The Log-istics of Carbon Dioxide Removal

Trees are the coolest source of CO2 Removal on the planet.

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/

Trees and vegetation are known to help cool ambient air temperatures through evapotranspiration.  If left undisturbed, forests can also be a vital source of carbon storage.  Estimates from the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA 2015) show that the world’s forests and other wooded lands store more than 485 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon: 260 Gt in the biomass, 37 Gt in dead wood and litter, and 189 Gt in the soil.

In the most recent IPCC Special Report Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the world’s leading climate scientists assess the pathways the global community can pursue over the next few decades to prevent overshoot ofScreen Shot 2018-10-08 at 3.58.11 PM warming beyond 1.5°C.  The fact that all pathways to limit global warming to 1.5°C require mitigation via some form of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is not to be overlooked. But these removal amounts vary across pathways, as do the relative contributions of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and removals in the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector.  BECCS sequestration is projected to range from 0-1, 0-8, and 0-16 GtCO2/yr, in 2030, 2050, and 2100 respectively; the AFOLU-related measures are projected to remove 0-5, 1-11, and 1-5 GtCO2/yr in these years.  These contributions appear meager, and they are… but every little bit counts in this climate.

A reasonable argument can be made for increased investment in and use of CCS to achieve emissions reductions.  The SPM makes it clear that forests alone won’t be able to make a significant numerical difference in reduction of CO2 from the atmosphere.  And as the New York Times aptly points out, “the world is currently much better at cutting down forests than planting new ones.”

On the surface, CCS seems like a logical outgrowth from the nature of GHG emissions production.  The IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Capture and Storage (SRCCS) describes CCS as a mitigation activity that Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.37.30 PMseparates CO2 from large industrial and energy-related point sources, which has the potential to capture 85-95% of the CO2 processed in a capture plant.  Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies like ClimeWorks remove CO2 from the air. Proponents argue that DAC is a much less land-intensive process than afforestation: Removal of 8 Gt/CO2 would require 6.4 million km² of forested land and 730 km³ of water, while DAC would directly require only 15,800 km² and no water.

However, as our blog has cautioned readers in the past, CCS requires significant financial investments from industry and government and are only regionally accessible.  Only places that have sufficient infrastructure and political support can pursue this path of technological sequestration, leaving underdeveloped countries at a major disadvantage.  A recent report published in Nature Research further emphasizes that BECCS will have significant negative implications for the Earth’s planetary boundaries, or thresholds that humanity should avoid crossing with respect to Earth and her sensitive biophysical subsystems and processes.  Transgressing these boundaries will increase the risk of irreversible climate change, such as the loss of major ice sheets, accelerated sea level rise, and abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural systems.  Above all else, CCS ultimately supports the continual burning of fossil fuels. CCS technology may capture carbon, but it also has the potential to push us over the edge.

Money tree

Mitigation has historically been the focus of the FCCC and other collaborative climate change efforts.  Global climate change policy experts are familiar with the binding language associated with activities related to mitigation in the multilateral environmental agreements: Article 4(1)(b) of the Convention calls for commitments to formulate, implement, publish and update national programs containing measures to mitigate climate change; and Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) calls for Annex I Parties to account for their emissions reductions in order to promote accountability and activity guided by mindful emissions production.  In the waning hours of the KP, the Paris Agreement has become the new collective rallying document, whose ambitious emissions reduction target has inspired the likes of the IPCC to offer us pathways to get there.

If we are not currently on track towards limiting GHG emissions well-below 2°C in the grand scheme of the FCCC, why not insure some success, however small, buy securing CO2 in forests, not CCS?  Forests are a well-established CDR technology that do not have the associated risks with CCS.  While the most recent UN Forum on Forests report kindly reminds us that forests are also crucial for food, water, wood, health, energy, and biodiversity, the SPM upholds that mitigation contributions from carbon sequestration technology are numerically minuscule in the face of the large-scale change necessary to avoid CO2 overload.  A much more engaged energy overhaul is needed.

