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.

We are working on it!

Island in the oceanAttending COP23 as an observer is a privilege because you are able to attend international multilateral negotiations. You witness established alliances use their power as a block and observe the dynamics of side negotiations. In these international multilateral negotiations, delegates agonize over words and paragraphs. They set their lines in the sand early and often. All of it done with diplomatic speak and collegiality but sometimes some get close to stepping over the line. Most of all, it is a privilege because you get to see the world trying to solve a problem collectively. With all this privilege, there is no denying that at times, these negotiations are frustrating. On rare occasions, the frustration causes one to think that the process is not working.

In a conversation with a delegate, I asked whether he is experiencing such frustration. Stalled talks are particularly challenging for him because he is from a Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which the United Nations considers as vulnerable nations because of climate change effect.  SIDS are usually located in the paths of hurricanes, which are happening with more frequency and more force. In the summer of 2017, for the first time, this delegate’s country issued mandatory evacuations from one of the outlying islands because no available shelter was adequate against the wrath of the coming storm. In the aftermath, the island became uninhabitable.

Additionally, SIDS are very vulnerable to rising sea levels. If water levels continue to rise, the oceans will soon reclaim these islands. Their challenge is their reluctance to make these issues public. Because their economy is dependent on tourism, climate change effects will drive off tourists, which will hurt an already fragile economy.

To answer my question, the delegate simply smiled. Then he started looking around at the other delegates and asked how many countries are represented. I told him there are delegates from 170 countries. He asked what are they all doing here? I told him that they are working on climate change issues. He replied with an even bigger smile, “exactly!” and repeated shortly after– We are working on it.

It is true that the COP process is complicated. One is instantly overwhelmed by the structure. There are three processes contained within the COP (UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement). Furthermore, each convention, protocol, or agreement has its own framework, and they sometimes intersect with each other. Having said that, the complexity of the process really lies in the magnitude of participants. At last count, there are one hundred and seventy countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement. These countries represent different needs, levels of development, levels of ability, and a different sense of urgency. Even with the common shared goal of limiting the increase in the Planet’s average temperature, the complexity is how to arrive at the desired results. In other words, who does what and who pays for what is the main source of difficulty at the COP negotiations, but…..

We are working on it!


Negotiation agenda

Future of the Adaptation Fund: Developing Countries vs. Developed Countries

adaptation-fund-logoThe Adaptation Fund (AF) is a mechanism created through the Marrakesh Accords but funded through the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) described in the Kyoto Protocol. The intention of the COP in the creation of the AF is the facilitation and funding of adaptation projects in developing countries to strengthen their resistance to climate change. Two percent of the funds invested in CDMs go to the Adaptation Fund where the money can then be divvied out to developing countries when they send in proposals. But the Kyoto Protocol was only intended to last ten years. Enacted in 2010, the Kyoto Protocol will reach its end in 2020 and with the end of the Kyoto Protocol comes the end of CDMs, and thus the end of the funding for the Adaptation Fund.

At COP23 there have been significant concerns about the future of the Adaptation Fund, where future funding will come from, and if that means the Fund will operate in the same manner as before. But these issues, as most do, draw a dividing line between developing countries and developed countries. In the most recent review of the Adaptation Fund in COP23, developing countries continued to emphasize the critical nature of the Fund in providing critical finasudanncial assistance as these countries attempt to adapt to the increasing effects of climate change. Many developing countries have emphasized the need for the increase in the scope of the Adaptation Fund, finding the review of the Adaptation Fund Board too narrow and limiting the abilities of these countries to acquire necessary funding. Developing countries also emphasized the need for certain aspects of the Fund that have caused them concern. This includes predictability, adequacy, and consistency. In particular, the Least Developed Countries negotiating group advocated for a further integration of the Adaptation Fund into the Paris Agreement in order to facilitate the continuance of the Fund and the assistance it provides to the LDCs.

Developed countries, on the other hand, had little opinions on the continuation of the Adaptation Fund. In the Marrakesh Accords, the purpose of the Fund was intended to assist in developing countries on their climate change resilience initiatives. No benefit was gleaned by the developed countries in the implementation of this Fund. And they will glean no benefit from the continuance of this Fund under the Paris Agreement. But there was no equal assessment in how to address the Adaptation Fund from the perspectives of the developed countries. Some countries enjoyed the small-scale implementation techniques that function well through the Adaburkina_faso_tearfund1_1ptation Fund. Other countries advocated for the continuous improvement of the Adaptation Fund to reinforce the constantly changing needs of developing countries. Overall, developed nations appeared to be ambivalent towards the Adaptation Fund and its future; striving forward to complete the agenda item with as little fanfare as possible.

The future could be bright for the Adaptation Fund. It has the ability to further the needs of developing countries to reduce the damage sustained in the ever-increasing extreme weather and natural disasters the world is facing. But if actions aren’t taken in COP23 and future COPs then when the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2020 those funds will be out of view for the vulnerable countries that need it.

The Sustainable Development Mechanism AKA The New Carbon Market Mechanism



Photo Source: IBNLive

The Sustainable Development Mechanism is a new mitigation mechanism established in Art. 3 ter of the draft Paris Agreement. The purpose of this mechanism is to “promote the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions [in developing country Parties] while fostering sustainable development….” In order to achieve its goals, the mechanism provides incentives for successfully mitigating GHG emissions. Under this mechanism, Parties that contribute to the reduction of GHG emissions in a host country Party can benefit from their mitigation activities by using the resulting emission reductions to fulfill their own mitigation ambition requirements.

Overall, the structure of the Sustainable Development Mechanism closely resembles the Clean Development Mechanism, which is the carbon market mechanism in the Kyoto Protocol. Carbon markets and offsets were created under Art. 6 of the Kyoto Protocol, which states that “…any Party included in Annex I may transfer to, or acquire from, any other such Party emission reduction units resulting from projects aimed at reducing anthropogenic emissions by sources or enhancing anthropogenic removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in any sector of the economy….” Additionally, the Clean Development Mechanism was established under Art. 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, which provides a process for handling all of the carbon credits created under Art. 6.


Photo Source: YaleNews

Ultimately, the major difference between the new Sustainable Development Mechanism from the Clean Development Mechanism is that carbon markets will no longer be limited to developed country Parties. Instead, all Parties will be able to participate in this mechanism. Expanding the scope of a carbon market mechanism to allow all types of Parties to participate in transferring mitigation GHG reductions is unprecedented. We don’t know how all Parties will use this mechanism or how successfully it will address sustainable development issues. Therefore, a  s a successful Paris Outcome appears to be on the horizon, this new carbon market mechanism is one more aspect of the Agreement that will be worth watching develop.



