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
A team of international legal scholars recently presented their analysis of the core principles guiding international climate change law. Their findings, particularly on the sensitive issue of equity, should be helpful to negotiators working toward a new global climate agreement next year in Paris.
The analysis by the Committee on the Legal Principles Relating to Climate Change comes as countries gear up for the final 18 months of a four-year round of climate negotiations under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Durban Platform decision that launched the talks in 2011 calls for an agreement that will apply post-2020, have “legal force,” and “be applicable to all Parties.”
That final phrase is an oblique nod to an issue at the core of the climate negotiations from the start – the appropriate distribution of effort among developed and developing countries. While not speaking directly to the Paris talks, the Committee makes a clear case for a more nuanced, evolutionary approach to this thorny issue of “differentiation.”
The UNFCCC speaks to the broad issue of equity primarily through the core principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” While the principle has universal support, how it’s applied is a frequent dividing point.
Last week, Hubei Province became the sixth jurisdiction in China to launch a pilot carbon emissions trading program, joining Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, and Guangdong Province. In the coming months, two additional programs will be introduced in Chongqing and Qingdao. In total, the eight pilot programs will cover an estimated one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (MTCO2), second only to the European Union’s Emissions Trading System. The pilot trading programs are part of the strategy laid out in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) to reduce carbon intensity (CO2 emissions per unit of GDP) by 40-45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
As the world’s largest energy consumer and emitter of carbon dioxide, China’s efforts to rein in emissions are significant at both the global and national level. In addition to the carbon trading pilots, China recently announced measures to limit coal to 65 percent of primary domestic energy consumption by 2017, down from 69 percent in 2011, while also banning new coal generation in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
In a recent report to the United Nations, the State Department lays out the United States’ strategy for achieving its goal of reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The strategy is “ambitious,” as the State Department says. But a close read reveals that, in some key respects, it is more a menu of options than a clear blueprint.
The Biennial Report is the first required of parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change as part of a series of measures aimed at ensuring greater transparency about steps countries are taking to meet their international climate pledges.
The figure below helps visualize the challenge facing the United States. The blue bar on the left represents 100 percent of U.S. emissions in 2005, or 7,195 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions. On the right side is the 2020 goal to reduce emissions by 1,223 million metric tons, or 17 percent.
The United States is moving toward meeting all of its energy needs from domestic resources even faster than was predicted just a year ago.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) said last year that the U.S. would become the world’s largest oil producer, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia, by 2017. Its new World Energy Outlook moves that up to 2015. The U.S. is already the world’s top producer of natural gas, a position it reached in 2012 thanks to an expanding supply of shale gas. The IEA sees the United States holding both top spots at least until the early 2030s and being energy self-sufficient by 2035.
This huge shift didn’t happen by accident, and it will have implications for both the economy and the environment.
If one is looking for clues from Warsaw as to the future of the U.N. climate change effort, probably the most telling is the phrase “nationally determined.”
Governments have set themselves the goal of a new global climate agreement in 2015. At the annual U.N. climate talks that wrapped up this weekend in Warsaw, they agreed on some of the steps they’ll take to get there.
The decision adopted in Warsaw invites all parties to “initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions,” and to “communicate them well in advance” of the 2015 meeting, set for December in Paris. It also establishes a loose timeline: by the first quarter of 2015 for those parties “ready to do so.”
This is primarily a procedural decision, a way to move the process forward. The reason it was so difficult to reach was that parties fought incredibly hard either to inject or to avoid substantive framing that would begin to define the shape of the Paris accord.
By the time they were done cramming clauses into the ungainly sentence at the heart of the decision, the parties had managed essentially to preserve the vague but delicate balance they’d struck in launching this latest round of talks two years ago in Durban. The 2015 agreement will be “applicable to all,” but its legal character, and how developed and developing country obligations will be differentiated, remain undefined.
Nineteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 19)
November 11-22, 2013
Governments meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw eked out a modest package of decisions that keep the international climate negotiations on track but underscore the formidable challenges facing parties as they work toward a new global agreement in Paris in 2015.