The ideal SPM pathScreen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.10.17 PMway states that afforestation can be the only CDR option when social, business, and technological innovations result in lower energy demand and a decarbonized energy system.  A more middle-of-the-road scenario achieves necessary emissions reductions mainly by changing the way in which energy and products are produced, and to a lesser degree by reductions in demand.  This speaks to the need for a broad focus on sustainable development rather than continuing business as usual.  Regardless of the pathway, forests need to be preserved, whether it be for carbon sequestration, their cooling effects, or merely beauty.

Sometimes there is no turning back.


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:

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 3.58.11 PM

  • 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.

WRI Graph

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.

 


China’s Effort to Limit GHGs

china-five-year-plan-infographicChina produces more carbon dioxide than any other country in the world: 10.357 million metric tons per year. To limit their impact on climate change, China includes environmental protection in their Five Year Plan (FYP). The FYP is the country’s blueprint that outlines the policy framework, priorities, economic, and social development goals for the 2016-2020 period.

In 2016, China released the 13th FYP which includes lofty goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and increase green manufacturing. Innovation is the crux of this FYP. Innovation builds on improving manufacturing and emphasizing a cleaner, green economy. A State Council executive meeting in 2015 discussed implementing an Internet Plus Circulation program. The program expands broadband connection to more rural areas so there is more efficiency in transporting items, like new agricultural products and equipment. The program will also allow rural populations to access health care. Air pollution is a key target for the FYP. Chapter 38, Section 4, ensures that the concentration of fine particulate matter is reduced by at least 25%. The current status of smog and air pollution affects public health. China is increasing regulations for coal-fired plants while requiring low-emission technologies and eliminating outdated industrial equipment and processes.

The carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets in the FYP contribute to China’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) 2030 target. The 13th FYP even put a first nation-wide total energy cap on all energy sources: it is set at less than the equivalent of five billion tons of coal over the next five years. These goals are reflected in the INDC filed on June 30, 2015. Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, provides that “[e]ach Party shall prepare…nationally determined contributions…with the aim of achieving the objectives…” of reaching a global peak of GHG emissions as soon as possible. During COP24 in December, China may include details about innovation and policy from the 13th FYP into the NDC because it is on track to meet the 2020.

China is fully embracing their 2020 goals by implementing green community projects. On September 28, 2018, Green Climate Fund announced that the board will consider projects, including China’s Green Cities program,targeting Central Asia and Eastern Europe. This project is among 20 other proposals totaling $1.1 billion to be heard during the next board meeting this month. It will be interesting to see how these project proposals will factor into each countries’ NDC during COP24.


A stumbling block at COP 23 – Finance

huddle-Fiji-in-BonnThe cost of mitigating climate change is estimated at 200-350 billion Euros (236-413 Billion USD) per year by 2030. It is a manageable sum in terms of a global burden, only 1% of global GDP. In terms of who pays and how much to pay, however, it becomes a disputed figure. For example, developed countries agreed in 2010 to “mobilize” 100 billion USD annually by the year 2020 in paragraph 98 of the COP16 decision 1/CP.16. Unresolved issues regarding this commitment remain, even in 2017.

Philosophically, this divide has on one side the developed countries as having the ability and the responsibility to pay. Developed countries use more energy than under developed countries. On the other side, the underdeveloped countries need financing and the know-how to ensure that future development in their countries is environmentally friendly and sustainable.

At COP23, this issue came to the forefront where it stopped the APA closing plenary dead in its tracks on Wednesday afternoon, the day the APA was scheduled to close. Negotiations lasted through the night. The underdeveloped countries, led by the G77, wanted developed countries to make concrete commitments through the biennial communication requirements as required by Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement. The G77 also referred to Paris Agreement Articles 13 (transparency) and 15 (compliance) to make this requirement enforceable.greendollars

In response the developed countries argued that Article 9.5 is a procedural matter and that the G77 countries want to discuss the dollar commitments. They argued that this is beyond the scope of the Paris Agreement.

The result was to urge both sides to act on their commitments and to refer this matter to a High Ministerial Dialogue for further discussion.  In other words, onwards to 2018.

 


Opening the scope of NDCs: “Blue Opportunities”

thMENSJTZMIn a press briefing today, Natalya Gallo and Dr. Lisa Levin from the Scripps Institutions of Oceanography, USCD, Julio Cordano on behalf of Chile and Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador talked about the importance of including oceans and marine ecosystems in the NDCs.

