Are State INDC Mitigation Pledges Strong Enough?

 

UNEP

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.


Realities of Hope: 1.5-2C Global Temperature Rise is within Striking Distance—But INDC Pledges are not Enough

CAT_thermometer_151001_300dpiSince the COP21 Opening Ceremony, various Parties have expressed a priority of curbing global temperature rise to below 2C. Many Parties, particularly LDCs and notably French President Hollande, advocate for a more ambitious 1.5C temperature increase. While the Opening Ceremony was full of hopeful statements—UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, for example, described COP21 as a “beacon of hope for the world, lighting the way toward the betterment of humanity”—it is unclear whether the Parties will actually agree to maintaining the 2C increase, and even then what the cost will be for a less ambitious mitigation effort.

Leading up to COP21, 184 countries submitted 154 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These pledges account for around 94% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 2010. Yet, some sources say these pledges would be insufficient to limit warning to 2C or below. Instead, the INDCs might allow a 2.7—3.5C increase above pre-industrial levels.

The consequences of these varying temperature ranges appear to be quite devastating. Even the 2C benchmark typically considered a “safe” increase may be on the cusp of “dangerous” and “extremely” dangerous. The International Cryosphere Climate Initiative reports, “Reacting with ‘too little, too late’ may lock in the gradual but unavoidable transformation of our Earth…in a terrible legacy that may last a thousand years or more.”

Most world leaders promote a temperature limit of 1.5C. Manuel Augusto, current speaker for the LDC negotiation group and the Secretary of State for External Relations of Angola, advocates limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C.

FullSizeRender 5In Monday’s Global Environment Fund side event, former Irish president Mary Robinson discussed how various Parties up to that point had discussed climate injustice and the importance of a “people centered” approach to the Paris Package. Robinson explained that a global 2C increase actually means 4C in parts of Africa, and that 1.5C is an important part of a “people centered” agreement.

Also on Monday, 30 nations consisting of middle income, least developed and small island developing states issued a declaration expressing their desire for “full decarbonization of the world economy, 100% renewable energy by 2050, and zero emissions by mid-century in order to keep the world on track for below 1.5C warming.”

Scientists confirm that “limiting temperature rise by 1.5C is feasible;” however, “an increase of international efforts to curb greenhouse gases is imperative to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius target achievable.” Thus, with science and political backing, it would not be impossible for Parties to agree to a 1.5C temperature increase target.

 

 


CAN International flashes climate movement’s teeth on Day 1

CAN International logo

 

CAN (Climate Action Network) International’s COP21 opening press conference this morning delivered strong words for the leaders and negotiators. (CAN International is a recognized “network of NGOs working on climate change from around the world.” Member groups well known in the U.S. include 350.org, Union of Concerned Scientists, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund.) Four organizations presented:

Keya Chatterjee of US CAN praised the climate movement’s hard work since COP15 in Copenhagen that has achieved today’s powerful level of engagement. She noted that 2 of the 3 key ingredients for a just transition to a livable world have been met: 1) an activist base -“check;” and 2) a permissive majority – “check.” The third requirement, political leadership, is being demanded at COP21 where leaders are called to reveal “if they are with the world or not.” Activists clearly feel that Obama’s political credibility is on the line.

CAN Intl Webcast panel Nov30

Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid decried the current inadequate offerings of developed countries on mitigation and adaptation that will result in the sacrifice of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. He shared that the INDCs will deliver a too high 2.7°C increase, and called on the Parties to complete a strong agreement that provides for robust adaptation help, a loss & damage mechanism, and the climate finance to make these happen.

Tim Gore from Oxfam predicted that the negotiations will be brutal, and could get nasty. Three of the flash points he anticipates:

  • Current commitment questions- $100Bill/year by 2020. Will this happen and will there be enough adaptation finance from it? The Africa Group has put a proposal on the table to ensure $32 billion for adaptation from GCF by 2020.
  • Loss & Damage- “a David & Goliath issue,” with the US not wanting to move on it at all, and the other developed countries happy for the U.S. to take the hard line position.
  • Post 2020 finance- “the great known unknown” at these talks. There is a serious need to for a new commitment on finance. The key tradeoff is between getting new numbers on the table and getting others at the table. But who goes first?

