The Katowice Rulebook – and then some

image1024x768When the dust finally settled in Katowice in the wee hours of Sunday morning, December 16 – two days after COP24 was slated to conclude – a fair chunk of the needed Paris Agreement implementation guidelines were agreed on in COP decision.

Much was written about the outcomes right after. All point to the progress in providing detail for all of the Articles listed on the PAWP, except Article 6 on cooperative (markets) mechanisms. C2ES acknowledged the Rulebook achievement as “pivotal” while noting concern that the politics surrounding the COP’s tepid acceptance of the IPCC 1.5C report might signal the lack of high-level political leadership for putting them into practice. The World Resources Institute (WRI) concluded that “while not perfect, the Rulebook provides an important foundation for countries to move forward and operationalize the Paris Agreement.”  Carbon Brief noted that “countries wrestled with the ‘four-dimensional spaghetti’ of competing priorities as they clashed over how to recognize the IPCC special report on 1.5C ” and use those findings to spur greater ambition in the 2020 NDC revisions. The Wuppertal Institute saw the Rulebook as helping the Paris Agreement ship move out of dry dock – finally.

Here is my take on the three key Paris Agreement articles and their attendant COP24 guidelines, and how Parties “got to not no” on them.

The Article 4 guidelines on mitigation aspects of NDCs come in four decisions.  Decision 4/CMA.1 conveys the NDC information that Parties are expected to use when making mitigation pledges, beginning with their 2020 updates.  Annex 1 of the decision details the kinds of information required “to facilitate clarity, transparency, and understanding (CTU),” like base lines, time frames, scope of coverage, and methodologies. Annex 2 mandates using IPCC emissions accounting guidance,unless it cannot be applied to that kind of NDC pledge. Decision 5/CMA.1 sets out how to use the public registry for recording these NDCs.  Getting to not no on these guidelines was relatively easy.  On the technical level, most of these categories of information have been under discussion since COP19 and have been used under the Kyoto Protocol.  So few surprises, and sufficient time to get used to and make comprises on some.  On the political level, given that Parties retain the right to self determine what kind of mitigation pledge they make, the technical component form follows the nationally determined function … meaning that the pages of CTU information required ONLY apply once a Party makes a pledge that invokes them.  Again, given that Protocol countries are accustomed to gathering and communicating this kind of information, they had little to oppose.  Given that almost all developing countries made sectoral pledges, not economy wide ones, most of the CTU categories either don’t apply or are not formidable.  Hopefully this is a case where consensus means that behavioral norms are actually in line with the guidelines.

In contrast, Parties did not agree on common time frames for their mitigation pledges at COP24 in Decision 6/CMA.1.  While the Paris Agreement specifies that NDCs will be revised every five years, the timeframes for mitigation commitments made within them remain nationally determined.  For example, the US INDC pledges a 26-28% reduction by 2025 based on a 2005 baseline, while the EU’s 40% reduction is by 2030 and based on a 1990 baseline.  Consequently the Parties returned to the issue at SB50, where they again did not come up with a recommendation for COP25.   This negotiations will continue at SB51 during the first week of the COP.  What might be the consensus position on this one?  The range of options currently on the table indicates disagreement over what conceptually is the right timeframe to achieve both ambitious and feasible change, and how fast to start implementation.  Hence we see competing proposals to require all Parties to adopt a 5-year timeframe; a 10-year timeframe; have the choice between the two; and even mandate two successive 5-year timeframes (5+5).  As for implementation, there are calls for sooner (in 2025) and later (2031 and 2041 onward). At this point, it is unclear which approach will prevail in Santiago. Parties could not agree on submissions and technical reports on this point during the next six months, so it is hard to see how compromise positions will form before then.

The Article 13 guidelines on transparency get the award for length: Decision 18/CMA.1 comes in at a whopping 34 pages!  We know that knowledge is power.  While sovereign countries always seek information on others, they are careful when divulging their own. Careful wording takes more pages.

Within the internal logic of the UNFCCC, the length is also testimony to how MRV (measuring, reporting, and verification) has evolved over time.  The general requirements outlined in the UNFCCC produced data, but not in a way that helped measure progress.  Hence the Biennial Reports and Biennial Update Reports mandated later by COP16 decisions.  This change led to the Paris Agreement’s Biennial Transparency Report (BTR), which Parties will begin submitting in 2024, and will likely evolve to be the sole report (with national inventories inside or alongside them).

Another reason for length derives from Article 13’s negotiation over the course of 2015 into a two-part reporting system:  one on transparency of action (e.g. mitigation and adaptation) and one on transparency of support (e.g. finance, technology, capacity-building). That second part was hard fought.  Since 1994, developing countries perceived chronic shortfalls on these UNFCCC “means of implementation” commitments.  As a compromise, they negotiated their willingness to take on new mitigation obligations with developed countries’ willingness to be more transparent about how they provide support.

While long and detailed, the transparency guidelines are organized in a straight forward fashion, first giving an overview of BTR requirements in Part I before providing lists of the kinds of information and methodologies required for making a national inventory of emissions and removals in Part II.  Part III details the information needed to report on progress made on NDC pledges, which mostly  mirrors that described in the NDC guidelines. Part IV lists the optional information on adaptation that may be included in a NDC. Parts V and VI address the provision by developed countries and the receipt by developing countries of support, respectively, via finance, technology, and capacity building.  Guidelines on the technical expert review of these submissions are outlined in Part VII and multilateral review of them by the Parties is covered in Part VIII.

