International

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Post-Durban and Pre-Election: The Climate Outlook

Remarks of Elliot Diringer, Executive Vice President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Deputy Minister's Speaker Series-Environment Canada
Ottawa, Canada
April 19, 2012

Watch a video of Mr. Diringer's remarks

I’ve been asked to talk today about the international picture – about where the U.N. climate negotiations might be headed after Durban. And I promise I will eventually work my way toward that topic.

But I’d like to start with some reflections on a few recent events in Washington–events that I think in many ways sum up where we stand in our struggle with climate change.   

This past weekend, some of you might know, Washington celebrated its annual Cherry Blossom Festival. This was a special year – the festival’s 100th anniversary. Tens of thousands of people from around the world joined in the festivities. There was only one problem: no cherry blossoms. They’d already come and gone – early – in fact, it was just about the earliest bloom in the century since the festival began. Washington was not the only place that experienced summer in March. Some 15,000 temperature records fell across the eastern half of the U.S.  In parts of Canada, temperatures were higher in March than the previously recorded highs for April.

Now we all know that you can’t really attribute any single event – like a blossom-less Cherry Blossom Festival–to global warming. But even among TV weathercasters, who are generally skeptical of climate change, its emerging influence is getting hard to ignore. Here’s what Stu Ostro, chief meteorologist at The Weather Channel, had to say about the record heat: “While natural factors are contributing to this warm spell, given the nature of it and its context with other extreme weather events and patterns in recent years, there is a high probability that global warming is having an influence…”

My point is this: the impacts of climate change are being felt now–and, on our present course, they are certain to intensify. At some levels, this reality is beginning to sink in.  As the Arctic sea ice begins to melt away, Canada, the United States, Russia and other Arctic states are very actively considering the implications for shipping, for resource development, and for security. Some are strengthening their military capabilities in the region. But in too many places–including here and in Washington–the growing risks of climate change are not yet real enough with the public, or with our political leaders, to drive the changes needed to avert the worst of them.  

Twenty years after the first Rio summit–which launched the international climate effort–we are barely making a dent in the problem. Global leaders agreed in Copenhagen on a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. To meet that goal, according to most scenarios, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015. That’s three years away. Instead, global emissions are projected to grow 17 percent by 2020, and 37 percent by 2035. Under that scenario, we could see average global temperatures rise 3 to 4 degrees by 2100.

So let me come back to Washington, and a second recent event: the latest step by the Obama administration to regulate greenhouse gases. The recession has significantly moderated U.S. emissions. They dropped 9 percent from 2007 to 2009. They’re now rising again, but fairly slowly. In fact, current projections don’t show emissions returning to 2005 levels until after 2035. But they would still likely be significantly higher in 2020 than the target pledged by the U.S. in Copenhagen.

Three years ago, you may recall, the goal was comprehensive legislation, including an economy-wide cap-and-trade program. A bill did pass the House, which was at the time controlled by the Democrats, but the effort fizzled in the Senate. The Republicans took control of the House in the next election–and a number of moderate Democrats who’d supported the bill were tossed out. Prospects for any major climate legislation in the near future are now generally put at nil.

So the only option open to the Administration is to regulate greenhouse gases under the federal Clean Air Act–and at the moment, it is proceeding cautiously. When it came to reducing emissions from cars and light trucks, the Administration was able to capitalize on a particular set of circumstances to deliver a genuine breakthrough. The automakers were already being pushed by California to lower emissions, and having just been rescued from bankruptcy by Washington, were more obliging than usual. The resulting rules – one already in place, the other pending–will increase the fuel economy of the average new vehicle from 30 miles a gallon today to 50 miles a gallon by 2025, avoiding some 3 billion metric tons of greenhouse emissions. 

