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.


Ministerial Declaration on Forests Fails to Deliver on Paris Agreement Ambition

pressA press conference was held on 12 December 2018, just one hour before the release of a Declaration written by the Polish Ministry on Forests for the Climate.  The conference was led by ”Fern,” an EU organization that advocates for forests and the people whose livelihoods depend on them, supported by the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA), a collaboration of non-governmental organizations that echoes Fern’s mission with principles of social justice and agroecology.  Forestry campaigners and experts brought in by Fern shared their reactions to what they believed to be a genuine sneak peek at the declaration that was to be released later that same evening.

The Katowice Press Conference Room was graced with opinions from Christoph T., forest campaigner for Greenpeace Poland; a climate coordinator at the Global Forest Coalition and REDD+ expert from New Delhi; Virginia Young from the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society; and Otto Bruun, Policy Officer for the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.  All of the speakers anticipated a lack of ambition in the Presidency’s declaration, something we cannot afford in our current climate.  These speakers emphasized the need to conserve forests for the sake of biodiversity, soil health, and protection from the effects of extreme natural disasters.  Forest carbon stocks were identified by Young as a complex, integrated system that encompass more than just carbon, and cannot afford to be cut down and burned in our current climate crisis (particularly primary forests).

The foreshadowed lack of ambition was realized in the release of the document.  The Polish Ministry cited Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, whose plain language can be categorized as soft law at best: Parties “should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests,” and “are encouraged to take action to implement…policy incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation…”

Thus, the PA does not bind Parties to any definitive action towards conserving carbon sinks in the form of forest resources.  The Polish Ministry did not add much to this lack of ambition in their declaration by “encouraging” the scientific community toWooden signpost with two opposite arrows over clear blue sky Old Business Way and New Business Way Business change conceptual image achieve a balance between anthropocentric emissions by sources and removals by sinks in the second half of this century, second only to a pledge that will “ensure an accelerated global contribution to forests and forest products.”  This not-so-subtle dedication to industry is certain to undermine forest preservation efforts many global organizations like Fern are urging governments to uphold.

If the IPCC made anything clear in its recent report, we need a rapid and just decarbonization by 2030 if we want to maintain the ambition of the PA.  This will not come to fruition if we do not work with gusto to protect what Al Gore described today as the cheapest and most efficient form of carbon sequestration already on the market – forests.

Continuing business as usual precludes banking on there being plenty more where that came from.


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.

 


The Pre-2020 Stocktake: Disappointment and Resolve

As with any massive undertaking, practice makes better. The Global Stocktake in 2023 is no different.image1024x768
In accordance with decisions at COP21, to implement enhanced action prior to 2020, and at COP23, emphasizing that enhanced pre-2020 ambition can lay a solid foundation for post-2020 goals, this year’s COP held a two-part assessment of global progress. The first event, held on December 5th, was a Technical Review, while the second event, held on December 10th, was a High-Level meeting of the Parties. Each session was composed of two panels. Each answered predetermined questions followed by an open plenary discussion where Member Parties could intervene.
The Technical Review’s first panel, consisting of the heads of the subsidiary bodies, considered “the work of the UNFCCC process related to the mitigation efforts up to 2020.” It addressed issues such as technology transfer, capacity building, and the IPCC 15 report. The second panel, made up of financial bodies and technical experts, highlighted “efforts of the UNFCCC process to enhance climate implementation and ambition up to 2020.” It focused on ease of access to climate finance, as well as on parties’ progress towards their finance commitments.
COP24-6Today’s High-Level meeting saw two panels made up of ministers of various Developed and Developing Country Parties: Poland, Grenada, the European Commission, China, & Australia in the first session, followed by Norway, Brazil, Germany, Ethiopia, Japan, & Finland. The panels began by discussing the pre-2020 efforts of Parties to mitigate greenhouse gases & ways to enhance efforts, and the provision of support for climate efforts and enhancing efforts, respectively.
Discussions in each session forced Parties to consider their efforts to implement mitigation strategies, make climate finance more accessible, and to meet the various commitments and ambitions in the pre-2020 period. While the aim of this stocktake was to “provide a space for holistic reflection by ministers and other high-level representatives,” it raised serious questions regarding gaps between Parties’ commitments and the reality exposed by the IPCC 15 and other reports.
While Panelists focused on the positive and what had been working thus far, such as finding the right incentives to delink economic growth from emissions, doubts were raised during the plenary. Most poignant was India’s intervention: “Are these pre-2020 actions adequate? Have we addressed the task before us?”
To which, it seems, the answer is “No. Not yet.”


