A Numbers “Crunch” – Trump & The UNFCCC

Number-crunchingLike most every other institution around the globe, for a while now, the UNFCCC has been called on to do more with less. This is clearly reflected in the Executive Secretary’s recent budget presentations that report contributions to UNFCCC trust funds have declined significantly for at least the last 5 years. In fact, 2016 contributions are just 43% of the 2012 level. And all the while, the COP has added new tasks, including, most recently, the raft of work associated with the 2015 Paris Agreement.reduce-boost-graph SmallbizTrends

At a COP22 informal session on November 11, Espinosa shared that the Secretariat, with its mandated zero-growth budget, will be unable to fully deliver on its current mandates. So, all countries are being called on to meet their full commitments and to increase their voluntary contributions.

It just so happens that the U.S. is a big piece of this budget picture, contributing (as of October 21) more than 20% of the total $30.3 mill* in 2016 receipts for the 3 non-Kyoto Protocol related funds. These include the Trust Fund for the Core Budget (with country-specific contribution levels based on UN-determined proportions) and two voluntary funds: Trust Fund for Supplementary Activities and Trust Fund for Participation in the UNFCCC Process (the latter to help developing country Parties attend COPs and other meetings).

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 11.50.06 PMAnd, of course, there is the ongoing U.S. climate funding via appropriations from Congress, development finance, and export credit, which totaled $2.6 billion in 2015. That was before $500 million was transmitted to the Green Climate Fund earlier this year in partial fulfillment of the $3 billion U.S. promise (that constitutes 30% of that fund’s total pledges). All of it adds up to a very big number in the climate finance world.

Then, on November 8, from stage right: enter President-elect Trump.

While the potential impact on the climate regime is about more than money (check out our Monday story), the finance implications are indeed great. Considering Mr. Trump’s campaign pledges, the Republican Party’s platform position, and the Transition Team’s recent statements, when it comes to climate funding, those calculators only subtract.

Many negotiators and high-level ministers attending COP22 from around the world have been cautioning against hasty speculation on U.S. policy post-January 20, 2017. Behind the scenes, however, and certainly within the Secretariat, the number crunching has doubtless turned to nail biting.


* Based on 11/17/16 EUR-USD exchange rate

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Is Time Running Out?


COP 22 hourglass display representing the limited time left to avoid irreversible climate change before the year 2100.

Referencing the response to climate change at today’s COP 22, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the issue in terms of time.   He stated, “The question is not whether we will transition to a clean energy economy. The question is whether we will have the will power to make the transition in time.  Time is not on our side.”  He was speaking to a group in Marrakech, but his question was really to the world.


Secretary of State John Kerry in Marrakech, Morocco for the COP 22 Climate negotiations.





Sec. Kerry confirmed that the global community is more united than ever and taking real action this year, as evidenced in such historic global agreements as the Paris Agreement, the ICAO Agreement and the Kigali Agreement. Sec. Kerry reassured his listeners that despite the uncertainty that is coming from recent election results, climate change is not a partisan issue.  The majority of Americans, scientists, military leaders, intelligence community, state and city leaders, business leaders, advocacy groups and community organizers are committed to fighting against the problems that contribute to climate change. The Secretary emphasized that although he would not speculate on the incoming administration’s policies regarding the Paris Agreement, he took heart because “issues look very different on the campaign trail than when you are actually in office.”  In fact, the U.S. is on its way to meet its Paris Agreement goals based on market forces and state regulations already in place. Investing in clean energy makes good market sense because as the Secretary said, “you can do good and do well at the same time.”

A New Dawn

King Mohammed VI of Morocco, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, COP 22 President Salaheddine Mezouar, and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa wait to greet arriving dignitaries to the first meeting of the UNFCCC under the Paris Agreement.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, COP 22 President Salaheddine Mezouar, and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa wait to greet arriving dignitaries to the first meeting of the UNFCCC under the Paris Agreement.

One year ago, parties to the UNFCCC signed the Paris Agreement, expecting it to come into force over the next four years as individual nations went through the slow process of ratification. To everyone’s surprise, the requisite number of nations ratified it, and as of November 4, the Paris Agreement officially came into force. Today, the parties to the UNFCCC held the first meeting under the Paris Agreement. At the opening ceremony, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that this historic approval marks “a new dawn for global cooperation on climate change.” All of the speakers at the ceremony emphasized that this rapid endorsement demonstrates that the world is ready to move forward together to address climate change.

The shadow of US President-elect Donald Trump occasionally threatened to cloud the day’s proceedings, but the new dawn continued to shine through. President François Hollande of France

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President François Hollande of France

called for consistency and perseverance to work towards the goals of the Agreement, which he called irreversible in law, in fact, and in the minds of the citizens of the world. He specifically thanked President Obama for his crucial role in obtaining agreement in Paris, and then called out the United States, stating that “the largest economic power in the world and the second largest greenhouse gas emitter must respect the commitments they have undertaken.”


