Adaptation in NDCs: To Include or Not To Include, That is the Question.

You could definitely feel the awkwardness in the conference room during the APA 1-7 agenda item #3 negotiations.This agenda item addresses the mitigation section of the 1/CP.21 decision (where we got the Paris Agreement). What caused such tension? Well, the parties have different positions on what to do with adaptation in NDCs, but were hesitant to speak about it during the session. The draft text for this negotiation issue briefly mentions suggested language for mandatory adaptation commitments within NDCs. But the history of international climate change negotiations hasn’t given much guidance on the issue.

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The UNFCCC first mentioned adaptation, but only to build climate change resilience in least developed countries. The Kyoto Protocol essentially ignored adaptation, and favored very stringent mitigation commitments for Annex I countries (a designation, assigned for the UNFCCC, for a party who could provide financial support to other countries). After over a decade of focusing solely on mitigation, the parties at COP21 decided to develop a new agreement with balanced representation of both adaptation and mitigation. As you can imagine, old habits are hard to break. And that was quite apparent in today’s session.

The developed countries tried their best to eliminate adaptation discussions from today’s informal consultations. The general statement in their interventions basically said that talks about adaptation were inappropriate at this session because it was being discussed elsewhere. If a party did decide to speak more on adaptation, the next typical response would reference the history of mitigation priority in previous COP decisions. The history of previous commitments shows an obvious pattern for making mitigation the priority for achieving UNFCCC climate goals. And although COP21 wanted to balance adaptation and mitigation, subsequent decisions did not reflect that goal. Instead, past guidance on NDCs has emphasized mitigation more than adaptation. Furthermore, the language of Article 4 (National Commitments) of the Paris Agreement (the treaty that created the concept of NDCs) outlines the general commitments of the parties without leaving any room for anything adaptation related.

Alternatively, the developing countries–primarily the African countries–(briefly) noted in their inventions the importance of including adaptation into NDCs. Though this issue has its own agenda item, some developing countries expressed their concerns about discussing adaptation at this session. Looking at the language of the Paris Agreement, Article 3 (NDCs) is ambiguous enough to include adaptation into the NDCs. Also, Article 7 (Adaptation) paragraph 11 lists NDCs as a document that may include adaptation communications. The purpose of the Paris Agreement itself is to increase adaptation consideration into climate change action. With such an open door, why not require adaptation commitments within the NDCs?

Negotiations are successful when parties talk through their differences to reach an acceptable compromise. Though today was just an informal consultation, it foreshadowed a rather frustrating next few days. With the constant dismissal of adaptation in this negotiation, it’ll be interesting to see how the advocates for adaptation will respond to the lack of dialogue at the table. Parties won’t be able to ignore the oversized elephant in the room for much longer.


Working Towards an “Ocean COP”

Ocean health is a big deal. It provides food security and resources to sustain our economies. It regulates our weather patterns. It absorbs heat and our carbon dioxide emissions. We often forget how dependent we are on the oceans. But lucky for us, UNFCCC Parties recognize that the “well below 2˚C” goal is not achievable without the ocean.

In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-chaired the first UN Ocean Conference in New York City—a conference on ocean health and sustainability. Fiji used that momentum as the COP23 President to bring awareness of ocean health to climate change discussions. Partnering again with Sweden, this dynamic duo co-chaired the Ocean Pathway. In total, 10 parties and 14 Advisory groups committed to the Ocean Pathway at COP23. Participation is likely to increase at COP24 following a year of devastating weather events.

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The Ocean Pathway is a new innovation to incorporate ocean conservation into the international climate change regime. This two-track strategy will (1) “increase the role of ocean consideration in the UNFCCC process” while (2) “significantly increasing action in priority areas impacting or impacted by [the] ocean and climate change.” 

The first track aims to develop a strategy to implement the ocean into UNFCCC negotiations with the “Friends of the Ocean” process—an open forum for Parties to discuss, debate, and implement measures to combat ocean concerns for the next two COPs. The goal is to make COP25 the “Ocean COP” by developing an effective work programme and potential agenda item by 2020.