Natalya Gallo stated that out of the 161 INDC communicated by June 2015, 112 contained references to oceans, 14 included costal zones while the rest did not contain any reference to oceans and marine ecosystems. The oceans were included as part of the adaptation, mitigation or as a climate change marine risk. Also, most attention is given to ocean warming while ocean oxygen loss, ocean acidification receives little to no attention. Mangroves and coral reefs were almost always included. In terms of parties, the Annex I parties did not include oceans in their INDCs while the SIDS were leading the path in this area. The factors that influenced whether oceans were included in the parties INDC varied from percentage of population living in low lying areas to large exclusive economic zones areas and development status of the respective countries.

Julio Cordano, on behalf of Chile, emphasized that although the oceans were included in the Paris Agreement there has been no implementation endeavor. Nevertheless, we must state that the oceans are indeed included only in the preamble of the Paris Agreement, which is non-biding part of the agreement. Therefore, the inclusion of the oceans is a sign of a global awareness and symbolic victory. Mr. Cordano further believes that any future work should built upon the NDCs as a building block of the Paris Agreement. However, he acknowledges that the NDCs were a compromised formulation as first proposed and there is still a delicate discussion on what to include. The inclusion of too many sectors and perspectives may wash down on the content of the NDCs and lead to ineffective mitigation action.  Also, there is the fear that opening the discussion with respect to oceans would raise the question of whether the NDCs should include other sectors such as energy. Following last year Because the Ocean Declaration, this year, Chile plans to launch a second declaration on 14th of November.

Dr. Lisa Levin talked about the ocean research needs, as countries specifically provided in their INDCs the need for additional research in the following areas: sea level rise and coastal zone monitoring; fisheries; blue carbon; climate observation system; biodiversity research; oceanography and climate; ocean training and capacity building/academic collaboration. The research needs can be addressed by looking at the research infrastructure and the available funds in place today, such as the GEF and the Ocean Sustainability Bank.

Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS Issues, recognized that it is natural for them to include oceans in their NDCs. However, they recognize that there is a lack of research, as for example they do not have an accurate and complete overview, among others, on the impacts of climate change and the marine species in need of protection. That is why, the University of Seychelles started a research institute called the Blue Economy Research Institute to advance their knowledge and have access to accurate and complete information that can help them put forward an ambitious NDC. They also decided to be an example and lead the way by starting reviewing and upscaling their NDCs so as to achieve the 1,5°C goal.

We can only hope that at future APA meetings, the Paris Agreement will act as a spokesperson for the oceans and marine ecosystems, as currently they do not have one.


Sustainable Standard of Living?

wind-turbines17On October 9th, during the second U.S. Presidential Debate, the environmental community found an unlikely hero. Kenneth Bone rose in the final minutes of audience questions and asked both candidates, “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?” This pointed inquiry brought the environmental crisis back to the forefront of the debate, nudging both candidates to lay out their plans for combating the imminent energy crisis caused from finite fossil fuels. After that moment passed, there was something inherent in Mr. Bone’s question that stuck. His question implied a noteworthy limitation. US energy needs must be met. What is so astounding is that despite Mr. Bone’s well intentioned question, he assumes that the United States will be able to simultaneously achieve energy resilience and go about business as usual. This spurred an investigation into the compatibility of clean energy with US standards of living.

The current US standard of living is the highest yet in history with people living longer than any generation before. The US fuels this standard with an intense use of available resources. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the US consumes a third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, and 23 % of its coal. The US uses over 19 tons of carbon per capita compared to the global average of only five tons. US standards are dependent on a crucial factor: resource availability. In an age where scarcity is increasingly worrisome, a crossroads appears. Researchers have developed many solutions to address this issue. Some are incredibly provocative as they require radical change on an individual level. Others utilize technology either conservatively, or radically to impact global warming.

