Koronivia Joint Work Programme News Feed

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

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

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

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

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

What’s cooking in the COP24 kitchen?

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

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

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

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

“This is not a choice between one word or another.”

Today was the last day of the first week of COP24. The SBSTA plenary meeting began late, as expected. Many Parties are still attempting to find common ground on texts, which has delayed start times for plenaries.

During the SBSTA plenary, many Parties spoke about the need to accept the IPCC 1.5°C Report and make sure that the world does not see warming to 3°C. The report is part of SBSTA’s agenda item #6 on research and systematic observation. To the dismay of many countries in the room, paragraph 11 only “noted” the IPCC report. Thus the Maldives, on behalf of AOSIS, proposed to “welcome” it instead.  Parties discussed this language for more than an hour, because “note” connotes a weaker way of accepting this report.

This back and forth debate is what climate negotiators do: sit in meetings and small rooms all over the world to discuss the specific language that makes the international law of climate change.

Tonight, one negotiator spoke out about considering the lives of everyone. Rueanna La Toya Tonia Haynes, of Saint Kitts and Nevis, made a brilliant intervention about the IPCC and the acceptance of the report. Part of her speech is below:rueanna haynes

“This is not a choice between one word or another. This is us, as the UNFCCC, being in a position to welcome a report that we requested, that we invited the IPCC to prepare…If there is anything ludicrous about the discussion that is taking place, it is that we, in this body, are not in a position to welcome this report.”

After her intervention, she received a well-deserved round of applause. We, as lawyers, are often so caught up in language that we forget what brought us together in the first place. Sometimes we need an upfront and real speech to remind us of the important things. The UNFCCC is the body to help everyone confront and slow down the pace of climate change. To argue about this language in a report that essentially says we are running out of time is ludicrous. The UNFCCC should move forward and accept the report. After all, the UNFCCC did request it.

Ms. Haynes was steadfast and showed fearlessness while addressing her colleagues. Her tenacity and courage is what I hope others would show. I, too, am giving her a big round of applause. Well said, Ms. Haynes.

You can view the entire plenary here.

The Log-istics of Carbon Dioxide Removal

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


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

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

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

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

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

Money tree

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

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

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

Sometimes there is no turning back.

Green Climate Fund Approves $1B in New Projects

GCF logoOn October 21, 2018, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board concluded its 21st meeting by approving 19 new projects, totaling $1.038 billion. This board meeting comes right after the IPCC released the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR1.5) (which we posted on here and here) and a little over a month before COP24. As UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa told GCF Board Members at the start of their meeting, “Never has there been more need for multilateral cooperation. And never has finance played a more central role to the overall climate regime itself.”

GCF was set up by UNFCCC in 2010, as part of the Convention’s financial mechanism. When the GCF began to gather resources in 2014, developed countries, and some developing, pledged $10.3 billion. Initial mobilization lasts until 2018, while the Fund remains open for further contributions during this time from both public and private sources.

The GCF is designed to focus on climate change adaptation and mitigation, in part as a reaction to the broader mandate of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), the original operating entity of the UNFCCC’s financial mechanism. “The Fund pays particular attention to the needs of societies that are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, in particular Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and African States.” Another key point GCF makes is that “[o]ur innovation is to use public investment to stimulate private finance, unlocking the power of climate-friendly investment for low emission, climate resilient development. To achieve maximum impact, GCF seeks to catalyse funds, multiplying the effect of its initial financing by opening markets to new investments. The Fund’s investments can be in the form of grants, loans, equity or guarantees.”

Green Climate FundWhen addressing the importance of this most recent GCF Board meeting, Executive Secretary Espinosa underscored that its outcome will impact the outcome of COP24: “Success here means sending a clear and unmistakable message of trust to developing countries that they can have confidence in the process going forward.” Espinosa’s remarks were well taken as the GCF approved the 19 proposed projects. See the full list of approved projects and monetary breakdown here.

Her comments came after the preceding GCF Board meeting failed to deliver its mandate. This contentious July 2018 meeting resulted in the resignation of GCF Executive Director, Howard Bamseyand, and no new project approvals. Tensions ran high at this meeting for several reasons. The first two had a direct impact on the Fund’s bottom line: the United States decided in 2017 to halt $2 billion of its Obama administration $3 billion pledge and inflation rates reduced the present value of commitments made in 2014.  In addition, policy gaps for prioritizing the numerous applications whose requests exceed the GCF’s capitalization hampered Board Members’ ability to make the tough selection decisions. The GCF currently has $10 billion pledged out of the $100 billion promised for 2020.

