Is this the EU’s time?

ursulaIn what was viewed as a surprise candidacy, Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s former defense minister, was elected president of the European Commission last week.  In a speech she gave just before the vote, von der Leyen laid out an unequivocal plan for EU leadership on climate change that includes:

  • increasing the ambition of the EU’s NDC to a 50% (rather than the current 40%) reduction by 2030 of GHG emissions from 1990 levels.
  • launching a Green Deal for Europe in her first 100 days in office that would legally bind Europe to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It also includes a biodiversity strategy, more emissions-trading, and a tax on companies “leaking” carbon by manufacturing in less stringent locales.
  • investing €1 / US$1.1 trillion over the next decade into climate projects, using the European Investment Bank for climate and clean-energy projects throughout the EU.

As we’ve blogged before, the Trump Administration’s lack of leadership on climate change has left a power vacuum that the EU and China have stepped into, in various ways. As John Kerry was quoted post COP24, “the Chinese understand what’s at stake.” The election of this EC president and her climate agenda is the boldest one to date. It’s an open question whether she can bring along coal-dependent countries like Poland and political parties like the Greens, who didn’t vote for her because she wasn’t bold enough.

Regardless of the inevitable compromises made along the way, it will be exciting to watch her lead on climate change, especially the steps that she takes during the next 100 days.  As Claudia Kemfert of the German Institute for Economic Research observed, “The Green Deal is groundbreaking and will create huge economic opportunities by opening up new markets and avoiding climate damage. Europe will set standards in this way.”

Maybe the specter of so publicly losing this advantage will spur US industry to push the Trump Administration more? Or help ensure that a new resident in the White House will lead on climate change when the Paris Agreement goes into full effect in 2020?


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.


EU Environment Ministers fast-track ratification of the Paris Agreement

Commissioner Cañete and Slovak minister Solymos spoke of the EU ratification decision historic moment (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Commissioner Cañete and Slovak minister Solymos spoke of the EU ratification decision (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The EU Environment Ministers voted on Friday at the extraordinary meeting of the Environment Council a historic decision to ratify the Paris Agreement. The decision proposal was adopted in June by the European Commission, thus starting the ratification process of the Paris Agreement on behalf of the EU, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, articles 192(1) together with article 218(6). The decision, as adopted on Friday, now awaits action by the European Parliament, which must formally consent to the Council’s decision followed by the formal ratification by the Council, before the EU may submit its instrument of ratification with the UN: “It can be done very quickly, in one day,” Cañete said, pointing to 5th of October as a potential deadline. The EU represents just over 12 per cent of emissions and is considered to be the key to the entry into force of the Paris Agreement before the October 7 deadline, which is the last date when the parties can timely ratify the agreement for entry into force before COP 22.

This vote is a rare and creative political move, as it will allow the EU to ratify the Paris Agreement en bloc before each of the 28 member states ratify it nationally. According to Cañete, this decision will not create a precedent, as it “does not preempt or prejudge the decision by national parliaments.” This is possible because the Paris Agreement creates obligations for the EU and for the individual member states, thus it has to be ratified by both the EU and all 28 member states. So far, only seven EU states have individually ratified the Paris Agreement, namely Germany, France, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Malta, and Portugal, with the UK promising to ratify by the end of this year. If the rest of the member states do not follow through with the ratification of the Paris Agreement, the states that have ratified it may be stuck with fulfilling the EU’s overall promised emission reduction goal. But Cañete believes that this is “a scenario I do not think is possible”. Still, when the EU presented its plan to cut emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, Poland objected to it, in an effort to protect its coal industry. Before Friday’s decision, Poland sought to secure its coal-fired economy by demanding an effective veto over future climate decisions. Nevertheless, the EU environment ministers found a way to get Poland on board.