In one of the more radical behavioral positions, Chris Clugston lays out his perspective. He argues that the mismanagement of America’s resources combined with increasing financial insecurity from the global market has culminated in an irrefutable observation: habits have to change. It can no longer popular to remain complacent in the relative opulence American citizens enjoy. The means to achieve a sustainable and resilient energy sector have evolved from merely weaning the masses from fossil fuels to solar panels and windmills, to necessitating behavioral adaptation. The grim picture he portrays in that article sets the stage for a dismal future, plagued by the unpreparedness of the populous to acknowledge the true implications of scarcity if people are hesitant to act.

However, there are other perspectives. Some believe that with the dual advances in conservation and efficiency, scientists will not only be able to match the current standard of living Americans have grown accustomed to, but they will actual produce more energy than we use. The Energy Justice Center finds that solar alone, when implemented efficiently, can provide 55 times US current energy use, and wind can provide 6 times US current usage. Effective use of these existing technologies can maintain the US standard of living while transitioning the energy sector to more resilient sources.

Others believe that the threat posed by climate change is not insurmountable. Harvard physicist David Keith believes that science can, while not completely curing, mitigate the symptoms of global warming. If technological advancements can relieve the symptoms of global warming, then the inspiration to act to discover new fuels and generally reform energy use would disappear.

Ultimately, maintaining the current standard of living in a renewable world remains a debatable possibility. However, there is no harm that can come from introducing frugality from the individual level into American energy consumption. If everyone works to reduce their needs, then sustainable energy goals become that much more tangible.


The end of gas-fired cars?

oslo downtownNorwegian Liberal Party MP Ola Elverstuen announced today that Norway’s four leading political parties have agreed on a ban of gasoline-powered cars by 2025. “After 2025 new private cars, buses and light commercial vehicles will be zero-emission vehicles. By 2030, new heavier vans, 75 percent of new long-distance buses, 50 percent of new trucks will be zero emission vehicles.”

Norway already has a good leg up on this transition.  Approximately 24% of its cars are electric. Oslo has debated banning cars completely (including e-vehicles) in downtown, while building 35 miles of bike lanes by 2019 to complement its public transport array of buses and trams.  The national government has provided incentives for purchasing e-vehicles for several years, including tax exemptions, extra parking, and bus-lane use.  Nudging consumers in this climate neutral direction is made easier by Norway’s copious hydroelectric power (96% of its electricity production energy mix, according to IEA). Consequently, the Tesla or Nissan Leaf has been the country’s top selling vehicle.

Nonetheless, today’s announcement has made car manufacturers see green – kroner, that is. Tesla CEO Elon Musk praised it, calling Norway an “amazingly awesome country.”


If you build it, they will come

Clean LineU.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz just announced the approval of a large-scale transmission project that will bring wind power from Texas and Oklahoma to the southeastern states. Called the Plains & Eastern Clean Line, the $2.5 billion transmission line is the largest of several clean energy infrastructure projects being developed under DOE partnerships. Moniz says that “moving remote and plentiful power to areas where electricity is high in demand is essential for building the grid of the future,” and highlights the tangible benefits of creating jobs, reducing emissions, and increasing grid reliability. The P&E Clean Line is expected to start construction on the 600-kilovolt, direct current line in 2017 and bring it into service in 2020.

The DOE’s action to greenlight the greening of US electricity comes over the opposition of several states. The DOE is helping private developers get these projects running using, for the first time, its power to partner with transmission companies found in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  Arkansas regulators had refused to site the new P&E Clean Line five years ago because the project developer didn’t operate in the state and so wasn’t considered a utility under state law. (Missouri regulators have acted similarly on another clean line, the Grain Belt Express.) The Department’s decision will likely be challenged, questioning its authority under the 2005 law to take land for the line. Landowners argue that federal eminent domain is unconstitutional because the project isn’t needed.


Renewables can lead to 80% CO2 reduction in US electricity production

green-plant-in-the-light-bulbLast week’s edition of Nature Climate Change includes a new study done by NOAA and University of Colorado Boulder that helps us understand how the United States can meet its INDC pledge.

From the abstract:  Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are a major cause of anthropogenic climate change. The deployment of wind and solar power reduces these emissions, but is subject to the variability of the weather. In the present study, we calculate the cost-optimized configuration of variable electrical power generators using weather data with high spatial (13-km) and temporal (60-min) resolution over the contiguous US. Our results show that when using future anticipated costs for wind and solar, carbon dioxide emissions from the US electricity sector can be reduced by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, without an increase in the levelized cost of electricity. The reductions are possible with current technologies and without electrical storage. Wind and solar power increase their share of electricity production as the system grows to encompass large-scale weather patterns. This reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by moving away from a regionally divided electricity sector to a national system enabled by high-voltage direct-current transmission.