While the end product seems tidy and matter-of-fact, the negotiation of them during COP24 occupied most of the available meeting time.  This kind of detailed reporting – most of which most developing countries have not prepared for – was ground zero for advocating for different requirements for countries of different development status.  While LDCs and SIDs continue to be treated with “flexibility,” developing countries are really not. Almost all of the transparency provisions begin with the undifferentiated label of “Parties.” While developing countries may exercise flexibility “in light of their capacities” on some aspects of reporting, they must transparently show where and why they are doing so and communicate when their capacity will improve.  To help them meet these timelines, developed country Parties have pledge additional capacity-building support for transparency, via the CBIT fund located at the GEF, which was created at COP21.   A uniform transparency system was a red line for the US and EU delegations.  To get to not no required giving up an outside limit on how long developing countries could exercise this flexibility – and funding this kind of capacity building.

At SB50, the focus on the transparency framework’s mechanics continued with negotiations on common reporting tables and tabular formats for this information.  The Parties left Bonn with pages of ideas, an invitation to submit more, and a decision to continue negotiating the specifics at SB51 with dedicated time for discussing how exactly to put those flexibility options into practice.

The Article 14 guidelines on the global stocktake (GST) are captured in Decision 19/CMA.1 in a comparatively short 5 pages.  Yet they give a fair amount of detail on both the procedure and data inputs for this collective review of all the Parties progress (or not) on achieving the Article 2 goals, which is set to start in 2023 and continue every five years thereafter. On procedure, the implementation guidelines divide the stocktake into three phases: 1) information collection and preparation, 2) technical assessment of it per the Paris Agreement goals, and 3) using that assessment to inform Parties’ updating of their NDCs to enhance ambition. While the SBI and SBSTA will jointly assist the process, a “technical dialogue” will be convened to help assess both the inputs and outs of the stocktake.  Not surprisingly, inputs will provide information on the current status of emissions and removals, overall NDC progress, adaptation and loss and damage efforts, financial flows, challenges faced by developing countries, good practices, and “fairness considerations.”  Data for these inputs will come from individual NDCs and BTRs; reports from the IPCC, SBI and SBSTA, and relevant constituted UNFCCC bodies; synthesis reports requested of the Secretariat, as well as reports from other UN bodies and regional organizations; and submissions from Parties and observers.  The technical dialogue looks to be an important method for focusing the assessment of evidence-based actions, akin to the structured expert dialogue that set the stage for the inclusion of 1.5C in Article 2’s aims and the COP requesting the IPCC’s special report on 1.5C. Perhaps it will be equally skilled in diplomacy, as the GST turns the focus from individual country actions (and inactions) to global action (and inaction)?

Taken together, these three sets of implementation guidelines provide something for everyone yet enough top down in common to drive compromise.

“The Paris Agreement could have died in Katowice,” Li Shuo, head of Greenpeace-China, said in a Rolling Stone article post COP24. “Instead, it lives. The question now is, ‘Who will step up and show some ambition and political leadership?’ ”


COP24: Getting to not no

IMG_4306Multilateralism aims to forge agreement among countries to solve problems that span sovereign borders. Achieving success requires careful balancing of the number of participants with the strength of their commitments and their willingness to  enforce them.

In tackling climate change, we see this triad playing out differently between the UNFCCC (197 Parties, qualitative and not quantitative commitments, soft enforcement mechanisms), Kyoto Protocol (much smaller group of countries with quantitative mitigation targets reviewed by a compliance committee), and the Paris Agreement (185 Parties pledging both quantitative and qualitative contributions with enhanced transparency requirements to promote accountability). It’s safe to say that getting a multilateral environmental agreement’s structure right isn’t easy.

Ditto on its governance.

The international climate change agreements housed under the UNFCCC operate their brand of multilateralism by consensus.  While the Conference of Parties (COP) need not achieve unanimity, one country or group of countries can stop decisions in their tracks by voicing disagreement. Sometimes dissenting views can be managed through diplomatic techniques.  A recent example is the promise of ongoing consultations made by COP21 President Laurent Fabius to Turkey in 2015 in order to gavel the Paris Agreement into being.  Other times they cannot, and the Parties do not come to consensus, as happened in 2009 with COP15’s “Copenhagen Accord.”  Given that the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and Paris Agreement Parties achieved consensus on their COP24, CMP14, and CMA1 decisions respectively, it is worth exploring how they got to “not no” in Katowice, Poland.

A first consideration is the motivation to keep climate change multilateralism intact.

Despite the United States’ 2017 threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and the anticipation of something similar from the new president of Brazil, the vast majority of Parties want to continue this treaty forum. The European Union states – notably Germany, France, and the UK (still, despite Brexit negotiations) – are making a full court press on putting the Paris Agreement into practice. Why? The EU has invested deeply in these multilateral climate change negotiations since the beginning.  Member countries bore almost the entire load of the Kyoto Protocol mitigation commitments.  While member states continue to tussle internally on when and how to move away from fossil fuels – with COP24 host Poland serving as Exhibit A of a coal-dependent economy dragging its heels – there is no doubt about the EU’s climate change policy direction since the early 2000s.  Whether via carbon markets or renewable energy targets or electric vehicle production prioritization or financial and capacity-building aid to developing countries, EU member states have made significant political and financial investments in climate change multilateralism.

