countries insisted on the developed countries living up to their capacity to fund this climate change lawmaking, as part of their common but differentiated responsibility, and mistrusted calls for private financing. The U.S. noted the importance of private financing as a complement to public funding, highlighting the role the latter could play in middle- and high-income countries while reserving government funds for the lesser developed countries.

Overall, while COP19/CMP9 made some progress toward Lima and Paris, it was limited by continued concerns about the transparency of negotiations and moving toward an “applicable to all” standard without some accounting for historical responsibility. As the Earth Negotiations Bulletin observed, a “sense of resolve was notably absent” in Warsaw, due as much to an absence of political will as to the vagaries of the UNFCCC process. While the REDD+ framework and other “nuts and bolts” adjustments represent real steps forward in elaborating an international system of climate change law, a question remains whether they are enough to motivate countries to continue to invest in it.

 

This post was written by Tracy Bach, Heather Croshaw, Alisha Falberg, Dan Schreiber, and Lindsay Speer, members of the Vermont Law School COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation. You can read more of their observations at their COP19 blog, Substantial and sustained.