Bipolar on Climate Change at COP24

Choose one word to describe the results of COP24 and the state of climate change today. Bipolar … dramatically bipolar. We find ourselves torn between despair and hope, between optimiScreen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.08.08 PMsm and realism, between real progress and a Paris rulebook with no rules. Though Polish officials declared success, really the Paris rulebook that came from COP24 is an agreement to disagree and try again later.

The good news is that after weeks of marathon, overnight negotiating sessions the parties came to a 133 page agreement reflecting years of work since the Paris Agreement. What the agreement does do is affirm the Paris Agreement and allow parties to move forward. What it purports to do, but really does not do, is establish the framework, the rulebook as it is called. Yes, there is progress in the agreement, but to call it the rulebook it was supposed to be – that just stretches too far.

The World Resources Institute identified four key elements needed for a Paris Agreement rulebook: 1) common timeframes; 2) reporting and accounting methodologies; 3) transitioning to the new transparency framework; and 4) effective peer review processes. Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.26.14 PMOn common timeframes the agreement states that they agree there should be common time frames, they should discuss it in June 2019, and then approved by the COP with even a reference to what year it should be approved by deleted from the final text.   The development of a registry that would hold all the NDCs is critical to transparency and access by the public which helps hold Parties accountable. Here again the agreement agrees to have the UNFCCC work on a prototype, but it is subject to confirmation at the COP in November 2019 – another indicator that there were a couple of issues, particularly regarding a search function, that the parties could not agree on. Parties could not agree on the features each NDC should have and pushed consideration of further guidance out until 2024. The Parties did agree (per the Paris Agreement) that they would submit the NDCs based on common information in Annex I and be held accountable via common information in Annex II. However, they could not agree on how “target” should be defined and so the final text simply states – “general description of the target.” Still these Annex’s do call for the information required to at least have a skeleton framework for transparency.

The real big failure at COP24 was a complete breakdown on Article 6. All of the work on cooperative approaches and Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes, (see my earlier blog posts here and here) the work that enables the investment by developed countries into developing countries that is needed to accelerate progress, all of these sections were tabled until next year. They will use the progress in negotiations as a starting point, but without some agreement we cannot begin to create global markets that investors will trust enough to invest in.

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.22.10 PMFundamentally, they agreed – thus moving the Paris Agreement forward – to disagree – thus hampering acceleration and progress. As the Assistant Secretary General Elliot Harris quoted Vermont’s Bill McKibben: “If we don’t win very quickly in climate change, then we will never win. … Winning slowly is the same as losing.”

Despair and Hope: Throughout the week there was an endless stream of somber information regarding the reality we are facing.   The new UN Emissions Gap Report indicates the gap between what is being done and what is needed has grown significantly while countries fail to perform to their commitments. Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.19.57 PMFrom estimates that climate change will drive 140 million people to move within a little over 50 years as projected in the World Bank Group Report to entire countries and cultures being obliterated in the Marshall Islands. From the Unites States government report of a 10% impact on the economy double that of the recent great recession that will exacerbate environmental, social and economic inequalities – to the sad reality that we most likely cannot save our coral reefs and arctic ice is disintegrating at a faster pace that scientists had ever predicted.     AND YET, we must have hope to move forward – we cannot be crippled by despair. Climate change action is also predicted to yield direct economic gains of $26 trillion according to the New Climate Economy Report.Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.17.19 PM

Frankly that is the world we face now. One where we must simultaneously face the extreme consequences of our apparent failure while maintaining hope that if EVERY ONE OF US does our part we might, just might, avoid catastrophic failure.

“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” Everyday we will face and experience despair, and every day we must be bipolar and choose hope.


A New Architecture for Climate Finance Must Encourage Private Sector Investment

Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for the rest of his life.” In relation to climate financing, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Developed Country Parties, do both, and neither particularly well.  The recent IPCC 1.5 report has taken away all room for delay: the GCF cannot waste its valuable funding on unaccountable, inefficient disbursements. We need a financial architecture that will let us move much faster than we are.