Pierre Cannet of WWF France called upon Parties to reach a solid, inclusive, transparent agreement that also provides for a role by civil society. He congratulated France’s efforts to make this COP a real success. Pierre’s primary message was to stay in the negotiators’ ears in Paris, and keep the messages coming through demonstrations and marches, predicting that civil society’s vital role in building a strong response will serve “to change course and make history.”

KeyChatterjee-USCAN at CAN Webcast Nov30One of the most impassioned statements of the press conference came during the Q&A, when Keya Chatterjee (USCAN), expressing the commitment of the massive climate movement in the U.S. to hold the country’s leaders accountable to mitigation targets, nearly shouted, “I promise you, over our dead bodies, will these targets not be met!”

The Movement is unapologetically here. Let’s hope the political will is.

 

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Please note: Press conferences at the COP are a great way for remote followers to get real time news and views. You can tune in via the UNFCCC webcast page and catch the live action before it reaches your favorite news feeds.


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!

 


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Religion & Climate Change: How the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change Affects COP Negotiations

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger [of] ending life as we know it on our planet.” Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change

Islamic Declaration Photo

On August, 18th, 2015, a group of Muslim scholars, leaders, scientists, and clergy members made a call to action in the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul. This call to action urged the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and all nations across the globe to actively combat climate change by phasing out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and by committing to a 100% renewable energy strategy. The declaration specifically calls upon the Conference of Parties (COP) to “bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion” at the December 2015, meeting of the Parties in Paris.

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change is part of a movement by many faiths and denominations who are all calling on governments to take action at COP21 in Paris. In June, Pope Francis released an encyclical letter declaring climate change a moral issue that must be addressed. Additionally, over 300 rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption. With over 84% of the world’s population religiously affiliated global support by faith groups for effective climate action has the potential to reach large audiences.

In response to the Islamic Declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said:

A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other. Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.

Global responses to the Islamic Declaration have been overwhelmingly positive. For example, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, welcomed the declaration “with great joy, and in a spirit of solidarity.” He pledged that the Catholic Church would work with the declaration’s authors to protect their common earthly home. Additionally, NGO’s such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund have commended the declaration as a positive display of climate leadership.

So far the actual effect of the Islamic Declaration is unclear. While the majority of country Parties with high Muslim populations have filed INDCs, the quality of pledges has greatly varied. For example, Climate Action Tracker rated Morocco’s INDC as sufficient based on the country’s target reduction goals. A sufficient rating is encouraging because it means that Morocco’s targets are ambitious and that Morocco is pledging to its “fair share” of global efforts to keep warming below 2°C.  Conversely, Climate Action Tracker rated both Turkey’s INDC and Indonesia’s INDC as inadequate.

Even though INDC’s for Muslim countries do not definitively support the Islamic Declaration, many news sources still view the declaration as a step in the right direction because it “turns up the heat” for government officials by signaling an ongoing shift in the zeitgeist, or spirit of our time. In the words of Bill McKibben, “[t]he real effect of documents like these, though, is less immediate policy shifts than a change in the emotional climate. Most of us identify with one or several groups—Islam or Christendom, our alma mater or our union. As these begin to emphasize an issue, it becomes easier to make it part of our mental furniture.”


GHGs in the Gulf

saudi oilNewsflashSaudi Arabia has filed its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) for mitigating GHG emissions under the UNFCCC.  Yup, a country that depends on oil for 80% of its national budget publicly filed a document on November 10 laying out its efforts to combat climate change.

Andrew Freedman of Mashable points to a comment that Christiana Figueres made in the New Yorker article we featured here on our blog, about the Saudi negotiators regularly throwing well calculated and aimed wrenches into the UNFCCC negotiations.  I’ve witnessed this personally during the ADP negotiations all this year.  So it surprised me when Freedman mused that “those wrench-throwing days may be over, and the Saudis may have realized they too have a lot to lose from global warming, and that they may have more to gain by joining with other countries to push for the most favorable deal possible in Paris.”

So what does the INDC actually say?

First, that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) pledges to reduce its GHG emissions by up to 130 millionsaudi flare tons of CO2 by 2030. Second, that it will achieve this goal primarily by shifting its economy away from oil and gas, and launching adaptation initiatives. Third, that specific GHG mitigation efforts include energy efficiency standards, renewable energy development, carbon capture and storage (CCS), methane recovery, and increased use of natural gas.  Fourth – implicitly – that the price of oil, which has dropped dramatically during the last year, makes this transition that much easier.  Even if KSA sits on roughly 16% of the world’s oil reserves.