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!


Hot and Bothered

earth on fireThis title appeared today on the Economist’s report on climate change in red hot capital letters wrapped around a vulnerable-looking Earth.

I think it better sums up the report’s tone than its substance.

While the Economist points to IPCC graphs to back up its scientific facts, it totally lacks the global scientific body’s analytical nuance. Instead the report trots out more than a few blanket statements that overshoot the mark, like:

  •  the Kyoto Protocol “had achieved little and become unworkable; its passing was not much lamented”
  • COP21’s “fragmented, voluntary approach avoids the debate that had paralysed climate talks for years, about whether the burden of cutting greenhouse gases should be carried just by the rich world or spread more widely.”

In doing so, this widely read publication shows its short sightedness.  The first commitment period IMG_0876(2008-12) of the Kyoto Protocol not only achieved its overall mitigation target of 5%, but set up the kind of legal, finance, and governance structures that now surround national and international markets for carbon trading.  The last three years of ADP debate about the “Paris Package” to be adopted at COP21 in a fortnight has anything but avoided debate about CBDR (common but differentiated responsibilities), the core enviro equity principle at play in these 196-party negotiations. Anyone reading the current draft negotiation text or reading the global headlines on adaptation and finance pledges pre-COP21 can see this fact.

To be fair, the Economist takes some provocative positions that merit consideration and debate, like:

• “Paying for yet more wind turbines and solar panels is less wise than paying for research into the technologies that will replace them.”
• Mankind “will have to adapt, in part by growing crops that can tolerate heat and extreme weather, in part by abandoning the worst-affected places.”
• “More research is required on deliberately engineering the Earth’s atmosphere in order to cool the planet.”

But it would foster more serious attention to them with less cheek – and less quoting of climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg of the “Copenhagen Consensus Centre.”


Past as Prologue? Joint Implementation and the Future for Flexibility Mechanisms

TradingA recent report by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) raises some serious questions about the integrity of the Joint Implementation (JI) program, one of the Kyoto Protocol’s main flexibility mechanisms. Since flexibility mechanisms are a core part of Geneva Negotiating Text, this report raises the question of how the UNFCCC will learn from its past mistakes as it enters into the new, post-2020 agreement.

JI is one of three flexibility mechanisms created under the Kyoto Protocol (KP) to assist Annex I Parties in meeting their emission reduction targets. JI allows Annex I countries to meet their targets by purchasing emission reduction units (ERUs) countries.  The JI program design is a creature of the changing political landscape of Europe in the early 1990s. Most JI projects transferred ERUs from Economies in Transition (EIT) countries to other Annex 1 countries in Europe. EITs were the Russian Federation and the former Soviet bloc countries emerging from communism in the early 1990s.

The KP built special exemptions into the JI program to help EITs in their transition to a market-based economic system. Decades of central planning left the EITs with inefficient and outdated manufacturing and energy production facilities that could not compete in the EU marketplace. To give the EITs an advantage, the KP let them set their emission baselines at or before 1990 levels. Since their pre-1990 emissions were significantly higher than their post-1990 emissions, the EITs immediately had a surplus of ERUs to sell into the JI market. As of March 2015, almost 872 million ERUs have been transferred through the JI program with four countries – Ukraine, Russia, Poland, and Germany – accounting for 94% of ERUs issued.

The SEI report indicates “significant environmental integrity concerns” for 80% of the ERUs from Ukraine and Russia. What are these concerns?  The main concern is the faulty determination of a JI project’s “newness” of emission reductions.  One of JI’s key requirements is additionality, which means that the emissions reduction would not have occurred without the project. The SEI report revealed that additionality claims were not plausible for 43% of the projects and 73% of the ERUs. For example, seventy-eight projects received credits for preventing the spontaneous combustion of coal waste piles, projects that cannot plausibly produce additional emissions reductions. The report estimates that unqualified JI projects resulted in an extra 600 million t CO2e of global GHG emissions from 2008-12, the first commitment period of the Protocol. How did this happen?  One main reason given was that host countries established their own lenient rules, without international oversight, for approving projects and ERUs.

This happened because KP rules allow JI projects to be approved under two very different tracks. Track 1 allows host countries approve and issue ERUs and determine if the reductions meet the additionality requirement. Track 2 gives the Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee, an UNFCCC body, the power to review projects and requests for ERU issuance and to certify JI auditors. 97% of the ERUs have been issued under Track 1, demonstrating the JI program design incentivizes countries to self-approve non-additional reductions.

Flexibility mechanisms are going to be a crucial element in getting Parties to agree to a post-2020 agreement in Paris, but they need to change how they measure and verify reductions. The SEI report lists a number of options to improve reporting and measurement practices including improving the program’s transparency by making all documentation publicly available, implementing an internationally accepted verification methodology, and banning the practice of retroactively crediting projects. These recommendations need to be implemented in the post-2020 agreement. The past doesn’t need to be the prologue for Paris and beyond.

It’s plane to sea: COP21 should address international aviation and shipping

International aviation and shipping account for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The aviation sector already emits as much as Germany, and emissions are set to triple by 2050. Similarly, shipping currently contributes almost 3% of global emissions—a number projected to grow between 50 and 250% by 2050. To date these sectors have largely passed under the radar in terms of compliance with global emissions targets and reductions. But many see COP21 as a prime opportunity to set ambitious emissions targets for these sectors in line with the limiting the global temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius.

The Kyoto Protocol exempted aviation and maritime “bunker fuels” from emission reduction commitments. Article 2.2 directed Annex I parties to “pursue limitation or reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol from aviation and marine bunker fuels, working through the International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO] and the International Maritime Organization [IMO], respectively.” This left responsibility for international aviation and maritime bunker fuels with UN Specialized Agencies—the ICAO and IMO—rather than with individual countries. Many think these agencies have dropped the ball: while other sectors are decoupling from carbon emissions, aviation and shipping are consuming an increasing share of the global carbon budget.

Source: Creative Commons, Flickr

A recent Business Green article highlights how the ICAO and IMO’s “progress has been slow.” Since the 1997 Kyoto summit these organizations have only implemented “a handful of measures” focused on emissions. In 2011, the IMO adopted energy efficiency design standards for new ships, but new ships are already exceeding these standards. While the IMO is working on developing a global data collection system for monitoring ship emissions, the organization resists calls for an overall emissions target. Meanwhile, the ICAO has set a target for “carbon neutral growth” by 2020, but has thus far not released details about how the organization plans to achieve this target. This slow progress is causing pressure to mount as the Paris climate negotiations approach.

