RE100 Businesses Pave the Way for Transitioning to Renewable Energy

images Ambition, pace, scale—these are the themes in shifting to an economy recognizing climate change. Companies pioneering this economic shift incorporated climate change as an significant factor in conducting business.

One of the leading organizations spearheading this movement is RE100. RE100 is a collaborative movement uniting over 150 well recognized companies across the world to commit to using 100% renewable energy. What is even more impressive is that these companies have acted on their own in addressing climate change, ahead of government direction. Remarkably, these corporations were able to shift to 100% renewable electricity, which garnered a competitive advantage enabling them to financially outpace their competitors.

A study by RE100 and Capgemini compared RE100 companies to non-RE100 companies by sector. It concluded that RE100 companies earn an average profit of 7.7% more than their competitors. Admittedly, the report’s analysis in no way suggests that switching to 100% renewable electricity is the sole cause of the profit difference. However, it is compelling that all RE100 companies have consistently outperformed the competition in their respective industries. Thus, it would suggest a strong correlation between switching to renewable electricity and above-average financial performance.

The switch to renewable electricity is done using multiple mechanisms simultaneously. Companies utilize a combination of energy power purchase agreements (PPA) and self-generated renewable electricity technology. Moreover, RE100 companies have developed new management structures, such as silo model, centralized model, and global model, to coordinate renewable electricity sourcing and efficient use infrastructure. The benefits of transitioning are significant.

For example, General Motors harnessed renewable energy sources from landfill gas, solar arrays, and wind farms. This combination has lowered operation costs by $80 million. The cost savings result largely from improved, cost-effective renewable technologies and government incentives. Landfill gas allows companies to lock into long-term prices that are cheaper and more stable than fluctuating natural gas prices. GM strategically built their own solar arrays and benefited from government feed-in-tariff programs. Finally, GM built wind projects in Mexico and Texas that generate over 34 MW, enough to power five manufacturing facilities.

Anheuser-Busch, another RE100 company, has procured PPAs for onshore wind projects to offset its dependence on traditional energy sources. Anheuser-Busch is in line to become the largest purchaser of renewable electricity and one of the forerunners in advertising renewable energy. The beer manufacturer uses its brand influence in its renewable electricity symbol campaign, where every pack of Budweiser will carry the symbol to celebrate its commitment to brew with 100% renewable energy.

The trend toward renewable energy is now gaining traction, and signals a tipping point to mass renewable. Since RE100’s inception, companies partnered through renewable energy purchase agreements have created 100% renewable energy demand of more than 184.6 TWh—enough energy to power Poland. Moreover, RE100 company surveys yielded that renewable energy costs have reduced significantly where it has been cost competitive against fossil fuels. Therefore the RE100 momentum would suggest that this trend is welcomed with open arms and significantly contributing to how other companies shape their tactics to address climate change.

It takes more than government

green roof busHundreds of people, from all over the world, gather in Bonn, Germany for the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23). At first glance, COP23 appears to be policy driven, science based, and a negotiations filled conference. It is that and more. It has become the place for green industry where 850 different organizations applied to participate in COP23 and offer their products and services.

This interaction did not occur by accident.

When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, it called for enabling the private sector to “promote and enhance the transfer of, and access to, environmentally sound technologies” in Article 10 (c). In the Paris Agreement, which entered into force in 2016, Article 6.4 (b) calls for incentivizing the public and private sectors to participate in mitigating green house gases. These treaties create the conditions for private sector involvement in mitigation. So private/non-profit organizations are active participants in COP23 and not simply vendors at a trade show.

A good example of such partnership is in transportation, which is one of COP23’s Global Climate Action (GCA) themes. ABB, a for-profit company with over 136,000 employees spread over a 100 countries, works on projects as varied as sun powered rickshaws and clean energy buses. Non-profits have also played a role in shaping climate change policies. Organizations like the Institute for Transportation and Development Policies (ITDP) work with policy makers on an international level and also seek to influence policies at the local level in urban areas.

These organizations go beyond the boundaries of a country and provide needed technical expertise that policy makers sometimes lack. In a recent GCA meeting at COP23, representatives of these organizations pointed out the need for different climate friendly policies in Barcelona, Spain than in Atlanta, GA. Even though they have populations similar in size, Atlanta occupies an area that is over twenty five times larger than Barcelona.

Wheels of climate change policy roll on in Bonn

trump+climate+environmentWhile angst about the pending Trump decision on the Paris Agreement (PA) remained a subtext of the annual intersessional climate meetings that wrapped up last week in Bonn, Germany, the technical work trundled on.