Why is this newsworthy, in terms of next week’s COP21 kickoff?

KSA negotiated hard, along with other OPEC nations, for the language in UNFCCC Article 4(10) that notes the adverse impact of treaty-induced GHG reductions on “Parties with economies that are highly dependent on income generated from the production, processing and export, and/or consumption of fossil fuels and associated energy-intensive products and/or the use of fossil fuels for which such gulf oilParties have serious difficulties in switching to alternatives.”  For the past 20 years or so, this language has served as the toolbox from which negotiators plucked and threw those wrenches.  Notably, it also fueled a negotiating position that demanded compensation for mitigation targets’ impacts on oil-dependent bottom lines for a countries that figure among the top 10 GDPs in the world (according to the World Bank and CIA; KSA slips to the #11 slot on the IMF’s list). Other Gulf countries in the KSA-dominated UNFCCC negotiation group have asserted this position, including Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain, who all rank among the top 15 global GDPs.

The KSA’s INDC marks progress by letting go of this folly. “The implementation of Saudi Arabia’s INDC is not contingent on receiving international financial support, but the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sees an important role for technology cooperation and transfer as well as capacity building for INDC implementation.” The government says that it requires “technical assistance and sustained capacity building efforts” to ensure implementation of its new plans.  In this way, KSA clearly aligns itself with developing countries that are seeking assistance with their GHG mitigation efforts.

In making these mitigation and adaptation pledges, the Saudi INDC makes clear its motivation.  “In the long term, a significant share of the infrastructure on the coastlines may be vulnerable to sea level rise. Trade and services may also be vulnerable to heatwaves and sandstorms as well as other indirect vulnerabilities including price volatility in exports and imports of goods and services.”

Yet, while claiming “ambitious plans” on renewable energy use (notably solar), it provides no specific targets as China and India did in their INDCs filed earlier.

And the Saudi INDC went back to its Article 4(10) toolbox.  “These ambitions are contingent on thesaudi unfccc Kingdom’s economy continuing to grow with an increasingly diversified economy and a robust contribution from oil export revenues to the national economy. It is also premised on the fact that the economic and social consequences of international climate change policies and measures do not pose disproportionate or abnormal burden on the Kingdom’s economy.”

Was U.S. bilateral discussion an instigator, as with the INDCs of China, India, and Brazil? The past nine months have seen harsh words exchanged over the Iran nuclear agreement. But Mashable’s Freedman highlights that after a summit meeting between President Obama and Saudi King Salman, a joint statement noted they had “discussed the challenge of global climate change and agreed to work together to achieve a successful outcome at the Paris negotiations in December.”


Will the Dark Cloud Over EPA’s Clean Power Plan Rain on Paris?

Powerplant.iStockLast month, EPA published the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the most ambitious and controversial rulemaking in the history of the Clean Air Act, and set off a flurry of litigation as many Republican lawmakers urged states to challenge the rule.

The Clean Power Plan is EPA’s first attempt to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. The goal of the CPP is to achieve a 30% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 with an interim goal of an average 17% reduction in the 2020-2029 period. To achieve this goal, the CPP sets emissions rate targets for states and requires each state, by 2018, to develop a plan for how to reach its assigned target by 2030.

Only days after the CPP was published, 26 states as well as business groups and coal companies filed suit in D.C. District Court challenging EPA’s legal basis for promulgating the rule. Last week, more than two dozen states, cities, and environmental groups intervened in the litigation to support EPA . The legal issue turns on whether the Court will defer to EPA’s interpretation of its authority to regulate power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA). Unfortunately, during the 1990 amendments to the CAA, Congress passed both the House and Senate versions of this statutory section. In effect, the Senate version allows for regulation of power plants under Section 111(d), while the House version does not. Opponents to the CPP have asked for a stay to immediately halt the rule from taking effect while the case is ongoing. The Court will not rule on the stay until after the climate change negotiations have concluded.