This COP has highlighted Developing Country Parties’ concerns that they won’t have the capital to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. More specifically, that they won’t have the fOptimized-Plants and coinsunds to help pay for losses and damage expected from climate change and that they cannot afford to build the necessary infrastructure, such as renewable energy sources and other low-carbon technologies, that the IPCC 1.5 report warns are necessary.

The GCF relies on Developed Country Parties’ pledges to provide that funding. However, these Parties are hesitant to invest and bear the risk for the costs of climate change. Additionally, they are hesitant to grant funding to countries that are technically “developing,” yet have emerged as economic powerhouses.

This hesitation is exacerbated by irresponsible use of funds by the GCF. Experts argue that the use of climate grants, which make up 47% of the GCF’s activities to date, rather than direct investment, are a misallocation of public funds. They can actually harm markets by pushing out small-scale private actors, often going to those who could afford it anyway. Instead, GCF capital should be blended with government money in order to attract private investors and encourage market growth.Flood_Affected_Areas_of_Amreli_District_Gujarat_India_on_24_June_2015_2-768x512

Private investors are hesitant to invest in the face of unfamiliar risk. This includes vulnerabilities to extreme weather, droughts, and rising sea levels for coastal economies, but also inaction by governments that will exacerbate these effects. However, private investors are often moving into these markets anyway, which are slowly becoming more viable as investment options. To encourage this, public funds from the GCF and governments should be used to leverage investment from private actors. Instead of being given freely, by themselves, in the form of grant disbursements, proponents argue that they should only be committed in cases where they can encourage private investment at 10x or higher.

Many Developing Countries, LDCs, and SIDS require foreign aid to kick-start these markets. Private investment must be encouraged as part of that funding. There is simply not enough public funding to tackle the problem alone.


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!


Voluntary Cooperation (ITMOs) the Unknown Monster

An important item under negotiation at COP24 is the concept of voluntary cooperation in mitigation. Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 3.08.55 AMThis item is of huge importance as developing countries need funding and financing to engage in low-carbon development and adaptation but they don’t have mandatory mitigation targets. Developed countries are the ones with the economic resources but they also need ways to meet their mitigation targets. This is where the cooperation comes in: a developed country finances a project in a developing country and gets credit for some of the mitigation toward meeting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).   These are called Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes or ITMOs. But what are the rules around when and how these transfers can occur and how they are accounted for? Transparency, accurate accounting and avoiding fraud are essential to creating a system of integrity. (See my previous blog on blockchain for part of the potential solution.)

Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement is intended to provide some direction but it does so by leaving discretion to the Parties by saying that the framework should be consistent with guidance adopted by the COP. It does however specify that the framework needs to provide guidance to ensure that double counting is avoided. Michael Mehling of MIT released a report recently as part of the Harvard Project on Climate AgreementsGoverning Cooperative Approaches under the Paris Agreement. A concern identified by Michael Mehling is that this system could create a perverse incentive for developing countries to have low NDCs so that they can sell their ITMOs. Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 3.09.35 AMBecause NDCs are by definition nationally determined this cannot be addressed directly. However, the report stresses that the parties should be careful not to over-regulate with restrictions as it may limit participation and increase transaction costs. Mehling stated that lacking ambition in NDCs cannot be compensated for with restrictions on the cooperative approach. “Whatever its final shape, the governance framework for Article 6.2 should avoid being too weak or too restrictive, as either outcome would diminish the very benefits that prompted introduction of compliance flexibility in the first place.” (Mehling from Summary Doc.)

The advantage to voluntary cooperation through ITMOs is that it effectively creates a market mechanism, it provides ways to achieve mitigation at a lower cost and should facilitate an overall increase in ambition. However, Juan Pedro Sira, a negotiator on this issue at COP24, said that when the concept was developed in Paris they didn’t know the kind of monster they were creating.

The key is that simple rules are created that are transparent and robust in terms of environmental integrity by addressing ambition, agility, and transparency.   This will help create predictability benefitting developing countries that want to create projects ready for this process and private investors that want to invest. The sense is that this issue is very complicated but extremely important to the success of increasing ambition sufficient to avoid our pending disaster.