The second track will strengthen previous ocean and climate change actions by developing new partnerships and platforms to increase momentum in the ocean conservation movement. Such actions include reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and increasing protection of blue carbon areas. Most important to COP24, the Because of the Ocean Coalition encourages Parties’ to include ocean-related measures in their NDCs! Not only will Parties combat climate change, but they can also tackle important concerns like ocean acidification, sea level rise, and pollution. A major win in the marine conservation realm!


Lets get on the same page

Capacity Building Initiative on TransparencyThe Paris Agreement, ratified by 170 Parties, at last count, has a clear goal for the world: Hold the rise in average global temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. While the goal is clear, the solutions are complex and challenging. This is especially true for Least Developed Countries (LDCs). LDCs lack the capacity and technical expertise to tackle these problems.  The United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognized the disparity between developed and LDCs in article 4.9 and implemented mechanisms to assist LDCs build capacity.

One of the recent mechanisms to be implemented as a part of the Paris Agreement is the Capacity Building Initiative on Transparency (CBIT). The goal of this initiative is to “strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of developing countries to meet the enhanced transparency requirements of the Paris Agreement.” In this context, transparency is more than access to information; it also refers to accuracy and standardization. Transparency allows all Parties to measure and compare the collective progress made by each country’s pledged climate change actions.

CBIT calls for transparency on two fronts: the first is transparency of actions and the second is transparency of support:

  • Transparency of actions is completed through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as called for by the convention in Article 4.1(f). Simply, NDCs are a set of measures taken by a country to limit GHG emissions. But this task is a more complex process than it seems. In order to meet the requirements of the PA Article 13.5, NDCs need to be backed by scientific data that can be Measured, Reviewed, and Verified (MRV). LDCs need to develop expertise in the methodologies used for collecting data. As an example, the first NDC submitted by Papua New Guinea (PNG) presented data with “considerable uncertainty”. To address that gap, PNG received financial assistance through CBIT to hire the expertise needed to collect the data needed to MRV its pledged actions. As the NDCs are evaluated collectively, they are compared to the ultimate goal of the PA. In turn, as delegates meet annually, they can evaluate climate change actions against the goal more effectively.
  • The PA in Article 13.6 requires “transparency of support.” The PA tasked the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with administering fund distribution. In order to facilitate that, the GEF publishes a report that details the support given under the CBIT fund. In its recent report of early November, 2017, $17,389,995 in CBIT funds was distributed to fourteen countries for transparency capacity building. This report also lists funding from other sources, including almost $19 million in co-financing for these projects.

In terms of spending on climate change actions, the CBIT fund doesn’t readily draw attention. However, it is an important part of combating climate change. By providing these practical measures, in addition to the climate change policies, the COP and its entities provide more holistic solutions. CBIT can be seen as one brick in giant wall of solution options. I would like to think of it as a corner stone that supports this wall far beyond its size would indicate.


We are working on it!

Island in the oceanAttending COP23 as an observer is a privilege because you are able to attend international multilateral negotiations. You witness established alliances use their power as a block and observe the dynamics of side negotiations. In these international multilateral negotiations, delegates agonize over words and paragraphs. They set their lines in the sand early and often. All of it done with diplomatic speak and collegiality but sometimes some get close to stepping over the line. Most of all, it is a privilege because you get to see the world trying to solve a problem collectively. With all this privilege, there is no denying that at times, these negotiations are frustrating. On rare occasions, the frustration causes one to think that the process is not working.

In a conversation with a delegate, I asked whether he is experiencing such frustration. Stalled talks are particularly challenging for him because he is from a Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which the United Nations considers as vulnerable nations because of climate change effect.  SIDS are usually located in the paths of hurricanes, which are happening with more frequency and more force. In the summer of 2017, for the first time, this delegate’s country issued mandatory evacuations from one of the outlying islands because no available shelter was adequate against the wrath of the coming storm. In the aftermath, the island became uninhabitable.