Likewise emerging economies like China and India have moved to the multilateral forefront by bringing developing country interests and concerns to the climate change negotiation table. Along with Brazil and South Africa, they form the BASIC negotiation group that is critical to forging deals.  As industrializing developing countries, they can see the costs and benefits of mitigation and adaptation commitments from both the economic status they have been and the one that they are growing their economies into. China’s early experiments with regional carbon markets have now manifested nationwide. Its use of renewable energy is growing ahead of its pledged targets.  It is THE largest electric vehicle market in the world, fueled by domestic policies that make it easier for consumers to buy them. India highlights the mitigation impact of its majority Hindu population’s vegetarianism.  It also vies for solar energy bragging rights with China and incentivizes the use of electric vehicles.  By taking domestic mitigation and adaptation actions while also pursuing economic growth, these large developing countries provide leadership for the smaller developing countries who are also industrializing. They also partner with the EU to build multilateral bridges strong enough to withstand unilateral defections.

A second consideration is the structure of the Paris Agreement itself, as explored in this earlier post, and the rules needed to implement it that were the key deliverable of COP24.

Unlike the UNFCCC, in which country parties imposed on themselves only process requirements like collecting and reporting emissions data, the Kyoto Protocol set country-specific emissions caps that would add up to a 5% reduction from 1990 global emission levels. How countries achieved their reductions was up to national governments, in light of the many options embodied in the Protocol. But because only developed countries took on these reduction targets, the Protocol affected the practices of a minority of UNFCCC Party countries who were the historical polluters. By 2005, when the Kyoto Protocol entered into force, China had surpassed the U.S. as the top emitting country, illustrating the growing impact of the emissions from developing countries as they industrialized. The Paris Agreement was specifically designed to include all UNFCCC countries in a mutual system of national “bottom up” pledges governed by a set of international “top down” accountability rules.

It is this treaty language  with its “constructive ambiguities” that the Paris Agreement implementation guidelines must clarify.  Hence the past three years of negotiations under the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) that focused on some seven Agreement articles (4,6,7,9,13,14,15) and culminated in COP24 decisions that total 100 pages.

Of these seven, the COP24 outcomes – sometimes referred to as the Katowice Rulebook – on three of them merit closer scrutiny, namely Article 4 on NDCs, Article 13 on transparency, and Article 14 on the global stocktake.  The first one focuses on the kinds of mitigation targets countries set for themselves and how to account for their impact.  The second sets the ground rules for regularly reporting on NDC progress. The third holds the entire COP responsible for assessing whether the Paris Agreement parties are achieving the Article 2 goal of keeping the rise in atmospheric temperature to well below 2C degrees.  It is on these three building blocks that current climate change multilateralism is based.  Understanding the details of their implementation guidelines is thus a critical first step to making it work.

Check out my next post that captures key guidelines finalized at COP24 and SB50, and how Parties reached consensus on them.


Why COP24 was just as important as COP21 – prelude

Copenhagen. Paris.  COP15.  COP21.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 10.09.47 PMThese are the most recent international climate change  meetings that everyone knows.  COP15 in Copenhagen marked a low point in multilateral environmental cooperation, with the “back room” deal by the top global emitters not accepted by the 197 Parties who must agree on its actions by consensus at its closing plenary.  Hence the Copenhagen Accords were seen as a political document, not a legal one.

Six years later, after annual negotiation sessions, these same Parties adopted the Paris Agreement, a new treaty under the UNFCCC that was ratified so quickly – only 11 months – that the Parties were caught unprepared with the specific rules on how to implement it. A definite political high point.  Knowing that, the Parties created a work programme to put the necessary pieces of the Paris Agreement puzzle in place.  The deadline for completing it was last December, at COP24 in Katowice, Poland.

In2018-10-24 the run up to COP24, Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa described the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) as “more than a set of rules, it will unleash the power of the Agreement itself.”

How is that?

It’s because 185 Parties – 184 individual countries and the EU – agreed to design the Paris Agreement around three legal obligations intended to harness “bottom up” participation and ambition. These are:

  1. pledging nationally determined contributions or NDCs,
  2. transparently and regularly reporting their progress on them, and
  3. collectively taking stock on how current NDCs are achieving the goal of keeping global temperature rise “well below” 2C.

Through the NDCs, individual countries commit in writing what they will do to mitigate their GHG emissions and adapt to locked-in climate change impacts.  Developed countries – the ones whose industrialization caused this warming – also say in their NDCs how they will help other, less developed countries to mitigate and adapt through financial, technology, and capacity-building support. The range of NDC pledges reflects the range of countries’ development status.The good news is that so many countries filed them.  The task for COP24 was agreeing on implementation guidelines that promote a uniform understanding of them.

Then, through an “enhanced transparency framework,” countries file reports via a publicly available UNFCCC portal on specific actions taken.  For mitigation, this means totaling up how many GHG emissions have been reduced or sequestered, by gas and sector.  These kinds of calculations have been required of developed country parties to the Kyoto Protocol for over a decade.  Given the learning curve for other countries, the precise contents of these reports and whether all countries will make them every two year were the key facets of these Paris Agreement guidelines.

Finally, the global stocktake or GST serves as the linchpin for these individual country efforts.  Every five years all the Paris Agreement parties will collectively assess whether their individual contributions, when added up, have been enough to meet the Paris Agreements goals of staying well below 2C, and mid 21st century carbon neutrality.  The October IPCC special report on 1.5C underscored the existential importance of meeting the more ambitious goal expressed in Article 2 of the Agreement. So agreeing on what information should inform the GST and how to conduct it were the core implementation guidelines negotiated at COP24.