The Room Where it Happens: The Indispensable Role of the Observer

_104735890_dui0ypwwoai5suoAs TIME Magazine recognizes its 2018 Person of the Year, observers, reporters, and advocates of the truth find themselves lauded among activists. The Guardians and the War on Truth were recognized as the Person of The Year for “taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and speaking out.” These Guardians are being praised for their ability to hold our public officials accountable and to bring to them to the task at hand.

Similar to The Guardians, UNFCCC representatives of observer organizations hold sovereign Parties accountable for their actions. They remind Parties of their task at hand—creating international IMG_9729_0environmental policy on climate change. UNFCCC observers can do this by releasing sassy newsletters, publishing revealing emissions reports, and advocating for and commenting on text released by the Parties. As independent actors — with fewer political repercussions than Parties themselves — NGOs interact in spaces and ways that Parties cannot. Where Parties are constrained by politic mannerisms, NGOs can act bombastically, like casual vandalism,*  and subtly, like “liaising with the UNFCCC Secretariat on behalf of the business community.”

Baby-Groot-750x500UNFCCC observers act in between the spaces of international politics, diplomacy, and decision making. Their role in the negotiations of transparency, adaptation, and finance are indispensable because there is no force quite like them. So as discussions of global stock take move forward and rumblings of excluding observer organizations rise, Parties, civil society, and the people** need to defend these staunch Guardians of the Green.

 

*This is in reference to a situation where some observers were de-badged or stopped by police when entering Poland.

**This is in reference to David Attenborough’s “People’s Seat,” which encouraged civil society to be able to encourage world leaders to do more for climate action.

 


Using Blockchain to Avoid Double Counting While Empowering Everyone to be Part of the Solution

Today’s side event at COP24 for Blockchain Technology for Enhanced Climate Action emphasized the importance of distributed ledger technology (DLT) to accelerate mitigation solutions for climate change and empower non-country parties to work together. The event featured the Climate Chain Coalition Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.12.56 AMfounded just one year ago but already bringing together 140 organizations with a mission to mobilize climate finance and enhance monitoring, reporting and verification of climate goals.

Blockchain technology is a form of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). (For a good explanation of this technology see this World Bank Group 2017 report.)Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.22.55 AM It functions as a decentralized database that can securely store data and digital assets, like environmental credits or certificates. Transparency is increased because the data recorded on the blockchain is a permanent ledger that cannot be modified. Trust between parties is increased because the data is not stored in a centralized location but rather through peer-to-peer transactions. Transaction costs are reduced enabling much smaller transactions that are accessible to more individuals.

A new report issued this week by the Climate Ledger Initiative (a collaboration of several think tanks aiming to accelerate climate action) Navigating Blockchain and Climate Action identified three main areas where blockchain has the most potential to accelerate climate action: 1) next generation registries and tracking systems; 2) digitizing measuring, reporting and verification; and 3) creating decentralized access to clean energy and finance.

The UNFCC has identified blockchain technology as a disruptive technology that has the potential to solve the solution to the main challenge of “how do you attribute the climate contribution while avoiding double counting.” Under the Paris Agreement (PA), a country steps up by submitting their commitment to mitigation measures as their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Theoretically, the development and continued revision of these NDCs will govern the Parties and their climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. But the Paris Agreement also encourages developed countries to finance projects in developing countries. Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 5.41.57 PMWho gets the credit toward the NDC – the country financing the project or the country implementing the project? How do we ensure that one country (or entity) doesn’t take credit at one stage of a project and another take credit at a different stage? The security and transparency of blockchain may be the solution. (However, keep a healthy dose of skepticism, said CEO of Goldstandard, Marion Verles, because many times technology solutions are being proposed that don’t actually solve the real world problem.)

Climate change is the seminal issue of our generation and requires all hands on deck. As Massamba Thioye of the UNFCCC said today, “We need to mobilize ALL stakeholders, suppliers, financiers, consumers, citizens, policy makers so that they make the right investment.” The challenge being faced is how do we all work on the solution and create market incentives. Ms. Verles identified the importance of DLT technology in the supply chain to help corporations get the critical data they need to make decisions on the impact that a good has on the planet (carbon impact, water impact, etc).