Now the Administration is turning its attention to stationary sources–starting with power plants. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to limit greenhouse gases from new power plants. Under the proposed rule, they could not exceed the level emitted by a natural gas combined cycle plant – the most efficient now available. Any new coal-fired plants would have to use carbon capture-and-storage, which could be phased in over time. The reality, though, is that with the natural gas boom there is virtually no talk of building new coal plants.  So the rule would more or less lock in the direction things are projected to be heading anyway. The bigger question is what happens at existing power plants, which account for 40 percent of U.S. emissions. On that–or any other steps to control stationary sources – we’re unlikely to hear anything at all out of EPA until after the November election.

This is, of course, a presidential election year, which helps explain the context for a third recent event in Washington–one that no doubt more of you will have heard about. I’m talking about the President’s denial of a permit for the Keystone pipeline.  

Those of you very familiar with the manmade geography of North America know that Keystone would be but one more addition to a vast network of pipelines linking our two countries. Insofar as it would continue our dependence on high-carbon fuels–something that’s true of countless other investment decisions being made around the globe–Keystone is indeed worrisome. But given the global nature of the oil market, building or blocking Keystone is unlikely to have any significant impact on the price of gas, the U.S. job market, or greenhouse gas emissions. With or without Keystone, as long as oil prices remain high, the Canadian oil sands will continue to be developed, and that oil will reach market. If the real problem is, as I believe, our dependence on oil, then the real answers are reducing consumption and developing alternatives. Blocking Keystone does neither.

Yet with this being an election year; with the economy still struggling; with gasoline prices at record highs; with Keystone advocates promising jobs, cheaper gas and energy security; and with climate advocates rallying outside the White House, it’s easy to see how Keystone has emerged as a symbolic flashpoint. The upshot for now is that a southern section of the pipeline, fully within the U.S., is proceeding, and the President has left the door open for a revised proposal for the upper, transboundary portion.  

The political theatrics of the Keystone episode–with the president trying to punt the issue past the election, and Republicans in Congress forcing him to make a decision now, and the President managing to punt it anyway–underscore a troubling aspect of the climate and energy debate in the U.S.: like so many others, it has become increasingly partisan.

Which leads me to a fourth telling event recently in Washington: A group called Republicans for Environmental Protection took “Republican” out of its name. The group is now called ConservAmerica, a switch that its leaders say is aimed at better highlighting the conservative roots of conservation. Indeed, as far back as Teddy Roosevelt, some of America’s greatest environmental achievements have come with Republicans in power. But Republican moderates are today a disappearing breed. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the last remaining, announced her retirement recently. Looking back over her 33 years in Congress, she lamented that “an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my may or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”

Even outside the hyper-partisan atmosphere of Washington, there is a clear partisan divide. Sixty-five percent of Democrats believe global warming is mainly caused by human activities, while among Republicans, it’s only 36 percent. Most Americans generally support an all-of-the-above approach to energy. But here, too, there are clear partisan differences: while roughly 85 percent of Democrats favor more government money for wind and solar, as well as mandatory CO2 controls, 85 percent of Republicans favor opening more federal land to oil drilling.

So that is how things look right now. I imagine many of you are wondering how they might look after the election. And I’ll get there. But for now, I’d like to put Washington aside for a moment and turn, as promised, to the international picture.

I think years from now, it is quite possible that we will look back at the UN climate conference last December in Durban as a critical turning point. The deal that was finally eked out there at 3 in the morning, 30 hours after the conference was supposed to end, delivers little in the way of concrete action. But it does open up some possibilities. I’d say it is a deal delicately poised between two eras in the evolving international climate regime–between the fading age of Kyoto, and a new phase beyond Kyoto, with developed and developing countries presumably on a more equal footing. What that phase might look like is at this stage very difficult to say.

Since the very start of the climate negotiations, there has been a tension between two different approaches: a top-down model with binding targets and timetables; and a bottom up approach called pledge-and-review, with countries undertaking voluntary efforts, and subject to some form of international review. Twenty years later, we’ve yet to choose between them. Right now, we are in fact pursuing both.