The Council’s decision reflects both pride and climate leadership. The EU is regarded as a leader in developing clean energy technologies, but today countries like China are gaining momentum. The EU has to step up to the plate and be an example of unity, solidarity and global climate leadership for the entire world by demonstrating its commitment to the implementation and enforcement of the Paris Agreement. By ratifying the Paris Agreement, the EU has a place at the table “when the parties will start meeting to design the rules of how the Paris agreement will be implemented” said Jonathan Goventa, London director of E3G, a European climate and energy think tank. According to Cañete:“Today’s agreement shows unity and solidarity as Member States take a European approach, just as we did in Paris. This is what Europe is all about. In difficult times, we get our act together, and we make the difference. (..) Ratification is a crucial step towards implementing the Paris Agreement. But let’s be clear, ratification is not the end goal. It’s only the first step.”

 


COP21 Begins in 24 Hours: Will a Paris Agreement [Decrease] [Solve] [Do Nothing On] Climate Change?

imagesIf all politics are local, but greenhouse gases find their way into the atmosphere’s international space, how can the global community act collectively on climate change? In 1992, the solution was to adopt an international treaty. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) declared climate change a “common concern of mankind,” and committed 166 countries to tackling it. Most UNFCCC parties were developing countries, who had contributed relatively few emissions given their pre-industrial poverty but were nonetheless already experiencing the irreversible, negative effects of climate change. Under the convention’s principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities” (CBDRRC), developed countries and top greenhouse gas emitters like the European Union and the United States agreed to take the lead.

Yet, progress has been slow. In 2007, this leadership took the form of the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol, which placed clear greenhouse gas emission limits on developed countries while imposing none on developing countries. When the United States refused to ratify, its emissions, along with those of rapidly industrializing developing countries like China, India, and Brazil, escaped international regulation. Consequently, when negotiations for continuing the protocol beyond its first 2008-2012 period faltered at COP15 in Copenhagen, a new approach to international limits on greenhouse gas emissions began to CO2take shape. It gained momentum at the two subsequent conferences of parties (COPs) held in Cancun and Durban. Now, almost six years on, there is emerging agreement that all parties—developed and developing countries—should make individual, international climate change mitigation pledges determined by each party’s national government.

At COP21 in December, the current 196 UNFCCC parties will decide if they can sign on to this new paradigm of international climate change regulation. The Durban Mandate requires the parties to “develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” by the end of 2015. In Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 2015, the parties will have their last opportunity to shape the international climate change law that will take the place of the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in 2020.

copDuring four negotiation sessions this year, the parties drafted a “Paris Package” that consists of a core legal agreement based on a system of nationally determined contributions and several COP decisions addressing implementation and political issues. The current 31-page draft agreement outlines how parties’ individual contributions will be internationally measured, reviewed, and verified. These pledges no longer focus solely on mitigation. Consistent with appeals from the developing world, the draft agreement pays almost equal attention to adaptation and finance actions. Likewise, it sets out conditions for transparent international reporting. Under it, parties take responsibility for determining whether their national efforts collectively keep global temperature rise below the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recommended upper limit of 2 degrees Celsius.

This new system of national pledges that are internationally made and scrutinized for sufficiency had a World Resources Institutetrial run this year. By Oct. 1, 2015, 147 parties had submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), covering approximately 86 percent of total global emissions. While each INDC derives from national priorities, overall they tend to include substantive contributions on mitigation, adaptation, and finance, as well as important process pledges on reporting and verification, technology transfer, and capacity building. Developed countries have pledged absolute mitigation targets and resources for vulnerable developing countries. Higher-income developing countries like Brazil, China, and Mexico have made concrete greenhouse gas mitigation pledges. Other developing countries have described their mitigation and adaptation efforts and goals, but made them conditional on receiving financial assistance. Transparency in this pledging process has been prioritized: INDCs are publicly available at the UNFCCC website and have been reviewed closely by the UNFCCC secretariat, non-governmental organization (NGOs), and the press.

CAT_thermometer_20141207That’s the good news. The bad news is that, at least in the short term, these intended contributions do not add up to keeping atmospheric warming below the 2-degree Celsius goal. A Nov. 1, 2015, UNFCCC report concluded that while the INDC pledges—if fulfilled—would slow down the global rate of greenhouse gas emissions, they will not maintain the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. Likewise NGOs like Climate Action Tracker (CAT) and Climate Interactive reach the same conclusion. CAT calculates that achieving the unconditional INDC pledges would still likely lead to a 2.7-degree Celsius increase. Climate Interactive’s math adds up to a predicted 3.5-degree Celsius increase.