See GLOCHA - the Global Citizen Empowerment System

See GLOCHA – the Global Citizen Empowerment System for Full Poster

This information can move to the end consumer. If you knew, and could compare, the carbon impact of items you were purchasing, would you pay a little more to make a cleaner purchase? The bottom line is that blockchain has the potential to add a value stream to products that represents the intentional choices of individuals, companies, and countries to work toward a cleaner, safer planet.

(Note bitcoin uses blockchain technology in a very energy intensive manner that is not healthy for our planet – see fellow VLS student Ben Canellys blog here.)

 


Progress Report on an Ocean COP25

The moment we have all been waiting for; IT’S OCEANS DAY! The Ocean Pathway made a splash today with all the ocean-related events today, spanning from 10am to 8pm. The past two days have had some great events, highlighting the importance of ocean health and what countries are going to implement marine conversation platforms moving forward.

loveourocean

The opening event (actually held yesterday) began with a Because the Ocean event. This initiative, adopted in COP21, is where countries vowed to push for more ocean-related policy into UNFCCC matters. To date, the countries have held multiple conferences and workshops on marine policy, made great efforts to include oceans in NDCs and in future COP agenda items, and implemented various conservation projects. Below are just some examples on how countries are healing our neglected oceans.


Fiji and Sweden both co-chaired the Ocean Pathway, a platform to encourage an ocean-theme COP agenda item. Fiji, a now “large ocean state” (instead of a small island country, the typical name) realized that the parties needed the ocean to achieve the Paris Agreement goals. It believed that climate change and the ocean are “different sides of the same coin.” The Swedish representative described different ocean strategies they incorporated into their national policies. She also stressed the importance of the youth stepping up to the governments and demanding change in environmental protections, using Greta Thunberg as an example.

Spain has taken the initiative to host multiple workshops and conferences these past few years. It announced its intent to release a special report on the oceans and host a special event for all the ministries in the E.U., but sometime next year. I personally will try to attend the workshop in Madrid next April.

The U.K. has done a great job cutting down their marine plastic pollution contributions. It has also allocated 5.8 billion pounds to ocean/climate funding. The British representative expressed her passion for mangrove (or “blue forests”) protection, and has pushed in her government to increase those efforts. In fact, the U.K. has protected marine ecosystems in their territories as well as their own coastline. “All of our blue places are just as important as are green places.”

Indonesia summarized the role of oceans perfectly: “the ocean does not need us, but we need the ocean.” The country has many important marine ecosystems that act as major carbon sinks, and it wishes to protect them from dangerous activities like illegal fishing, dangerous aquaculture practices, coastal erosion, sea level rise and frequent flooding, and using petroleum.

Canada has longest coastline in the world, and recognizes that oceans are at risk due to dangerous stressors, including climate change. It too is making a lot of efforts to reduce its marine plastic pollution.

Australia is focused on blue carbon ecosystem protection, and has spearheaded the international blue carbon policy platform. It is a huge supporter of coral reef conservation, since the Great Barrier Reef is along its coastline. Australia pushed observers to collect more research to make politicians more confident to act.

So next stop, OCEAN COP25! (hopefully!)


Logistics Logistics Logistics! Highlighting Technology Needs Assessment for Developing Countries

As the Paris AgTNA-logo_rgbreement parties continue to meet and deliberate legal provisions, supporting organizations put in place tools that help developing countries meet their respective Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). A non-governmental organization is one of the amazing things about the Paris Agreement, COP, or climate change in general. Citizens from all over the world don’t need to wait for government action and can operate independently. NGOs can hit the ground running, enacting change, and are sometimes more effective than governments who need to navigate foreign affairs carefully. What is even more impressive about NGOs is their ability to adapt. Like any successful story, you need to fail. It was through this process that led the UN development program (UNDP) in creating the Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) tool for developing countries.

TNA streamlines the process of determining appropriate technologies to supply developing counties to combat climate change. Choosing the right technology is an important issue because it gradually builds the capacity of the developing country. Sometimes we are too quick to solve a problem and look to the most efficient solution. However, the answer may be too complicated for the developing country to maintain, once the experts have left. The TNA address this problem. The TNA is a three-step process that conducts a feasibility study and selects the appropriate environmental controls.

