Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Through analysis and dialogue, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working with governments and stakeholders to identify practical and effective options for the post-2012 international climate framework. Read more
In late 2009, more than 1,000 emails belonging to the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom were disclosed without authorization by an unknown party. The contents of a relatively small number of the email messages became the basis for the controversy commonly known as “Climategate.”
Prior to any investigations, my initial read of the emails found some unbecoming behavior by a few individual scientists but no indication of scientific misconduct, like hiding data or suppressing scientific debate.
In the course of 2010, five investigations—three in the U.K. and two in the United States—cleared scientists working for the CRU and an American scientist working at Penn State University of any scientific wrongdoing.
Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. This series is part of ongoing work by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions to help clarify issues and options in the international climate change negotiations, and to identify practical and effective options for the post-2012 international climate framework.
Post-2012 policy brief series:
Common Metrics: Comparing Countries' Climate Pledges: To enable a better understanding of the mitigation pledges offered under the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancún Agreements, this analysis converts the 2020 pledges of the major economies into four common metrics: percent change in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990; percent change from 2005; percent change from “business as usual” and; percent change in emissions intensity from 2005.
Strengthening International Climate Finance: With climate finance needs in developing countries projected to grow significantly in coming decades, governments are considering steps under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to strengthen international climate finance. Key steps include: establishing a new multilateral climate fund with an independent board under the guidance of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP); a new UNFCCC finance body to advise the COP and promote coordination among funding institutions; a registry mechanism to link finance to mitigation actions; and stronger procedures for reporting and verifying flows.
Strengthening MRV: A central issue in negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is how best to provide for the measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of parties’ mitigation actions and support. This brief describes and evaluates existing requirements under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and outlines recommendations for building on these mechanisms to establish a more robust MRV system. This enhanced system should include significantly strengthening the existing system of reporting and expert review, and establishing a new mechanism for peer review of mitigation actions. Peer review and expert review would together constitute the international “consultations” and “analysis” envisioned in the Copenhagen Accord.
MRV: A Survey of Reporting and Review in Multilateral Regimes: This brief examines reporting and review practices in other major multilateral regimes, and drawing on these examples, outlines the essential elements of an enhanced system of MRV under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). To move the climate MRV system closer to the norms set by other multilateral regimes, the next stage in its evolution should entail significantly strengthening the existing system of reporting and expert review, and establishing an additional layer of peer review.
Verifying Mitigation Efforts in a New Climate Agreement: A new global climate agreement will be most effective if parties are confident that it enables them to assess how well others are fulfilling their obligations. This can be achieved through a rigorous system of measurement, reporting, and verification. Key elements should include: annual emission inventories for all major greenhouse gas-emitting countries; national verification of mitigation commitments and actions in accordance with international guidelines; regular reports from parties detailing their implementation and verification of their commitments and actions; and expert review of parties’ inventories and implementation reports. Beyond verification, a new agreement should provide for a clear determination of whether a party is in compliance with its commitments. The compliance approach should be largely facilitative, rather than punitive, geared toward helping to identify and overcome obstacles to implementation.
Comparability of Developed Country Mitigation Efforts: The “comparability” of climate mitigation efforts undertaken by developed countries can be assessed in many different ways. Some relevant factors, such as emissions, population, and GDP, are readily quantified and compared; others, such as a country’s geography, economic structure, or trade profile, are not. Given the multiplicity of factors at play, parties are unlikely to agree on an explicit formula to determine, or to assess the comparability of, their respective efforts. Rather, efforts are likely to be agreed through political bargaining in which countries emphasize the metrics and national circumstances that most favor their positions. The outcome will likely rest on parties’ mutual assessments of one another’s efforts, employing the criteria they deem most relevant.
Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Greenhouse gas emissions have the same impact on the atmosphere whether they originate in Washington, London or Beijing. Consequently, action by one country to reduce emissions will do little to slow global warming unless other countries act as well. Ultimately, an effective strategy will require commitments and action by all the major emitting countries.