More than 3,300 (negotiators, observers [including a VLS delegation], plus secretariat and other agency staff) participated in:

  • the 46th sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI),
  • the 3rd part of the first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA1.3),
  • several COP-mandated companion events (e.g., indigenous peoples, climate finance reporting, capacity building), and
  • more than 90 side events.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin gave its usual comprehensive (if dry) lowdown of the meetings. By many reports (here, here, here, and here), the negotiations moved rather smoothly. In particular, positions on APA agenda items got clarified, even though negotiating texts are still out of reach. The APA must deliver a Paris rulebook by December 2018.

Aside from the Trump question, the media coverage (e.g., here, and here) spotlighted the contentious tussle over conflict of interest (read: corporate/fossil fuel industry influence on climate policy). But that shadow side of the SBI’s imperative to “further enhance the effective engagement of non-Party stakeholders,” was not the only thing we watched.

A few of our observations:

  • APA round tables got a thumbs up for the airing and clarifying of views and could speed introduction of “contextual proposals” for PA rulebook pieces. Five will be held ahead of COP23, though observers will be excluded.

  • Parties are determined to understand, manage and capitalize on the linkages between Paris Agreement articles, and between the APA work and PA work of the subsidiary bodies. This is important and rich ground for cohesiveness.
  • More frequent interventions are coming from the new “coalition” of 3

    Marcia Levaggi, Argentina, speaking on behalf of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)

    contiguous South American countries – Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. They constitute 3 of the 4 members of Mercosur, the Southern Common Market, which is on track to a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association. We’ve known them as part of multiple different negotiating groups: G77+China (all 3); Coalition of Rainforest Nations (Argentina, Uruguay); BASIC (Brazil); Like-minded Developing Countries (Argentina); and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). We’ll be keeping an eye on this development.

  • The Long Term Climate Finance workshops (LTF) may catalyze concrete COP consideration of strategies to address the confusing

    Breakout during LTF event. (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)

    multi-lateral climate finance architecture and developing countries’ challenges in accessing finance. (See the World Resources Institute new pub out on this issue.)

  • The SBSTA’s agriculture agenda item hopped on a rollercoaster, disrupting the 4-year stalemate between developed and developing countries over adaptation vs mitigation. The excitement generated by delegates’ Week 1 mantras (“very substantive dialogue,” “feels like a family”) landed with a thud in the end. No mature elements moved forward to the SBI; nor was an agriculture work programme recommended. We do see slightly positive prospects looking ahead, given the Co-Facilitators’ non-paper. Stay tuned for our deeper dive on this.
  • The Gender Action Plan workshop wasn’t covered by anyone, but you’ll get the in-depth story with our next post.

Next up? Thank you, Carbon Brief, for the chart of steps toward COP23.Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 1.11.43 PM


Are State INDC Mitigation Pledges Strong Enough?



Today at COP21, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) hosted a joint presentation on the 2015 UNEP Emissions Gap Report. This sixth Emissions Gap Report was published in November 2015. The report assesses country mitigation commitments based off their submitted INDCs. Then it compares the resulting emission levels for 2030 with what scientific studies require in order for the world to be on track to stay within the maximum global temperature increase goal of 2°C. Many of the report’s authors attended the presentation and the official presenters of the report included:

Mr. Steiner explained that based on current INDCs, GHG emissions would decrease 25% by 2030. While this reduction shows progress, it is still not sufficient to achieve the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 2°C by 2100. As the INDCs stand today, accounting for both conditional and unconditional mitigation pledges, the COP is 50% of the way to achieving a GHG reduction of 42 GtCO2e, the amount needed to stay within 2°C. The fact that current INDCs are halfway to their reduction goals indicates that significant further mitigation efforts are required. Mr. Steiner stressed that the Parties have not run out of time to reach their goal, but the longer they wait the less cost-effective and more difficult it becomes to successfully achieve these mitigation goals. Mitigation action over the next four years, or during the pre-2020 timeframe, is material to staying within the 2°C threshold. With each passing year, the risk of inequity grows exponentially between developed countries and countries most vulnerable to climate change; this inequity is unacceptable because many vulnerable State Parties are already paying a higher price as they suffer more and more extreme weather events caused by climate change.