Jonathan Pershing, U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change

The conversation about U.S. participation in the Agreement continued throughout the day. Jonathan Pershing, the Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, focused on market forces that have made fossil fuels unsustainable. For example, he pointed out that the U.S. currently has over 2 million renewable energy jobs compared to 65,000 coal miners. Although refusing to speculate on the future administration, he hinted that a President focused on jobs might find the renewable energy sector more attractive. He also observed that cities and local governments are already adapting to natural disasters, whether they were calling it adaptation to climate change or not.

In a heavily attended panel on U.S.

Senior Advisor to the President Brian Deese and Secretary of Natural Resources for Vermont Deb Markowitz

Senior Advisor to the President Brian Deese and Secretary of Natural Resources for Vermont Deb Markowitz

Climate Action, Deb Markowitz (Secretary of Natural Resources for Vermont) addressed the tension head-on, theorizing that many people were there to find out just what effect the Trump administration would have. The panelists’ answer? Not as much as one might fear. Brian Deese (Senior Advisor to the President overseeing Climate Change and Energy Policy) emphasized that the Clean Power Plan was promulgated in response to a mandate from the US Supreme Court holding the EPA has a duty to regulate greenhouse gases. Even President Trump cannot reverse the Supreme Court’s holding, nor can he eliminate the Clean Power Plan without backing in science and law. Markowitz, meanwhile, focused on state action. She observed that state actions drove U.S. climate response during the Bush years, and pointed out that states from Texas to Vermont are deploying renewable energy projects.

As President Hollande observed today, our world is in turmoil – a setting in which “those who trade in fear are allowed to thrive.” In this world, many have come to doubt what the international community can do. But the Paris Agreement is a beacon of hope in the night, and “a promise of hope cannot be betrayed. It must be fulfilled.” With, or without, the President of the United States.

Survey says . . .

political survey resultsA new study by Yale and George Mason universities of US registered voters and their attitudes about climate change reports some consistent results:  Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be convinced that human-caused global warming is happening and to support climate action by elected officials.

But the studies’ authors dig deeper to show more nuanced shifts in public opinion about climate change.  As they wrote: “One of the most interesting—and consistent—findings is a clear difference between liberal/moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans. In many respects, liberal/moderate Republicans are similar to moderate/ conservative Democrats on the issue of global warming, potentially forming a moderate, middle-ground public. Republicans are not a monolithic block of global warming policy opponents. Rather, liberal/moderate Republicans are often part of the mainstream of public opinion on climate change, while conservative Republicans’ views are often distinctly different than the rest of the American public.

Here are the numbers:

  • 73% of registered voters think global warming is happening.
  • 95% of liberal Democrats and 80% of moderate/conservative Democrats think it’s happening.
  • 74% of Independents also respond this way.
  • 47% of conservative Republicans think global warming is happening.  But this number increased 19% over the last two years, making it the largest shift in attitude of any of the groups polled.
  • 71% of liberal/moderate Republicans think that global warming is happening.
  • 56% of all registered voters think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities and an additional 4% think that both human activities and natural changes cause it.
  • 43% of registered voters are “more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming” while 14% are “less likely to vote for” such a candidate.

For more analysis of respondents’ support for specific government policies on renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions reductions, consumer behavior, and political activism, read here.

Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, attributes this rise in conservative belief in global warming in part to the drop in climate denial rhetoric on the campaign trail. “In this presidential race, climate change hasn’t come up on the Republican side at all. It means that none of the political discourse, the discussion among the Republican Party right now, is addressing climate change at all. That’s actually an improvement in the discourse.” This absence, he reasons, may have made it easier for some conservatives to shift their views “because they’re not hearing a constant barrage of ‘This is a liberal hoax.’”

Analyzing the poll data for its potential impact on the 2016 presidential election, Leiserowitz concedes that “it’s a very small proportion of Americans that say, ‘This is the one single issue that I’m voting on. … But on the other hand, there’s a much larger proportion of Americans who say, ‘It’s one of the key issues that I’m going to be paying attention to.’”


Will climate change affect the US presidential election?

gallupGallup’s annual environment poll reports that more people in the U.S. care about climate change than at any time in the last eight years.

The poll was conducted by telephone during the first week of March, on a random sample of 1,019 adults in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

The results:

  • 64% of adults said that they worry a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about global warming, which represents a 55% increase from March 2015.  It’s also the highest result since 2008.
  • 59% view the effects as already beginning, up from 55% a year ago.
  • 41% said that global warming will pose a serious threat to them in their lifetimes, up from 37% in 2015.
  • Only 10% replied that the effects will never happen, down from 16% last year.
  • gallup 265% agreed that increases in the Earth’s temperature during the last century are due primarily to human activities, not natural causes. This number jumped a full 10% points since last March.

So what does this mean for the November, 2016 election, and the Republican and Democratic Party nominating conventions this summer? While concern about climate change has increased among all party groups during the past year, Democrats and independents report double-digit increases in respondents attributing warmer temperatures to human activities. Republicans show a four percentage point increase.

Gallup concludes: “A confluence of factors — the economic downturn, the Climategate controversy and some well-publicized pushback against global warming science — may have dampened public concern about global warming from about 2009 to 2015. However, Americans are now expressing record- or near-record-high belief that global warming is happening, as well as concern about the issue. Several years of unseasonably warm weather — including the 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2015-16 winters — has potentially contributed to this shift in attitudes.”

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.”