Linking SDGs and COP21

Taylor picTaylor Smith ’14, member of the VLS COP19 delegation, now works for the U.N. and contributed this post connecting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the COP21 negotiations.

“Any true sustainable development must address the scourge of climate change,” UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Mr. Wu Hongbo said just weeks before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) opened in Paris on 30 November. The relationship between climate change and development are clear, with climate change aggravating already existing threats to people and the planet. This is also why so many of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have targets linked to climate.

I was a member of the VLS COP19 observer delegation in Warsaw, Poland and also a Master of Environmental Law and Policy student 2014. I now work as a Sustainable Energy Consultant at United Nations Headquarters in New York. I am located in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development- Water, Energy, and Capacity Development Branch (yeah, it’s a mouthful).

2030 agendaA good portion of my daily work focuses on follow-up tasks related to the post-2015 development agenda, also known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Here is a little background information for you dedicated readers:

In September 2015, Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as a direct follow-up to the outcome of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012 when Member States committed to reinvigorating the global partnership for sustainable development and to working together with major groups and other stakeholders in addressing implementation gaps. The 2030 Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 accompanying targets. Among other thematic areas, Member States identified energy as one of the priorities.

Sustainable energy is a key enabler of sustainable development for all countries and all people. Countries will not be able to achieve their development goals without access to reliable and affordable sustainable energy services. Energy is critical to tackling poverty eradication, while decarbonizing energy is central to mitigating climate change. Energy powers opportunities. It transforms lives, economies and countries.

As a result of the key role that energy plays in sustainable development, a stand-alone goal for energy now exists: Energy SDG 7 is to “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. Goal 7 contains five targets, two of which are means of implementation. SG7

Target 7.1

By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services

Target 7.2

By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

Target 7.3

By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency

Target 7.a (Means of Implementation)

By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology

Target 7.b (Means of Implementation)

By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small-island developing States and landlocked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support.

As you can see, it’s fairly straightforward how the targets of the Energy SDG 7 align with the UNFCCC in many ways. In fact, there are so many parallels that Resolution 70/1 (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) of the General Assembly explicitly acknowledges that the United Nations Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

What I notice as the primary difference between UNFCCC objectives and Energy SDG 7 is that the first is primarily concerned with carbon reductions while the latter has an emphasis on energy for sustainable development. 1.2 billion people worldwide still lack access to modern energy services. Think about that while our world leaders negotiate a low-carbon pathway to the future! *mind blown*

all SDGsEven though climate change is often portrayed as an environmental problem, it is also an economic and political issue. In my field of work, sustainable energy development is about reconciling the basic human right of access to energy services (for hospitals, schools, and clean cooking technologies etc.) with the need for rapid increase in renewable energy production and consumption to combat anthropogenic climate change.

For the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, the conference aims to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate. The goal is to keep global warming well below 2°C. I hope that implementation of the COP21 outcome is ambitious enough to provide greater motivation for clean energy development and distributed renewable energy in my field of energy for sustainable development in low-income countries.


Decarbonization or Climate Neutrality? Which is the Better Path to 2°C? Is There Even a Difference?

https://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/energy/events/ucl-energy-seminar-ddppIn order to keep global temperatures under 2°C, the threshold generally accepted as the best way to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, there must be a limit on cumulative CO2 emissions. For those of you not tracking mitigation negotiations closely at COP21, there is some hot debating surrounding long-term signals maintaining this threshold. Delegates are looking at two potential options, decarbonization and climate neutrality. But what’s the difference?

While the two options may seem rather similar, they carry with them significantly different implications. Climate neutrality would require that countries achieve annual zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by a specified date. What this means is that for every ton of anthropogenic GHG emitted, an equivalent amount must be removed from the atmosphere. This sounds great in theory. However some parties are concerned, and for good reason, that climate neutrality equates to more of a political move around than effective action.