The Warsaw conference – known formally as the Nineteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP 19 – marked the midpoint in a round of talks launched two years ago in Durban. While there was as usual a host of issues at play, a central focus of the Warsaw conference was defining a clearer path for the final two years of the so-called Durban Platform negotiations. In contentious talks that ran a full day longer than planned, parties set a loose timeline for proposing their “intended nationally determined contributions” to the 2015 agreement: by the first quarter of that year for those “ready to do so.” But their decision very carefully avoided prejudging the ultimate shape of a Paris accord.
The other major issues in Warsaw were demands from developing countries for increased climate finance, and for a new mechanism to help especially vulnerable nations cope with unavoidable “loss and damage” resulting from climate change. Countries had agreed a year earlier to address “loss and damage” in Warsaw, and the issue took on new prominence when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines just days before the conference.
Developed countries, which had previously promised to mobilize a total of $100 billion a year by 2020, refused to set a quantified interim goal for ramping up climate finance. And the new “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts” fell well short of what vulnerable countries wanted. It establishes a new forum to provide information and expertise, and to consider further steps, but makes no promise of additional funding.
Substantively, the Warsaw conference was the least consequential COP in several years. In 2009, the Copenhagen summit produced a comprehensive political agreement among leaders that a year later was translated into formal COP decisions in Cancún. A pivotal package deal the following year at COP 17 in Durban kept the Kyoto Protocol alive through 2020 and launched the Durban Platform round to negotiate a successor agreement. And COP 18 in Doha delivered the formal amendment needed to legally establish the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. By comparison, the progress achieved in Warsaw was largely procedural.
As a window on the two years leading to Paris, the Warsaw meeting underscored the tremendous distance still to be covered on core issues such as the legal character of a new agreement and the differentiation of developed and developing country obligations. The hard-fought outcome effectively preserved the vague but delicate balance struck on those issues two years earlier in Durban. The one significant new substantive element was the indication that countries’ individual contributions to the Paris agreement will be “nationally determined.”
The debate, however, did reveal shifts in countries’ historic positioning. The United States and the European Union were more closely aligned than in the past in their visions of a global climate deal. And the once strongly unified Group of 77/China showed growing rifts, with many smaller developing countries showing greater flexibility than major powers like China, India, and Brazil.
Expectations will be much higher next year, with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convening a leaders summit in September to build political momentum going into COP 20 in December in Lima, where parties are to begin drafting the Paris agreement.
Following is a summary of key outcomes (for decision texts, see http://unfccc.int/2860.php#decisions).
Ad Hoc Working Group on The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action
In Durban, parties set a 2015 deadline for an agreement covering the post-2020 period, in the form of a “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties.” This formulation implied a major turning point in the evolution of the UNFCCC, in particular by eschewing the strict differentiation between developed and developing countries reflected in the Kyoto Protocol (which set legally binding emission targets for the former and no new commitments for the latter).
In talks leading up to Warsaw, there appeared to be growing consensus toward a “hybrid” approach in which countries would define the content of their individual mitigation commitments unilaterally, subject to international rules to ensure the transparency of national commitments and to track their implementation. As a step in that direction, parties would present their intended commitments ahead of Paris to give one another the opportunity to assess their adequacy and fairness. In seeking to define that pre-Paris process, the parties’ aim in Warsaw was ostensibly procedural, but the debate was heavily freighted with substantive implications.
For instance, China and other large developing countries proposed an explicit differentiation between intended “commitments” from developed countries and intended “actions” from developing countries. The European Union, meanwhile, preferred “proposed,” rather than “intended,” commitments, to leave open the possibility that national proposals would be revised before being inscribed in the new agreement.
The cumbersome compromise calls on parties to “initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions,” and to communicate them “well in advance” of the Paris meeting – adding, parenthetically, “by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so.”