So how did it come out?  See my next post for my view on it.

*****

Before you do, consider Espinosa’s comments about the IPCC 1.5C report at the pre-COP.

patricia krakowWhen opening the meeting, she underscored how warming poses risks to all of humanity and why action at COP24 in response is critical.

“Let us never forget that climate change, if left unadressed, will take almost every single challenge humanity faces and make it worse.

It will destabilize the global economy, which will affect all nations. By 2030, the loss of productivity caused by a hotter world could cost the global economy 2 trillion dollars.

It will create conflict over resources and impact migration. It’s estimated that climate change could displace between 50 million and 200 million people by 2050.

Worse, it will result in incredible suffering and hardship for people and societies throughout the world.

But addressing climate change, and committing to a low-emissions future—one that is more resilient and sustainable—offers incredible opportunity.

It’s not just an opportunity to do the right thing—it’s an opportunity to completely transform the way we produce and consume, and the way we live.

And that means new markets, new businesses, and, for so many people throughout the world, new jobs…quality jobs…a just transition to a future that is just for all people.

As Secretary-General Guterres so clearly put it, the idea that tackling climate change is expensive and could harm economic growth is nonsense. In fact, the opposite is true.

The International Labour Organization reports that the green economy could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030.

Ladies and gentlemen, incredible opportunity exists if we embrace a low-carbon future and unleash the power of the Paris Agreement.

But we must first achieve our very specific goals at COP24.

I ask all of you to take one message back to your countries: that people of the world want us to achieve results at COP24 and we intend to reach those goals.”


Bipolar on Climate Change at COP24

Choose one word to describe the results of COP24 and the state of climate change today. Bipolar … dramatically bipolar. We find ourselves torn between despair and hope, between optimiScreen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.08.08 PMsm and realism, between real progress and a Paris rulebook with no rules. Though Polish officials declared success, really the Paris rulebook that came from COP24 is an agreement to disagree and try again later.

The good news is that after weeks of marathon, overnight negotiating sessions the parties came to a 133 page agreement reflecting years of work since the Paris Agreement. What the agreement does do is affirm the Paris Agreement and allow parties to move forward. What it purports to do, but really does not do, is establish the framework, the rulebook as it is called. Yes, there is progress in the agreement, but to call it the rulebook it was supposed to be – that just stretches too far.

The World Resources Institute identified four key elements needed for a Paris Agreement rulebook: 1) common timeframes; 2) reporting and accounting methodologies; 3) transitioning to the new transparency framework; and 4) effective peer review processes. Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.26.14 PMOn common timeframes the agreement states that they agree there should be common time frames, they should discuss it in June 2019, and then approved by the COP with even a reference to what year it should be approved by deleted from the final text.   The development of a registry that would hold all the NDCs is critical to transparency and access by the public which helps hold Parties accountable. Here again the agreement agrees to have the UNFCCC work on a prototype, but it is subject to confirmation at the COP in November 2019 – another indicator that there were a couple of issues, particularly regarding a search function, that the parties could not agree on. Parties could not agree on the features each NDC should have and pushed consideration of further guidance out until 2024. The Parties did agree (per the Paris Agreement) that they would submit the NDCs based on common information in Annex I and be held accountable via common information in Annex II. However, they could not agree on how “target” should be defined and so the final text simply states – “general description of the target.” Still these Annex’s do call for the information required to at least have a skeleton framework for transparency.

The real big failure at COP24 was a complete breakdown on Article 6. All of the work on cooperative approaches and Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes, (see my earlier blog posts here and here) the work that enables the investment by developed countries into developing countries that is needed to accelerate progress, all of these sections were tabled until next year. They will use the progress in negotiations as a starting point, but without some agreement we cannot begin to create global markets that investors will trust enough to invest in.

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.22.10 PMFundamentally, they agreed – thus moving the Paris Agreement forward – to disagree – thus hampering acceleration and progress. As the Assistant Secretary General Elliot Harris quoted Vermont’s Bill McKibben: “If we don’t win very quickly in climate change, then we will never win. … Winning slowly is the same as losing.”

Despair and Hope: Throughout the week there was an endless stream of somber information regarding the reality we are facing.   The new UN Emissions Gap Report indicates the gap between what is being done and what is needed has grown significantly while countries fail to perform to their commitments. Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.19.57 PMFrom estimates that climate change will drive 140 million people to move within a little over 50 years as projected in the World Bank Group Report to entire countries and cultures being obliterated in the Marshall Islands. From the Unites States government report of a 10% impact on the economy double that of the recent great recession that will exacerbate environmental, social and economic inequalities – to the sad reality that we most likely cannot save our coral reefs and arctic ice is disintegrating at a faster pace that scientists had ever predicted.     AND YET, we must have hope to move forward – we cannot be crippled by despair. Climate change action is also predicted to yield direct economic gains of $26 trillion according to the New Climate Economy Report.Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.17.19 PM

Frankly that is the world we face now. One where we must simultaneously face the extreme consequences of our apparent failure while maintaining hope that if EVERY ONE OF US does our part we might, just might, avoid catastrophic failure.

“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” Everyday we will face and experience despair, and every day we must be bipolar and choose hope.


A New Architecture for Climate Finance Must Encourage Private Sector Investment

Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for the rest of his life.” In relation to climate financing, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Developed Country Parties, do both, and neither particularly well.  The recent IPCC 1.5 report has taken away all room for delay: the GCF cannot waste its valuable funding on unaccountable, inefficient disbursements. We need a financial architecture that will let us move much faster than we are.