Adding to the assault, Republican leaders recently attempted to pass resolutions invoking the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to disapprove of “major” rules issued by federal agencies before the rules take effect. Congressional opponents could also attempt to delay or defund the CPP by adding riders to bills or, worse yet, seeking an outright amendment to the Clean Air Act.

Power Sector EmissionsLooking ahead to Paris, the controversy surrounding the CPP casts doubt on the feasibility of the U.S.’s mitigation pledge. In its INDC, the U.S. pledged an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 level in 2025. While the CPP is not the only step the U.S. is taking under its INDC to meets its mitigation pledge – investments to deploy clean energy technologies, standards to double the fuel economy of cars and light trucks, and steps to reduce methane pollution are also cited – implementation of the CPP is critical to achieve this mitigation target.

US GHGsThe importance of the Clean Power Plan for the U.S.’s role at COP 21 cannot be overstated – it is the “centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s climate policy agenda.” Not only that, announcement of the CPP continued momentum toward Paris that began a year ago with the U.S.-China bilateral agreement to reduce emissions, followed by the U.S.’s submission of its INDC in March, and the publication of the President’s Climate Action Plan this summer. Hopefully, the President’s decision to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday will give the U.S. negotiators “more wind at their back” at the upcoming climate talks.

“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it,” President Obama announcing EPA’s Clean Power Plan in August 2015.


ADP Co-Chairs Briskly Move Forward to Paris @UNFCCC #ADP2 #ConspiracyTheory

ICo-Chairsf the U.N. climate negotiations are like middle school, then Twitter is where the hallway gossip happens.

As the first day of the ADP 2-11 session wrapped up Monday, whispers of an alleged “U.S. conspiracy to sink Paris” began trending on Twitter.  The buzz made its way to the CAN International press briefing room when a ClimateWire reporter asked the panel to comment on a rumor that ADP Co-Chair Daniel Reifsnyder of the United States is sabotaging the upcoming COP 21 negotiations by butchering the draft Paris Agreement.

Liz Gallagher, leader of the climate diplomacy program at E3G, deftly fielded the question by defending the Co-Chairs’ work and pointing out that everyone is having a “love/hate” relationship with the draft—“it’s not just a North-South thing.” While her answer may not have quashed talk of a U.S. conspiracy to upset Paris, the exchange raises interesting questions about how parties are reacting to the Co-Chairs’ “non-paper” and the recent influx of INDCs.

As we’ve seen, many parties are not taking the sizable cuts to the 90-page Geneva Negotiating Text well.  Developing countries argue that the slimmer, 9-page draft ignores adaptation and finance, while developed countries find the draft’s mitigation goals too vague.  Dr. Saleemul Huq of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development told the same press briefing room Monday that the draft was “all hat and no trousers.”  Some believe the Co-Chairs’ aggressive edits to the draft text were “a deliberate attempt to temporarily ‘take some heat’ while ultimately putting pressure on the Group of 77.”

The “U.S. text” conspiracy theory was sparked in part by an article published by Business Standard, India’s leading business daily, entitled “Developed world’s climate change targets less than fair.”  The article references a report finding that the U.S. has committed to only a fifth of its “fair share” in its INDC while “almost all developing countries, including India and China, have taken on more than their fair share of the burden” through their INDCs.

While not suggesting that the U.S. is intentionally monkey wrenching Bonn, yesterday’s buzz-worthy report, “Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs,” supports India’s position that developed countries like the United States should do more to close the emission ambition gap.  The report finds that Japan, Russia, the EU, and the United States have the starkest gaps between their climate ambitions and their fair shares.

As evidenced by press room activity this week, ADP 2-11 news is moving quickly from hallways to headlines as parties’ reactions and positions are captured by the nearest smart phone user, posted to social media, and filtered through media outlets within hours.  While this process keeps negotiations transparent and informs the public – without carefully tracking the draft text, the Fair Shares report, INDCs, and other party communications – it’s easy to lose sight of what’s actually happening on the ground in Bonn.

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Outside the ADP negotiation rooms

IMG_0920Some days at UNFCCC negotiations, the glass looks more full outside the negotiating rooms.