The term “contributions,” originally introduced by the United States, avoids any explicit differentiation between developed and developing countries, and leaves open the question of their ultimate legal character. (Indeed, the one-sentence formulation twice invokes the phrase “without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions.”) Countries’ contributions will be offered “in the context” of adopting a new instrument “under the Convention,” a formulation that allows developing countries to continue to maintain (as Bolivia and Cuba did in interpretive statements they made for the record) that commitments in the new agreement must be differentiated.
Although the decision does not establish any formal process to review parties’ intended contributions, it calls for a decision at COP 20 spelling out the information to be provided when putting them forward, so that parties can better understand and assess one another’s proposals. The decision also urges developed countries to provide support enabling developing countries to develop their intended contributions.
Loss and damage
Small-island states and other particularly vulnerable developing countries have pressed for years for greater attention to “loss and damage” resulting from extreme events and slow-onset impacts such as sea-level rise, which will be unavoidable even with strong mitigation and adaptation efforts. Parties agreed at COP 18 to reach a decision in Warsaw on “institutional arrangements” addressing loss and damage, and Typhoon Haiyan put the issue front and center.
While some members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) came to Warsaw pushing for a “compensation” mechanism, the United States and other developed countries were adamantly opposed, and the idea faded early in the COP. Parties agreed to establish the “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts” to share information and best practices, explore strategies to address loss and damage, and provide technical support to vulnerable countries.
The United States, while expressing strong sympathy for the plight of vulnerable countries, fought hard to circumscribe the new mechanism. It insisted that the new mechanism be subsumed “under” the existing Cancún Adaptation Framework – and not, as AOSIS countries wanted, be a new “pillar” of the Convention, with its executive committee reporting directly to the COP. The U.S. formulation prevailed, but in a last-minute compromise, parties agreed to revisit the mechanism and its structure at COP 22 in 2016.
As part of the Copenhagen and Cancún agreements, developed countries pledged $30 billion in climate finance from 2010 through 2012 (the “fast start” period) and to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private finance for developing countries by 2020. Developing countries, concerned by a lack of progress in ramping up finance, pushed in Warsaw for an interim goal of $70 billion by 2016, but developed countries refused.
Developed countries did agree to begin submitting new biennial reports outlining their strategies for scaling up climate finance. And to ensure continued high-level attention to the issue, the COP decided to convene a biennial ministerial dialogue on climate finance running from 2014 to 2020. The COP also concluded arrangements with, and provided initial guidance to, the new Green Climate Fund launched in Cancún.
Measurement, Reporting and Verification
A key component of the Cancún Agreements was a new set of transparency mechanisms to strengthen the reporting and review of parties’ implementation efforts. These include new biennial reports and processes of international assessment and review for developed countries (IAR) and international consultations and analysis (ICA) for developing countries.
In Warsaw, parties put the final pieces in place, agreeing on the composition, modalities, and procedures of the teams of technical experts (TTEs) that will analyze developing countries’ biennial reports under ICA. The TTEs will aim to have a majority of experts from developing countries; each will be led by one developing country expert and one developed country expert, serving in their individual capacities.
Framework for Various Approaches / New Market Mechanism
In Doha, efforts toward establishing a new market mechanism under the UNFCCC were subsumed under a broader work programme on a Framework for Various Approaches, which also takes in non-market approaches.
The FVA discussions have been difficult, in part because some parties are ideologically opposed to market-based approaches. Some groups hoped to make progress in Warsaw in elaborating an FVA that would facilitate the linking of market and non-market approaches–for example, by establishing accounting rules to ensure environmental integrity and prevent double-counting. While not explicitly tied to the ADP, the FVA could lay important groundwork for accounting rules under a Paris agreement.
However, the discussions in Warsaw remained bogged down in the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and never reached the COP. The issues will be taken up again next year.
Parties made further progress on REDD+, a set of issues relating to deforestation and other emissions-generating forest practices. Of particular note was the adoption of guidelines for forest countries to develop “reference levels” against which their efforts to reduce deforestation will be measured, a key step toward qualifying for increased funding. Norway, the UK, and the United States pledged a total of $280 million for REDD+ efforts.