We’ve tried the top-down model, of course, in the form of the Kyoto Protocol. The theory there was that binding international commitments would drive domestic action. One might point to Canada as a clear exception in this case–or, perhaps, as proof that the whole theory is wrong. I, for one, think the truth likely lies somewhere in between. We’re all familiar with the Kyoto critique: that it covers a small and shrinking share of global emissions, while leaving emerging economies like China and India free to emit all they want. Canada is the only country to have actually withdrawn from the protocol, but others like Russia and Japan have made abundantly clear for some time that they want nothing to do with it after 2012.  

Now interestingly, even as Kyoto has been sputtering along, other things have been happening in the international regime. The 2009 Copenhagen summit, declared by many a failure because it didn’t produce a binding agreement, did in fact produce an important political agreement, one calling for both developed and developing countries to pledge climate targets or actions for 2020. The Copenhagen Accord also called for a new climate fund for developing countries, and stronger transparency measures so parties could better keep tabs on one another. In another wee-hour episode, this one perhaps best forgotten, formal adoption of the accord was blocked in the final moments by a handful of parties. But a year later in Cancun, parties adopted all of its major elements and began implementing them. They were, in essence, creating a parallel framework that looks very much like pledge and review.

The upside is that so far, more than 80 countries have made explicit pledges for 2020. This includes, for the first time, all of the major economies, both developed and developing. The downside is that taken together these pledges fall far short of what’s needed to put us on track for the 2-degree target adopted in Copenhagen, and again in Cancun.    

For all its failings, the Kyoto Protocol retains enormous symbolism around the globe as the first and only binding commitments to fight climate change.  And going into Durban, many developing countries were adamant that if there was to be any deal there, Kyoto’s survival had to be part of it.  While Canada and others were saying count us out, Europe said it might well be willing to take a new Kyoto target, but on one condition: that parties launch a new round of negotiations toward a binding comprehensive agreement.  

That became the crux of the Durban deal: Europe and a handful of others agreed to take new Kyoto targets, keeping the protocol alive, if only barely.  Parties took a number of steps to further flesh out the framework emerging from Copenhagen and Cancun.  And they adopted the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, launching new talks aimed at a new agreement in 2015.

What kind of agreement?  If you look to the Durban Platform for guidance, you won’t find much.  Here is the critical passage: parties “launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.”  There are two central issues embedded here, and on both, these words leave considerable ambiguity.

The first issue is the agreement’s legal character–will it be legally binding? A protocol would meet that test. So, presumably would “another legal instrument.” But the third option contained in the text–“an agreed outcome with legal force”–is a completely novel formulation. An artful one, to be sure, but one easily open to interpretation. And the interpretations already being suggested by some parties sound less than binding, at least as it’s been conventionally understood.

The second issue is the balance of responsibility between developed and developing countries, a perennial concern. Back at the start, in the Rio convention, the parties spoke to this issue by laying down the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” A country’s responsibility varies according to its contribution to the problem, and its capacity to address it. Kyoto applied this principle in an especially stark and especially rigid manner: binding targets for developed countries, no new commitments for developing countries, and no clear path for ever moving beyond that.  One thing that can be said of the Durban Platform is that it sweeps away this strict notion of differentiation, and with good reason. China has overtaken the United States at the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, and collectively, developing countries now account for nearly 60 percent of annual emissions.

But beyond discarding the strict binary differentiation of Kyoto, Durban offers scant guidance. While it doesn’t directly invoke the phrase “common but differentiated responsibilities,” it does so implicitly by placing the new agreement “under the Convention.” It would be a mistake to think for a minute that developing countries have in any way abandoned this core principle. And while Durban says the new agreement will be “applicable to all parties,” the same actually could be said of Kyoto, so it’s hard to read that as ensuring full symmetry.

On another issue–the form of commitments to be taken–Durban is utterly silent. The Copenhagen and Cancun agreements were clear that developed country pledges were to be economy-wide emission targets, while developing countries were free to pledge in any form they chose. Is that the presumption for next time? Can’t say.

So on the one hand, by knocking down the so-called firewall between developed and developing countries erected by the Kyoto Protocol, and by establishing a strong preference at least for a binding outcome, the Durban Platform opens up, for the first time, the possibility of a balanced, binding agreement. On the other hand, it tells us virtually nothing about what that agreement should look like.