Step one is a holistic background study that looks to multiple sectors including gender. The first step helps prioritize available technologies that can be applied. Step two conducts a feasibility study or barrier analysis of each technology. Since developing countries circumstances are different, experts must carefully examine the technique. The third step is called the technology action plan and supports “the implementation of the pritorized technology.” The level of ambition, timelines, schedules, and education are carefully implemented and contributes to reaching the developing country’s NDC.

Moreover, the TNA tool is so effective that, successful application of the analysis enhances the opportunity to obtain funding to construct the project. So, to the organizations that help make pragmatic steps that help lay down the right tools, keep up the good work.


A New Mitigation and Adaptation Tool: Low Emission Development

Capture

Today is the first day of COP24! Technical experts and policymakers come from around the world with one goal in mind – progress. Progress in building solutions that give us that extra step toward a solution to climate change. There is no one solution, and discussions occur at multiple fronts over a range of topics.

The decision in COP21 started a shift toward low emission development (LED), which seeks to fundamentally change human behavior as well as industry practices to seek ways to minimize emissions. LED utilizes both mitigation and adaptation strategies. LEDs are also flexible where they can integrate with other planning tools and strategies. Successful execution of LED varies by country but has been widely known to depend on three factors: participation, prioritization, and implementation. Now at COP24, the LED project is bearing fruit. Tunisia successfully implemented LED and now serves as a case study for other counties to benchmark from.

One reason why Tunisia was so successful in adopting LED was that it simultaneously campaigned for public participation, petitioned to political powers, and targeted the youth. Early involvement of stakeholders is key to gain LED traction. LED is best approached by lobbying. Tunisia hosted workshops for the public and designed activities for children to learn the value of conservation. Tunisia’s approach propelled LED to the point where Tunisia added language combating climate change into its constitution!

The second factor requires careful prioritization and scheduling. LED is data heavy and inputs vary significantly depending on the country conditions and available resources. For some developing countries, LED may not be cost effective to implement. However, case studies like the success in Tunisia help strengthen viable LED strategies. Over time, as the LED strategy matures, LED becomes scalable and ultimately lowers the costs in its implementation.

The final and most difficult factor is implementing the LED. Implementing the LED can be messy because it requires careful coordination of multiple stages. The best way to overcome obstacles from implementation is to maintain good record keeping practices and concurrently build the institutional framework creating LED laws and regulations. Establishing the institutional framework helps build trust and hold the parties accountable. This cross-government work is critical to support LEDs.

Moreover, LED is attractive because it works synergistically with any economy. LEDs focuses on national priorities for sustainable development and simultaneously serves as a road map that spurs economic development by driving the economy in minimizing waste and pollution. LEDs are known to guide diversification of an economy.

Finally, LEDs is a pathway for funding and capacity needs. Since LEDs apply both mitigation and adaptation tools, LEDs can benefit stakeholders and prepare the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) that help qualify for the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF). LEDs can be eligible for numerous financial sources such as the World Bank ESMAP, US Country Studies program, and “fast start” funding under the UNFCCC.

Tunisia has already implemented the LED strategy in February 2018. Ukraine, Guyana, Indonesia, Mexico, and the UK have already adopted LED strategies, and more parties are following suit.


Two New UNFCCC Reports Emphasize Using Cooperative Initiatives and Non-Parties to Boost Ambition in NDC’s

Two more reports with Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 4.37.16 PMdire warnings and cautious optimism were issued last week  from the UNFCCC. They illustrate that not enough is being done to slow the growth of GHG emissions and suggest that collective participation through cooperative initiatives and non-party work is necessary to boost the ambition of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
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On November 20th, the UNFCCC issued the Talanoa Synthesis Report. The Talanoa Synthesis Report summarizes the preparatory phase of the Talanoa Dialogue which was initiated at COP23 and provides a basis for upcoming political phase at COP24 and beyond.   Based on a series of reports submitted under the Talanoa Dialogue, not only do ‘NDCs fall well short’ but even ‘their full implementation would lead to a median increase in global temperatures of about 3.2 C by 2100’(2.2.1). However, many of the reports submitted also expressed the opinion that everyone has something to contribute and the importance of multilateralism (2.3).