A new paper from the New Climate Economy points to the huge potential for fuel efficiency gains in the aviation and shipping sectors. Improved efficiency would provide two-fold benefits: cut costs and reduced emissions, by as much as 0.9 Gt CO2e annually by 2030. With economic and environmental benefits alike, it makes sense that aviation and shipping should be at the table in upcoming global climate negotiations.

The most recent draft of the UN’s negotiation text highlights “the need for global sectoral emissions reduction targets for international aviation and maritime transport” and the need for parties to work through the ICAO and IMO “on developing global policy frameworks for meeting these targets.” Whether this language will last through the final agreement has yet to be determined. For now aviation and shipping remain the two “elephants in the room” at COP21.

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.



From Lima to Paris: The Road Ahead to COP21/CMP11

This post was written by Vermont Law School COP20/CMP10 Observer Delegation members Archer Christian, Catherine Craig, Rebecca Davidson, Carla Santos, Cynthia Sirois, and Professor Tracy Bach.


From left to right: Cynthia Sirois, Tracy Bach, Catherine Craig, Archer Christian, Rebecca Davidson, and Carla Santos.

As the action in Lima comes to a close, the question becomes: What has COP20/CMP10 set into play for the negotiations in Paris next year? This COP was styled as an action-oriented one that would build on the “nuts and bolts” program of COP19 in Warsaw. In Lima, the Warsaw mandate tasked parties with further defining the elements of the new international agreement that would be codified in the Paris Agreement at COP21 and then take effect in 2020, as the Kyoto Protocol sunsetted. In doing so, Lima would mark the significant transition from the 1997 Protocol’s “binary approach” of internationally imposed greenhouse gas (GHG) emission mitigation commitments on developed countries only, to an all-in, “bottom up” approach of nationally determined contributions that, when tallied, would achieve the internationally agreed climate stabilization goal set out in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.

The Vermont Law School COP20/CMP10 Observer Delegation chronicled four critical parts of the Lima discussions, namely the next steps under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM); preserving forest “sinks” by building on the Warsaw Framework for REDD+; refinements to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), one of the Kyoto Protocol’s “flexible mechanisms” that allows developed countries to fund GHG reduction projects in developing countries and credit those reductions against their own mitigation caps; and decisions of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), the fulcrum for pivoting from the existing treaty regime for mitigation targets to one that goes beyond mitigation goals and binds all Convention parties. Having blogged about our daily experiences at COP20/CMP10, this summary of these four, key components of the Lima talks reflects on the overall process and outcomes and what it means for la route à Paris and COP21/CMP11.

Beyond adaptation: Loss and Damage experienced now by the poorest countries

The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) was established at COP19 last year to recognize and begin to address the particular needs of those countries most vulnerable to loss and damage. Millions of people around the globe will experience the kind of certain and permanent losses that surpass their ability to adapt to climate change. Earlier this year, Kiribati bought land in Fiji for its anticipated climate refugees, the first nation to do so. At COP19, the UNFCCC Parties gave themselves a deadline for finalizing the Mechanism’s Executive Committee and two-year workplan in Lima.

At COP20/CMP10, the December 5th SBSTA/SBI combined recommendation to the COP contained approval of the two-year workplan submitted by the interim Executive Committee before the COP and three different proposals for the makeup of the permanent Executive Committee. In the end, the Parties agreed to an Executive Committee composition of 10 non-Annex I Party members and 10 Annex I Party members. Eight of the non-Annex I Party members are stipulated in the decision: two each from the African, Asia-Pacific, and the Latin American and Caribbean States, and one each from Small Island Developing Sates and Least Developed Country Parties. The two remaining non-Annex 1 slots are not designated.

Interestingly, the final Executive Committee composition looks like a new equation for a UNFCCC mechanism. The related Adaptation Committee is made up of 16 members, with representatives of the 5 UN regional groups (2 each), SIDS (1), LDCs (1), Non-Annex I (2) and Annex I Parties (2).) Some observers wished for greater explicit LDC and AOSIS representation on the permanent WIM Executive Committee, despite the fact that the two undesignated non-Annex I seats could potentially go to these groups. At least the WIM work can now begin.

The larger question asked repeatedly in the final 36 hours of COP20/CMP10 was how deeply anchored the concept of loss and damage generally, or the WIM specifically, would be in the ADP decision that lays the groundwork for COP21’s Paris agreement. The absence of both in the draft ADP decision text published early Saturday morning (Dec. 13) caused most developing countries’ refusal to agree to that document. Despite the fact that loss and damage can be found in the “Elements for a draft negotiating text” referenced in the draft decision’s Annex, the multiple options for how it might be addressed range from deeply anchored to not included at all. In the end, the final text accepted by consensus in the wee hours of Sunday morning referred to progress on the WIM in the preamble only. With this section’s language having no legal force, Parties’ comments made after acceptance and included in the meeting’s official record made it clear that a Paris agreement is expected to and would have to go further.

The nitty gritty of using REDD+ to “sink” carbon in the world’s forests

The Warsaw Framework for REDD+ adopted at COP19/CMP9 included seven decisions that build on the Cancun Agreement on REDD+ established at COP16/CMP6. The REDD+ Framework includes decisions on national forest monitoring systems; safeguards; forest reference emission levels; measuring, reporting and verification (MRV); results-based financing; drivers of deforestation and forest degradation; and an information hub on the UNFCCC web platform for publishing results information. Importantly for COP20/CMP10, the safeguards decision required developing country parties to start providing summary information in their national communication, including via the web platform of the UNFCCC, after implementation of REDD+ activities begins.

At COP20/CMP10, with the $10 billion Green Climate Fund 2014 goal met, REDD+ projects are already lining up around the block for funding. The question remains whether safeguards and methodological guidelines will be put in place in order to protect the rights of forest communities who will be impacted by these projects. At COP 20, SBSTA made no progress on the Warsaw REDD+ framework on safeguards.   During SBSTA negotiations, the Philippines, Sudan, the EU, Bolivia and the US advocated for developing further guidance on safeguards, but Panama, on behalf of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, said that now is the time to implement REDD+, not to develop further guidelines.

Yet many side events at COP20/CMP10 highlighted the necessity of developing safeguards. During a side event, Looking Forward: REDD+ Post 2015,  Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People, spoke of a dire need to create governance structures that would protect indigenous people during implementation of REDD+ projects. Notably, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) reported that REDD+ can lead to reduced access to natural resources and land tenure insecurity for locals.  CIFOR presented evidence that in order for REDD+ to offer non-carbon benefits, and indeed for it to accomplish its goal of curbing both deforestation and emissions, public participation should be integrated into the REDD+ framework under SBSTA, pursuant to principles of free, prior and informed consent.