Let’s look again at the two models we’ve already created. One option might be to keep the Kyoto approach of binding emission targets, but this time set targets for the major developing countries too. Realistically, I see very little chance of getting there by 2015. Another option is to keep building up the framework coming out of Copenhagen and Cancun. It’s proven to be a very inclusive framework, while allowing differentiation between developed and developing countries in the form of their commitments.   

But how would we move it beyond pure pledge and review? Can we make it a system that actually encourages countries to elevate their efforts by giving them confidence that others are doing their fair share? Can we agree on what a fair share of effort is?  Will countries be ready to legally bind themselves? And with Canada providing proof that binding is not always binding, we really do have to ask ourselves, what is it we even mean by binding?

As we start looking for answers, I think this is a good moment to reconsider what it is we are actually looking to the international climate regime to accomplish. Experience has shown us that in the case of many countries, including many of the largest emitters, we cannot realistically expect the international regime to drive the domestic effort. But I believe it can serve to facilitate and to encourage; and as the place where emerging national efforts are stitched together, hopefully in ways that that build confidence and a sense of reciprocity that, over time, delivers a stronger collective effort.

If that is one’s vision of the international effort, then what follows is that the real work to be done right now is not in the international negotiations, but rather, at home. So let me return to Washington, and our election, and the outlook beyond.

One could very reasonably suggest that a re-elected President Obama would be more favorably inclined to strong climate action than would a President Romney. But the reality is that how quickly we are able to ramp up the U.S. effort depends a lot more on factors other than who occupies the White House. First and foremost is the state of the economy, and while there are hopeful signs, we’re not out of the woods yet. The next most important factor is probably the level of public awareness and concern, and that may be very closely linked to the weather.  In a recent survey, a large majority of Americans said they believe global warming is making the weather more extreme. As the impacts become more pronounced, so may public support for action.

And regardless of who’s in the White House, it matters a lot who is in Congress. Right now the situation is so fluid that you couldn’t rule out the possibility of either the Democrats or the Republicans taking both houses. I think it is fair to say that whatever the outcome of the election, stronger action, whether in Congress or through EPA, will remain an uphill fight.

Given that outlook, we see two priorities. The first is to continue laying the ground for a comprehensive policy solution by working with all parties to explore the options, and by helping to strengthen public awareness and concern. The second is to find ways to make concrete progress now, piece by piece, by looking for opportunities where different interests converge, and are prepared to compromise around practical solutions. To cite just one example, we recently pulled together a group from industry, government, labor and the environmental community that worked out joint recommendations to expand enhanced oil recovery using CO2 captured from power plants and industrial facilities. It’s a plan that would reduce CO2 emissions while boosting domestic oil production. We need to find more opportunities like this, get people together, and prove that progress is possible.

I’d like to end where I began, by noting that climate change is no longer remote–it is here and now. I understand that just as Washington’s festival goers missed out on the cherry blossoms, the world’s largest ice skating rink barely made an appearance this winter. Up north, the permafrost is melting, the sea ice is shrinking, and the ancient ways of the Inuit are in danger. We can see the signs, and we have begun to take some steps. But the truth is that neither the U.S. nor Canada is yet coming to grips with the climate realities and climate risks that we face.  We are not out of time, but it is running short. There are serious choices upon us.  Let us hope we choose well.

Climate Change & International Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether

Climate Change & International Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether

May 2012

by Rob Huebert, Heather Exner-Pirot, Adam Lajeunesse, and Jay Gulledge

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Executive Summary

In its most recent assessment of global climate change, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded, “A strong body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” Impacts and rates of change are greatest in the Arctic, where temperatures have been increasing at about twice the global rate over the past four decades. The rapid decline in summer sea ice cover in the past decade has outpaced scientific projections and is drawing international attention to emerging commercial development and transport opportunities previously blocked by the frozen sea. The Arctic is therefore a bellwether for how climate change may reshape geopolitics in the post–Cold War era.