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 4.07.33 PMAlso on November 20th, the UNFCCC issued the Yearbook for Global Climate Action 2018 under the Marrackech Partnership. The report highlights that climate action is growing globally and that cooperative initiatives are increasingly delivering outputs in low or middle-income countries. The report emphasizes that NDCs alone cannot meet the Paris Agreement goal. We need non-party stakeholders to drive change and help push ambition on NDCs. We need the success of these cooperative initiatives.

The Talanoa purpose is to share stories and build empathy in order to make wise decisions for the collective good.  We must reach out to others to put the puzzle pieces together.  Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 4.13.23 PMAs the Parties are set to meet in Katowice, Poland for COP24 it is no wonder that both reports emphasize the absolute necessity of cooperation and collective action as well as more ambitious NDCs to achieve success.


The Log-istics of Carbon Dioxide Removal

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

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/

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.


Canadian Carbon Pricing System Moving Forward

As the world gears up for COP24, the Canadian government reaffirmed its intention, on October 23, 2018, to implement a federal carbon pricing system across Canada in 2019.

DcDre-xU0AAUhvwAs set out in its Nationally Determined Contribution (“NDC”) submitted to the UNFCCC under the Paris Agreement, Canada committed to reduce GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. To that end, Canada proposed adopting various measures to transition to a low-carbon economy, including a federal carbon pricing system. In 2016, the government published the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change ,(“Pan-Canadian Framework“) which outlined a benchmark for pricing carbon pollution requiring all ten (10) Canadian provinces and three (3) Canadian territories to have a carbon pricing system in place by 2018, in their respecting jurisdiction (the “Benchmark“). Provinces and territories had the option to either implement i) an explicit price-based system (i.e. a carbon tax like in British Columbia or a carbon levy and performance-based emissions system like in Alberta) or ii) a cap-and-trade system like in Quebec.

Pursuant to the Pan-Canadian Framework, the federal government was to introduce an explicit price-based carbon pricing system in order to cover jurisdictions that will not have met the Benchmark requirements within that two year period.

In that regard, earlier this year, the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (the “Act”) (the Federal Backstop), received Royal Assent on June 21, 2018. The Act outlines two compulsory mechanisms which will be applicable to jurisdictions that did not meet the Benchmark:

  1. a charge on fossil fuels that are consumed within a province (generally to be paid by fuel producers and distributors) which will start applying in April 2019; and
  2. an output-based pricing system, to be applicable to emission-intensive industrial facilities (i.e. facilities emitting 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent/year or more, etc.), to be applicable as of January 2019.

The majority of Canadian jurisdictions have either developed their own carbon pricing systems or elected to adopt the federal system:

The holdouts—Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick—having either failed to adopt measures that meet the federal Benchmark stringency requirements or declined to propose their own carbon-pollution pricing systems. They will be obligatorily subject to the federal carbon pricing system.

The main requirement of the federal system is to attribute a $20/tonne cost on emissions as of April 2019, which will rise by $10 each year, reaching $50/tonne in 2022. The federal government has committed to return direct proceeds collected under the federal carbon pricing backstop system to provinces.  This may happen via one of three methods: 1) providing individuals and families “Climate Action Incentive payments;” 2) providing support to schools, hospitals, small and medium-sized businesses, colleges and universities, municipalities, not-for-profit organizations, and Indigenous communities; and 3) supporting reductions in GHG emissions in such provinces.

Chart_Pricing carbon in CanadaIt remains to be seen whether or not the Canadian carbon pricing plan will help Canada meet its NDC commitments and contribute to the overall long-term goal of the Paris Agreement of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels and of pursuing efforts to limit that increase to below 1.5 degrees.

 


Energy Justice: Mitigation, Adaptation, AND Sustainable Development Goals in the IPCC Special Report

Cooking in MyanmarOver three billion people rely on wood, charcoal or dung for cooking, with primarily women spending 15-30 hours per week collecting these resources. Household Air Pollution (HAP) results in over 4 million deaths a year. The second most impactful climate change pollutant is black carbon and HAP contributes 25% of black carbon. Clearly, we can integrate mitigation, adaptation, AND sustainable development.