Here’s why. Climate neutrality allows for those emitted GHG emissions to be compensated with removals via carbon offsets such as sequestration, carbon capture and storage. To actually keep global temperatures under 2°C with carbon offsets, large-scale uptake of negative emission technology will have to be implemented. According to Kevin Anderson of the University of Manchester, there are problems with relying on negative emission technologies to achieve an under 2°C global temperature target. Anderson noted that these technologies have never worked at scale, have huge technical and economic unknowns, and have major efficiency penalties. These technologies are often not worth the hype.
http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-01-25/using-a-traffic-app-cuts-commutes-manages-angerIn essence, climate neutrality means that CO2 may still be produced, but not all parties think this is a bad thing. It may leave room for developing countries to continue emitting GHG and thus enable them to continue essential sustainable development projects. However, a concern is that developed countries may purchase carbon offsets for their emissions from developing countries with natural carbon sinks. This allows for developed countries to continue with a “business as usual” approach to emission mitigation efforts rather than encouraging them to radically change their consumption patterns.It allows for the possibility that wealthy developed countries may pay for their emissions by buying carbon offsets from developing countries with lower emissions and natural carbon sinks.

Alternatively, decarbonization tends to be understood as a process that results in a decarbonized global economy with no anthropomorphic CO2 emissions. Amongst the scientific community, it is widely accepted that to successfully achieve climate stabilization, full decarbonization of our energy systems is likely our only option. While this idea seems rather straight forward, there is confusion about how decarbonization may be interpreted and implemented. While full decarbonization tends to mean zero unabated CO2 emissions, it is possible that decarbonization within the Paris Agreement would allow for emissions to be balanced with adequate reductions and carbon sinks. There are also concerns that a decarbonization option would not account for non-CO2 GHG emissions.

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/What is clear is that whichever option ends up in the Paris Agreement, further clarification and definition of terms should be made first. For either option to be effectively implemented, they should be accompanied by specific timeframes, definitions, rates, and standardized accounting measures.

 


The Secret Weapon Against Climate Change? Family Planning

2_evidencebased_programming_2Family Planning may be the most cost-effective weapon against climate change. At least according to a new report from the University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. According to the report, family planning could provide between 16 and 29 percent of the needed greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Additionally, last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognized for the first time the benefits of family planning for impacting climate change. The IPCC report recognized the importance of family planning in areas with a high vulnerability to climate change, including the Sahel region of Africa, as well as in rich countries like the United States. Increasing access to family planning not only helps reduce human suffering, especially in extremely vulnerable areas, but also decreases overall consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

PopulationToday the world population is over 7 billion, a number that is relatively recent in the history of human civilization. Between 1900 and 2000 the world population increased from 1.5 to 6.1 billion. That is, in just 100 years the population increased three times more than it had during the entire history of human kind. The effects of this astounding increase in human beings on the environment is staggering. Increasing populations threaten the survival of plant and animal species around the world, reduce air quality, increase energy demands, effect groundwater and soil health, reduce forests, expand deserts, and increase waste. And these effects will only get worse, as the United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.6 billion people by 2050.

According to the report from the Bixby Center, family planning programs are dollar-for-dollar the most effective way to avoid some of the worst impacts from climate change. There are currently 222 million women in the world with an unmet need for modern family planning methods. To meet this demand for family planning it will take $9.4 billion a year, an increase from current family planning spending by about $5.3 billion a year. Despite this high dollar value, family planning spending is still a relatively cheap option. According to the report, “For every $7 spent of family planning, carbon emissions would be reduced more than [one metric ton]… the same emissions reductions from low-carbon energy production technologies would cost at least $32.”

MTI5NTI2Mzc5NzgyOTE2MTA2Despite the cost-effectiveness, family planning still remains a contentious issue. But things may be looking up. As part of their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) countries must consider their population size and its potential growth in order to envision how per capita emissions may change in the future. The new UNFCCC synthesis report of INDCs takes into account different population growth scenarios for the next fifteen years, and suggests that some governments may not be using the best population data for calculating business as usual emissions scenarios. Additionally, in the report some governments state that population density and growth within their countries remains a constraint on their ability to adapt to climate change.

