U.S. INDC Pledge Just Wishful Thinking Without CPP?

US INDC Emissions Targets Last year, when the U.S. made its INDC pledge to reduce net GHG emissions 26-28% below 2005 by 2025, it was built on Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan with the proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) among its key elements. At the time, a range of climate policy observers, including Climate Action Tracker, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Climate Advisors, and the World Resources Institute, noted that additional policies would be needed to meet this pledge.EPA CPP Infographic

New information and developments compel another look at the gap:

  1. Congress extended the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar and $0.23/kWh Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind.
  2. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its 2015 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), and the U.S. submitted its second UNFCCC Biennial Report.US 2016 Biennial Rpt cover image
  3. As we blogged in February, the Supreme Court issued a stay on the CPP’s implementation.SCOTUS bldg

The Rhodium Group released a report in January – Taking Stock: Progress Toward Meeting U.S. Climate Goals – that accounts for the first two when analyzing if and how the U.S. can achieve its pledge. Its analysis considers various uncertainties (different paths for future economic growth, potential shifts in transportation demand, and different rates at which the cost of renewable energy and battery storage technology will decline) and integrates these with a set of climate and energy policies, including:

  • The Clean Power Plan
  • Pending methane (CH4) emissions standards for new oil and gas sources
  • Pending heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) efficiency standards revisions
  • Pending hydroflourocarbon (HFC) phasedown efforts under the Montreal Protocol

The report also considered the sizeable uncertainty in sequestration pathways for LULUCF, as identified in the U.S.’s second Biennial Report. (The use of the “net” approach in GHG accounting indicates the inclusion of land use, land use changes, and forestry (LULUCF) as carbon sinks to offset emissions.)trust-forest-comp2

The Rhodium Group concluded that emissions reductions of 10%-23% would be expected by 2025, when incorporating the Biennial Report’s wide range of uncertainty on LULUCF sequestration potential, the full range of uncertainties for economic and technology outcomes, and uncertainties in CH4, HFCs, and HDVs reductions. To move beyond the most optimistic prediction will require building GWPDiagramon existing policy frameworks, targeting industrial CO2 emissions, creating additional CH4 reduction pathways, and “enhancing the forest sink,” all within the next 5-10 years.

But, what do things look like without the CPP? While we can’t understand all the permutations, two CPP analyses (both assuming optimal implementation) help us get a glimpse. EPA, in its August 2015 Regulatory Impacts Analysis, estimates that the CPP would provide a 9-10% reduction in power sector CO2 emissions below the 2005 level by 2025 as compared to its base case (Table 3-6). Another Rhodium Group report, co-authored with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Assessing the Final Clean Power Plan, projects a 17-18% reduction compared to its base case. A number of factors (e.g., different modeling frameworks and historical data) made EPA’s base case significantly more optimistic. Still, both calculated total power sector change from 2005 of 28-29% by 2025. Notably, these figures were derived before the recent passage of the solar and wind tax credits.clean_powerExtrapolating using this range of figures, EIA historical date, and the Biennial Report for other sector reductions, the CPP would likely have a roughly 4-11% impact on overall net emissions in 2025. (There are many nuances in doing such a calculation; but, as calibration, the Rhodium Group’s Taking Stock report projects a combined 15% reduction with the CPP and the ITC/PTC.)

At a 4%-11% benefit, the CPP would provide somewhere between 15% and 40% of the reductions needed to meet the INDC pledge. Without it, the U.S.’s intention likely moves beyond optimism to just wishful thinking.

US millennial voters and COP21 pledges

millennial voteAs the United States works through the nomination process for its next president, opinion polls are tracking how voters prioritize climate change when casting their ballots.  Right now national US climate change law and policy rests primarily on federal executive action (as chronicled in President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan and this 2015 progress report on it).  With the recent death of US Supreme Court Justice Scalia, the President’s role in choosing justices with lifelong tenure stands out even more as a campaign issue.  It’s an understatement to say that the 2016 election to choose Obama’s successor is particularly important to national and international climate change action.