Additionally, SIDS are very vulnerable to rising sea levels. If water levels continue to rise, the oceans will soon reclaim these islands. Their challenge is their reluctance to make these issues public. Because their economy is dependent on tourism, climate change effects will drive off tourists, which will hurt an already fragile economy.

To answer my question, the delegate simply smiled. Then he started looking around at the other delegates and asked how many countries are represented. I told him there are delegates from 170 countries. He asked what are they all doing here? I told him that they are working on climate change issues. He replied with an even bigger smile, “exactly!” and repeated shortly after– We are working on it.

It is true that the COP process is complicated. One is instantly overwhelmed by the structure. There are three processes contained within the COP (UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement). Furthermore, each convention, protocol, or agreement has its own framework, and they sometimes intersect with each other. Having said that, the complexity of the process really lies in the magnitude of participants. At last count, there are one hundred and seventy countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement. These countries represent different needs, levels of development, levels of ability, and a different sense of urgency. Even with the common shared goal of limiting the increase in the Planet’s average temperature, the complexity is how to arrive at the desired results. In other words, who does what and who pays for what is the main source of difficulty at the COP negotiations, but…..

We are working on it!

 

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Al Gore’s Global Turning Point

OIMG_2260nce again, Former Vice President Al Gore made an impactful appearance at the COP. He forewarned the crowd that the first half of his presentation may be rather disheartening, but that the second half would bring to light the points we must truly focus on to move forward. Scientists and politicians alike have emphasized at COP23 that the world is facing some of the most frequent and devastating ‘natural’ disasters since the recordation of history. Gore stated that the UN has determined this time the “worst humanitarian crisis since 1945.”

While Gore remained upbeat and lighthearted with his inclusion of slides such as flooding in England having little effect on the operation of a local pub, or the presidential implications of a wildfire in Wyork-floodsashington having no effect on a game of golf: his speech was impassioned. He decried the subsidization of fossil fuels in comparison to renewable energy. And his voice nearly roared on the cost climate change has wrecked on the global economy. He stated that the amount is “unacceptable and cannot be maintained.”

But once his speech reached the dismal humanitarian crisis in Syria, he skillfully lightened the crowd’s mood with different countries’ initiatives to curb the negative impacts of climate change. He spoke of India’s commitment to introduce only electric cars in 2025; of Germany’s commitment to wind power; and the unilateral transition from coal and fossil fuels to renewable energy.

oregon wildfireGore emphasized that “we’re at a tipping point on a global basis.” The world can choose to move forward with clean initiatives, implementing the world’s commitment to the Paris Agreement; or we can sit in our big houses and tweet about it.


Is Time Running Out?

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COP 22 hourglass display representing the limited time left to avoid irreversible climate change before the year 2100.

Referencing the response to climate change at today’s COP 22, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the issue in terms of time.   He stated, “The question is not whether we will transition to a clean energy economy. The question is whether we will have the will power to make the transition in time.  Time is not on our side.”  He was speaking to a group in Marrakech, but his question was really to the world.

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Secretary of State John Kerry in Marrakech, Morocco for the COP 22 Climate negotiations.

 

 

 

 

Sec. Kerry confirmed that the global community is more united than ever and taking real action this year, as evidenced in such historic global agreements as the Paris Agreement, the ICAO Agreement and the Kigali Agreement. Sec. Kerry reassured his listeners that despite the uncertainty that is coming from recent election results, climate change is not a partisan issue.  The majority of Americans, scientists, military leaders, intelligence community, state and city leaders, business leaders, advocacy groups and community organizers are committed to fighting against the problems that contribute to climate change. The Secretary emphasized that although he would not speculate on the incoming administration’s policies regarding the Paris Agreement, he took heart because “issues look very different on the campaign trail than when you are actually in office.”  In fact, the U.S. is on its way to meet its Paris Agreement goals based on market forces and state regulations already in place. Investing in clean energy makes good market sense because as the Secretary said, “you can do good and do well at the same time.”


