China’s Looks to Improve Transparency on Climate Change

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

IPCC special report leaves the world in dire straits

In response to an invitation from the Parties of the Paris Agreement (PA), and pursuant to the Article 2 efforts to limit temperature increases well below 2°C, the IPCC prepared a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), released Monday, 8 October, 2018.

Climate scientists sounded the alarm yet again, painting a dire picture of the future without immediate and drastic mitigation and adaptation measures worldwide.  High confidence statements made by the panel include:

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  • Human activities have caused approximately 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels
  • Current global warming trends reach at least 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052
  • Staying below the 1.5°C threshold will require a 45% reduction in GHG emissions from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net-zero by 2050
  • Pathways to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot will require removal of an additional 100-1000 GtCO2

Pathways of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions submitted under the PA will not limit global warming to 1.5°C.  Current pathways put us on target for 3°C by 2100, with continued warming afterwards.

The ENB Report summarizing SR15 was able to shine a light on the good that can come from responses to this special report (not to mention upholding the ambition intended with the PA).  SR15 shows that most of the 1.5°C pathways to avoid overshoot also help to achieve Sustainable Development Goals in critical areas like human health or energy access. Ambitious emission reductions can also prevent meeting critical ecosystem thresholds, such as the projected loss of 70-90% of warmer water coral reefs associated with 2°C.

Groups like the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are intensifying their adaptive scientific support through a “fully-integrated, ‘seamless’ Earth-system approach to weather, climate, and water domains,” says Professor Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist of the WMO.  This “seamless” approach allows leading climate scientists to use their advanced data assimilation and observation capabilities to deliver knowledge in support of human adaptations to regional environmental changes.  By addressing extreme climate and weather events through a holistic Earth-system approach, predictive tools will help enhance early warning systems and promote well being by giving the global community a greater chance to adapt to the inevitable hazardous events related to climate change.

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Success ultimately depends on international cooperation, which will hopefully be encouraged by the IPCC’s grim report and the looming PA Global Stocktake (GST) in 2023.  In the wake of devastating hurricanes, typhoons, and the SR15, it’s hard to ignore both the climate and leading climate scientists urging us to take deliberate, collective action to help create a more equitable and livable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.

In Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20 decides to convene a “facilitative dialogue” among the Parties in 2018, to take stock in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4 of the PA.  Later renamed the Talanoa Dialogue, these talks have set preparations into motion and are helping Parties gear up for the formal GST, with the aim of answering three key questions: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How will we get there?

Discussion about the implications of SR15 will be held at COP24, where round table discussions in the political phase of the dialogue will address the question, “how do we get there?”

It won’t be by continuing business as usual.

 


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!


Can Trump Trump the Paris Agreement?

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“How do you see the future of the Paris Agreement without, possibly, you?”

On Thursday, Venezuela posed this question to the U.S. delegation during the facilitative dialogue for enhanced action and support. The U.S. delegate spoke about how a Trump presidency may impact international efforts to combat climate change. South Africa asked the U.S. a follow-up question, giving the delegate some additional speaking time to elaborate. While acknowledging he could not speak to the intentions of the new administration, the delegate pointed out that the global effort is strong, as evidenced by the rapid entry into force of the Paris Agreement. His candid and articulate responses drew applause from those in attendance, but is he right?

The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016, less than a year after it was crafted at COP 21. The Agreement provides Parties with more flexibility than previous international climate agreements. The Parties agreed to adopt a bottom-up approach in which all Parties pledge contributions to the global effort. This approach resulted in 190 climate plans based in national priorities and interests.  Even if the U.S. reneges on its contribution, the other parties are still committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change. The status of the U.S. in the Paris Agreement has nothing to do with China and India’s need to clean up their cities and protect the health of their citizens.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump promised to withdraw U.S. support for the Paris Agreement if elected. He believes that the Agreement gives foreign governments control over how much energy the U.S. uses. This understanding is inaccurate, as the Agreement does nothing to impose limits on energy use. There are no top-down limitations.

To withdraw from the Agreement the U.S. would need to meet the obligations in Article 28. No party may withdraw from the Agreement until three years after it enters into force. Additionally, the withdrawal only takes effect one year after the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal. However, withdrawal from the UNFCCC, which takes effect a year after written notification of withdrawal is received, constitutes withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Thus, the U.S. withdrawal could be effective as early as January 2018.

The election of Donald Trump does not guarantee that all is lost when it comes to the global effort to combat climate change. Many participants at COP 22 have said that it is now up to the rest of the world to lead the charge and redouble their efforts. Others remain hopeful that Trump will change his tune now that he no longer has to cozy up to the oil industry. However, the U.S.’s action could establish a bad precedent going forward and may encourage other Parties to withdraw their support. Dana Fisher, director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, said “[t]he Paris Agreement and any U.S. leadership in international climate progress is dead.” But is he right?

Only time will tell.


Exxon redux: who knew what and when

exxon memoFrom the Panama Papers to the Pentagon Papers with a stop in between at the internal memos exposed during the states’ litigation against Big Tobacco in the 1990s, industry documents are powerful tools in showing who knew what when – and shifting the tide of public opinion. We’ve reported on Inside Climate News‘ expose and political and legal reactions to it. Now, a treasure trove of documents on display at CIEL‘s website show what Exxon knew when.  Read more here.