That’s why this poll caught my eye.  Conducted by Ipsos from January 4–7, 2016 on behalf of Rock the Vote and USA Today, it focused exclusively on millennials — those voters aged 18 to 34 years old, who now make up the largest demographic group in the US. Millenials see clean energy as an important voting issue.  81% agree that the US should transition to clean energy by 2030 and only 43% agree that the country should continue developing fossil fuels.   The poll also reports that millennial voters cite the economy (35%) and education (28%) as their top priorities, and view themselves as both fiscal moderates and social liberals. Although the poll doesn’t completely connect the dots, this data would suggest that millennial voters agree with the Obama Administration’s framing of the Paris Agreement pledges as good for the economy and for the environment.

Despite their numbers, relying on millennials as a voting force poses risks.  The poll diplomatically describes millennials as having a “complicated orientation towards voting.”  First, only a few say they are likely to vote in the primaries and only 60% say they are likely to vote in the November general election.  Second, while 63% of millennials polled report having voted before in a presidential election, they also report mixed emotions about their impact:  37% agreed with the statement “my vote doesn’t really matter” and 55% agreed “there are better ways of making a difference than voting.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the scenes of the US-China negotiations

Rolling Stone recently published this intriguing backstory of the US-China climate change announcement made just two weeks before COP20 kicked off in Lima, Peru.  Obama and Xi Jinping

The bilateral conversation started last February with a phone call from U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern to his Chinese counterpart, followed up by a private letter to President Xi from President Obama a month later. (Xi had already traveled to the U.S. in the summer of 2013 just after becoming China’s president, to meet with Obama for two days of informal talks that resulted in an agreement limiting HFC emissions.) In early June, the EPA formally announced the Clean Power Plan, aimed to cut carbon dioxide from power plant emissions by 30% by 2030. This development showed the Obama Administration’s seriousness about using its executive branch power to limit GHG emissions.  According to Rolling Stone, “a few weeks later, a swarm of U.S. diplomats, including Kerry, Podesta and Stern, flew to Beijing for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a high-level diplomatic meeting between the United States and China.”  Despite private, data crunching meetings with Chinese officials, they left without a deal.  President Obama then sent President Xi “a focused two-page letter on what could be delivered during the November APEC visit to Beijing, and it emphasized the climate joint announcement.” In September, when Xi turned down Ban Ki-Moon’s invitation to the UN Climate Change Summit (going to India instead, where he and Prime Minister Modi signed new trade deals) and sent his VP in his place, little was expected from China in New York.  But behind the scenes, VP Gaoli told Obama that Xi wanted to do the deal and announced it at the upcoming APEC meeting.  This development set off a flurry of negotiation on the details that still weren’t set when Obama traveled to Beijing for the regional economic meeting.

In addition to providing a somewhat breathless account of these secret negotiations, this gripping article analyzes a number of pragmatic points about the deal.

COP20 decisionFirst is the potential political payoff from closer climate change relations between the world’s current highest GHG emitter (China) and the country it unseated for the top spot.  For the U.S. (and other developed countries), it means a breach in the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol wall between developed (Annex 1) and developing (nonAnnex 1) countries.  As Jairam Ramesh, a member of Indian Parliament and climate negotiator, was quoted, “In one move, Obama and Xi broke the logjam of climate politics. Until now, China has insisted that the U.S. and the EU are largely responsible for climate change. But this raises the bar for other nations.”  Of note is China’s influence on other advanced developing countries, like Brazil, South Korea, India, Mexico, and Indonesia. The deal also provides a retort to the U.S. climate change skeptic argument that any U.S. GHG reductions would be for naught given China’s high emissions.  As Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island was quoted saying, “now China is doing something pretty significant, while Republicans are still huddled in the dark castle of denial.” For China, with the dramatic announcement on the eve of COP20, President Xi had proven his diplomatic skill by cutting a deal with a world superpower while simultaneously attending to the national need to reduce China’s infamous air pollution.**  Second is the economic pay off of this deal for both countries. The stated focus on renewable energy while weaning themselves off carbon-based fuels provides clear signals from the U.S. and China to the business community about where to invest money.

john podesta in greenMost interesting for this blogger is the central role that John Podesta is credited for playing in bringing the deal to fruition.  Recall our opening question when he was hired by the Obama Administration last December?  While he may not have had an impact on last March’s special ADP meeting in Bonn, there is no doubt that he will at this February’s special ADP meeting in Geneva. And more to come in the long term, if Rolling Stone’s conclusion about his role in the next administration proves true!