The first sentence of the Global Warming of 1.5°C IPCC Special Report references the Paris Agreement’s enhanced objective “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” (Article 2) The IPCC report references and builds on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved and adopted by national leaders in September 2015. The SDGs consist of 17 goals and 169 targetsSustainable Goals developed as a sustainability framework. Top goals include the elimination of poverty and hunger; an increase in health, education, and gender equality; and access to clean water, sanitation and affordable energy. Additional goals address economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, sustainable cities and responsible consumption, life below water and on land, climate action, peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals.

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 1.29.54 PMThe IPCC report highlights one of the largest differences between 1.5°C and 2°C as the disproportionate impact on poor and vulnerable populations, furthering inequities. However, addressing these inequities through sustainable development can also become a positive. One bright spot in an otherwise dire report is the potential for significant synergies between sustainable development with mitigation and adaptation strategies. But ONLY IF we think about the issues holistically and find mechanisms to cooperate internationally. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement recognizes “the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches” and mentions supporting and promoting sustainable development in Paragraphs 1,2,4, and 9. A failure to consider mitigation and adaptation strategies in the context of sustainable development and the SDGScreen Shot 2018-09-30 at 1.28.58 PMs could result in the opposite effect of creating long term negative impacts on the health and survival of those populations that contributed the least to the problem and have extremely limited resources to weather the consequences.

Let’s strengthen our sustainable development goals through enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and provide some accountability with some teeth in Katowice.


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.

 


The Paris Agreement and the Green Economy

imagesThe adverse impacts of climate change are no secret. We are constantly reminded of the gloomy consequences that will arise at our continued rate of consumption without significant intervention. It is predicted that growing wage gaps combined with climate change will cause over 100 million people to fall into poverty. Moreover, this alarming statistic could impact the well being of children in Africa and Asia, causing 120 million to suffer from malnourishment by 2030. Current projections indicate that our urban footprint will likely triple, demand for food will increase by 35%, and the world’s water needs are expected to rise by 40%.The adverse effects of climate change are not exclusive to impoverished and marginalized communities. By 2030 global economic loss is expected to reach 3.2%, indicating that even the private sector is not immune.

With the Paris Agreement, the paradigm shifted to place international focus on the transition from a traditional economy to a green economy ̶ meaning one that recognizes the relationship between environmental sustainability, economic development, and climate change. Under the Paris Agreement, countries must submit their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to mitigating global climate change while operating within their national environmental and economic objectives. These NDCs set national targets by utilizing mitigation and adaptation mechanisms. Cumulatively, the commitments established by each country aim to meet the Paris Agreement’s objective of holding the increase in global temperature to “well below 2⁰C.” The implementation of mitigation and adaptation mechanisms require funding and corporate involvement to perform the work. In this manner, the Paris Agreement has propelled the green economy forward. As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently stated, “Those that will be betting on the implementation of the Paris Agreement, on the green economy, will be the ones that have a leading role in the economy of the 21st century.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) announced in its annual report, World Employment and Social Outlook 2018: Greening with Jobs, that 24 million new “green” jobs will be created globally by 2030. Likewise, within the same timeframe, the green economy is anticipated to offset predicted economic losses in traditional industries. The drastic advancements in renewable energy technology and innovation also support this assertion.  For instance, more development in solar and hydroelectric energy technology reduced the demand for coal-based energy in many countries. In addition to this, industry leaders such as Microsoft and Amazon developed cloud-based computing services that enable small companies to reduce 90% of their CO2 footprint. What is even more impressive is that the green economy’s net-worth now exceeds that of the fossil fuel sector (6% of the global stock market), according to a report by FTSE Russel. All of which lends credence to the words of ILO Deputy Director-General, Deborah Greenfield, who insisted that the green economy “can enable millions more people to overcome poverty and deliver improved livelihoods.”

Without a doubt, the green economy’s momentum shows no signs of stopping and has grown to exceed $1 trillion USD. However, this raises the question of how well-prepared are countries to handle the transition to a low-carbon economy. It is important to note even the green economy must be properly guided with the right policies.  The aggregate collaboration from countries committed to the Paris Agreement is promising, and could provide the impetus for such guidance and direction for a sustainable economic shift. Only time will tell.