The GCF has been plagued with issues and controversy for the past year. In February 2018, GCF had a green-climate-fund_WEBboard meeting that approved $1 billion in projects. Although the willingness of GCF to approve more projects is hopeful, civil society organizations and parties saw it as problematic, given that the GCF has difficulty dispersing money for projects already approved. As of December 2017, the fund has only released roughly $150 million, or less than 6% of the nearly $3 billion it had committed up to that point. The GCF reported in the February 2018 meeting that this funding is going toward the 18 projects that are under implementation. The Board had approved of 53 projects by the February meeting. So what is taking so long for the Board to disperse funding? Who is receiving this funding? And how is the GCF now reporting that there “39 projects under implementation, worth $1.6 billion in GCF resources that are being deployed as climate finance in support of developing countries’ climate ambitions under the Paris Agreement?” The jump from 18 to 39 projects under implementation in eight months seems either overambitious or over-reported. The biggest question here is how these 39 projects are receiving their funding after the turmoil of the GCF in the past eight months. To take from Espinosa’s remarks again, “The outcome of [the October Board meeting] of the GCF will impact those negotiations in Katowice.”

Looking toward COP24: The GCF submitted a report to the UNFCCC on Sept. 17, 2018, for consideration at the upcoming COP24. Table 14 included in its Annex VII lists all projects approved by the Board to receive funding from the GCF as of July 31, 2018. In this table, the GCF does not report what has been dispersed, only the GCF funding and total project value.

Local climate data at your finger tips


The scientists at Climate Analytics – the ones that gave us the invaluable Climate Action Tracker (CAT) – have done it again.

They have taken the global research and stats featured in the IPCC’s reports and scaled them down to more locally understandable and useful info. Thus far they have developed four online tools that allow you to learn how:

  1. the warming climate will affect staple crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa,
  2. the projections of local sea level rise for different warming levels,
  3. climate projections will affect extreme weather conditions at the African national and provincial levels, and
  4. to attribute global warming increases.

Bookmark this site, for Climate Analytics is due to publish more tools in the next few months.

IPCC 1.5C Report: Not drastic enough?

1.5v2Drastic.  Dire.  PainfulWorse than expected.  That’s how the media greeted last week’s release of the IPCC’s analysis of the impact of a 1.5C vs. 2C degree increase in global atmospheric temperature.

As our blog has analyzed already, the IPCC’s report offers pathways for avoiding some of the climate change consequences likely at a 2C degree rise while at the same time achieving sustainable development outcomes that help achieve climate justice.

But this op-ed in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists challenges the IPCC and argues that the new report didn’t go far enough.

Nobel prize in chemistry winner Mario Molina, 2013 UN Champion of Earth Veerabhadran Ramanathan, and IGSD founder Durwood Zaelke point out several omissions and conclude that “to put it bluntly, there is a significant risk of self-reinforcing climate feedback loops pushing the planet into chaos beyond human control.”

These oversights include:

  • Not accounting for self-reinforcing feedbacks and tipping points, which the authors call “the wildcards of the climate system” and
  • Not discussing the 5% risk that existing levels of climate pollution, in and of themselves, could result in locked in and runaway warming (the “fat tail” risk)

In the end, the op-ed worries that the IPCC’s 1.5C report “may mislead world leaders into thinking they have more time to address the climate crisis” while also pointing out the Churchill-ian challenge before them.

IPCC special report leaves the world in dire straits

In response to an invitation from the Parties of the Paris Agreement (PA), and pursuant to the Article 2 efforts to limit temperature increases well below 2°C, the IPCC prepared a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), released Monday, 8 October, 2018.

Climate scientists sounded the alarm yet again, painting a dire picture of the future without immediate and drastic mitigation and adaptation measures worldwide.  High confidence statements made by the panel include:

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 3.58.11 PM

  • Human activities have caused approximately 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels
  • Current global warming trends reach at least 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052
  • Staying below the 1.5°C threshold will require a 45% reduction in GHG emissions from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net-zero by 2050
  • Pathways to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot will require removal of an additional 100-1000 GtCO2

Pathways of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions submitted under the PA will not limit global warming to 1.5°C.  Current pathways put us on target for 3°C by 2100, with continued warming afterwards.