Looking ahead to COP 21 in Paris, it is clear that REDD+ will continue to be a debated issue between indigenous people and project developers. Perhaps, because REDD+ is a market-based solution to climate change, it will always fall short of what is socially just. Regardless, REDD+ is moving forward on a global scale, and human rights advocates will continue to call for close monitoring of its interactions with local communities.

Cleaning up the CDM with an eye toward life post Kyoto Protocol

ADP Parties came to Lima with an important agenda: ensure that the clean development mechanism (CDM, for short) modalities and procedures were improved. However, little progress was made in the SBI and SBSTA meetings held during the first week – in fact, most of the mandates and analysis were further postponed to both subsidiary bodies’ forty-second and subsequent sessions (FCCC/SBI/2014/L.35, FCCC/SBI/2014/L.31, and FCCC/SBSTA/2014/L.24). The second week started with the CMP negotiations for a CDM draft decision. Besides providing further rules to key CDM issues, the CMP decision also aimed to guide the CDM Executive Board for the coming year. The CMP negotiations lasted three days, with many hours of long debates and tireless disagreements. Countries were clearly divided in two groups, even though some members often shifted from one side to another. Brazil and the European Union, one of the biggest CDM host countries and the biggest CDM regional market, respectively, expressed opposite opinions about several of the key issues, including voluntary cancellation of emission reductions units (CERs) and double-counting concerns.

Yet the negotiations concluded on Wednesday night. After the Parties finished the third read of the draft text, the CMP convened again at 9 pm. At that point 20 paragraphs were already agreed, several were agreed to be deleted, but other 23 paragraphs, with several alternatives, were still under consideration. After a long debate about what procedure should be adopted to help the negotiations move on, several Parties remind the Chair that a fourth read of the proposed text was not feasible or desirable. The Parties decided to delete all the paragraphs that were not agreed upon, leading to a final CMP decision regarding CDM. The final decision compiled a number of mandates for the CDM Executive Board to comply within the next year. In particular, the Parties requested further analysis on issues such as the revision of CDM’s baseline and monitoring methodologies, and their streamlining, registration of project activities that qualify as automatically additional, and alternatives methodologies to ensure environmental integrity. Besides the CDM Executive Board mandates, the Parties were able to agree on two issues: the adoption of a voluntary procedure for deregistration, and the flexibility regarding the verification timing for afforestation and reforestation projects.

While the CDM negotiations were intense, the uncertainty regarding CDM’s future was a clear ghost in the room. The CDM negotiations happened under the CMP, but the Doha Amendment – which established the emission reduction commitments for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – continues to not be in force. And without an emission reduction market, CDM has no future.

But CDM can once again gain force if Parties agree to an ambitious post-2020 agreement. Looking ahead, Brazil has proposed an “Advanced CDM” or simply CDM+ to the ADP. The new mechanism is explained in three simple paragraphs, and contains one main element: the possibility of voluntarily cancelled CDM CERs to be used to account for countries ’ nationally determined contributions (NDC) financial targets and pledges. Despite the lack of information regarding the proposed CDM+, several countries are already criticizing it. The European Union, for instance, used the expression “double-counting” of CERs continuously during this week’s negotiations, showing great dissatisfaction with the Brazilian proposal. While the double-counting language was not included in the final CMP decision regarding CDM, the issue will continue to surface in future negotiations if a CDM+ is considered in the new agreement.

ADP: Shifting to global peer pressure to mitigate GHG emissions through INDCs 

As was the case in Warsaw last year, final ADP decision-making was pushed to the last minute, of the last hour, of the last day of the COP20 in Lima. The ADP was originally scheduled to close on Thursday afternoon. Not for the first time at this COP, negotiators worked into the wee hours of the night on Friday hoping to come together on issues addressing how Parties will communicate their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), as was directed under paragraph 5 of Decision 1/CP.17 and how parties should contribute to closing the pre-2020 ambition gap. With a newly drafted decision in hand on Saturday morning (officially after the close of the COP), Parties still held clear differences on specific language and its implications.

The COP20 President, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, had taken a very active and open stance during the last few weeks, and many have complimented his efforts to promote clarity and transparency for all Parties. As the close of the meeting neared, and with the draft decision still far from being adopted, his guidance became stronger and more determined. Recalling that Lima had been called a tipping point for the new agreement, he pled with the delegations to “help me . . . don’t leave me alone. We need to help ourselves. We are representing the world, and we are representing what the world is seeking.”

As Parties gave their final interventions, all agreed that the draft decision was not ideal for anyone. However, a dichotomy emerged with some parties endorsing adoption of the decision as it stood subject to more negotiation in Geneva this February, while others drew the red line and declared the draft unacceptable as is. Switzerland on behalf of EIG and Chile on behalf of AILAC were willing to move forward with the current draft, along with the EU, US, Japan, Russian Federation, and New Zealand. Surprising some, Singapore, Belize, and the Marshall Islands also urged Parties to move forward with the current text. Noting that his country is running out of time and its very existence is in danger from sea level rise, the delegate from the Marshall Islands made a very compelling plea: “We cannot leave Lima with empty hands on road to a successful Paris agreement.” Yet parties such as Sudan on behalf of the Africa Group, Malaysia for the LMDCs, India, China and Tuvalu were not willing to compromise the vulnerable people that they represent, and asked the COP President to reconsider the draft. The delegate from Tuvalu, in particular, noted that we should not let this COP be the one where the world’s poorest are denied.

With no consensus on this text, the meeting continued for 10 more hours, shifting to intense, behind-closed-doors negotiations with COP President Pulgar-Vidal and ministers of Singapore and Norway empowered by him to speak with parties on his behalf.  Finally, just before midnight, the COP20/CMP10 final plenary convened, a new final draft decision text was presented, and the gavel was banged. Nonetheless, despite the COP’s consensus position, Tuvalu asked for the floor and spoke intensely and purposefully to register concerns about the need for stronger loss and damage inclusion (besides the WIM progress recognition in the text’s preamble). Many other parties laid out their specific concerns about missing references to the Convention’s principles, notably equity and common but differentiated responsibility and respective capacity (CBDRRC).  Likewise concern was expressed about the changes in external review of the promised INDCs, from well before COP21 convenes in Paris on November 20, 2015 to just a month before.  Behind these specifics lies continued disagreement by developing countries over differentiation and eliminating the so-called binary system of responsibility.