The UNFCCC Director of Strategy, Mr. Thorgeirsson, furthered the discussion on INDCs with three interesting, and mostly optimistic, reflections. First, he explained that the 2°C and 1.5°C temperature goals, which are often called long-term goals, are not necessarily at odds with one another. According to Mr. Thorgeirsson, the 2°C limit would serve as “a guardrail or defense line,” meaning that at bare minimum Parties’ mitigation efforts would limit the global temperature increase to 2°C, but this guardrail would be supplemented with the aspirational goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Ultimately, Mr. Thorgersson believes the two temperature goals should converge to create a joint narrative.

In his second reflective thought, Mr. Thorgeirsson encouraged the audience to not be disheartened by the submitted INDCs because the mitigation commitments in these documents reflect current realities based on current technologies and political situations. Therefore as technologies and political situations evolve so will mitigation pledges.

Lastly, Mr. Thorgersoon declared that answering the question of whether the Parties are on the right track in their mitigation efforts is an impossible question to address. States across the globe are in the process of transitioning from a fossil-fuel economy to economies based on different assumptions. These new types of economies contain many unknown factors that make it difficult to definitively know the effect of the Party’s mitigation pledges.

Ms. Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientist for UNEP, was the final presenter of the 2015 UNEP Emissions Gap Report. In her presentation, Ms. McGlade explained that the UNEP report has been released in various stages in order to capture and present more accurate carbon emissions data as more Parties submit their INDCs to the UNFCCC. This drafting difficulty is an on-going dilemma. Ms. McGlade explained that over 40 INDCs have been submitted since the latest stage of the UNEP report was released. She then assured the crowd that after COP21 concluded she and her team would resume updating their study to reflect the new mitigation pledges.

Ms. McGlade concluded the presentation with a final call to action, explaining that under the current INDC mitigation pledges there is a 66% chance of the global temperature increasing 3-4°C by 2100. A temperature increase of 3-4°C would result in catastrophic effects, but with focus and action the 1.5-2°C goals can still be reached. The COP21 process has revealed an unprecedented level of engagement in addressing climate change as an international issue. This engagement is a promising indicator that the Parties’ are committed to successfully fulfilling their long-term mitigation goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5-2°C.

The Ying and the Yang of the Low Carbon Economy


Montgomery Cty DivisionThe call for a new low carbon economy is echoing through the halls of COP 21. In the opening ceremony, French President Francois Hollande, Prince Charles, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon all urged the world to transition to a new low carbon economy.


Making that transition requires action on multiple fronts. First, countries must address market distorting and environmentally destructive fossil fuel subsidies. Second, countries must power their economies with renewable energy.


Two separate events today indicated that countries and industry are starting to make that transition. Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform unveiled a communiqué calling on all countries to stop the subsidization of carbon intensive fossil fuels. Indian Prime Minister Modi and French President Hollande, launched the International Solar Alliance to help bring solar power to developing countries. Presented separately but connected by common goal, the two projects are cutting the path to a new clean energy economy.


Countries spend almost $500 billion/year on fossil fuel subsidies. They subsidize the consumption and production of fossil fuels. The subsidies unfairly tilt the market towards carbon intensive fossil by preventing clean energy technologies from competing on a level playing field. The FFFSR communiqué urged countries to take the money spent on fossil fuel subsidies and repurpose it to enhance education, health, and environmental programs. Countries have argued that subsidies are necessary to support the poor, who could not otherwise afford fuel. FFFSR research revealed that only 3 percent of subsidies are used to support the lowest income brackets.


The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is multi-country partnership to bring solar power to developing nations. The ISA is focused on increasing solar power generation in the 120 countries located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Developing nations often have an abundance of solar potential but they lack the technology and finance to develop their resources. Germany, Italy, and Japan, the countries with the highest rates of solar penetration, are not rich in solar resources but are rich in technology and finance. The ISA will bring solar power to where it has the most economic and environmental potential.


The developing countries targeted by the ISA are areas where power usage is increasing. Adding renewable power to the grid in a developing country displaces high carbon emitting resources. For example, India is third largest consumer of coal in the world, it also has 300 million people who lack electricity. The type of electricity used to connect that group will have a huge impact on global climate change mitigation efforts. India is choosing the renewable energy pathway by setting a goal of 100 GW of installed solar power by 2020. India currently has 4 GW of installed solar power. To bridge this gap, India will need international financial and technology support.


India is investing $30 M USD in a new National Institute of Solar Technology with the goal of reducing regulatory hurdles, developing common standards to speed up production, developing innovative finance mechanisms, and supporting technology improvements. Estimates of the total investment needed to realize the solar potential of developing countries reach $1000 billion; a number that could be easily reached by re-tasking fossil fuel subsidies.