Defining Climate Refugees

Climate RefugeeUnder the Geneva Convention, a refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. However, when migrants flee a country due to climate change, they cannot seek refugee status because the Geneva Convention does not cover persons not being able to return to their country due to climate change destroying their livelihood or their homes.  So when the 2010 Haiti Earthquake struck, all the displaced Haitians were unable to seek refugee status. Luckily, Brazil still accepted the Haitians into its country and allowed the Haitians an opportunity to make Brazil their legal residence. However, that is not true for all environmental migrants.

Throughout the world, there are groups of migrants who are forced to leave their country in search of new opportunities because climate change has destroyed their way of life. Whether it would be droughts, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, rising sea levels, or pollution, these climate refugees are forcibly displaced to go elsewhere. However, migrants moving to other countries without refugee status is a terrible situation to be in. On top of losing their monetary possessions, climate refugees are not allowed refugee rights under the Geneva Convention: access to the courts, to primary education, to work, and the provision for documentation, including a refugee travel document in passport form.

CIDCE

At the COP24 side event Implementation of Article 8 of the Paris Agreement and decision 49/CP.21, Panelist Shérazade Zaiter shared that the International Center for Comparative Environmental Law (CIDCE) is working on creating a legal framework for climate refugees. To start, CIDCE is working to define the term climate refugee like the Geneva Convention has done for refugees. Without the benefits and rights of refugees, climate refugees will struggle to find opportunities for a new life elsewhere. Sherazade mentioned that even if countries began implementing the recommendations from the Task Force on Displacement (TFD), the lack of legal infrastructure for climate refugees will make the benefits from the recommendations difficult to reach the climate refugees. The solution from the TFD to address displacement is enhancing opportunities for regular migration pathways, including through labour mobility, consistent with international labour standards.

However, environmental refugees will be unable to work under the Geneva Convention. As of now, climate refugees need to rely on countries to behave like Brazil and accept and provide rights to climate refugees regardless of the lack guiding international law. To provide climate refugees rights, CICDE is also working on a proposal for a Convention to establish a legal framework to guarantee rights under international norms to climate refugees. Even though the legal term is not exactly “climate refugee,” the classification of a climate refugee is the same as “déplacés environnementaux.” Chapter 4, Article 12 of the draft provides climate refugees sixteen defined rights which allows them to live, work, and gain an education. Moving forward, this Convention is definitely necessary for the future of climate refugees and needs to be discussed at a higher level.


China’s Looks to Improve Transparency on Climate Change

Public particip050409_china_protest_bcol7a.standard1ation plays a critical role in environmental discussions. Any good forward-thinking government should act in the best interest of their people. Public participation involves the input of citizens that lead to legislation decision making. Public participation should be a logical step in building trust and holding government officials accountable. Public participation is integral in article 6 of the UNFCCC that enables “public participation in addressing climate change and its effects and developing adequate responses.
Keeping within the spirit of Article 6, developing countries are slowly enabling public participation and education programs that help build awareness of the effects of climate change. China, even though it has a history of significant media censorship, has started campaigning and encouraging the public to learn and speak up on climate change. Today at COP24, the China pavilion hosted a presentation on its efforts to engage the public. Despite the many criticisms China faces in not doing more in combating climate change, one of the positive things about China is that it acknowledges that climate change is real. China has accepted that increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
China says that it is campaigning and hosting conferences that raise public awareness and transparency. Chinese media outlets are now implementing initiatives that enable greater access to the public. However, the media has also warned that the public responses should be objective and rational. The Chinese press is also filming a documentary on the effects of climate change in China.
Outside of the media, the Chinese government developed the China Center for Climate Change Communication. The organization is a collaboration between the Research Center for Journalism and Social Development of Renmin University and Oxfam Hong Kong. The organization’s mission is to exchange publications on climate change with other experts and NGOs.
Moreover, China is involved in joint ventures with India in building education programs that teach the value of conservation to young children. The program, called the Smart Cloud Campus Network, seeks to fundamentally change consumption behavior at an early age by developing lessons and activities that encompass the principals linked with the 17 elements of the SDGs published by the UNFCCC. The program’s secondary goal is to move towards making campuses carbon neutral.
China invited Greenpeace Poland to the discussion and served as a case study in which China hopes to follow in the same manner. Fifteen years ago, Polish citizens had no concept of renewable energy, nor the idea of climate change. Ten years of public awareness has started to shifted public perception favoring clean energy solutions. Surveys conducted recently in Poland show that 69% of the public wants to quit coal by 2030. The main message that helped initiate public climate action discussions by shifting from the climate change to human tragedies that affect community can also happen to us.
At negotiation sessions at COP24, China’s comments and suggestions subtly give away its position to build in flexibility allowing a balance between economic growth and climate change. Although China is known for suppressing negative stories and opinions to save face, we must give China an opportunity of good faith to make good on its promises. After all, can you name a country who has not censored speech against its citizens? China’s commitment to climate change appears sincere. I hope they don’t disappoint us.