In this way, the route à Paris has been laid out as a bumpy one, littered with the potholes and frost heaves borne of unresolved applications of the major shift away from “top down” international climate change obligations (as embodied in the Kyoto Protocol) to nationally driven commitments.  This mistrust — often referred to as the ghost of Copenhagen —   lingered from the opening to the closing plenary statements. The barebones text adopted in the wee hours, now referred to as the Lima Accord, necessarily deferred detailed discussions to the regular meetings scheduled in 2015 leading up to the COP21 next December in Paris.

Global leaders respond to 400,000 climate wake up calls

After 400,000 people marched on Sunday, NYC was again the stage of another climate change event: the United Nations Climate Summit 2014. Aimed to move forward the climate change negotiations and achieve an agreement at COP 21 in Paris, the UN Climate Summit gathered over 100 Heads of State and 800 leaders from business, finance and civil society. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon affirmed in his opening statement that “we are not here to talk, we are here to make history.” He challenged global leaders to propose climate actions on five fronts: emission reductions, mobilizing money and markets, pricing carbon, strengthening resilience, and mobilizing new coalitions.

While many of the leaders reiterated previous commitments – e.g. the need to limit global warming to 2o Celsius from pre-industrial level –  some of them announced new commitments that showed a real effort to advance climate change negotiations. Several countries –  developed, developing, and least developed countries – pledged to increase their GHG emission reduction goals beyond 2020 and increase the use of clean energy: the European Union committed to reduce 40% of its emission from 1990 levels by 2030; Ethiopia and Sweden stated their goals to become zero net emissions by 2025 and 2050, respectively; Republic of Korea announced that it will launch  the first Asian Emission Trade Scheme in 2015; Nicaragua committed to generate 90% of its electricity through renewables by 2020; and Tuvalu announced its goals to use 100% clean energy by 2020, just to name a few.

China, the biggest GHG emitter (28% of global CO2 emissions in 2013), announced goals to reduce its GHG emissions for the first time: 40 to 45% from 2005 levels by 2020. China also offered to provide $6 million for the United Nations’ efforts to boost South-South cooperation to address global warming. These announcements come as an initial break through to the developed versus developing country debate, which has been the biggest challenge in climate change negotiations. The shift in the tone of the Chinese government, which recognized its international obligation to tackle climate change as responsible major country, could force key emitter countries, such as United States and India, to participate in post-Kyoto commitments.

Another announced effort was the New York Declaration on Forests. The Declaration, the first of its kind, sets a non-legally binding timeline to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and to end it completely by 2030, while restoring 350 million hectares of degraded landscapes and forestlands. These efforts combined would result in a cut between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon pollution every year. 32 governments, including Indonesia and Colombia (but surprisingly not my own country of Brazil), signed the Declaration, as did 20 subnational governments, 30 of the world’s biggest companies (e.g. Asia Pulp and Paper, Nestle, and Unilever), and more than 50 civil and indigenous organizations.

And last, but not least, poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a Marshallese citizen, provided a moving speech that brought some world leaders to tears. She gave the face, the voice, and the perspective of those experiencing climate change impacts today – the ones that world leaders hope to address by the end of 2015 in the new mitigation and adaptation agreement.

  Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Civil Society Representative from the Marshall Islands, is greeted on stage by her husband and her baby after speaking during the Climate Summit at United Nations Headquarters in New York




Extra, extra! Read our COP19 wrap-up in the Huffington Post!

Congrats to our Week 2 Observer Delegation on its recent publication in the Huffington Post courtesy of climate and energy reporter Ben Jervey.  In it, we recap COP19/CMP9’s last week of activity, analyzing what this “nuts and bolts” COP did and didn’t achieve. Specifically, we take a close look at adaptation, loss and damage, subnational initiatives, new REDD+ rules, and technology, all in light of the ADP’s struggle to find common ground on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, and capacity-building to ensure maximum participation in the legal agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2020.

VLS COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation Week 2

VLS COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation Week 2

P.S.  Given that the Huff Post version did not include all of our links, I’m pasting below the draft that includes them.

As COP19/CMP9 comes to a close, the Vermont Law School Observer Delegation reflects on what it witnessed during the second week of the climate change meeting. As the high-level ministers began arriving on Monday, the pace of negotiations ramped up. Beginning with several days of speeches about the contours of the legal agreement post-Kyoto Protocol, financing mechanisms, alternative energy, and adaptation needs in developing countries, the technical discussions of COP19’s first week turned to long days and nights of political bargaining.

In this piece, we explore what this “nuts and bolts” COP did and didn’t achieve. Specifically, we take a close look at adaptation, loss and damage, subnational initiatives, new REDD+ rules, and technology, all in light of the ADP’s struggle to find common ground on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, and capacity-building to ensure maximum participation in the legal agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2020. For more detail about these subjects and play-by-play of the most contentious issues, see our blog.

Adaptation Activities Accelerate

Although adaptation is still a relatively new idea under the UNFCCC, COP19 expanded its reach by conducting workshops to showcase achievements to date and negotiating a new loss and damage provision (covered in the next section). COP16 established the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAN), which sought to enhance action on adaptation under the Convention. National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) were established at COP17 to help countries assess their vulnerabilities and climate change risks, and adapt to them. NAPs aim to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change by building adaptive capacity and resilience. They contain four main elements: (1) laying groundwork and addressing gaps, (2) preparing preparatory elements, (3) creating implementation strategies, and (4) reporting, monitoring and reviewing data.

Bangladesh is currently working on a NAP that looks at health security, disaster management practices, and infrastructure. It currently experiences storm surges and flooding, which impacts crops and food security. Malawi wants to implement a NAP due to its vulnerability to road flooding. It currently lacks sufficient policy, institutional, and legal frameworks, and faces low awareness, skills, and know-how among the general public.

While adaptation has clear benefits, it can be expensive and so the parties ask: is it worth it? Presentations at COP19 answered in the affirmative. Emergency responses to remedy damage from climate change can be even more expensive than investing in adaptation measures. Climate change impacts, like the recent Typhoon Haiyan, often cause GDP to decrease, as developing country governments spend their limited budgets on disaster relief. By investing in adaptation up front, disasters do less damage when they hit, so not as much money is spent on reactive remedies.

While COP19 included much discussion of mitigation, parties acknowledge that even the most stringent mitigation efforts cannot avoid climate change. This makes adaptation necessary. It’s not an either/or proposition.  As the UNFCCC makes increasingly clear, international climate change law must address both.

The (R)evolution of Loss and Damage

The tragedy wrought in the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan placed the concept of “loss and damage” center stage in Warsaw. Loss and damage would pick up where adaptation and mitigation fall short, helping developing countries to improve risk reduction and assessment, strengthen adaptation, enhance capacity building to deal with slow-onset events like sea level rise or extreme effects like typhoons, and compensate them.