Developing nations have an untapped resource shining down on them. The ISA aims to spur transformative action in this field. Today, Prime Minister Modi started his announcement by stating that many Indians begin their day with a prayer to the sun. He ended his presentation by proclaiming that the ISA represents a “sunrise of new hope.” A sunset on fossil fuels would help the sun rise on a new low carbon economy future.

“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.

What a concept! The fossil fuel industry pay for loss and damage?

The COP is an exciting experience, rich with smart, creative and passionate individuals. Among them is a still relatively small network of thought leaders – researchers, attorneys, and others – advocating a new direction for mitigating GHGs and advancing accountability for atmospheric carbon contributions. In a side event yesterday panelists from the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI), Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and the Climate Justice Programme explored multiple dimensions of climate responsibility and ways to change fossil fuel industry behavior using research from the Carbon Majors Project of the CAI. A particularly intriguing concept offered was a fossil fuel extraction levy to help pay for loss and damage from climate change.CarbonMajorsImage1-640x400

Focusing on the largest emitters in the world, the Carbon Majors Project research has revealed that, as of 2013, as few as 90 entities were actually responsible for 65% of the now 1.4 trillion tons of cumulative CO2 in our atmosphere. These fossil fuel extractors, refiners and sellers include investor-owned companies, state-owned companies, and national government-run industries. The power of this research is that it comes from companies’ own production statements themselves, and it accounts for mergers and acquisitions over time.

The Carbon Majors Project’s primary objective is “to quantify and trace historical and cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide and methane to the largest extant fossil fuel and cement producers.” Instead of the primarily fuel consumption-based and aggregated approach used to estimate national GHG inventories of the 6 GHGs covered by the Kyoto Protocol, this work traces emission back to those corporate producers responsible for the majority of our fossil fuels and cement. Carbon Majors’ top-20 list includes some you’d expect: Chevron, ExxonMobil, and BP – all investor-owned companies.

The trajectory of the research is to link from emissions to concentrations to temperature increase to impacts and ultimately tresponsibilityo damages. As UCS’s Peter Frumhoff put it, this work will increasingly “inform the policy, legal and social discussion about responsibility.”

The ethical dimension raised by yesterday’s panel centered on a couple of questions:

  • What might we have expected these companies to do in the face of the scientific data and information available as far back as 1988, when the IPCC was formed?
  • What level of responsibility do they have for committing us to a dangerously warming world?

According to work by the Union of Concerned Scientists, instead of taking the long view and beginning to shift to renewable fuel production, the fossil fuel industry “actively invested in sowing doubt, and solidifying its business model by intensifying exploration and extraction.”

On the legal dimension, Niranjali Amerasinghe of the Center for International Environmental Law shared the significant potential for this research to inform legal strategies. Establishing the causal chain creates opportunities for a number of legal theories, including: torts (going after past harm), nuisance, negligence (at what point was this known?), misinformation/deception, and even product liability (are these emissions inherently dangerous things?). Granted, there are huge jurisdictional challenges to putting these legal theories into practice. Nonetheless, the Carbon Majors research offers a powerful tool for holding these companies accountable. And there are side benefits to a legal angle, for instance the increase in financial risk of an asset that could become “stranded.”

Putting these pieces together, the Climate Justice Programme builds on the work of the Carbon Majors Project and CIEL in formulating the “bad faith” argument based on the violation of the principle of “no harm.” Its solution: The fossil fuel industry should pay for the damages their products have created and are creating through a levy to Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM).7-climatechang

With climate finance still currently woefully inadequate for adaptation alone, much less for means of implementation, a new source of finance is critical for ensuring that the poor and vulnerable impacted populations are not the ones who pay for the climate change loss and damage they suffer. The idea is that through the WIM, such funds could go directly to affected communities or to pay insurance costs.

Resting on key precedents such as the Oil Spill Compensation Fund (a regime to provide funding for oil spills), this levy could be based on the historical emissions of the Carbon Majors and the future extraction of fossil fuels. Taking this route could be attractive to governments and increase risk assessment capacities of companies.

Yes, the panelists and the audience acknowledged many questions and challenges, but the energy in the room was palpable. These weary champions seemed genuinely excited that they might just have something here that’s been needed for decades.

Fossil-ing Away the Progression of the Day

Today in Lima, Japan won Climate Action Network’s (CAN) Fossil of the Day Award. CAN gives this award to countries based on their performances during the past day’s negotiations at the United Nations (UN) climate change conferences. Japan won the Fossil of the Day Award for “getting busted for funding coal and gas power stations in developing countries, in particular Indonesia, with money meant for scaling up climate action.” This slightly sarcastic yet highly prestigious award brings to light current issues, and hopes to publicly motivate the named recipient into climate action.