The ENB Report summarizing SR15 was able to shine a light on the good that can come from responses to this special report (not to mention upholding the ambition intended with the PA).  SR15 shows that most of the 1.5°C pathways to avoid overshoot also help to achieve Sustainable Development Goals in critical areas like human health or energy access. Ambitious emission reductions can also prevent meeting critical ecosystem thresholds, such as the projected loss of 70-90% of warmer water coral reefs associated with 2°C.

Groups like the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are intensifying their adaptive scientific support through a “fully-integrated, ‘seamless’ Earth-system approach to weather, climate, and water domains,” says Professor Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist of the WMO.  This “seamless” approach allows leading climate scientists to use their advanced data assimilation and observation capabilities to deliver knowledge in support of human adaptations to regional environmental changes.  By addressing extreme climate and weather events through a holistic Earth-system approach, predictive tools will help enhance early warning systems and promote well being by giving the global community a greater chance to adapt to the inevitable hazardous events related to climate change.

WRI Graph

Success ultimately depends on international cooperation, which will hopefully be encouraged by the IPCC’s grim report and the looming PA Global Stocktake (GST) in 2023.  In the wake of devastating hurricanes, typhoons, and the SR15, it’s hard to ignore both the climate and leading climate scientists urging us to take deliberate, collective action to help create a more equitable and livable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.

In Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20 decides to convene a “facilitative dialogue” among the Parties in 2018, to take stock in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4 of the PA.  Later renamed the Talanoa Dialogue, these talks have set preparations into motion and are helping Parties gear up for the formal GST, with the aim of answering three key questions: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How will we get there?

Discussion about the implications of SR15 will be held at COP24, where round table discussions in the political phase of the dialogue will address the question, “how do we get there?”

It won’t be by continuing business as usual.


Seas the Day

Living along the bottom of the seabed are the hydrothermal vents. These vents exist in environments under immense pressure, with volatile temperatures, toxic minerals, and devoid of sunlight. As the tectonics plates spread and magma rises, hydrothermal vents form. They are created when seawater circulates through fissures in the ocean’s crust and becomes super-heated by magma. After the mineral-rich waters reemerge, the minerals solidify to to form vents. These vents are the homes of biodiverse ecosystems and valuable mineral deposits. Thus, it is a target for scientific research, the biotechnology industry, and mining companies.download

Even these deep sea communities are affected by climate change. Ocean temperatures are rising because the ocean acts as a buffer, sequestering excess heat in the atmosphere. The rising temperature stresses food chains that deep sea organisms rely upon, increases ocean acidification, and deoxygenates the ocean. Deep sea hydrothermal vents have unique properties that are especially relevant to mitigating climate change impacts.

Hydrothermal vents are a cornucopia of scientific potential in addressing climate change. These vents have evolved a plethora of uniquely evolved organisms that advance mitigation efforts in the climate change arena, aid in the clean-up of oils spills, and have potential applications to the medical field. For example, vent organisms have the ability to consume consume 90% of the released methane. In the atmosphere, methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. These qualities have been put to use in creating industrial carbon-scrubbers.

While hydrothermal vents pose a significant aid in mitigating climate change, it is under threat from exploration and mining. Deep seabed mining involves exploiting mineral deposits from the seabed, such as though primarily found at hydrothermal vent sites. This “deep sea gold rush” has driven many industries to begin see the deep sea as a source of profit. As a result, Companies from around the world have claimed almost all of the Atlantic ridge, spanning from below the equator up to the polar caps. Seabed mining requires highly disruptive and damaging processes that have the ability to irreversibly alter hydrothermal vent ecosystems.DSM-infographic

 Currently, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted numerous exploration licenses for the ocean floor. The ISA requires “responsible” exploration of the seabed and applies new technologies to monitor the environmental impacts of mining. However, even if the best available science were applied to mining the deep seabed, it is virtually certain that deep sea mining “would be disproportionately high relative to terrestrial mining.” This is because a complete mining project would require the killing of invertebrate communities and create sediment plumes that would disturb thousands of miles of seafloor.