- International Dialogue
We convened the Climate Dialogue at Pocantico to provide an opportunity for informal discussion among senior policymakers and stakeholders from 15 countries on options for advancing the international climate change effort. The discussions culminated in a report, International Climate Efforts Beyond 2012: Report of the Climate Dialogue at Pocantico, offering options and recommendations for engaging major economies in a strengthened international climate change effort.
The webinar was presented by ACCO and included discussions on the successes and failures of COP-16, and the impacts this event will have on the US policymaking process at Federal and sub-national levels.
- Dr Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, US Department of State
- Elliot Diringer, Vice President, International Strategies, Pew Center for Global Climate Change
- Denise Sheehan, Executive Director, The Climate Registry
Click here to listen to the full webinar
Click here to download the presentations
Last week the British Government published a report on The Future of Food and Farming in which the role of a changing climate is appropriately highlighted as a major impediment to maintaining consistent and predictable food supplies for the world’s growing population. The timing of this report is excellent; food prices have been rising recently (see chart) and have caused significant hardship for some of the most globally vulnerable populations. These vulnerable populations live in some of the most politically unstable regions, and continued food inflation could exacerbate existing social and economic issues with potentially unpredictable consequences.
Unfortunately as the global climate changes and agricultural productivity shifts, these sort of price rises in basic foods are likely to become more commonplace for the economically sensitive populations in these politically unstable regions – like Southeast Asia, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. This is not to imply that recent increases in food prices were caused by climate change; it is not possible to attribute a single event such as this latest spike in food prices to the long-term trends we expect to experience from our changing climate. It is, however, instructive to identify that the sort of impacts that we expect from climate change can have serious social and political implications.
Recent work shows that several of the world's most important crops could be near climactic thresholds that will seriously impair agricultural yields.Several of these crops (like corn, rice, soybeans and wheat - the source of 75% of global calorie consumption) appear to be sensitive to increases in temperature variation, especially to the occurrence of a particularly hot day in the middle of the growing season. Increases in temperature variation and the prevalence of what are historically unusually hot days is exactly what our best models of the future climate predict. Even if global yields are able to remain fairly constant due to human adaptation to the shifting regions of agricultural productivity (e.g., northward from the U.S. Plains to Canada and Siberia), the temporary economic dislocation will certainly be difficult for today's farmers and for the people who are dependent on the food that they produce.
Other research suggests that increasing temperatures could cause major difficulties for farmers in Southeast Asia who produce a large fraction of global rice output, an important staple in the region. This research recognizes that the human body simply cannot perform the hard manual labor (like that needed to tend to rice paddies) at the temperatures climate models predict. By 2050, these temperatures are expected to be commonplace for the region – potentially resulting in a huge loss of agricultural output.
While agricultural contributions to overall GDP in the rich world may seem relatively minor, it is important to remember that GDP is only a measure of economic activity and not a measure of well-being. The well-being that food provides is not necessarily proportionate to its market price. A common example used to illustrate this point is a comparison of the price of diamonds to the price of water. Water is much less expensive but is an absolute necessity. Staple foods are similar. If the price of diamonds increases, people (in aggregate) can choose to purchase less. If the price of water or food increases however, there is little flexibility (elasticity, in economic terms) in terms of how much less people can choose to buy.
If food prices rise in the rich world, consumers will spend more of their income on food and forgo other consumption options. In developing nations this trade-off may not be possible – creating a situation where political unrest could become more likely. According to World Bank data, over 50% of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. Obviously for these populations, even small increases in the prices of staples can cause real difficulties since a large fraction of their income is already spent on food. Some of the regions that have the highest concentrations of the global poor are also the regions that tend to be among the most politically volatile. Though it is unlikely that food prices would directly cause conflict or instability in these regions, it is more likely that the stress caused by higher (or more volatile) food prices will worsen existing socio-economic pressures.
The resulting consequences will be difficult to predict; and by their nature will create difficulties in creating an effective adaptive response. Though it will likely never be clear which future conflicts could have been avoided in the absence of climate change, we do know that proactive policy effort taken now can reduce the eventual impact of future food price pressures.