This COP has highlighted Developing Country Parties’ concerns that they won’t have the capital to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. More specifically, that they won’t have the fOptimized-Plants and coinsunds to help pay for losses and damage expected from climate change and that they cannot afford to build the necessary infrastructure, such as renewable energy sources and other low-carbon technologies, that the IPCC 1.5 report warns are necessary.

The GCF relies on Developed Country Parties’ pledges to provide that funding. However, these Parties are hesitant to invest and bear the risk for the costs of climate change. Additionally, they are hesitant to grant funding to countries that are technically “developing,” yet have emerged as economic powerhouses.

This hesitation is exacerbated by irresponsible use of funds by the GCF. Experts argue that the use of climate grants, which make up 47% of the GCF’s activities to date, rather than direct investment, are a misallocation of public funds. They can actually harm markets by pushing out small-scale private actors, often going to those who could afford it anyway. Instead, GCF capital should be blended with government money in order to attract private investors and encourage market growth.Flood_Affected_Areas_of_Amreli_District_Gujarat_India_on_24_June_2015_2-768x512

Private investors are hesitant to invest in the face of unfamiliar risk. This includes vulnerabilities to extreme weather, droughts, and rising sea levels for coastal economies, but also inaction by governments that will exacerbate these effects. However, private investors are often moving into these markets anyway, which are slowly becoming more viable as investment options. To encourage this, public funds from the GCF and governments should be used to leverage investment from private actors. Instead of being given freely, by themselves, in the form of grant disbursements, proponents argue that they should only be committed in cases where they can encourage private investment at 10x or higher.

Many Developing Countries, LDCs, and SIDS require foreign aid to kick-start these markets. Private investment must be encouraged as part of that funding. There is simply not enough public funding to tackle the problem alone.


Consumerism, Climate Change and COP24

COP24 is about to conclude in Katowice, Poland and the link between consumerism and climate change has received little attention. A few events have been organized during the last two weeks at the COP24 on the matter, including one side event held by the Global Climate Action on December 8, 2018 entitled Impacts for a more sustainable and responsible consumption. But there has been little discussion, overall, about the impact consumerism—our own individual choices and way of living—has on our planet.

A legitimate reflection one might have about COP24 is on its ecological footprint. Are we walking the talk? The UN reports that greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions due to the event will be tracked through a calculation by the organizers and it is anticipated that COP24 will have generated approximately 55,000 tons of CO2. It further specifies that in order to offset this, the Polish Government has committed to planting more than 6 million trees, capable of absorbing the equivalent of the conference’s emissions in the next 20 years. But is offsetting the sustainable, long-term solution as it concretely does not remove the trash that has been produced from this event, and the energy and resources it took to build it, among other things? 13252700_f520

Consumerism plays a significant role in climate change. As underscored by one author, studies have shown that what we consume—from food to clothes to toiletries—is responsible for up to 60% of global GHG emissions and between 50 and 80% of total land, material, and water use.

At COP24, there has been emphasis on how political will is a fundamental element to addressing climate change. Indeed, political actions represent a big part of the solution. Additional efforts should be invested into integrating businesses and the private sector more effectively into the development and implementation of solutions to address the climate crisis.

However, we sometime like to place responsibility on others—something bigger, out of our control—but when 60-80% of the impacts on the planet come from our own individual consumption, more attention should be placed on our own habits as consumers.

As stressed by one author, if we changed our consumption habits, we could have a dramatic effect on our environmental footprint, on what businesses are producing, and on what the financial sector is funding. It is true that it is fundamental that various stakeholders are engaged in addressing the climate issue—including, particularly governments at local, national and international levels and industries. But we also need to do our fair share according to our means. Certain initiatives have been developed to sensitize citizens at a larger scale. For example, recently, in Quebec, Canada, the Pact for a transition from words to actions (the “Pacte”) was created in November 2018 to unite citizens across the province, beyond their political differences to take specific necessary actions in their day-to-day to transition towards a low-carbon future.  

More similar initiatives worldwide could help to put consumerism at the forefront of the climate solutions. As indicated by the Pacte, with strength in numbers, and with deep, smart lifestyle changes, things could likely progress faster. download (1)


Koronivia Joint Work Programme News Feed

One week after the draft conclusions for the the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA) were submitted, and the subsidiary bodies concluded their independent negotiations, representatives from Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and France addressed the media about the work done and conclusions made at the completion of KJWA’s work at COP24.

The panel had a lukewarm response to the outcome of the first “Road Map” workshop since the 4/CP.23 mandate.  The representative from Rwanda was very disappointed about the lack of “welcome” for the IPCC 1.5 Report, which he said is a joke to African countries in particular, who are living the harsh realities of climate change now.  Mr. Bassey of Nigeria emphasized the role of small scale farmers moving forward in response to our changing climate.  Agriculture that works with local knowledge, without the extensive chemical inputs commonly associated with industrial agriculture – farming that “can be done on the streets” – is how we need to move forward with farming our fields and feeding our families.

Modalities and procedures for the implementation of the KJWA were the focus of these joint SBI/SBSTA meetings.  But South Africa’s representative noted that developing Parties, particularly the Africa Group, felt that little support for implementation came to fruition, with finance remaining as the primary roadblock moving forward.  Panelists believe guidelines need to reflect a just socioeconomic basis for food security: adaptation, absolute emissions reductions, ecological integrity, and gender responsiveness.