So how could COP21’s Paris Package address this shortfall and result in a new international agreement that leads parties to bend the global emissions curve to a 2-degree Celsius or lower pathway?

  • First, it would use these INDCs as a starting point only and include provisions in the new agreement that require all parties to increase their contributions in regular, transparent cycles. In this way, COP21 serves as “a way station in this fight, not a terminus,” as Bill McKibben recently wrote.
  • Second, it would emphasize the need for all parties to adapt to changes already locked in by historical emissions, and recognize the permanent loss and damage experienced by the most vulnerable developing countries.
  • Third, to achieve these first two, it would show agreement on the amount and kind of financing available for developing countries to achieve their pledges. COP15’s promise of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation activities is still on the table. A recent OECD report indicates that climate finance reached $62 billion in 2014. But many note that mobilizing private finance is not the same as pledging public funds, and call for developed country governments to do more.
  • Fourth, it would include a COP decision that ramps up the INDC pledges before the new agreement takes effect in 2020. From now until then, non-state actors like cities, states, and provinces, as well as businesses and consumer groups, have focused their subnational powers on renewable energy and energy efficiency actions intended to narrow the emissions gap.
  • Fifth, it would reflect a new understanding of CBDRRC. While this core principle no longer translates into developing countries getting a bye on greenhouse gas emissions limits, it also does not exempt developed countries from their historical responsibility for climate change and their capacity to provide finance and technology for low- or no-carbon development. The deep tension over how to fairly bring all parties into a common framework that recognizes different starting points permeates the draft text through heavily [bracketed] language.

The UNFCCC requires consensus to lift these brackets. The negotiations thus far have produced little of it. Instead, despite its fractured international politics, the G77+China has flexed its negotiation muscle IMG_0920through disciplined coordination of member countries that otherwise align with the diverse agendas of the Africa Group, Arab Group, and Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs). AOSIS, which represents low-lying countries whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, works with the least developed countries group (LDCs) to press for strong adaptation and loss and damage provisions. The E.U. and U.S. are committed to market mechanisms for achieving mitigation reductions and private climate financing along with government contributions. Two negotiating groups, the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) and AILAC, seek to find common ground. The EIG is the only group that includes both developed and developing countries. AILAC’s members are middle-income Central and South American countries that are growing rapidly yet can still reorient toward low-carbon pathways. But these national negotiators can go only so far: While they are masters of the technical details and crafting precise legal language, it appears that the true power to compromise resides in their national capitals.

Leading up to COP21, weekly meetings of heads of state and their environmental, foreign affairs, and finance ministers have taken place. In this way, local politics are actively engaged on the international problem of climate change. All parties preparing for Paris have said clearly what they want to avoid—no repeat of COP15, no “ghosts of Copenhagen” haunting COP21. It will be a day-by-day proposition with some bumpy rides along the way. Follow the journey here till its finish!

 


A Woman Saving the Planet

c_figueres_v3_400x400This week’s New Yorker leads off with a “Reporter at Large” article by science writer Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction), The Weight of the World: Can one woman get the U.N. to save the planet?  While ostensibly about UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres – answering the subtitled question, “can [she] persuade humanity to save itself?” –  it is just as much about whether the UNFCCC can do its job of preventing “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (laid out in the treaty’s Article 2 Objective).

Kolbert has nailed the nature of Figueres’s job: It “may possess the very highest ratio of responsibility (preventing global collapse) to authority (practically none).”  And for those who see her working the UNFCCC meetings, Kolbert’s interview quotes ring true: “I have not met a single human being who’s motivated by bad news – not a single human being.”  Hence Figueres’s contention that “all the nations of the world are now working in good faith to try to reach a climate agreement.”  Even Saudi Arabia, which prefers using “low emissions” rather than “decarbonization,” and South Korea, whose recent INDC filing was, um, underwhelming, at best.