Russell Meyer is the Senior Fellow for Economics and Policy
Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Greenhouse gas emissions have the same impact on the atmosphere whether they originate in Washington, London or Beijing. To avoid dangerous climate change, emissions ultimately must be reduced worldwide. An effective global strategy requires leadership by the United States, and commitments and action by all the world’s major economies.
Elliot Diringer, Vice President for International Strategies, shares his views of the Cancun Agreements, the roles played by the United States and other countries in achieving a positive outcome at COP 16, and the challenges ahead for the global climate negotiations.
"What Cancun accomplished was importing the Copenhagen Accord into the convention process and taking initial steps to actualize some of its key elements. This presents the opportunity to now put in place the multilateral mechanisms we need to strengthen action and confidence, and over time lead us toward more binding agreements," said Diringer. "The two most important areas are strengthening the support system for developing countries and strengthening the transparency system so everyone can see how everyone else is doing in fulfilling their pledges."
By Eileen Claussen
December 20, 2010
2010 was a year of highs and lows.
On the high side were global temperatures; 2010 will mark the hottest year in recorded history. At the start of the year, there was also the short-lived high of thinking we might be on the precipice of meaningful action in the U.S. Congress to protect the climate. Finally, at year’s end the climate talks in Cancún delivered (surprise!) tangible results in the form of agreement on key elements of a global climate framework.
But alas, the lows won out for most of 2010 as a trumped-up email controversy, continuing economic unease, and growing anti-government sentiment in the United States undermined the effort to forge lasting climate solutions at all levels.
Congress. Until quite recently, the Pew Center and many others were actively supporting cap and trade as the number-one climate policy solution. After the House passed a fairly comprehensive energy and climate bill in June 2009 that had a cap-and-trade system at its core, we actually thought that it might become the law of the land.
Before long, however, it became eminently clear that the Senate would not be able to pass a similar bill. The 2010 U.S. elections, which brought more doubters of climate change into the halls of Congress, only made it clearer that comprehensive climate action is off the table for now.
EPA. With Congress unable to pass comprehensive climate legislation in 2010, attention turned to what EPA might be able to do under existing authorities. And it turns out that EPA can do quite a lot by taking reasonable steps that have garnered critical support from the business and environmental communities. In late October, for example, the agency announced a sensible proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel efficiency for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. This was followed by a November announcement that will go a long way to making sure that new industrial facilities use state-of-the-art technologies to boost efficiency and reduce emissions.
Of course, opponents of these and other EPA regulations will surely raise a ruckus, and there will be loud cries in Congress to delay the regulations and even cut funding for the EPA. But the possibility remains that the agency could conceivably begin to chip away at U.S. emissions in the months and years ahead.
State Actions. Looking beyond Washington, state capitals were the focus of creative thinking and leadership on the issue of clean energy in 2010. Massachusetts, for example, set a statewide energy efficiency standard in 2010 supported by $1.6 billion in incentives. Meanwhile, California voters upheld the state’s greenhouse gas reduction law by defeating Proposition 23. This marked the first direct vote on addressing climate change in the United States, and it won in an overwhelming fashion.
But the overall story regarding climate action in the states was more mixed. While several regional climate initiatives continued to push forward, the November elections brought to the nation’s statehouses a group of new leaders who adopted strong stands against climate action in their campaigns. We will stay tuned to see how their campaign rhetoric translates into governing.
International. The agreement reached by international negotiators in Cancún in December closed out 2010 on a positive note. The Cancún Agreements import the essential elements of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord into the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, including a stronger system of support for developing countries and a stronger transparency regime to better assess whether countries are keeping their promises. The Cancún Agreements also mark the first time that all of the world’s major economies have made explicit mitigation pledges under the Convention.
Of course, the ultimate goal of the continuing international talks should be a legally-binding climate treaty, but in Cancún we saw countries agreeing on incremental steps that will deliver stronger action in the near term and lay the foundation for binding commitments down the road.
Looking Ahead. Looking ahead, I believe 2011 holds promise only if those of us who support climate action can learn from what happened in 2010. In recent years, domestic and international efforts largely centered on a “big bang” theory of trying to achieve everything at once. Instead, it’s instructive now to take a cue from Cancún and accept that a step-by-step approach to building support for climate solutions offers our best shot at progress.