The session concluded with a question posed by an audience member who, like myself, was unable to attend much of last week’s negotiations – “how can other organizations such as Latin American groups participate in the SBI/SBSTA joint meetings next year?”

The French panelist who promoted France’s sustainable Agroecology initiatives responded by emphasizing engagement in the KJWA workshops via the Submissions Portal.  Participation by all parts of the agricultural community, not just Parties, is key.  Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 1.59.02 PMWe need to ask questions, offer solutions, and promote an inclusive, equitable, just future for those feeling the drastic effects of climate change already.  As the Nigerian representative concluded, “we have the wisdom, we have the knowledge. We need to share it.”  Lots of experience from the global South remains to be shared by the farmer-scientists who have the tools and must feed the way!


Coaland and the Colossal Fossil

A true consensus government, the COP leaves the most progressive at the mercy of the most obstinate. In this system, science deniers and climate activists battle it out, yielding ground, gaining concessions, and, often, feeling like they’ve gotten nowhere. As the world burns and our chances to halt the irreversible slip through our fingers, every small victory reminds us that winning slowly is still losing. So what do you do when a coal-loving country holds the gavel? Can observers only wring their hands as an understaffed Polish Presidency sets regressive agendas and embraces corporate polluters?

The answer, of course, is to mock them.

A hero of satire has emerged to hold the worst members of the COP accountable: Climate Action Network and their “Fossil of the Day” awards.

Each day of negotiations, CAN has chosen a deserving winner. Those who, through obstinacy, ignorance, or plain greed, continue to obstruct global climate action, all earn a place on the podium.

The list of daily finalists includes:

A Polish victory has been brewing all COP. President Andrzej Duda opened his remarks by stating: “There is no plan to fully give up on coal. Experts point out that our supplies run for another 200 years, and it would be hard not to use them.” They’ve followed this up by cozying up to large polluters, filling the venue with single-use plastics, and holding events advertising “clean coal.”

However, most disturbing has been Poland’s battle against climate activism at the COP. At least twelve members of civil society groups and one COP Party delegate were turned away at the Polish border, including CAN Europe’s Zanna Vanrenterghem.

These activities appear to be the product of a new law banning unplanned protesters from Katowice, the COP venue. This barrier to a free and involved public directly belies Poland’s professed commitment “to providing access to information, access to participation, and remedy on environmental matters.” This has had a chilling effect on participants. Coupled with an unambitious conference agenda, the activities of the Polish government have cast a pall over the proceedings that match the one in the air.


What’s cooking in the COP24 kitchen?

IMG_2287The Polish Presidency addressed observers this evening about what remains to be negotiated on the Paris Agreement Implementation Guidelines before their impending deadline.  As the second week of COP24 comes to a close, tensions are high as the remaining items to be hashed out by high level Ministers run late into the evenings. This comes as no surprise, given the existential crises certain Parties are facing as a result of our changing climate.  In the words of the Presidency, “discussions continue to happen in silos, as they try to ‘cook’ a balanced text” that is fair in the eyes of all Parties.

The remaining items to be negotiated include: Financial matters; Modalities, procedures and guidelines under the Paris Agreement (PA); Adaptation; Cooperative instruments under Article 6; Matters relating to technology; Response measures; NDC registries; and the Talanoa Dialogue and IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C.  This is no small feat, given the mounting social, environmental, and economic pressures. A few prominent observer groups felt strongly about these items, and when invited by the Chair of the session did not hesitate to voice their opinions and confront the Presidency about their concerns.

IMG_2281The Environmental Non-Governmental Organization (ENGO) felt that responses in NDCs to the IPCC report remained inadequate, and feared that trading and compromise would not end favorably for “non-PAWP” related items.  The Women and Gender group echoed these concerns, stressing most about the preamble of the pending 1/CP.24, because anything that does not reflect these principles “would be a fraught to humanity.”  The Indigenous Peoples Organization responded to the Presidency by admiring the fact that while the COP is trying to “cook a balanced package,” they are concerned about human rights issues, and the IPCC 1.5 Report.  YOUNGO called attention to the lacking mandate around enhancement of NDCs, and fears that the Talanoa Dialogue will not be preserved in the final process.  Trade Union-NGO (TUNGO) group wanted clear recognition of the IPCC report as well, because “this is why we are here.” The IPCC report is the “why” and the “how” to address our climatic conundrum.

The Presidency responded to everyone’s concerns by reiterating what was said in the plenary earlier that day, and what he outlined in his introduction to this session.  He directed observers to the Talanoa Call for Action that called for a rapid mobilization of a variety of social actors to respond to the climate goals agreed upon in the PA, and expects most of these issues to be preserved in the final text as well.  While the Presidency hoped to console observer’s concerns, we all still wait in anticipation to see what the head chefs in the Convention kitchen have cooked up for the finale of COP24.


New Alarming Report on the State of the Arctic

This Tuesday, on December 11, 2018, at the same time that the 11iceCOP24 is about to conclude in Katowice, Poland, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) released its annual international Arctic report card (the “Report”) reflecting on a range of land, ice, and ocean observations made throughout the Arctic during the 2018 calendar year. The Report includes a series of 14 essays prepared by more than 80 scientists from 12 countries and it underlines the changes that are continuing to occur in the Arctic environmental system in relation with climate change.

As the Report shows and as reported by the media, “the Arctic is experiencing the most unprecedented transition in human history”.