Thus, a more robust governing system is needed. Luckily, international organizations have stepped up in this arena. One such organization is the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI). DOSI works to identify priority management needs for resources in the deep ocean, is developing a set of best practice standards for sustainable use and development, raise awareness, and compile scientific date. DOSI focuses upon aiding developing countries in generating policies that protect and manage deep ocean resources like hydrothermal vents. Organizations like DOSI provide feasible alternatives policies and management strategies for development. These alternatives are crucial when dealing with sensitive, valuable, and unique ecosystems.download (1)

Getting serious about 1.5°C

ap_611245925978_wide-0d885fdde8a9b22d1501efec383f5eb03654796c-s900-c85As we reported earlier, the historic Paris Agreement of December 2015 established a long-term temperature goal to keep global temperature increase “well below 2°C” and to undertake efforts to limit that increase to 1.5°C, “recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

The COP21 decision adopting the Agreement included an invitation to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) “to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.”Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 4.44.05 PM

The impacts on lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems is likely be quite different between a 2°C and a 1.5°C increase. And, while scientists have been characterizing the former for some time, too few studies have focused on a 1.5°C hotter world. So, this report will be very critical for policymakers.

The IPCC accepted the COP’s invitation in April and established an 11-member Steering Committee for the Special Report from among its top officials. A scoping meeting of more than 80 experts nominated from around the world was held in Geneva last week (August 15-18) to draft a Scoping Paper “describing the objectives and an annotated outline of the Special Report as well as the process and timeline for its preparation.” Carbon Brief, in reporting occgraph1n the meeting, characterized part of the message from Dr. Hoesung Lee, IPCC Chair, to the gathered experts this way: “[T]he report will need to spell out what’s to be gained by limiting warming to 1.5°C, as well as the practical steps needed to get there within sustainability and poverty eradication goals.”

Outcomes of the 1.5°C Special Report scoping meeting will be presented to the IPCC’s 44th Session in October, and once the report structure is approved, “a call for authors” for each chapter will go out.

It has become clear for many, though, that limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C is pretty much impossible at this point. In fact, based on IPCC carbon budget data (originally crunched in 2015) and assuming current levels of CO2 emissions, Carbon Brief concludes that there is a 66% chance we’ll reach that 1.5°C increase in just 5 years.carboncountdown

This IPCC report certainly won’t come too soon!

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.










The significance of defined consensus

Given the defined divide in country specific stakeholders concerns, along with the lens of personal circumstances and beliefs, that promotes a heterogeneity of perspective among COP21 participants, the ultimate success in Paris may rely on the establishment of an agreeable definition of consensus.


In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the word “consensus” is used three times, once in Article 7(k) and twice in Article 15. In the first use, consensus is not defined but rather provides the defining boundary for the adoption of “rules of procedure and any financial rules,” as these relate to the establishment of the Conference of Parties. In Article 15 paragraph 3, consensus is referenced as the basis of implementing amendments to the Convention; however, again it is not explicitly defined. Instead, the proportion that constitutes consensus can be inferred as being greater than 75%, based on the parameters provided for action in the absence of noted consensus.

If all efforts at consensus have been exhausted, and no agreement reached, the amendment shall as a last resort be adopted by a three-fourths majority vote of the Parties present and voting at the meeting. The adopted amendment shall be communicated by the secretariat to the Depositary, who shall circulate it to all Parties for their acceptance. (Article 15, paragraph 3)

As noted by Jesse Vogel, specific to the UNFCCC and the Convention, consensus “does not mean complete unanimity. Often it is defined in the negative – the absence of ‘stated objection,’ or of ‘express opposition,’ leaving wiggle room when it comes to defining just what explicit objection looks like. And sometimes, “consensus” can be declared despite the express objection of some.” The lack of clarity of defining what constitutes consensus has been a point of concern for many observers and participants.

La Viña and Guiao comment, “There is, after all, a profound difference between having the agreement of all Parties, and hearing no objections from any of them.” The latter aspect is not necessarily consistent with consensus and in review of prior COP meetings is attributed by some to purposely-deafened ears.


At COP21, the common values of stakeholders will do much to promote a singular foundation for discussion. However, the inclusion, acknowledgement, acceptance, and ultimately overt compromise related to the differences between the national interests represented by meeting participants will be the defining elements of the legacy of the meetings, and the implementation of consensus will play a significant role.