Calling on the new Congress to pass cap and trade or similarly comprehensive solutions will be a nonstarter, for example. But there may be an opportunity on Capitol Hill for less sweeping steps to reduce U.S. emissions.
Supporters would do well to spend the next several months laying the groundwork for incremental solutions by strengthening communications with the public. We need to do a better job of helping people understand both the risks and the opportunities presented by climate change. In the same way we buy fire insurance to protect against an event that has a statistically small chance of happening but would result in severe damage, acting now to cut emissions reduces our vulnerability to severe events that are likely to become more common in a warming world. And the success of the “No on Prop 23” campaign in California suggests that there remains a healthy appetite among the general public and in the business community (which provided substantial support for the effort) to back well-framed climate solutions.
After a year of highs and lows, we still must aim high in our efforts to address one of the greatest challenges of our time. But we should also heed the lessons of the past year and work for more modest victories now that can keep us on the path to longer-term solutions.
Sixteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Sixth Session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol
November 29-December 10, 2010
Agreeing to put aside for now issues that have stalemated international climate talks for years, governments meeting at the U.N. Climate Conference in Cancún, Mexico, approved a set of decisions anchoring national mitigation pledges, and taking initial steps to strengthen finance, transparency, and other elements of the multilateral climate framework.
In large measure, the Cancún Agreements import the essential elements of the Copenhagen Accord into the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including mitigation pledges and operational elements such as a new Green Climate Fund for developing countries and a system of “international consultations and analysis” to help verify countries’ actions. Agreement hinged on finding a way to finesse the more difficult questions of if, when, and in what form countries will take binding commitments. The final outcome leaves all options on the table and sets no clear path toward a binding agreement.
Click here for a complete summary of the Cancún Agreements.
The summary was written by Elliot Diringer, Vice President for International Strategies, with contributions from International Fellows Kate Cecys and Namrata Patodia Rastogi.
This post orginally appeared in the Opinio Juris blog.
Oh, how much difference a year — and lower expectations — make!
The BBC report on the Cancún meeting declared that “if Copenhagen was the Great Dane that whimpered, Cancún has been the Chihuahua that roared.” Never mind that the Great Dane’s whimper was about the same decibel level as the Chihuahua’s roar. Last year, expectations were sky high for a new legal agreement that would extend, complement or replace the Kyoto Protocol, so the non-binding Copenhagen Accord was a major disappointment. This year expectations for the Cancún Conference were extremely low, so an outcome that essentially incorporates the Copenhagen Accord into the UNFCCC process is seen as a big win.
Statement of Elliot Diringer
Vice President, International Strategies, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
December 11, 2010
The Cancún agreement demonstrates that the multilateral climate process can produce tangible results. For too long, parties have acted as if it’s binding or nothing and we’ve gotten nothing. Finally we’re seeing some modest but real steps to strengthen climate action.
Ultimately we need a comprehensive binding climate treaty, but there are fundamental differences among countries over how and when we get there. Thankfully they were willing to put those differences aside for now and agree on incremental steps that will deliver stronger action in the near term and lay the foundation for binding commitments down the road.
The Cancún agreement formalizes the fundamental elements of the Copenhagen Accord and starts to implement them. Key among these are a stronger support system for developing countries, including a new climate fund, and a stronger transparency system to better assess whether countries are keeping their promises. Both will build trust and confidence, which will help produce stronger action and agreements in the future.
The agreement also incorporates the targets and actions pledged earlier under the Copenhagen Accord. This marks the first time all of the world’s major economies have made explicit mitigation pledges under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change since its negotiation nearly two decades ago.
Much work remains ahead to strengthen countries’ efforts and fully implement these new mechanisms. But a year after the crisis of confidence in Copenhagen, the Mexican government deserves real credit for resuscitating the multilateral climate effort. Cancún has restored trust and, hopefully, represents the start of a new, more productive phase in the global effort.
Pew Center Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146