It is underlined that, in 2018, surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at roughly twice the rate compared to the rest of the world. It is also noted that the year 2018 was the second warmest year on record in the Arctic since 1900 (after 2016) and that Arctic air temperatures for the past five years (2014-18) have exceeded all previous records since 1900.

The Report further indicates that such continued warming of the Arctic in 2018 is an indicator of both regional and global climate change and a driver of broad Arctic environmental change. Scientists explains that atmospheric warming continued to drive broad, long-term trends in declining terrestrial snow cover, melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and lake ice, increasing summertime Arctic river discharge, and the expansion and greening of Arctic tundra vegetation. Despite the growth of vegetation available for grazing land animals, herd populations of caribou and wild reindeer across the Arctic tundra have declined by nearly 50% over the last two decades.

895ARC18_Landfast_mahoney_Fig3According to the Report, the Arctic is no longer returning to the extensively frozen region of recent past decades—in 2018 Arctic sea ice remained thinner and covered less area than in the past. Also, Warming Arctic Ocean conditions are coinciding with an expansion of harmful algae species responsible for toxic algal blooms (which have been found in the tissues of Arctic clams, seals, walrus, and whales and other marine organisms).952ARC18_HABs_anderson_Fig2

NOAA concludes that “new and rapidly emerging threats are taking form and highlighting the level of uncertainty in the breadth of environmental change that is to come”.


Feminist Electrification is about Health Care!

The United Nations Climate Action Awards were announced on December 11Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 10.58.13 PM at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24). One of the 15 Momentum for Change awards went to EarthSpark International for their work on energy poverty. Globally energy poverty is understood as a lack of access to modern energy services.  As I discuss in my October 14 blog, over three billion people rely on wood, charcoal, or dung for cooking resulting in more than 4 million deaths per year from household air pollution. Electrification IS about health.

Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 10.48.11 PMEarthSpark recognizes this crisis and also the disproportionate affect on women in rural areas. Women tend to be the ones that travel hours and hours per day collecting fuel. They also tend to be the ones tending and breathing these smoky fires for cooking. The EarthSpark winning project has a gender lens they refer to as “feminist electrification.” The projects range from small-scale clean energy projects such as solar lanterns and efficient cooktops to their current project creating 80 community scale microgrids in Haiti to bring electrification to these rural communities. These types of projects help address many of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

There are still 1.2 billion people without access to electricity. 1.2 billion people Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 10.58.27 PMthat can’t refrigerate food, cook on a stove, run a light to read by, or charge a phone to communicate (yes most rural communication is by cell phone). We have an opportunity to leverage today’s technology to bring smart infrastructure to these communities while we equalize gender opportunity.  Let’s build it right the first time!


“We don’t have the luxury of feeling discouraged”-Former Vice-President Al Gore Warns of the Dangers of Climate Change at COP24

“The cheapest and most effective carbon sequestration technology is called a ‘Tree.’ When this technology is taken to scale, it is called a ‘Forest.’” The Former Vice President of the United States and Presidential hopeful paused to let the laughter subside. Holding up a hand, he became deadly serious once more. He had come to COP24 to continue fighting for the cause he had become synonymous with: Climate Change.

As the United States joined countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia in denying the dire IPCC 1.5 report and negotiations on the Paris Agreement Work Program slogged on, Al Gore reminded the world that this is a group effort. While the effects of climate change do not affect us all equally, they still affect us all.

Shahid Balouch, a gravedigger, poses for a photograph in a mass grave in the cemetary, as preparations are made in case of another heatwave in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Shahid Balouch, a gravedigger, poses for a photograph in a mass grave in the cemetery, as preparations are made in case of another heatwave in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

High temperatures continue to set records around the world. They melt roads and damage infrastructure; high nighttime temperatures impact agricultural viability; and in Pakistan, the government has dug preemptive mass graves, anticipating the costs to human life. Most concerning, however, are the effects of rising temperatures on global air currents.

When the jet stream is strong, it forms a boundary between lower latitudes and arctic winds known as the Polar Vortex. When high temperatures near the equator push an excess of warm air northward, the jet stream weakens and this boundary dissolves. This occurred at the end of 2017.

The weakened jet stream allowed the Polar Vortex to split in two, sending excessively cold systems into North America, Northern Asia, and Europe. Temperatures plummeted to below -10C, infrastructure collapsed under the weight of snow, and, in Brussels, homeless people who refused shelter were detained for their own safety. All major climate zones, except Antarctica were warmer than their 30 year averages; including the Arctic.

The area between the, now two, polar vortexes, was occupied by vagrant jet stream currents. The warm air washed over the North Pole during what is typically its coldest season; the season when annual sea ice forms and multiyear sea ice is strengthened. Instead the Arctic lost 95% of its multiyear sea ice.
His voice lowered and his tone conspiratorial, Gore looked over the crowd: “This is part of a larger annual weather pattern. However, we do not have the luxury of being discouraged.” We, as world leaders on climate change, have a moral responsibility to reverse these trends, and save our planet and its people.

His words were a call to action, aimed at breaking the political deadlocks that plagued various aspects of the negotiated text. As we move into the last two days of negotiations, we’ll see if his words have galvanized the Parties, or if the same issues plague consensus.


Ministerial Declaration on Forests Fails to Deliver on Paris Agreement Ambition

pressA press conference was held on 12 December 2018, just one hour before the release of a Declaration written by the Polish Ministry on Forests for the Climate.  The conference was led by ”Fern,” an EU organization that advocates for forests and the people whose livelihoods depend on them, supported by the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA), a collaboration of non-governmental organizations that echoes Fern’s mission with principles of social justice and agroecology.  Forestry campaigners and experts brought in by Fern shared their reactions to what they believed to be a genuine sneak peek at the declaration that was to be released later that same evening.