NDCs Registry Update: Pandora’s box remains closed

3K1A8294Yesterday,  the Parties reached a conclusion on the NDC registry. But it was a procedural conclusion, with the substantive discussion to take place at SBI46 in Bonn next May. Even so, it still took additional SBI informal sessions to come to agreement:  the registry agenda item had been limited to three sessions, but the Parties’ disagreements on the draft conclusions led the co-facilitators to add two informal session to reach an agreement. However, don’t let the word agreement fool you. The Parties were able to agree on the text because they went back to the SBI decision adopted in Bonn for this agenda item. Thus, the agreement was on a previous agreement! Nonetheless, the Parties insisted that discussion will continue next week at the SBI Plenary on two items of disagreement: 1) whether the Parties should have one registry or two registries that deals differently with NDCs and adaptation communications, and 2) whether the text of the draft conclusion should include a call for Party submissions.

Diplomacy is indeed the art of the possible, although sometimes it seems that some negotiations will never end and the Parties will never reach a consensus. That is why I think this conference is so important. We often hear about the devastating impacts of climate change all around the world.  But it is sometimes hard to understand what the respective country and their people are going through when you are not directly experiencing it. This conference puts a face on the devastating events and brings together representatives from all over the world who will fight in the negotiations for the insertion of an “a” or a “the” because that choice makes a whole lot of difference in their world.

With this blog post, my week at COP22 ends. It has been a wonderful week where I was surrounded by amazing people, and participated in exciting negotiations and side events where I learned that we are not alone in the fight against climate change. 3K1A8496

 


Ecological Migration and Migrating Towards Ambitious Climate Change Commitments at COP22

In 2011, the UN projected that the world will have 50 million environmental refugees by 2020. These are people who need to resettle due to climate change impacts such as drought, food shortage, disease, flooding, desertification, soil erosion, deforestation, and other environmental problems. This past week the New York Times released two stories about the plight of “ecological migrants” in the deserts of northern China. The first is a visual narrative about people living in the expanding Tengger Desert. The second article highlights the world’s largest environmental migrant resettlement project, in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

“Ecological migrants” are the millions of people whom the Chinese government had to relocate from lands distressed by climate change, industrialization, and human activity to 161 hastily built villages. China has already resettled 1.14 million residents of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where the average temperature has risen 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years (more than half of that increase occurring from 2001 to 2010) and annual precipitation has dropped about 5.7 millimeters every decade since the 1960s.

China is only one example of a region where people have had to relocate due to climate change. Where will everyone go? This is a problem that all countries need to figure out quickly because, if the UN’s prediction is accurate, the current system of asylum, refugee resettlement, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may prove inadequate.

The Marshall Islands need to figure out where their people will go as their island nation is quickly disappearing underwater. Predictions of dangerous tropical storms and rising salt levels in their drinking water may force citizens to flee even before the entire island is lost. In Bangladesh, about 17% of the land could be inundated by 2050, displacing an additional 18 million people.

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Road leading to Isle de Jean Charles often floods, cutting off the community.Credit: Josh Haner/The New York Times.

Climate change relocations are not limited to small, developing nations. The United States has begun preparing for its own. In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants up to $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, including the first allocation of federal money to move an entire community due to the impacts of climate change: a $48 million grant for Isle de Jean Charles.

Other than the overcrowding of cities and uprooting and destruction of rural lifestyles, the global refugee crisis presents a larger concern: national security. Last year at COP21 in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tied the conflict in Syria and the resulting global refugee crisis to climate change. Secretary Kerry linked Syria’s drought and resulting urban migration—first domestic, then international—as a key factor to the civil war. This was a relevant example of how climate change can exacerbate existing political turmoil within a country.