**This news update: With asthma cases alone on the rise, the Asia Asthma Development Board says that China has the world’s highest mortality rate from asthma, with 36.7 out of 100,000 patients failing to survive.

California’s role in the US INDCs

Lima’s “Call for Climate Action,” as the COP20/CMP10 decisions have been termed, is one for the 196 UNFCCC state parties to heed when preparing their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) before next December’s COP21. Given that only sovereign countries may be parties to treaties like the UNFCCC, and that most of them rely on a centralized government model of governance, COP discussions on climate policy typically occur between national capitols. Even with the expanded recognition of subnational governments that took root at COP19, this continues to be the case.

jerry brownClearly Governor Jerry Brown didn’t get this jurisdictional memo. Yesterday, in a speech to inaugurate his final term as California’s governor, he called for “a bold energy plan” (according to the NYT) that would reduce the state’s energy consumption beyond its already ambitious 2020 goals. Building on AB32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas emission statute enacted in 2006 when federal climate change regulation was at a low, Brown proposes three new state energy goals:

  1. sourcing 50% of California’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030;
  2. reducing gas consumption by cars and trucks by as much as 50% (via electric cars, thus reverting back to the importance of #1); and
  3. doubling new building energy efficiency.

To meet them, the Governor listed a number of specific strategies in his speech, including more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, increased micro-grids, an “energy imbalance market,” improved battery storage, full integration of information technology and electrical distribution, and adding millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles.

As Governor Brown urged in his speech, “Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels. This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.” (On the catastrophic reference, see the NYT’s embedded video on drought in CA.)

Now that’s a call to action.  And one that will certainly help the Obama Administration make good on its proposed INDC pledges post COP19, recent announcement about joint China-US reductions, and use of national executive authority to achieve them — at a time when the incoming Republican Senate and House are challenging all of the above (despite a recent poll that found more than two-thirds of likely 2016 voters support the EPA’s power plant rule, including 87% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans).

Intertwining National and International CC Policymaking at the CEQ

Yesterday we had the good fortune to have a small-group meeting with Mike Boots, Acting Head of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Initiated by our friends on the Duke Observer Delegation  to COP20/CMP10, this gathering gave the CEQ an opportunity to hear observations from us, a range of U.S. university and law school students engaged in the international climate change negotiations.  Likewise we gained perspective on the CEQ’s domestic and international climate change policymaking agenda.

After setting the foundation on the CEQ’s role in environmental advising to our envirIMG_5374onmentalist-in-chief (vs. the EPA’s  role in enviro law making and enforcement), Mike focused his remarks on the Obama Administration’s three-pronged climate change strategy laid out in the President’s Climate Action Plan (PCAP).  As explained earlier on this blog,   the legs of this stool are mitigation (“Cut carbon pollution in America”), resilience/adaptation (“Preparing the U.S. for the impacts of climate change”), and international leadership (“Lead international efforts to combat climate change”).

One take home message was clear: the U.S. cannot lead internationally without first getting its climate change mitigation act together domestically. To that end, after a marked period of state climate leadership from 2000-2008, Mike pointed out the progressive and deliberate tilt toward national policymaking.  Clear examples are the revised CAFÉ standards to mitigate emissions from the transport sector (first with cars, then with trucks) and a focus on reducing GHGs from buildings.  Building on first term successes, the White House seeks to turn to the more thorny regulation of electricity from coal-fired plants. The centerpiece of this effort is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan Rule, which after its promulgation last summer, received more than a million comments.  Viewed as “dispersed and flexible,” the draft rule was proposed at a “ripe time” fueled by developments on both coasts, like Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the east and the Pacific Coast Action Plan in the west.  As the CEQ phrased it, all of this “advice” on what the draft rule got right and where it can improve will now be considered as the EPA finalizes the rule and prepares to defend it in litigation – all by summer 2015.