Mind the [Ambition] Gap

mind the gap


When stepping onto the Underground in London, a voice rings out, “Mind the gap.” Perhaps this should also be echoing through the halls of the COP20 venue in Lima, Peru, this week. The pre-2020 ambition gap is often stated in terms of what must be done differently from business as usual to keep GHGs from warming the global temperature 2°C (relative to pre-industrial levels) before the year 2020.

The most recent IPCC Report (AR5) states with high confidence that there are opportunities through mitigation, adaptation and integrated responses to narrow this gap. The ADP meetings held in Lima during this session are ripe with discussions of interim measures to be taken prior to the next year’s Paris COP21. On Tuesday, the Parties discussed a draft text which is set to accelerate implementation of climate action. Over the next 10 days, Parties will negotiate which gap-closing measures they are willing to take.

Parties are looking to negotiate specific texts and elements, while in Lima, that can be solidified at the upcoming COP21 in Paris; without concrete commitments in place upon leaving Lima next week, it will be very difficult to give Congresses, Parliaments and other governing bodies time to ‘okay’ these commitments before COP21.  Many Parties have voiced that it is very late to still be negotiating texts for the Paris agreement – yet the negotiations must continue.andina

Any agreement signed in Paris next year will become effective in 2020.  This leaves a ‘gap’ of the next five years – many Parties are already suffering from climate change and are calling for a developed nations to make commitments now.  The opening session of the ADP on Tuesday allowed G77+China to lead the way in calling for accelerated action by developed countries through financing and technology transfer for developing countries.  Although it is early in the process, Parties seem to be mindful, at least, that there is gap.


No Need to Re-Invent the Wheel

At today’s side event forum, hosted by the Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), panel members called for governments to stand behind the CDM. Comprised of Executive Board members of the CDM, renowned representatives from the Parties and the private sector, World Bank and Green Climate Fund (GCF) the message was clear, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. “We need to work with what we have,” said Phillip Hauser of the GCF.

Despite current funding issues, panelists made the case that governments already have a powerful tool in the CDM that they can use now. Following the central message from the 81st meeting of the CDM Executive Board, panelists urged governments to release the full potential of CDM for strong climate action. “We urge countries in Lima [ ]and in Paris next year to renew their commitment to the CDM,” said CDM Executive Board Chair Hugh Sealy. “This is one of the most effective instruments governments have created under the United Nations Climate Change Convention. It drives and encourages emission reductions, climate finance, technology transfer, capacity building, sustainable development, and adaptation—everything that countries themselves are asking for from the new Paris agreement,” he said. Countries need to set a strong market signal to ensure the stability of the CDM. “They can do this by increasing their demand for Certified Emission Credits (CERs) before 2020, by recognizing the value that the CDM can add to emerging emission trading systems, and by recognizing the mechanism’s obvious value in the international response to climate change after the new agreement takes force in 2020,” he said.

Acknowledging that the CDM is far from perfect, Sealy said that the “learning by doing” mantra has provided valuable insight into building on the success of the market mechanism. As the largest, most widely recognized baseline and crediting mechanism in the world, the CDM has the potential to reduce 2.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by the end of 2020. Over the past nine years, the CDM has reduced over 1.5 gigatonnes of emissions and saved $3.6 billion in Kyoto Protocol compliance costs. In addition, the CDM has encouraged $138 billion in climate finance, leveraging privately 10 times the amount of public investment. Compatibility---Wind-And-Agricultural-Farming450px copy

However, despite the success of the CDM, the demand for CDM is plummeting. This year saw a continuing decline in the size of the CDM program, which had about a tenth of the number of registered projects in the preceding reporting periods, said Dirk Forrister, President of International Trading Association.  As Sealy explained, the demand from traditional markets (especially the European Union Emission Trading System) has contracted severely, with the spot price of a secondary CDM CER crashing from over 30 USD in 2008 to around USD 0.30 in 2014. Investment in new CDM projects is almost non-existent and significant hemorrhaging in the private sector is occurring. The price drop in CERs has lead to a decreased incentive to continue projects and develop capacity. Ultimately, “all this jeopardized the long-term partnerships of the UNFCCC Parties and the private sector, in the midst of a growing need for global climate action.

Increased demand is the key to addressing the CDM’s current challenge, said Sealy. The CDM is too valuable to discard, especially now that we have figured out most of the kinks, said Forrister.