Japan gave Indonesia $1 billion in loans to build three coal-fired power plants in the name of climate finance under the United Nations. Japan says these plants burn coal more efficiently and are therefore cleaner than old coal plants. However, they still emit twice as much heat-trapping carbon as plants running on natural gas, and are the biggest human source of carbon pollution.smokestacks

Outside of naming the clear Fossil Day Award winner, CAN highlighted an overarching issue regarding climate finance. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has no definition of what climate finance is and there is no watchdog agency that ensures the climate finance funds are spent in the most effect way. Japan allocated the funding to Japanese companies under UN loans described as “thermal power plants,” with no indication that they were coal-fired projects.

There are no rules against counting such projects as climate finance under the United Nations. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, unaware that the Japanese-funded coal plants in Indonesia were labeled as climate finance, stated “there is no argument” for supporting such projects with climate money. “Unabated coal has no room in the future energy system,” she told AP News.

CAN, a worldwide network of over 900 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in more than 100 countries, continues to promote government action to limit human-induced climate change by bringing theses issues to light.

Fossil of the Day

The Green Climate Fund, which has similar goals to help poorer nations adapt to the warming climate, also has no watchdog agency or formal definition of climate finance.The power of “public shaming” presented by CAN’s Fossil of the Day Award, not only galvanizes climate action commitments, but instills a new fire within climate activists.

Fossil Fuel Subsidies – The (Overfed) Elephant in the Room?


Many have advocated for years to scale back or eliminate subsidies for oil, gas, and coal, including powerful international fora like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations. And, multiple subsidy reform efforts have been undertaken through various avenues of international cooperation. Yet these subsidies have actually grown around the world. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2014 World Energy Outlook, annual fossil fuels subsidies topped out at $550 billion in 2013, four times greater than those for renewable energy.

IEA FFsubsidiesGraph

In its 2013 publication Energy Subsidy Reform, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that reform through energy price adjustment that eliminates fossil fuel subsidies would translate to a 13% reduction in of 2011 CO2 emissions. That’s more than 4 Gt CO2, based on IEA figures, and represents a significant piece of an overall global energy policy the IMF projects will lead to a 3.6°C increase in the earth’s surface temperature (over pre-industrial levels) by 2100. The United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) 2014 Emissions Gap Report argues that subsidy reduction or elimination is a necessary policy for closing the current mitigation gap required to keep warming to within 2°C. In terms of avoided CO2 emissions, eliminating these subsidies would exceed the 2.5-3.3 Gt per year that UNEP estimates could be provided by worldwide energy efficiency improvements between 2015 and 2030.


Beyond climate change impacts, these subsidies generate additional negative economic consequences, including promoting “excessive energy consumption” and reinforcing inequality by benefiting upper-income groups far more than the poorest. The IMF found that its calculation of $480 billion in 2011 fossil fuel-based energy subsidies climbed to a stunning $1.9 trillion when energy product deferential taxation and negative externalities, such as public health and environmental impacts, were factored in. Furthermore, not only are these government subsidy dollars limiting what is available for important social needs, such as education and health reforms, the IEA concludes that they are “holding back investments in efficiency and renewables.”


So, why do these harmful fossil fuel subsidies continue, what can be done about it, and will this issue be addressed at COP20 next week?


The issue is not simple. Worries abound for the tens of thousands of workers in the hundreds of industries directly and indirectly related to fossil fuel extraction and use, and for the millions who currently have no alternative to fossil fuel energy for heating and cooking. Furthermore, the fossil fuel industry has much to lose with the conversion to renewable energy.


How can we get rid of fossil fuel subsidies in a way that protects people and the planet today and for the future? It will take political will and leadership. Some good news and hard lessons can be found in efforts several countries have been making. (See also IEA’s World Energy Outlook and the Global Subsidies Initiative Guidebook.)

Clearly, though, more needs to be done. And where better to look than to the G20, the largest international forum of industrialized and emerging economies, “representing 85 percent of global gross domestic product and over 75 percent of global trade.” Yet, this one group that can put a halt to subsidies, and actually committed to a step in that direction in 2009, has failed to follow through. In fact, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute and the Oil Change Institute, the G20 nations that pledged in 2009 to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies are now spending $88 billion per year in fossil fuel exploration alone, as opposed to $37 billion last year. It seems rather ironic, then, at the close of the G20’s Brisbane Summit, just two weeks before the start of the COP20, thaACBlog3-Photo1.G20 FFSubst the Leaders Communiqué stated, “[w]e reaffirm our commitment to rationalise and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, recognizing the need to support the poor.”