IMG_5378Another message was legacy.  By developing a comprehensive strategy in PCAP and then gradually implementing it, the CEQ seeks to embed best practices that will prove “durable” after the Obama Administration leaves office.  Looking at the resilience/adaptation leg of the stool, the CEQ’s recent guidance for federal agencies when responding after natural disasters provides a good example of working toward this goal.  Learning from critiques of federal responses to Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, this report seeks to shift individual agency thinking toward building and rebuilding in stronger and safer ways.  Likewise the CEQ’s Climate Resilience Toolkit.

Given that the two dozen students and professors were talking with Mike Boots in a meeting room in the COP20/CMP10 venue, the Obama Administration’s international climate change agenda was on everyone’s minds, notably the US-China bilateral announcement covered by our blog herehere, and here which catapulted two of the world’s largest GHG emitters into climate change mitigation leaders just moments before coming to Lima.  Given the shift to nationally determined contributions in the 2015 agreement, the linking of national climate change policymaking with international negotiation is reflected in the CEQ’s staffing model.

Legal enough?

In the run up to next week’s special meeting of the ADP, the United States is publicly setting out its negotiation agenda.


Todd Stern making an announcement at last year’s COP19/CMP9.

In a speech on Monday at Yale University, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern indicated the country’s position on the meaning of “legal” in the ADP’s mandate to produce “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” to take the place of the Kyoto Protocol after its second commitment period ends in 2020.

The Obama Administration is in a tough spot.  It wants to be a player in developing a 2015 agreement (popularly called the Paris agreement, for it is due to be opened for signature at COP21 in the City of Light).  It knows that this new agreement will contain legal elements.  It also knows that if the entire package takes the form of a treaty, it would have to bring it to the Senate for ratification — a highly unlikely proposition even if the Democrats maintain control after this fall’s midterm elections.

In his formal remarks, Stern pointed to New Zealand’s proposal for all countries to submit an emissions reduction schedule that would be legally binding and subject to mandatory accounting, reporting and review rules, but that stops short of taking the form of an internationally binding treaty.

Late night ADP negotiations in Warsaw.

Mexico and Singapore await their turns to speak at a late night session of the ADP in Warsaw.

As reported by Reuters, Stern commented that “some are sure to disapprove of the New Zealand idea, since the mitigation commitment itself is not legally binding, but we would counsel against that kind of orthodoxy.”   In the National Journal he argued that the flip side of this approach may be “increased ambition” in these nationally determined commitments: “Many countries, if forced to put forward legally binding commitments at the international level, are inevitably going to lowball their commitment out of fear—anxiety about what it means for their commitment to be internationally legally binding.”  Stern suggested at his Yale talk that countries might include description of the legally binding measures it will take domestically to meet its internationally stated goal, to reinforce the heft of its submission:  “it’s important for countries to make clear which specific policies will be used to meet their emissions targets.”

While this stance will indeed disappoint global partners in the UNFCCC’s ADP negotiations, officials inside the U.S. point out that it doesn’t weaken the country’s domestic approach to mitigating climate change.  Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said that the U.S. is aware that its own target will have a major impact on the outcome of a global deal.  “The more that we do, the more our ability to push other countries to make bold commitments as well, particularly China. It is something we are very focused on in terms of what targets we are able to get to.”  Stern also observed that the President’s Climate Action Plan and the EPA’s recent Clean Power Plan rulemaking “give us a level of credibility, and it give us a level of leverage that we have not had in the time I have been here.”


UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres at the bully pulpit.

Any points of common ground as we move from Bonn’s special ADP meeting next week to Lima’s COP20/CMP10 in December?