Climate Change and Health Unite!

COP24 SREver since the first IPCC assessment report in 1990, the international community has known of the health dangers that climate change imposes on humans. From increasing rates and ranges of water borne and vector borne diseases, frequencies of natural disasters, and exposure to climate pollutants, people have been suffering from the immediate effects of climate change. However, the UNFCCC has been quiet on this issue. Despite acknowledging the “deleterious effects . . . on health health and welfare” from the adverse effects of climate change in Article 1 of the UNFCCC, the UNFCCC has yet to create substantial progress in addressing the issue. Moreover, UNFCCC Article 4.1(f) mandates the parties to conduct impact assessments with a view to minimize the adverse effects of climate change on the public health. Focusing primarily on mitigation efforts, the UNFCCC has been set on completing long-term goals of decreasing carbon emissions to stop the global temperature average from increasing to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, this narrow sight forward has left resources dry for efforts to adapt to the adverse health effects from climate change. According to statistics, only 15 percent of INDCs submitted included health and only 0.5 percent of funds disbursed by the Global Environmental Facility, the Adaptation Fund, the Pilot Programme for Climate and Resilience, the MDG Achievement Fund, and the Green Climate Fund went to health projects. That is, until today. Air Pollution

On December 5, 2018, a side event sponsored by the UNFCCC and WHO revealed a special report by WHO: COP24 Special Report Health & Climate Change. During COP23, the Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama called for WHO to develop a report on health and climate change to be delivered at COP24. At this event, a panel consisting of members from UNFCCC, WHO, WMO, Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), Health Care Without Harm, and International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) delivered the report.

AOSIS Chief Negotiator, Amjad Abdulla, held opening remarks, reminding the audience that the adverse effects of climate change is already upon us. There is a dire need to build facilities that can withstand the dangers of climate change. If countries are not resilient, then they will succumb to the devastating effects of climate change. The air pollution problem that kills 7 million people a year must be resolved. The UNFCCC has pushed for a transition into a low-carbon economy. However, Mr. Abdulla stressed that the transition cannot be just for a low-carbon economy, but also for an air pollutant free economy. According to Dr. Kumar, a surgeon from New Delhi, hazardous air pollutants from fossil fuel emissions must be stopped or humanity will become the fossils that we burn. However, there are also implications to switching to a renewable economy. According to Elena Manaenkova, the WMO Secretary General, the connection between air quality and climate change is complicated. Sometimes, solutions that promote air quality is detrimental to the efforts to address climate and vice versa. Therefore, there is a need to carefully strategize every solution to ensure there is synergy to promote both air quality and lowering carbon emissions.

With the information provided by WHO about health and climate change, there are hopes that the UNFCCC changes the way it has advocated for health and climate change. The report provided nine recommendations which COP may welcome to provide a safe, prosperous journey to a low carbon world.

Recommendations


BURs: One Small Decision Leads to Surprising Results!

The Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) is a hot topic at COP24. At the conclusion of COP24 is the deadline for all parties to put their heads together, develop, and finalize provisions for the modalities, procedures and guidelines (MPG) of the ETF. The MPGs might supersede and replace the current transparency framework called measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV). Completion of the MPGs marks a significant milestone for the Paris Agreement. Anticipation to see the final provisions and roll out of the MPGs has already caused ripple effects when it comes to reporting.

The UNFCCC cannot help but celebrate the ongoing progress in transparency. The UNFCCC is observing the fruits of all party’s efforts, despite some resistancbur1_552e, through increase rates of party participation in submitting annual reports, specifically Biennial Update Reports (BURs). The BUR was the brain child of PA parties committed to climate change at COP17 in 2012. BURs are reports submitted by non-Annex I parties. BURs generally contain updates to GHG inventories, mitigation actions, status, needs and support. BURs should be submitted every two years at the time of the first submittal. Least developed country parties (LDC) have the flexibility to submit their first BUR at their discretion. The BURs are purely collaborative and peer-reviewed by international consultation and analysis (ICA). The ICA is made up of teams of experts that consist of PA parties.

Although BURs on their face may not appear to be an exciting process, parties’ implementation, feedback and lessons learned have exciting benefits. At COP24, the UNFCCC hosted a side event which showed the progress of BURs and featured case studies from Brazil and China.