What can the G20 do? Well, a key action is to push for national fossil fuel subsidy phase-out goals and timelines tied to countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the UNFCCC 2015 agreement, a top recommendation offered by Alison Kirsch and Timmons Roberts.

Will fossil fuel subsidies come up at the COP20 starting this week? It might seem reasonable, given that a crucial component of the Lima event will be trying to close the pre-2020 mitigation gap. However, fossil fuel subsidies are politically sensitive; as such, they haven’t been directly addressed in any official UNFCCC document or meeting. The only recent mention (at the October ADP 2-6 session in Bonn) was by Norway and New Zealand, who called for adding fossil fuel subsidies removal as a topic for upcoming Technical Expert Meetings organized to inform action on both the 2015 agreement framework and closing the pre-2020 mitigation gap. Still, maybe Kirsch and Roberts’ suggestion to include action to address subsidies in countries’ INDCs will find its way into the dialogue. Let’s certainly hope so, because we can do better than actually paying to heat up and pollute our planet.ACBlog3-Photo5-OilSoakedDollarBill

Warsaw, Wildlife, and Greenpeace

The trip has cIMG_2014ome to an end. And what an experience it was. During the 12-14 hour days, it felt like it was going on forever, but at the end of theIMG_2023 week I was questioning where my week had gone. Some of the highlights included getting 2 feet away from Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, walking around Old Town, hearing the inspiring words of Christiana Figueres, working with my great NGO, Wildlife Conservation Society, actually seeing the international process at work, and getting to know my fellow VLS delegates better.

My biggest disappointment was the lack of discussion throughout the week on my chosen topic: wildlife, endangered species, and biodiversity. While I tried to tailor each of my posts to my topic and analyze each side event to figure out its indirect link to the conservation of species, I noticed that the topic was rarely, if ever, discussed. Biodiversity and ecosystems where mentioned broadly here and there (most notably in the ocean acidification and REDD+ side events I attended), but for the most part, I heard nothing on how climate change is adversely impacting CITES-logo-high-resolution-300x171species. I am aware that the UN has other treaties, such as the Convention on Biodiversity and CITES, but knowing what I know about how climate change is affecting species, I would have thought at least one side event would have had that focus. This became particularly more puzzling to me when I learned more than one wildlife conservation group attended the CoP. While I realize that most people place a higher value on the plights of the human race when it comes to climate change, the importance of conserving biodiversity cannot be overlooked. As the Lion King says: “we are all connected in the great circle of life.”

On my last night in Poland, Heather, Lindsay, and I had the unique experience of attending a Greenpeace party. Greenpeace gave a recap of of their 2 weeks at the CoP. They had some exciting protests against cop19_greenpeace_670pcPoland’s reliance on coal and unveiled brilliant t-shirts: a play on the Godfather – the “coalfather.” I, not for lack of want, did not get lucky enoughBZboykZCIAANefn.jpg_large to secure one. There were also several demonstrations on the Arctic 30. Greenpeace is currently on a campaign to free the arctic 30; 30 peaceful activists from around the world who boarded the Arctic Sunrise in an attempt to board a Russian oil rig in protest of reliance on fossil fuels and to try and stop the drilling. The Russian authorities took control of the Arctic Sunrise and the arctic 30, who are now detained in Russia for piracy and hooliganism. Their call: “Free the Arctic 30.”

190010eb-f999-4d88-990c-f46dd6596ee8.fileGreenpeace in Greenland

Overall, I am thankful for this cultural and learning experience.




Gender Day – UNFCCC’s Christiana Figueres gives no love to (coal) scrubs, calls on women to demand climate action

Today is Gender Day at the UNFCCC COP19. The purpose of Gender Day is to raise awareness on gender in the climate change context. It is not just a thematic day, it is a legal mandate from the Doha Climate Gateway, Decision 23/CP.18, to examine gender balance in the UNFCCC negotiations.


UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres addresses COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland.