What this means is that family planning is necessary. Not only is it necessary on a human level (family planning is one of the best ways to improve education and quality of life for women around the globe), it remains one of the most effective tools at our disposal for combatting climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Economic growth and climate change

Each generation inherits a world that was created out of beliefs contemporary and relevant to a certain time. These beliefs affect prevailing values, values, which become embedded within the framework of decision-making. Often times, these values are based on beliefs that may no longer be understood, known or even correct. Nonetheless, they are transferred from one generation to the next and modified by another generation’s cumulative addition. From this perspective, a lack of understanding of the beliefs that comprise the framework of society can eventually be problematic. And this is evident in the present period.

Let’s take a step back to the 1930’s when Simon Kuznets developed a method for assessing the production capacity of an economy. The method, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Economics, provided the foundation for the calculation of the gross domestic product. By definition gross domestic product or GDP is the sum of all goods and services produced within a country’s national borders during a specific time period; everything from desks to diapers can be included.

Since the 1940s, GDP has become a simple assessment tool of economic capacity between countries and over time within the same country. However as Kuznets warned, though the indicator is useful for determining production capacity, it is limited as a metric to evaluate the state of an economy’s inhabitants. GDP as a single aggregated value cannot assess quality of life and it cannot provide insight on the distribution of wealth.

In spite of the statements of Kuznets and other economists of the time and over time, GDP has arguably become the single metric of not only domestic economic progress but also global economic progress. As the indicator of progress it is the targeted metric of economic policy. GDP is tracked and targeted by government and central bank policy makers with the intent to increase its value over consecutive periods.

There are four components to GDP, consumption spending, investment spending –investment on production capacity, government spending and net exports—spending by foreigners for US goods relative to US spending on foreign goods. In the United States the single largest component of GDP, comprising in excess of 65% of GDP, is consumption. As a result, our economy is targeted to consumption, from increasing employment, to low interest rates, to the built-in obsolescence of the goods we purchase.

Given that GDP was established and gained global traction over 70 years ago, our value for consumption has been inherited and modified over a few generations. We have been taught that we have insatiable appetites to consume and have perpetuated the consumption cycle, to maintain the era of consumerism. But this may be the problem.

Over time, through globalization, commercialization and the increasing busyness of life, consumers have become increasingly distanced from the production process of the good they are consuming. Consumers are no longer knowledgeable about the impact that their consumption demand has on the degradation, exploitation and depletion of planetary resources. Instead what consumers are aware of is price.

Fundamentally, consumers have focused on market price and have delegated the inclusion of value parameters including environmental and social costs to producers, but producers are incentivized to minimize cost and maximize return, a seemingly divergent incentive.

In most cases, market prices do not reflect the cost of a good. Lets look at a t-shirt manufactured in a developing country for sale in a developed market. The price of the t-shirt reflects only a portion of its true cost because it neglects social and environmental costs. The price neglects the costs of the exploited wage paid to the textile worker: the social cost resulting from his missing health care and the health and quality of life impact of the non-living wage. Though it does likely include transportation expense, it does not include the carbon footprint or the waste cost related to the landfilling or alternative disposal of the garment. In net, the cost of the consumption is only partially borne by the purchaser; other societies and the environment subsidize the price.

imagesdeforestation-causes-HI_104236Unknown

Consider the market price for the air we breath, there is no price, it is free and we need air to live. But, in spite of it being essential for life, it is a costless component of the production process; waste has been released into the air we breathe for years. If there had been a cost for disposal, or even better, a social value that prevented the release of air borne waste, the pollution that has collected in our atmosphere for the past three hundred years would have been significantly less. As simple as it may sound, consumers could have promoted the welfare of the atmosphere through their collective demand that air quality be preserved. How money is spent sends a very strong signal to producers of what will sell.

Both consumer awareness and economy-wide alignment are requisite to promote sustainable economic outcomes. This is, for example, evident in viewing the relationship between economic growth and carbon emissions over the past few hundred years. The energy consumption rates required to promote production and thereby foster consumption have enabled the speed of climate change activity being witnessed today. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is correlated to GDP growth; but so are degradation and exploitation of the environment.