The Katowice Press Conference Room was graced with opinions from Christoph T., forest campaigner for Greenpeace Poland; a climate coordinator at the Global Forest Coalition and REDD+ expert from New Delhi; Virginia Young from the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society; and Otto Bruun, Policy Officer for the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.  All of the speakers anticipated a lack of ambition in the Presidency’s declaration, something we cannot afford in our current climate.  These speakers emphasized the need to conserve forests for the sake of biodiversity, soil health, and protection from the effects of extreme natural disasters.  Forest carbon stocks were identified by Young as a complex, integrated system that encompass more than just carbon, and cannot afford to be cut down and burned in our current climate crisis (particularly primary forests).

The foreshadowed lack of ambition was realized in the release of the document.  The Polish Ministry cited Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, whose plain language can be categorized as soft law at best: Parties “should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests,” and “are encouraged to take action to implement…policy incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation…”

Thus, the PA does not bind Parties to any definitive action towards conserving carbon sinks in the form of forest resources.  The Polish Ministry did not add much to this lack of ambition in their declaration by “encouraging” the scientific community toWooden signpost with two opposite arrows over clear blue sky Old Business Way and New Business Way Business change conceptual image achieve a balance between anthropocentric emissions by sources and removals by sinks in the second half of this century, second only to a pledge that will “ensure an accelerated global contribution to forests and forest products.”  This not-so-subtle dedication to industry is certain to undermine forest preservation efforts many global organizations like Fern are urging governments to uphold.

If the IPCC made anything clear in its recent report, we need a rapid and just decarbonization by 2030 if we want to maintain the ambition of the PA.  This will not come to fruition if we do not work with gusto to protect what Al Gore described today as the cheapest and most efficient form of carbon sequestration already on the market – forests.

Continuing business as usual precludes banking on there being plenty more where that came from.


Adaptation and the Private Sector

The private sector, including businesses, industries and the financial world, are critical players in climate adaptation. It is essential to engage corporations and finance providers in adaptation efforts. This idea was emphasized by various panelists—including Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency in UK—who were part of a high level panel at a side event entitled Accelerating action and support for adaptation held on December 12, 2018 at COP24 in Katowice, Poland.Business-Leadership

This side event was the first public event hosted by the Global Commission on Adaptation since its launch on October 16th, 2018. As noted here, the Global Commission on Adaptation is led by former UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, Bill Gates and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, and was created to enhance the visibility and political importance of climate change adaptation.

During the side event, the need to elevate climate change adaptation to the political agenda but also to businesses and the financial world was highlighted as a way of more effectively enhancing resilience around the world. Corporations and the financial sector need to adapt to changing circumstances and plan for new climate risks in the economic and market environment.

The World Resource Institute (“WRI”) noted that multinational corporations, in particular, typically have operations and supply chains in many parts of the world and so the way they respond to climate change can affect many populations, including poor communities in developing countries. They can play an important role in making these communities more climate-resilient by building a resilient workforce, among other things.

WRI also points out that climate change adaptation represents an opportunity for corporations to create new goods and services that are more climate-resilient and redesign current products into climate-resilient goods. For example, BASF has developed new technologies for climate change adaptation including a special elastomer polyurethane system “Elastocoast” to protect dikes by absorbing the force of the breaking waves and slowing down the water masses.  In order to optimize crop plants such as corn, soy and wheat, BASF’s researchers are also developing stress-tolerant plants that are more resistant to extreme weather conditions such as drought. Moreover, in 2008, Caisse des Dépôts launched an international research programme on adaptation focused on designing and funding infrastructure, recognizing 1111the importance of considering climate change in the design of new infrastructure and modification of old infrastructure.


Act NOW with the LONG view in mind.

Every report and every session at COP24 has emphasized that we need to do more – faster – sooner – NOW.  Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 1.18.46 AM There is also a real emphasis on the importance of long term planning – of looking to at least 2050.   Long term planning matters in climate change policy for three primary reasons.

First, a long-term strategy can inform short-term actions. For example, if a developing country understands and incorporates into its strategy electrification for its rural residents through renewables, then it can effectively bypass investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.   Developing countries still need to grow to meet the needs of their residents – but the paradigm shift must move from expanding to grow to intensifying to grow. Long-term investments in energy and water infrastructure must be done with this long-term strategy. But the developed world needs to assist the developing world in identifying what the future looks like so they can leap frog.

Second, a long-term strategy can help bring people together around a common vision because it goes beyond the immediate economic consequence to sectors or individuals. There are tradeoffs, people and industries that are impacted by the transition we must make. The more time we have, the easier it is to forge consensus about how we get there and do so justly and equitably. Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 1.19.11 AMPeople may disagree on tomorrow – but it is easier to agree in the long term. Long-term visions can also provide certainty for the private sector accelerating investment.

Third, building off the previous two, is the ability to create the more ambitious trajectory we need to save our planet. To be ambitious we must build the political support from the ground up. To be ambitious we must provide enough certainty to motivate investors to invest in the development of new technology and the projects that will build our future. To be ambitious we must not only understand where we need to go, but develop the strategies on how to get there.

For more information on long-term strategy, go to the World Resources Institute website for a collection of expert perspectives, case studies, and working papers.