Given the 4am revisions of the negotiation texts, meetings today started off slowly.  The ADP gathered in the late morning to acknowledge the new text, send the G77 and other negotiating groups off for coordination on it, and announce the afternoon and evening “spin off groups.” These smaller, more focused meetings are drafting sessions.  Under the UNFCCC rules of procedure, the Parties may choose to exclude observers.  On Day 2 of this penultimate ADP session, that’s precisely what happened.  So Parties met behind closed doors to work on four parts of the draft agreement (mitigation, finance, capacity building, and technology transfer) and the draft decision on Workstream 2 from 3pm till 9pm.

Good thing.  This gave civil society organizations (CSO) even more time to shine light on the UNFCCC Parties’ slow progress in achieving the Article 2 goal of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” One CSO project merits special attention.

Fair Share:  A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs was launched at the ADP negotiations on Day 2.  The review’s authors are “social movements, environmental and development NGOs, trade unions, faith and other civil society groups,” who “have come together to assess the climate commitments that have been put on the table through the UN climate negotiations.” (A full list of them may be read here.) Thefair shares bar graph methodology is straight forward and simple (two adjectives rarely applied to the UNFCCC):  compare a country’s historical GHG emissions to its INDC pledge filed during the last eight months.  Fair Shares does this number crunching bearing in mind the IPCC’s calculation that we have a limited global carbon budget remaining before catastrophic warming sets in. Reviewing the voluntary, nationally determined INDC pledges in this light, the review “seeks to ascertain whether the Paris Agreement will be ambitious enough and tolerably fair.”

In the end, the review recommends that the Paris Agreement should include:

  • Targets to reduce emissions in 2025, 2030, 2040 and 2050, working toward “near-zero emissions” by mid-century;
  • A “step-change” in international climate finance;
  • A “clear and fair plan to address the emissions gap through new cooperative action fuelled by scaled-up support from the developed countries that are most responsible.”

I will, if you will

IMG_0876 A comment in this week’s Nature concludes that the current route to Paris is too self-centered and not cooperative enough. Its authors, researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Maryland, and Cologne, advise UNFCCC Parties to focus on the common commitment to a global price of carbon.

Professor David MacKay of the University of Cambridge told the BBC that “the science of cooperation predicts that if all you are doing is naming individual contributions — offers that aren’t coupled to each other — then you’ll end up with a relatively poor outcome. If you make a treaty that is based on reciprocity, so ‘I will, if you will’ and ‘I won’t, if you won’t’, then you can end up in a very different position. If people make a common commitment that they will match what others do, then it becomes in your self interest to advocate a high level of action because it will apply not only to you but also to others.”

To achieve this international climate change mitigation cooperation, these researchers recommend that each UNFCCC Party commits to imposing charges on carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use sufficient to match an agreed global price. Each country could do so by its individual choice of tax or a cap-and-trade policies. The global price could be set by voting, thereby producing “a coalition of the willing.”

Bob Ward from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (the current home base for Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the well known Stern Review in 2007) finds the study’s conclusion “too pessimistic.” He told the BBC that “the authors are right that a global price on carbon is necessary, although it would be, on its own, insufficient to generate the pace and scale of action required.”

IMG_0874As we’ve chronicled this fall, UNFCCC Parties have been submitting their INDCs or intended nationally determined contributions to the Secretariat since March, 2015. INDCs are part of an overall “pledge and review” strategy put in place post Copenhagen (COP15) to entice all UNFCCC Parties to sign on to a new international climate change agreements that will follow the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. An October 1 deadline — set so that a technical report can be prepared and distributed three weeks before the COP21 negotiations begin — prompted all major GHG emitting countries and more than a hundred others to publicly announce their individual pledges on the UNFCCC portal. Recent calculations by several non-governmental organizations, like Climate Action Tracker, World Resources Institute, and Climate Interactive, show that these self-defined (and interested) declarations will not keep atmospheric warming below the UNFCCC’s current 2C goal.

The Nature comment ends on this note. “After decades of failure, a fresh approach is needed — one that is guided by the science of cooperation. A common price commitment would harness self-interest by aligning it with the common good. Nothing could be more fundamental.”


Looming deadlines – for INDCs and the Earth

With the October 1 deadline for all State Parties’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) looming, the UNFCCC submission portal for them has been heating up.  As of this writing, 82 State Parties have filed.