“2. [The Conference of the Parties] Decides to enhance decision 36/CP.7 by adopting a goal of gender balance in bodies established pursuant to the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, in order to improve women’s participation and inform more effective climate change policy that addresses the needs of women and men equally…9. [The parties to the UNFCCC] Decides to add the issue of gender and climate change as a standing item on the agenda of sessions of the Conference of the Parties to allow the Conference of the Parties to consider the information referred to in paragraph 8 above…10. Requests the secretariat to organize, in conjunction with the nineteenth session of the Conference of the Parties, an in-session workshop on gender balance in the UNFCCC process, gender-sensitive climate policy and capacity-building activities to promote the greater participation of women in the UNFCCC process…” (emphasis added)

As part of increasing awareness around gender issues and strengthening women’s voices, I attended the UNFCCC Gender 50/50 event featuring several high level women working on gender and climate change issues, including the UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, Helen Clark (UNDP Administrator), Lakshmi Puri (Deputy Executive Director of UN Women), Bianca Jagger (Founder and Chair, Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation), Mary Robinson (Former President of Ireland, and President, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ)), Tarja Halonen (Former President of Finland), Riley McAuliffe (Global Voices), Elizabeth Njoroge (Executive Director, The Art of Music Foundation), and Wanda Nowicka (Member of Parliament, Poland). They spoke on how climate change impacts them, their families and those around the world. They shared their vision for a world that recognizes gender equality.


Each speaker emphasized that adverse climate change impacts women disproportionately from men. The majority of women around the world run the household, often living below the poverty line. Women have to fetch the water, collect firewood, tend the garden, take care of the family and other household tasks. waterThe purpose of the UNFCCC mandate on gender, is to increase the participation of women at the international level, in the negotiations, and on delegations. Women need to be included at all levels of the decision-making process in order to help support mitigation and adaptation efforts. Also, women need to speak up to have their voices heard, including those working at the highest levels of diplomacy.CCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, and other prominent women leaders who shared their vision for women empowerment. Each shared their vision and dreams for women empowerment. The women sitting up front all faced their share of adversity to rise to leadership roles in a male-dominated world. Figueres even choked up a little when speaking about her experiences.

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, saluted Figueres for speaking at the World Coal Association’s “coal summit” yesterday. The ill-timing of the conference was not lost on Figueres and she paid a visit to the “coal summit.” Figueres urged the energy companies to keep fossil fuels in the ground and shut down dirty power plants and inject carbon emissions into the ground, such as through CCS.


“The world is rising to meet the climate challenge as risks of inaction mount, and it is in your best interest to make coal part of the solution

Scientists at COP 19 determined that 3.8 trillion tonnes (1 tonne = 1.102 metric tons) of carbon dioxide trapped in the world’s fossil reserves, about 60 percent of it in coal. Also, the scientists reported that 1 trillion tonnes would suffice to push the post-industrial temperature rise past 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). The science supports leaving the fossil fuel resources into the ground. However, the energy and business industries, comprised of mostly male-dominated institutions, leave much to be desired in climate mitigation.  The current rules and regulations and mind-sets in the government and business worlds were shaped by a process that historically and currently excludes women. Their voices were never given a chance to shape the world we live in today, but this paradigm is changing as women around the world refuse to remain silent.

Women are the most affected by adverse climate change impacts. Yet they have not had much say in the process. Can empowering women in the climate change negotiations process find solutions to the climate crisis? There is hope. Women just have to keep supporting and pushing women to raise their voices and share their dreams of a better planet. For now, Figueres is leading the way.

Christiana Figueres’s speech:

Your Excellency, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister,

Honourable Member of the European Parliament,

Distinguished Chair of the World Coal Association,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I appreciate the opportunity to address the International Coal and Climate Summit in a frank and honest exchange on the transition to a low-emission economy.

Let me be clear from the outset that my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor a call for the immediate disappearance of coal. But I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.

There are some who, deeply concerned about the devastating effects of climate change already felt by vulnerable populations around the world, are calling for the immediate shut down of all coal plants.

There are others who think that coal does not have to change at all, that we can continue to extract and burn as we have done in the past.

The first view does not take into account the immediate needs of nations looking to provide reliable energy to rapidly growing populations in pursuit of economic development and poverty eradication.

The second view does not take into account the immediate need for climate stability on this planet, necessary for the wellbeing of present and future generations.

Today I want to set out an alternative path that is admittedly not easy, but is undoubtedly necessary. That path must acknowledge the past, consider the present and chart a path towards an acceptable future for all. I join you today to discuss this path for two reasons.

First, the energy sector is an intrinsic component of a sustainable future.

And second, the coal industry must change and you are decision makers who have the knowledge and power to change the way the world uses coal.

The path forward begins in the past, recognizing that coal played a key role in the history of our economic development. From heating to transportation to the provision of electricity, coal has undoubtedly enabled much of our progress over the last 200 years.