COP18 set a legal mandate to establish institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate on developing countries.  Covering both economic and non-economic losses, it could include the loss of livelihood, damage to property, food insecurity, climate migration, loss of identity, and potential human rights abuses. Due to Russia’s blocking of the agenda, the June 2013 SBI meeting did not go forward and work on this mandate was delayed to the COP19 SBI meeting.

At COP19, negotiators worked on this SBI agenda item around the clock, trying to draft text that was responsive to developing countries’ compensation needs and developed countries’ liability concerns. Tired of Australia’s antics to scuttle constructive discussions, the G77 negotiator, Bolivian Rene Gonzalo Orellana Halkyer, walked out of the meeting at 4 am this past Wednesday morning and other G77 countries followed suit. Undaunted, high-level party delegates, co-chaired by ministers from Sweden and South Africa, attempted to hammer out a text, debating whether it should be an institutional arrangement, work program, or task force. Would it get its own mechanism under an UNFCCC institution, like the Clean Development Mechanism does, or be housed under the SBI or SBSTA, or simply sit under the adaptation pillar?

At the closing plenary, delegates approved “the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts.” Controversially, it is organized under CAN’s adaptation pillar. G77+ China, AOSIS, and Yeb Saño from the Philippines made it known that this text was inadequate, as loss and damage meant “beyond adaptation.” This opposition sparked an hour huddle, with U.S Special Envoy Todd Stern and Fiji’s Sai Navoti discussing the use of “under” while surrounded by at least 50 other negotiators.

Afterward, the COP19 President announced consensus on retaining the word “under” while including an amendment requiring review of the mechanism at COP22 in 2016. Going forward, the executive committee to the Warsaw international mechanism will meet and develop a work plan by COP20; a two-year review will take place at COP 22; and the COP will make an “appropriate decision” on loss and damage governance based on this review.

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

On Thursday, November 22, during the first-ever COP Presidency Cities and Sub-national Dialogue of the Cities Day, one environmental minister declared that “the only people with the power to actually change anything are the local elected officials.”

While international agreements on climate change have languished, cities around the world have acted. For good reason: two-thirds of urban dwellers live on the water, subject to sea level rise and lethal heat waves from the urban heat island effect. The Cities Climate Leadership Group C40 membership  comprises 40 of the 50 biggest cities of the world and represents 8% of the world’s population, 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 21% of the global GDP. Together, cities have the collective clout to get something done.

The COP19 Dialogue of the Cities Day, organized by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), C40, and EUROCITIES, highlighted work that is already happening in local municipalities around the world, and sought support for it from the national and international levels. Roundtable discussions focused on adaptation, transportation, waste, and buildings. A recurring theme was the potential for a bottom-up approach that empowers local governments to combat climate change by creating a platform for continuous dialogue between cities, national government, and UNFCCC parties.

Building on this event, ICLEI (which coordinated the adoption of the Nantes Declaration of Mayors and Subnational Leaders on Climate Change in September, 2013)  advocated for a more substantive forum for identifying key priority areas of collaboration on mitigation and adaptation at the city and subnational levels during the next ADP session in June, 2014. Although the ADP decision text changed throughout the last few days of negotiations, and ICLEI did not receive all it sought, the final iteration includes cities and subnational governments in technical meetings “to share policies, practices and technologies and address the necessary finance, technology and capacity-building” and a subnational forum “to help share among Parties the experiences and best practices of cities and subnational authorities in relation to adaptation and mitigation,” both to be held at the next ADP session. In short, this COP19 decision means more meetings, reports and business as usual for the UNFCCC. But with this clear recognition of a subnational role in UNFCCC lawmaking may come more resources for the people actually doing the work on the ground.

REDD+ Is a Go

One of the more significant outcomes of this week was the package of decisions, known as the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries), that the COP approved to provide a formal framework, safeguards, and funding in hopes of cutting deforestation in half by 2020 and halting it by 2030. Every schoolchild knows that the forests are the world’s lungs: this is the UNFCCC’s smoking cessation program.

REDD+ has been implemented on the ground by various development organizations, including the World Bank, USAID, and the World Wildlife Foundation, in a somewhat haphazard and experimental fashion since its conception in Montreal in 2005 and development in Bali in 2007. It was met with serious criticism by indigenous peoples around the world as another form of colonialism, with Bolivia in particular championing to keep market mechanisms out of this mitigation activity. This new version of REDD+ hopes to address those concerns. The safeguards included for biodiversity, ecosystems, and indigenous peoples’ territories, livelihoods, and rights are commendable. It may even serve as a mechanism for governments to more formally recognize indigenous land rights. Hopeful thinking? Perhaps. We will have to watch carefully how the new REDD+ decisions improve its implementation on the ground.

Good News About Technology

Developing nations will require new technologies to achieve their goals of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. At COP16 in Cancun, the UNFCCC established the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), a technology transfer mechanism that collaborates with national governments to develop and implement desired climate technologies. Two months before COP19’s start, the CTCN Advisory Board approved the CTCN Modalities and Procedures for adoption at COP19. While both SBSTA and SBI adopted the CTCN’s report, and forwarded a draft decision for approval, , the COP did not reach the agenda item.  Instead it will instead take up these items at SBSTA 40 and SBI 40 in Bonn next year.

Nevertheless, a COP19 side event organized by the UNFCCC Secretariat marked the official opening of the CTCN. While most of the world may not have noticed, COP19’s advancement of CTCN is crucial for developing nations striving to fulfill their commitments under the UNFCCC. The CTCN can now accept requests from countries’ Nationally Designated Entities (NDEs), which is good news for achieving international, on-the-ground progress for mitigation and adaptation.

Developing countries can now request from CTCN resources to develop and implement clean energy technologies. Clean energy is essential for reaching all parties mitigation targets, and CTCN can supply the requisite experts to deploy these innovative technologies. At the CTCN event, Zambia announced plans to submit a request for clean energy projects. Bangladesh has described plans to request agricultural technologies from CTCN, in order to improve crop yields. Agriculture is a main cause of deforestation, and improving agricultural practices has the direct and immediate impact of keeping more carbon out of the atmosphere. Of course, new technologies will be necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change. Following Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines will request a collaboration with CTCN to rebuild with clean energy.