Thus, all countries must stay committed to climate change goals, not only for maintaining millions of people’s lives and homes, but for national safety throughout the world. Whether they consider it a focus or not, many countries are currently facing the problem of creating new domestic policies on immigration. While it may be too late for some vulnerable areas to completely avoid the need to relocate its people, every climate change action helps mitigate the problem. Hopefully the issue of relocation and climate change refugees or “ecological migrants” will push countries to be more ambitious about their climate change actions at the upcoming COP22.


‘Tis the climate change proxie season

image_asset_11083Newsflash:  A new report by a G20 task force chaired by Michael Bloomberg advises companies to routinely include climate risk information in their financial filings.  Its rationale?  “Increased disclosure in financial filings on climate risks—ranging from physical risks from impacts to liability risks from oil and gas holdings—will trigger oversight and institutionalize the need to consider climate change.”

A new study shows that corporate shareholders have filed more climate change resolutions with publicly held U.S. companies this year than in past years.

Proxy Review 2016 reports that by mid-February, investors had submitted 370 resolutions focused on environmental or social issues. Over 90 resolutions specifically addressed mitigating GHG emissions  and increasing renewable energy.

Public companies must hold annual shareholder meetings where management updates investors on the upcoming year’s plans and business strategies.  These meetings mostly occur between April and June. At them, shareholders may also vote on resolutions that affect company practices and policies.  If investors meet basic requirements (mostly around share ownership), they may submit resolutions to be voted on at stockholder meetings.  Companies usually oppose them and may petition the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to even block them.stranded assets

Mary Beth Gallagher of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment has filed resolutions at Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and the utility Southern Co. “We want to understand their business strategy to remain competitive in a 2-degree world,” she said in an interview with ClimateWire. Shareholders have presented similar proposals to Devon Energy, Occidental Petroleum, Noble Energy, and the multinational utility AES.

Six proposals focus on “stranded asset” or “carbon bubble” risks, said Michael Passoff, CEO of Proxy Impact, the group that published the report, and one of its authors.  Other resolutions ask for information about links between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes in the United States, links between sustainability and executive compensation, board diversity, and the connections between corporate spending and lobbying against climate regulations.

carbon bubbleThis level of shareholder wariness matches the mood of some fund managers. Norway’s $900 billion national pension fund divested of coal last summer, citing financial risks. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the second-largest pension fund in the United States, with $186 billion in assets, divested stocks of U.S. coal companies. In December, the $180 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund filed a shareholder resolution with Exxon seeking an explanation by 2017 of how it would run its business in a low-carbon world.  “We need to know that companies like Exxon are prepared to meet this challenge and are taking steps to protect the long-term value of our investments,” said fund trusteeThomas DiNapoli.

Scott Stringer, New York City’s comptroller, is responsible for $160 billion in city pension assets.  He filed 75 proxy proposals in 2014 that were intended to give shareholders the right to nominate candidates for corporate boards. Stringer devised this strategy, called the Boardroom Accountability Project, to address what he sees as long-term investment hazards: board diversity, excessive CEO pay, and climate change.  “As long-term shareowners, it is essential that we have climate-competent directors at fossil fuel companies — especially in light of the Paris Agreement reached last December.  Proxy access gives investors a real tool to engage boards more effectively, and hold them accountable if they are unwilling or ill-equipped to oversee the company’s transition to a low-carbon economy,” Stringer said. The Project is targeting 20 fossil fuel companies this year.

exxon HQJust this week, the SEC rejected Exxon’s attempt to block a shareholder resolution proposed by an investor coalition led by Comptroller DiNapoli and the Church of England (that includes Vermont’s State Employees’ Retirement System!).  This resolution asks the world’s largest publicly traded oil producer to explain how climate change and the regulation of it may affect its profitability.  Exxon had argued to the SEC that the proposal was too vague and that its current disclosures were adequate.  (Chevron received the same reply from the SEC last week.) As DiNapoli observes, “The Securities and Exchange Commission’s determination upholds shareholders’ rights to ask for vital information. Investors need to know if Exxon Mobil is taking necessary steps to prepare for a lower-carbon future.”