Switzerland, the EU, Norway, Mexico, and the United States were the first five in the door, submitting before the first quarter 2015 deadline for developed countries. By the World Resources Instituteclose of June, the world’s highest emitter, China, filed its 18-page INDC complete with mitigation, adaptation, and finance goals as well as detailed description of the national and subnational initiatives to reach them. It joined 10 other countries who submitted INDCs during the second quarter of 2015. This group included Russia and Australia.  Since then, 66 more countries who are UNFCCC State Parties have submitted INDCs, representing a wide variety of other developing and developed countries on every continent.  Now that Brazil and Indonesia have filed their INDCs, all but one of the top emitting countries – whether measured from 1850 or 1990 – have now publicly pledged actions at home and abroad to keep global warming to within the 2C limit announced at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico.  India is the lone hold out.

But have they announced contributions that will keep us below 2C?  All along, Climate Action Tracker has assessed the pledges in terms of what they do and don’t achieve in terms of GHG emissions mitigation and the global goal.   CAT rates each country in terms of sufficiency of pledges on a scale from “inadequate” to “role model.”  Thus far, no developed countries have earned the top title.  Only a handful have earned the white ribbon label of CAT_thermometer_20141207“medium,” along with specific direction on how to increase the ambition of their pledges.  Totaling INDCs filed by June 30, CAT concludes that if countries should do what they pledge, global warming would rise to 2.9 – 3.1C by 2100.  While this is an improvement over the business-as-usual (BAU) prediction of 4.1 – 4.8C and projections made on climate change mitigation policies currently in place of 3.6 – 4.2C, it still exceeds 2C and the 1.5C preferred by low lying island states threatened now by rising sea levels.

Yesterday’s New York Times echoed this theme under the headline “Limited Progress Seen Even as More Nations Step Up on Climate Change.”  It reports that Climate Interactive has released a scoreboard analyzing pledges made through September 29th.  The result?  Very similar to CAT’s thermometer reading above:  3.5C or half way between the pledges and the current COP21 logopolicy trends medians. (Full disclosure:  we’re darned proud and not at all unduly influenced to learn that Climate Interactive, which operates out of MIT, was founded by members of Norwich, Vermont-based Donella Meadows Institute.) U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is quoted as saying on Sunday “that Paris must be the floor, not the ceiling, for collective ambition.” Gavin A. Schmidt of NASA put it more colloquially.  Looking back on the last 40 years of environmental cleanup, he opined that “by the time people get 10, 15 years of actually trying to do something, that’s going to lead to greater expertise, better technology, more experience, people will then say, ‘Oh, you know what? We can commit to do more.’”

Oh, and the NYT closed with India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, promising its INDC on Oct. 1 —  the day before the country’s national celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.

 


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.


As goes California, so goes the Nation?

California solarJust a month after the U.S. submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCCC Secretariat, California Governor Jerry Brown has announced new, ambitious GHG emission mitigation goals for the state. While the U.S. is being chided internationally for its INDCs’ lack of mitigation and adaptation “ambition,” California is getting the limelight for stepping up.Brown’s executive order issued on April 29th “sharply speeds up this state’s already ambitious program” to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 (off the 1990 baseline emissions). This goal, ensconced in California’s first-in-the-nation climate change law, AB32, was viewed as visionary – if not unachievable – when enacted in 2006. Under this week’s order, the state will have the interim goal of reducing emission by 40% – the halfway point – by 2030.

In announcing the new target, Governor Brown highlighted its role in giving more precise direction to the energy industry and the state itself for making investment and regulatory decisions that move one of the top ten economies in the world toward its 2050 goal.

“It’s a real test,” Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said in a speech at an environmental conference in downtown Los Angeles. “Not just for California, not just for America, but for the world. Can we rise above the parochialisms, the ethnocentric perspectives, the immediacy of I-want-I-need, to a vision, a way of life, that is sustainable?”

But of course it comes at a cost. A recent study reports that to reach this new goal, California will need to double the energy efficiency of buildings and industry, source 50-60% of its electricity from wind and solar, and spur a significant increase in hybrid and zero-emission cars. It also projects that doing so will cost each Californian household $14/month.

With these targets, California becomes a major player in the upcoming COP21 negotiations in Paris, in the “ambition” company of the EU. Said Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary of the conference, “California’s announcement is a realization and a determination that will gladly resonate with other inspiring actions within the United States and around the globe. It is yet another reason for optimism in advance of the U.N. climate conference in Paris in December.”