ADP:  2(b) or not 2(b)

By 2am Saturday morning – two hours after COP19/CMP9 was due to end – tired and tense negotiators left the room where they had spent the last eight hours locking horns over language in the fourth draft decision the ADP had debated since Monday. Environment ministers from Venezuela, E.U., U.K., and U.S. were in the room working directly with their negotiating teams. Yet even they left not knowing if the parties would achieve their COP19 mandate of determining the elements of the new legal agreement to be negotiated in Peru next year, signed in Paris in 2015, and put into effect in 2020.

The contested language reflects the main sticking points between developing and developed countries about constructing mitigation targets, setting timelines, balancing pre- and post-2020 mitigation, and financing.  For example, Article 2(b)’s language of post-2020 mitigation targets was changed from commitments to contributions in the final round.  This obligation, applicable to all countries under the Doha Amendment, focuses on parties doing “domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions” and reporting them “in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency, and understanding” of them as early in 2015 as possible.  Subpart 2(d) was added to request financial support for developing countries doing this domestic work. Notably this language of differentiation eschews references to Annex 1 of the UNFCCC, even though the G77+China and AILAC asserted in every ADP session that the post-2020 agreement is made under the Convention and thus the Annex applies as is.

All parties agreed that pre-2020 mitigation commitments under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period is lacking, whether in terms of number of countries (participation) or amount of GHG emissions avoided (stringency). Thus Article 4 calls on developed countries to make or enhance their national emissions reduction targets, and for developing countries to do the same with their nationally appropriate mitigation actions. Article 3 urges developed countries to follow through on the financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building work that it has already committed under the Convention, noting its ability to leverage compliance with Article 4.

How to complete the ADP’s work and how to fund it reached some resolution by the closing plenary.  On process and timelines, delegates agreed to meetings of high level ministers at both the June inter-sessional meeting in Bonn and at COP20, as well as an additional sessions in March and possibly another one between June and December. The ADP decision also noted the U.N. climate change summit that Ban Ki-Moon will host on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly’s September meeting. Thus the parties will have up to five meetings next year to turn the COP19 ADP decision into a working draft to kickstart COP20 discussions.   On finance, however, there was less resolution. Developing countries insisted on the developed countries living up to their capacity to fund this climate change lawmaking, as part of their common but differentiated responsibility, and mistrusted calls for private financing. The U.S. noted the importance of private financing as a complement to public funding, highlighting the role the latter could play in middle- and high-income countries while reserving government funds for the lesser developed countries.

Overall, while COP19/CMP9 made some progress toward Lima and Paris, it was limited by continued concerns about the transparency of negotiations and moving toward an “applicable to all” standard without some accounting for historical responsibility. As the Earth Negotiations Bulletin observed, a “sense of resolve was notably absent” in Warsaw, due as much to an absence of political will as to the vagaries of the UNFCCC process. While the REDD+ framework and other “nuts and bolts” adjustments represent real steps forward in elaborating an international system of climate change law, a question remains whether they are enough to motivate countries to continue to invest in it.


This post was written by Tracy Bach, Heather Croshaw, Alisha Falberg, Dan Schreiber, and Lindsay Speer, members of the Vermont Law School COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation. You can read more of their observations at their COP19 blog, Substantial and sustained.


“A foundation COP” of nuts and bolts

A presidential stocktaking during COP19's final days.

A presidential stocktaking during COP19’s final days.

“Stocktaking” is a now a new word in my vocabulary.  While I regularly do it, I don’t normally make the time to name it as such.  In the polyglot system of the United Nations, awkwardly-formal-but-descriptive terms like this one (and “functions and modalities,” “institutional mechanisms,”  “work programmes”) are essential to the process of moving a group forward to action.

So now, speaking of “moving forward” (a common phrase at COP19), let’s take stock of how the media is portraying the outcome of COP19.

Today’s NYT focuses on the ADP and L&M final deals, explaining more IMG_4323about the latter than the former.  It led off with the idea that COP19 is “keeping alive the hope” of globally dealing with climate change, but ends on a bummer note: “Treaty members remain far from any serious, concerted action to cut emissions. And developing nations complained that promises of financial help remain unmet.”  Both valid points, and the second is a true accounting of what I witnessed in the ADP sessions.  But the first one misses the mark on this “foundation COP’s” mission, which the co-chairs stressed during the wee hours of Friday/Saturday’s marathon negotiation session: the ADP’s mandate for COP19 was to establish the elements and timetable for making the legal agreement that will bind countries to emissions reductions, not negotiating the agreement itself.

The NYT also chronicled how the U.S. called out China’s intransigence on future GHG emissions being “applicable to all” and how developed countries recognized their historical responsibility for creating global warming even though they resist being held “liable” for it.

IMG_4316China’s Xinhua news service focused on the glass half full, leading with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s positive view of COP19:  “The decisions adopted in Warsaw serve as an important stepping stone toward a universal legal agreement in 2015.”  Using the carefully negotiated language of “contributions” (rather than commitments), the article closed by observing that the ADP agreement “was seen as a key step paving the way for all countries to reach an ambitious global climate pact in 2015, and a sign of their desire to avert a breakdown of the climate talks.” It also gave a nod to a next stepping stone, the climate summit hosted by Ban Ki-Moon in September 2014 (on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly meeting):  “He has asked world leaders, as well as leaders from business, finance, local government and civil society, to bring bold announcements and actions that will lead to significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and strengthened adaptation and resilience efforts.”

The head Chinese negotiator for ADP, center background.

The head Chinese negotiator for ADP, center background.

Continuing with the stepping stone “path” metaphor for summing up the Warsaw meeting, but offering more “real politick” talk in a separate (but linked) news article, the Chinese delegation noted its disappointments. “There are many issues that we are not actually satisfied with but we can accept,” Xie Zhenhua, head of China’s COP19 delegation and also deputy chief of China’s National Development and Reform Commission.  According to him, “to make the meeting a success and the multi-lateral mechanism effective, China has shown the biggest flexibility and made concessions on some issues.”

Interestingly, BusinessGreen provides the more detailed and accurate accounting of COP19 specifics (as I witnessed them), as well as the most nuanced analysis. (I am not familiar with the publication but the comments indicate a very different readership than my regular reading list!)  It directly reports that “the eventual agreement resulted in a draft text that requires countries ‘who are ready’ to make ‘contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature,’ ideally by early 2015 at the latest” and acknowledges that this wording represents “significant watering down” of the penultimate draft’s use of “for those in a position” to deliver a climate “commitment” by early 2015.IMG_4282Nonetheless, UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey views this as a sufficient outcome for “all nations have now agreed to start their homework to prepare for a global climate change deal in 2015” (reprising the homework theme of his HLM opening plenary remarks). “While the long negotiations in Poland showed there are many tough talks ahead of us, the determined diplomacy of the UK and EU achieved our aims, building alliances with our friends across the world.”