Coal was at the heart of the developed world’s Industrial Revolution and brought affordable energy to the developing world. However, while society has benefitted from coal-fuelled development, we now know there is an unacceptably high cost to human and environmental health.

The science is clear. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report outlines our predicament. We are at unprecedented GHG concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent. If we continue to meet energy needs as we have in the past, we will overshoot the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degree Celsius.

AR5 is not science fiction, it is science fact.

AR5 is the overwhelming consensus of 200 lead authors synthesizing the work of 600 scientists who analysed 9000 peer-reviewed publications. AR5 is arguably the most rigorous scientific report ever written. And, the findings of the AR5 have been endorsed by 195 governments, including all of those in which you operate.

There is no doubt that the science is a clarion call for the rapid transformation of the coal industry. Just this morning, more than 25 leading climate and energy scientists from around the world released a clear statement about the need to radically rethink coal’s place in our energy mix.

Considering that coal energy loads the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, competes for water and impacts public health, the call of science has already been answered by a wide gamut of stakeholders:

Students, faith-based organizations and citizens are asking their investment managers to divest from coal and other fossil fuels. Cities choked by air pollution are limiting the burning of coal.

Development banks have stopped funding unabated coal. Commercial financial institutions are analysing the implications of unburnable carbon for their investment strategies. Pricing of GHG emissions is on the rise, evidenced by trading markets coming online around the globe. And, international policy is moving us toward a global low-emission economy.

All of this tells me that the coal industry faces a business continuation risk that you can no longer afford to ignore.

Like any other industry, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your workforce and your shareholders. Like any other industry, you are subject to the major political,

economic and social shifts of our time. And by now it should be abundantly clear that further capital expenditures on coal can go ahead only if they are compatible with the two degree Celsius limit.

Ladies and gentlemen, the coal industry has the opportunity to be part of the worldwide climate solution by responding proactively to the current paradigm shift. It would be presumptuous of me to put forward a transition plan for coal as you are the repositories of knowledge and experience, and the assets you manage are at stake.

But there are some fundamental parameters of this transition:

    • Close all existing subcritical plants;
    • Implement safe CCUS on all new plants, even the most efficient; and
    • Leave most existing reserves in the ground.

These are not marginal or trivial changes, these are transformations that go to the core of the coal industry, and many will say it simply cannot be done. But the phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way” is tantamount to human history because will precedes innovation, and innovation precedes transformation. John F. Kennedy called for putting man on the moon in ten years at a point when no one knew how that would be done.

We must transform coal with the same determination, the same perseverance, the same will. We must be confident that if we set an ambitious course to low-emissions, science and technology will rapidly transform systems. Above all, you must invest in this potential, because the coal industry has the most to gain by leveraging the existing capital, knowledge and capacity to transform itself.

The world is rising to meet the climate challenge as risks of inaction mount, and it is in your best interest to make coal part of the solution. These radical changes have the transformative power to bring coal in line with the direction in which society is moving.

I urge every coal company to honestly assess the financial risks of business as usual; anticipate increasing regulation, growing finance restrictions and diminishing public acceptance; and leverage technology to reduce emissions across the entire coal value chain.

You are here today as coal industry leaders, but you can also understand yourselves as long-term energy supply leaders. Some major oil, gas and energy technology companies are already investing in renewables, and I urge those of you who have not yet started to join them.

By diversifying your portfolio beyond coal, you too can produce clean energy that reduces pollution, enhances public health, increases energy security and creates new jobs.

By diversifying beyond coal, you reduce the risk of stranded assets and make yourselves ready to reap the rewards of a green economy.

By diversifying beyond coal, you can deploy your disciplined, courageous and technically skilled workforce into new renewable energy jobs, transforming your companies from within.

The Warsaw Communique is a first step for change because it shows:

    • That the Association accepts climate change as a development risk; and
    • That lower coal emissions is an aspirational and realizable goal.

The communique is a first step, but it cannot be the last. I invite you to use this Climate and Coal Summit to decide how you are going to step up to the challenge of contributing to real climate change solutions.

We must urgently take the steps that put us on an ambitious path to global peaking by the end of this decade, and zero-net emissions by the second half of the century. Steps that look past next quarter’s bottom line and see next generation’s bottom line, and steps to figure health, security and sustainability into the bottom line.

For it will be your children and my children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren who will look back at today and judge our collective commitment to them.

They must be able to look back and recognize this summit as a historic turning point for the coal industry.

Thank you.

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