GDPCO2

yoke-growth-graph

COP21 will offer the needed international platform to evaluate the basis of climate change activity, which arguably is related to how we measure and drive economic growth. The inclusion of sustainable economic development within the Paris Package provides an opportunity for the inclusion of quality of life and ecosystem balance in the defining of economic growth. These elements essentially recognize that how we measure quality of life is fundamental to the economic outcomes we create. From this perspective COP21 could be the catalyst to move beyond GDP to determine a constructed international standard for economic progress. Ultimately, the goals of the UNFCCC to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system” may be better aligned with a measure such as gross national happiness, the better life index or a similar parameter. Further, the long term impact of COP21 may be dependent on explicitly promoting such a value shift.


Riding the Wave of Divestment

Divestment is essentially the opposite of investment. The climate action group gofossilfree.org describes it as “getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.” Generally speaking, institutions divest when they stop financially supporting specific entities because of the means by which those entities generate revenue. Divestment has been used as an advocacy device for many years, as a means of tackling the tobacco industry, sweat shops, and even apartheid in South Africa.

divestmentarialDivestment of fossil fuels began in 2012 with Bill McKibben’s climate change movement 350.org. Since launching this campaign against traditional fossil fuels, hundreds of organizations – beginning with universities and faith-based organizations, and expanding to municipalities, pension funds, and foundations – have committed to divesting from fossil fuels. In the last month the movement has reached a landmark $2.6 trillion divested. According to one study, 436 institutions and 2,040 individuals across 43 countries, together representing $2.6 trillion in assets, have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Many types of investors have embraced fossil fuel divestment, both on the institutional and the individual level. High profile individuals have been particularly active in the divestment from fossil fuels. Specifically, actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo have led the movement to cease investments in traditional fossil fuel companies. Their announcements have served as a means to show legislatures and CEOs alike that United States citizens are taking climate change seriously.

divestmentprotestRather than these red carpet personalities, universities have traditionally been at the forefront of divestiture movements. We continue this trend in Vermont, with many colleges and universities (including VLS) committing resources to exploring divestment opportunities. This has been an important method of expressing students’ and citizens’ dissatisfaction with traditional energy investments. It has also lent support to Vermont’s support of broader energy and climate change goals.

Some studies show that divestiture is not actually effective as an economic driver because it does not force major fossil fuel companies out of business or necessarily compel them to change their practices. Nevertheless, divestment may, in fact, be a smart financial decision, since other recent reports have warned of the negative financial consequences of holding large portfolios of fossil fuels. Additionally, it can have an important impact in terms of shaping national discourse. By bringing climate change issues into the media spotlight, the divestment movement helps to put pressure on the negotiating parties at COP21 in December.


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

tale of two cities“… it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

The opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities came back to me when reading today about recent renewable energy policy changes in Britain and France.

The British government announced on Wednesday its plan to cut renewable energy (RE) subsidies. RE generation UK rooftop solarhas doubled in Britain during the last three years, with electricity from solar increasing 60% in the past year alone. Most of this growth is attributed to subsidy support.  Why, then, cut them? David Cameron’s Tory government says that it seeks to bring down consumer electricity bills, which have also risen almost 60% during the last decade. But the Guardian reports that the move will only save 50p a year. The government says that the renewable energy sector no longer needs subsidies to compete; it also admits that the subsidy program has experienced a £1.5bn cost overrun.   According to one RE industry official: “We appear to be entering another dark age where we will return to total fossil fuel reliance, power cuts, low confidence in UK investment, opening the door for fracking activities to maintain energy security.” A season of Darkness indeed. Read more here.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Chunnel, the French government announced yesterday the passage of a new energy sector reform law that willnuclear in france reduce nuclear’s role in the country’s energy mix from 75% to 50% by 2025 and cap its total allowed capacity at the current 63.2 gigawatts. To fill this gap, the renewable energy share of France’s energy pie will increase to 23% by 2020 and 32% by 2030. The new law will reduce French CO2 emissions 40% from 1990 levels by 2030, in line with the EU’s INDC filed with the UNFCCC Secretariat at the end of March.  Just in time for France to welcome the UNFCCC’s 196 parties to “a season of Light” in the City of Light this December for COP21.