Jonathan Grant, Director at PwC’s sustainability and climate change IMG_4357team, joins the chorus using sports analogies to characterize the outcome achieved yesterday inside the National Stadium. “By taking us to the brink of collapse, looking over the edge and then pulling back, we come away feeling delighted that any progress has been made at all,” he said. “A victory was always expected, but like the England football team, the COP made this a lot more dramatic than it needed to be. The ‘talks about talks’ phase is now over, as countries agreed to the agenda for the negotiations and the timeline for coming up with some numbers.”

BusinessGreen closes with Nicholas Stern’s dose of reality therapy.  The author of the famous Stern Report, who now chairs an institute at the London School of Economics, views COP19’s output as IMG_4152“simply inadequate” compared to the scale and urgency of the risks of climate change: “If the world is to have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous levels of global warming, which it is generally agreed would occur if there is a rise in global average temperature by more than two centigrade degrees compared with the late 19th century, annual emissions of greenhouse gases will need to be cut at a much faster rate than is currently planned by countries.”

That, folks, reminds the process-oriented “policy” types that their nuts and bolts are still out of step with the science types’ brass tacks.

What’s Next For the Land-Use Sector?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me fill you in on a little secret: I am a land-use geek. I am obsessed with anything to do with the intersection of forests, croplands, grasslands, and/or wetlands with climate change adaptation and mitigation. So when rumors began to fly earlier this year that Parties to the UNFCCC were beginning to seriously consider how to treat the land-use sector in the “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” to be agreed under the Durban Platform, I was instantly intrigued. Today was an especially exciting day for me because it was the first time I heard Parties speak in concrete terms about a way forward for post-2020 treatment of the land-use sector under the UNFCCC. And guess what? What I heard was actually GOOD!!

Before you take me for an absolute lunatic (too, late, right?), let me explain. Annex I Parties to the Kyoto EPSON DSC pictureProtocol currently account for greenhouse gas emissions from their land-use sectors under Articles 3.3 and 3.4 to the Protocol and the rules laid out in the Marrakesh Accords. The rules for land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) were designed with an “anything goes” attitude stemming from the sector’s exclusion from Parties’ emission reduction targets. In a nutshell, the LULUCF mechanism under the KP is not necessarily environmentally robust. (Disclaimer: This is a generalization. There are some Parties that do a relatively good job with LULUCF. There are also Parties that take advantage of the system to the detriment of both the land and climate system).


In contrast, development of the REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries) mechanism under the UNFCCC started with basic principles that include equity, environmental integrity, safeguarding and promoting the traditional knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and contributing to the ultimate objective of the Convention. Although REDD+ will certainly not be perfect, it is shaping up to be significantly more environmentally robust than LULUCF.

The big question in my mind has been what happens when LULUCF and REDD+ come together in a post-2020 agreement. Does treatment of the land-use sector rise to the level of REDD+, or does it sink to the level of LULUCF? The indication I got today was that at least some Parties are willing to aim high and to push for a mechanism that is beneficial to the land, the people who live with and on the land, and the climate. Although this is certainly no guarantee, it certainly gives me the hope and impetus I need to head to the National Stadium tomorrow to continue pushing for the best land-use mechanism possible under the UNFCCC.



Day 1 of COP19/CMP9

The VLS COP19/CMP9 Observe Delegation Week1: Nora Greenglass, Taylor Smith, Heather Calderwood, Thea Reinert, Tracy Bach (L to R).

The VLS COP19/CMP9 Observe Delegation Week1: Nora Greenglass, Taylor Smith, Heather Calderwood, Thea Reinert, Tracy Bach (L to R).

Equipped with our yellow NGO observer badges, our VLS delegation ventured out two hours before the opening COP plenary, ready for long security waits.  Instead, we sailed through the well-managed lines

COP19 President Korolec.

COP19 President Korolec.

and began exploring the stadium venue.  Some of us attended several early briefing sessions with partner NGOs, then attended the COP welcome ceremony and opening plenary.  The COP18 president, His Excellency Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, gave a farewell speech in Arabic, passed the gavel to incoming COP19 president, Marcin Korolec, and Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary UNFCCC) and Rajendra Pachauri (IPCC Chair) summarized the work at hand.  Figueres had us take a deep breath, then reminded us that in it was 400ppm of CO2. She believes that the “collective climate friendly capacity” has increased, and reminded the delegates that “what happens in this stadium is not a game.”  Pachauri began by quoting Einstein:  “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”  He then went on to recap Working Group I’s 5th assessment so that we couldn’t rest on old knowledge.  Pachauri finished his short presentation with a challenge to the group:  Given that the international scientific community now has “high confidence” in its findings on how human activity is causing global warming, and that this means a 95% or more likelihood level, why would we want to jeopardize the future of living species on this planet for a 5% chance that they are wrong?

IMG_4123COP President Korolec emphasized time management from the outset, stating that he cannot — will not — extend the UNFCCC subbodies’ work (SBI and SBSTA) past this Saturday, November 16.  He stressed the need to show productivity and flexibility, and urged delegates to make every effort to maximize meeting time.

But despite these best intentions, a meeting that was due to be combined with the CMP (for Kyoto Protocol state parties) opening plenary and completed by 1pm was still going strong at 2:30pm – without even opening the CMP!  Negotiating bloc statements took up the bulk of this time, staking out ground for the negotiating sessions to come.  The Philippines’ delegation announced that it had the “honor to speak on behalf of the resilient people of Philippines.”  (Today’s NYT estimates that at least 10,000 people have died in Tacloban alone and that Typhoon Haiyan produced winds of up to 190 mph.)

Heather congratulates Elirozz Carlie D. Labaria on her inspiring remarks.

Heather congratulates Elirozz Carlie D. Labaria on her inspiring remarks.

Only a short time was reserved for civil society statements, but it nonetheless had an impact.  A leader of a business coalition spoke first, followed by Elirozz Labaria, a youth NGO representative (YNGO) from the Philippines, who poignantly told a hushed crowd that “countries like mine bear the burden, even though we didn’t cause the problem.” She reminded negotiators that COP18 in Doha began with a similar disaster and scolded them for “discounting our future for far too long,” negotiating international climate change law not just during young people’s entire lives, but for some negotiators’ entire lives!

After a short break, we reconvened around 3pm to open the CMP, then proceed directly to the SBSTA meeting.  The latter was still going strong when our observer delegation left around 7pm.  (More on SBSTA and its full agenda later.)  A very full first day, as others in the delegation have chronicled today.  We’ve also captured it in pictures in the gallery to the left.