Kolbert has also juxtaposed the international climate change negotiations and macro level emissions data with clear-eyed accuracy.  CO2 in the atmosphere has grown from 350ppm in 1992, when the UNFCCC was opened for signature, to 400ppm in 2015 – despite the Kyoto Protocol’s GHG emissions reduction targets. This is in part fueled by the countries not bound by the Protocol:  the US, which refused to ratify it even though it is the world’s largest cumulative emitter, and China, which had no mitigation obligations under the Protocol in 1997 (and still doesn’t) but now ties the EU on per capita emissions.  The EU surpassed its 2012 reduction targets, with some countries showing what the “conscious uncoupling” of economic growth and CO2 emissions can look like (e.g. Sweden, which has a carbon tax and where the economy grew 55% during the last 25 years, reduced its emissions by 23%). Nonetheless, given the impact of cumulative emissions, only decisive action to peak CO2 soon can keep atmospheric warming below the goal of 2C.

Cue COP21 in Paris and the INDC pledges currently being made.  I cannot agree with Kolbert’s description of the Kyoto Protocol as surviving US non-ratification “in a zombielike state.” The institutional apparatus that the EU enabled the UNFCCC to develop – market mechanisms like emissions reductions trading and energy efficiency and renewable energy investments via the Clean Development Mechanism – helped build models for low carbon development in both developing and developed countries.  China has learned from this experience when lowering its emissions. In addition, the continued engagement in the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol has fostered bilateral negotiations between the US and China, India, and Brazil.  The new “bottom up” approach of requiring all countries to make “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) builds on these ideas, institutions, and relationships developed during the last 20 years of international climate negotiations.  While this process component is easy to overlook, it’s more sharp-eyed and active than any zombie I know.

 

 


“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.


COP15 coming to a close…

As the negotiations are coming to a close, a select number of world leaders are struggling to come to an agreement.

Here is a smattering of recent press:

World leaders come together to continue meeting

The world’s leaders have come together once again to move the climate negotiations forward, after having gathered in smaller groups during the afternoon.  At the same time the UN conference continues in the form of large meetings.  Barack Obama, Wen Jiabao, Ban Ki-moon and Fredrik Reinfeldt were among the speakers in plenary during the afternoon. Continue reading


Half Way

With the first week of the COP 15 coming to an end, a draft proposal is finally on the table, although it leaves many of the details still “to be determined.”  http://unfccc.int/files/kyoto_protocol/application/pdf/draftcoretext.pdf

During negotiations this morning, Tuvalu made another impassioned plea for the world to realize that its very survival depends on a binding and effective  agreement.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuG5vR3HJDU]

Negotiations this afternoon went back and forth as the parties are still divided about whether or not to abandon the Kyoto Protocol  in favor of a totally new agreement.   

Continue reading


Renewable Energy Advocates Get Upclose Look at Middelgrunden Windfarm.

Denmark has been a leader in renewable and clean energy for over 40 years.  While some policies were perhaps misguided, like banning car use on Sundays in the 1970’s, slow but steady expansion of the country’s renewable energy portfolio has allowed the country to maintain its emission levels while boasting of continuing healthy economic expansion.  One of the best examples of the country’s advances in renewables technology is the Middelgrunden windfarm located just offshore in Copenhagen’s harbor.  Built in 2000, it currently has twenty 2 MW turbines that generate a total of 40 MW of power (about 3% of Denmark’s total requirements).   [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0Qi5xBA-ow] Continue reading


Dramatic November Leaves Hope for Significant U.S. Contribution at COP15

Reading a recent article highlighting Sen. James Inhofe’s now-international obstructionism on efforts to stem climate change, I was struck by how eventful and dramatic the last few months have been for folks who have been paying attention and are holding their breath for actual progress at the Copenhagen Conference of Parties.

Beginning back in mid-November many of us were shocked when national news outlets casually threw out the dour headline “So much for Hopenhagen,” effectively calling off the push for a binding international agreement while at the conference. Continue reading


A global perspective…

As part of an exchange program at Vermont Law, I am spending my 3L year studying law in French at l’Université de Cergy-Pontoise.  Although adapting to the French method of learning has been challenging, I have also found it to be an excellent learning experience.  Specifically, I believe that the time I have spent here over the last couple of months has given me some practice in explaining the U.S. position on issues such as climate change to those who view us from afar. Continue reading