“We should agree on an angle of the [Paris] conference this year in Lima, Peru,” Stern opined to The Hill.  To that end, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres told the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations that given the lessons learned from COP15 in Copenhagen, she will push state parties gathered in Lima to have “cleanest possible draft text” available for governments by April 15, 2015.

U.S. Makes a Full-Court Press on COP19’s Penultimate Day

The U.S. delegation has kicked into high gear during the last 36 hours.  As Chris noted in his recent post, Todd Stern arrived in Warsaw yesterday and appeared at a U.S. Pavilion event kicking off a program with Norway and the U.K. aimed at combating deforestation.  This morning – today being the penultimate day of COP19   – Stern not only gave his opening remarks to the Joint High Level Segment of the 6th Meeting of the COP/CMP (which were originally scheduled for yesterday afternoon), but also made a short speech at the High Level  Ministerial Dialogue on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

ADP CO-Chairs before listening to the ministers' take on the ADP's mandate.

ADP CO-Chairs before listening to the ministers’ take on the ADP’s mandate.

Special Envoy Stern began this very important statement about the future of international climate change law like any good lawyer, with his theory of the case:  “everything begins at home.”  As observed earlier in this blog, the UNFCCC parties are moving to a “bottom-up facilitative” approach post-Doha of making national commitments based on home country conditions.  And so Mr. Stern described the progress the U.S. has made in decreasing its GHG emissions, despite having turned its back on the Kyoto Protocol under the George W. Bush administration.  Drawing on the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan, he urged parties to reduce support for high carbon industries, like coal-fired electricity production, and thus redirect some $400-800 billion per year into a cleaner, more sustainable economy.  Stern also encouraged prioritizing the reduction of methane, HFCs (which Stern said could lead to a decrease of 90 gigatons of CO2 and could be done under the Montreal Protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer), and black carbon.

He closed by summarizing what he sees as areas of convergence and divergence among the state parties at this point in the negotiations.  Where he sees agreement :

1. all parties participate (i.e. Annex 1 and non-Annex 1, developed and developing);

2. national commitments based on self-determination, in line with CBDR and protecting developing country interests;

3. transparency, so that countries may “compare and share;” and

4. beginning domestic commitments now.  On that last point, he announced that the U.S. will be ready to report its commitments before COP21 to be held in Paris in 2015, when this new agreement would be signed.

The area of divergence highlighted by Stern is one that has loomed large in APD debate to date: “self differentiation that does not satisfy the CBDR” or what might be more plainly called keeping the Annex 1/non Annex 1 division of commitments.  Calling this approach a “prescription for orthodoxy, not for solving the real crisis of climate change,” he argued that if these categories of party commitments are to be operationalized, they have to change over time, as countries become increasingly developed and thus increasingly emit GHGs while achieving that status.

Stern do the real work, after his morning speech, in the hallway outside the APD meeting.

Stern (with back to me) negotiating in the hallway outside the APD meeting after his morning speech,

I should note that Stern’s comments followed China’s and preceded Venezuela’s, in this “icebreaking” segment of the HLM dialogue in which state parties were encouraged to be “brutally honest.”  Suffice to say, the U.S. position stood in stark contrast to China’s admonition that “we should never engage in empty talk” that deviates from the UNFCCC (including its annexes and Article 3 principles) and underscoring that the CBDR principle recognizes industrialized countries’ historical responsibility for global warming. Venezuela’s environmental minister, in turn, delivered some tough love to the U.S. bottom-up approach:  This “flexible sort of revised text” simply means self-defined obligations without  international rules, which was not the parties’ meaning of “legally binding” in the Durban Plan.  “Climate change requires more than ambition on statements,” she stated emphatically, it needs a “strong legal regime” that builds on national actions already undertaken and  “wider collective actions” that need international rules, supported by legal weight, to make countries accountable and compliant.  Period.

I think she’s got some very good points.  Stay tuned.  The night is young and the ADP is now in its fourth hour of negotiation after the world’s environmental ministers gave their work a new sense of urgency.