The ADP will reconvene March 10-14 in Bonn, and meet again during the regular meeting of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies, set for June 2-15 in Bonn. A third ADP meeting may be held in the fall.
The U.N. Secretary General’s climate summit is set for September 23 at the United Nations in New York.
COP 20 will be held December 1-14 in Lima. COP 21 will be held November 30-December 11, 2015, in Paris.
Weathering the Storm: Building Business Resilience to Climate Change
Date: Monday, November 18, 18:00-19:00
Location: US Center, National Stadium
Building off the C2ES report, “Weathering the Storm: Building Business Resilience to Climate Change,” corporate leaders will discuss the risks of extreme weather and some ways to begin assessing and managing those risks. Among the steps that could help are: creating a clearinghouse for up-to-date data and analytical tools; investing in public infrastructure; considering resilience needs in regulation; and developing voluntary, public-private partnerships.
- Nancy Sutley, Chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality
- Giles Dickson, Vice President, Environmental Policies & Global Advocacy, Alstom
- Jennifer Layke, Executive Director, Institute for Building Efficiency, Johnson Controls
- Timothy Juliani, Director of Corporate Engagement, C2ES
Reception: “Increasing Stakeholder Engagement”
The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), and International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) invite you to a reception recognizing the importance of increasing the involvement of stakeholder groups in the UNFCCC process – one of the key themes of COP-19.
Date: Monday, November 18, 19:30
Location: US Center, National Stadium
U.S. Climate Policy: An Update on Federal and State Action
Date: Tuesday, November 19, 18:00-20:00
Location: EU Side-events (1st floor), Room Brussels, National Stadium
Senior U.S. and California officials and business and environmental stakeholders will examine progress and challenges in advancing domestic policies to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
- Matt Rodriquez, Secretary, California Environmental Protection Agency
- Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Climate Change Technology and Policy, U.S. Department of Energy
- Marnie Funk, Senior Advisor, CO2 Advocacy, Oil Sands & Renewables, Shell Oil
- Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director, Natural Resources Defense Council
- Elliot Diringer, Executive Vice President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
The United Nations’ body that oversees civil aviation has reached an important milestone in international efforts to craft effective and equitable solutions to climate change from this fast-growing sector. And this success last week in Montreal should send a hopeful signal to other UN organizations as they grapple with the challenges of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
At the 38th General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), governments endorsed a comprehensive set of actions aimed at achieving an aspirational mid-term goal of zero carbon emissions growth for the aviation industry beginning in 2020. The October 4 accord brings together a number of measures being developed by ICAO, including: a certification requirement for a global CO2 efficiency standard for aircraft; support for an updated, more efficient air traffic control regime; continued development of sustainable biofuels; and updating national action plans laying out country strategies to reduce emissions.
When I founded a new nonprofit organization 15 years ago, the United States and the world urgently needed practical solutions to our energy and climate challenges. That need has only grown more urgent.
Earlier today, I announced my plans to step aside as the President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) once my successor is on board. As I look back, I find we have come a long way. That said, any honest assessment of our progress to date in addressing one of this century’s paramount challenges must conclude that we have much, much further to go.
When our organization, then named the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, first launched in 1998, 63 percent of the world’s electricity generation came from fossil fuels. Incredibly, that number is even higher today – 67 percent. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the main driver of climate change, is also higher than it was then – in fact, at its highest level in more than 2 million years.
Scientists around the globe have just reaffirmed with greater certainty than ever that human activity is warming the planet and threatening to irreversibly alter our climate. Climate change is no longer a future possibility. It is a here-and-now reality. It’s leading to more frequent and intense heat waves, higher sea levels, and more severe droughts, wildfires, and downpours.
We at C2ES have believed from the start that the most effective, efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spur the innovation needed to achieve a low-carbon economy is to put a price on carbon. It’s a path that a growing number of countries, states, and even cities are taking.