As of today, the UNFCC has received a total of 66 BUR reports. Recent submissions from Brazil and China help serve as ideal case studies for other non-Annex I parties.

When Brazil started preparing its BUR report, little did it know that the BUR would significantly enhance government workflow and increase environmental awareness. Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs led the BUR report and quickly learned the logistical nightmare and resources needed to complete the report. Brazil’s BUR report took about a year to complete. However, after the report was submitted, Brazil conducted a lessons learned exercise and found surprising results. Brazil learned that preparation of the BUR improved communication and exchange between ministries. Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) engaged with energy and agriculture agencies, which were unfamiliar with the UNFCCC and the BUR. The MOFA encouraged these officials to participate in BUR workshops and in turn the agencies spurred investigation and internal discussion adopting environmental initiatives in their respective agencies.

China’s BUR had similar benefits compared to Brazil. Lessons learned after China’s first BUR submission revealed adoption of procedures that heightened internal quality assurance and control. Additionally, China started building a national system to archive environmental and climate change data. Even more impressive, China pushed past its reluctant disposition and started sharing emission factor data and best practices with the ICA. China is in progress in submitting its second BUR report and is excited to see the differences from its first report.

The BURs play a key role in helping developing countries establish environmental reporting procedures. BURs can also have the indirect effect of facilitating government cohesion between agencies and pushing countries down a greener path.


What does “progress” mean during informal consultations?

Progress appears to have a different meaning between developed and developing countries. At the end of today’s APA Agenda Item 4 meeting on Article 7, paragraphs 10 and 11, of the Paris Agreement, one developed country Party suggested that more time should be allotted for issues not fully discussed in the meeting. This Party stated that extra allotted time is needed because no progress has been made on text agreement. A developing country Party chimed in disagreeing about progress made today and yesterday. So what does progress mean?

While the developing countries struggle with the late informal informal meeting times, their preparation shows at every meeting. Unfortunately, as an Observer, I cannot attend the informal informal consultations. It appears there was some negotiation and consensus in the informal informal last night because I did not catch an agreement on textual language during the Tuesday informal consultation. Between today and yesterday, the APA meetings have discussed around ten paragraphs. Three paragraphs have already been agreed upon and will be published in the final draft due by the end of the week. This is where the progress argument diverges.

On its face, agreement on three out of ten paragraphs does not seem like a lot of progress. This is the stance of the developed country. With three days left to produce a final text, this is definitely not the progress the developed country wanted because there are still many paragraphs to discuss. The developed country is concerned because there are some paragraphs from the last two sessions that have not been discussed in length. Parties have not presented text proposals in front of the facilitators and all Parties. This Party stressed the need to streamline paragraphs in order to reach the deadline at the end of the week. This was not surprising because the Party has been proposing streamlining for the last sessions.

On the other hand, three out of ten paragraphs over the course of two sessions, is an incredible amount of progress from the developing country’s perspective. Especially because these negotiations have been taking place over the course of almost three years. From this lens, producing a text in three days is possible. This can be achieved with the amount of time that the cofacilitators have been able to reserve for informal informals. Even though the developing countries lack resources with experts in this area, most understand how important adaptation has become. Thus, many of these countries are providing input about this text.

Where does this leave the definition of progress? In limbo. There is no concrete answer to this question. What each country needs addressed in each paragraph determines how they view progress. This conclusion is not surprising given the nature of UNFCCC negotiation sessions.


Adaptation and GCF at the Koronivia Workshop

Today was our delegation’s first day at COP24 in Katowice, Poland. The experience was a whirlwind. We all were figuring out where to go for meetings, identifying who was speaking for each Party, and how to best soak in all the activities of COP. We attended sessions in our area of expertise, and sometimes those sessions overlapped areas of expertise. The Koronivia Workshop was such a program with an overlap between adaptation and agriculture.

The Koronivia workshop was split into sessions: morning and afternoon. Both sessions included adaption and financing discussions. Presenters offered a PowerPoint about projects in their respective countries. The agenda can be found here.

At the end of the afternoon session, countries and NGOs were able to contribute to an open discussion. The Co-Facilitators opened the floor to discuss three questions about the constituted bodies (CBs), useful modalities to implement outcomes from the workshops, and future topics that may arise from the outcomes. Suggestions from the countries were helpful and constructive, but there was no decision made on how to proceed. Check the blog tomorrow for more specific answers given to the above questions from our ag expert, Liz.

One concerning question was raised about the role of the GCF. A GCF representative was present; however, GCF did not give a formal presentation because the workshop was focused on Parties and CBs. The GCF is not a CB, so its role in Koronivia is not mandatory. But the GCF representative stated that many projects currently funded by the GCF are agriculture focused and expressed that the GCF will continue to fund similar programs. GCF addressed concerns about their funding process. GCF guided all Parties to provide more information about their projects to develop tailor-made funding efforts. GCF can, and will, support climate resilient agriculture. Each country needs to request to funding in order for funds to be dispersed to their project.

The workshop concluded with the announcement that there will be an informal consultation on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, at noon to discuss some issues that were not addressed during this workshop. For information on the first session, and an overview of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, please see this blog post.


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).
Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 4.17.02 PM

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.


Working Towards an “Ocean COP”

Ocean health is a big deal. It provides food security and resources to sustain our economies. It regulates our weather patterns. It absorbs heat and our carbon dioxide emissions. We often forget how dependent we are on the oceans. But lucky for us, UNFCCC Parties recognize that the “well below 2˚C” goal is not achievable without the ocean.

In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-chaired the first UN Ocean Conference in New York City—a conference on ocean health and sustainability. Fiji used that momentum as the COP23 President to bring awareness of ocean health to climate change discussions. Partnering again with Sweden, this dynamic duo co-chaired the Ocean Pathway. In total, 10 parties and 14 Advisory groups committed to the Ocean Pathway at COP23. Participation is likely to increase at COP24 following a year of devastating weather events.

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The Ocean Pathway is a new innovation to incorporate ocean conservation into the international climate change regime. This two-track strategy will (1) “increase the role of ocean consideration in the UNFCCC process” while (2) “significantly increasing action in priority areas impacting or impacted by [the] ocean and climate change.” 

The first track aims to develop a strategy to implement the ocean into UNFCCC negotiations with the “Friends of the Ocean” process—an open forum for Parties to discuss, debate, and implement measures to combat ocean concerns for the next two COPs. The goal is to make COP25 the “Ocean COP” by developing an effective work programme and potential agenda item by 2020.

The second track will strengthen previous ocean and climate change actions by developing new partnerships and platforms to increase momentum in the ocean conservation movement. Such actions include reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and increasing protection of blue carbon areas. Most important to COP24, the Because of the Ocean Coalition encourages Parties’ to include ocean-related measures in their NDCs! Not only will Parties combat climate change, but they can also tackle important concerns like ocean acidification, sea level rise, and pollution. A major win in the marine conservation realm!


Early Warning to COP

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Climate change is causing an increase in natural disasters while vulnerable countries lack the proper infrastructure to counter them. To tackle this issue, vulnerable countries have been working on implementing early warning systems (EWS). In addition to saving lives, EWS provide reliable risk information which allows sound investments into a country’s infrastructure. However, these vulnerable countries often lack the capacity to install EWS and require cooperation from the international community to implement them.

IAftermath Bridgendonesia’s recent struggle with its EWS exemplifies the lack of capacity building. On September 28, 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake created a series of tsunamis that devastated the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Over 1,200 people were killed and over 61,000 displaced. A network of 22 buoys connected to seafloor sensors float off Indonesia’s coast, intended to warn the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics of tsunami activity. This high-tech EWS was installed after the 2004 tsunami that killed nearly 150,000 people. However, the detection buoys were defective, leaving thousands of people helpless in the wake of the disaster. The agency did issue a tsunami warning, but lifted the warning after 34 minutes because  the tsunami detection system did . According to Indonesia, the EWS has been malfunctioning since 2012 because it did not have the funding to repair or perform routine maintenance on EWS.

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The UN has stressed the importance of implementing EWS since the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in 2005. However, the UNFCCC did not address early warning systems until COP16 created the Cancun Adaptation Framework in 2010. Nonetheless, the talks were important to build momentum to have EWS explicitly included into the Paris Agreement (PA) under Article 7(7)(c). This provision reads that Parties should strengthen their cooperation on enhancing action on adaptation by “strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making.”

The inclusion of EWS in the PA–a binding treaty–is crucial in helping vulnerable countries develop early warning systems to reduce the impacts of disasters. According to the WMO, 54% of surface stations and 71% of atmospheric weather stations emit no data. To address this issue, decision 1/CP.20 invited Parties to consider including an adaptation plan in their INDCs, and a majority of the Parties defined EWS as a priority for adaptation.

COP24 is especially important for the implementation of EWS because this COP will finalize the implementation rules for the PA. With the fifth anniversary of Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) being held in Poland, loss and damage will likely be a prioritized negotiation which relies heavily on EWS. The 2018 Report of the Excom of WIM recommends cooperation to support preparedness through EWS — a hopeful sign for aiding vulnerable countries to maintain functional EWS and prevent another incident like Indonesia’s from happening again.


Green Climate Fund Approves $1B in New Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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