The trend toward seasonally open waters is driving increased interest and investment in oil and gas exploration, shipping, and fishing in the Arctic. The recent economic recession has not affected these developments significantly, as they were always intended to be middle- to long-term developments following the progression of sea ice retreat. Indeed, high oil prices and advances in technology continue to support the drive toward offshore drilling in Arctic waters. The global economy, which has begun to show signs of recovery, is likely to rebound long before oil and gas exploration and shipping could be scaled up in the Arctic. China, India and the rest of the developing world’s growing middle classes will need oil and gas and other resources, and the world’s shipping routes are already so congested that the development of northern shipping routes is not a question of if, but when.

In response to these changes, many of the Arctic states have begun to re-examine their military capabilities to operate in the Arctic region. Some have started to rebuild their military forces, while most of the other states are drawing up plans to begin the rebuilding process. Multilateral organizations and non-Arctic states are also looking for new roles in the Arctic. All of these actors are attempting to come to terms with the meaning of Arctic security, a concept that was relatively simple during the icy decades of the Cold War. Recent national policy developments arising from the effects of climate change on the Arctic commons demonstrate that climate change is indeed a national and international security interest in the traditional strategic sense.

As the emerging Arctic security environment is in a very early stage of development, whether it will ultimately be predominantly cooperative or predominantly competitive remains an open question. Although the Arctic states invariably emphasize their desire to maintain a cooperative environment, several have stated that they will defend their national interests in the region if necessary. To gauge the geopolitical winds in the Arctic, this study catalogs and analyzes dozens of major policy statements and actions by the Arctic states, other states with Arctic interests, and multilateral organizations between 2008 and 2012.

As a framework for interpreting the totality of these statements and actions, we compare geopolitical developments to date with three future security scenarios posited by the Arctic Council in its Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment 2009 Report. We adopt these scenarios as testable hypotheses for the purposes of this study:

  • Hypothesis 1: There is no emerging security environment and the circumpolar states have no new interests that would increase competition or conflict in the region. If this hypothesis is correct, a close examination of the actions of the circumpolar world should reveal no significant new foreign and defense policies and defense procurement decisions in relation to the Arctic.
  • Hypothesis 2: While showing renewed interest in the Arctic, the interested states are committed to developing and strengthening multilateral instruments of cooperation. New military capabilities are directed towards building local constabulary capacity and largely eschew escalation of war-fighting capability.
  • Hypothesis 3: Increasing accessibility to Arctic resources because of climate change, along with a growing and increasingly modern military presence of strategic rivals in the region, becomes a recipe for competition and potential conflict. Under this hypothesis, the circumpolar states should be actively examining their core interests in the region, expressing concern over what other states are planning or doing in the region, and developing more assertive northern defense postures, including rebuilding their northern war-fighting capabilities. It is also expected that the various actors would be commencing the process of developing new defensive relationships and either strengthening old alliances or building new ones.

We assess which of these hypotheses most closely resembles the behavior of the key actors as revealed in their statements and actions. On the basis of the prevailing scenario(s), we consider the potential for instability and conflict in the Arctic and offer recommendations on how the states should proceed to ensure the region develops in a cooperative and peaceful manner.
 

Main Findings

Finding 1: Unprecedented national attention to Arctic policy.

A confluence of major policy announcements between 2008–2012 have followed Russia planting its flag at the North Pole in August 2007, the same week that Canada announced significant new Arctic military investments. Since then, major Arctic policy announcements have been made by Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, the United States, the European Union, the Nordic countries (Nordic Supportive Defence Structures, NORDSUP) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It is unprecedented to have numerous, major policy announcements—not just for the Arctic but for international affairs in general—from so many major players in such a short timeframe.

Finding 2: Emphasis on environmental security.

By 2005 all Arctic governments and many others had come to officially accept that climate change was melting the Arctic ice cover, which meant that the Arctic was becoming more accessible to both the Arctic states and to the international community. This new accessibility raised two main concerns for the Arctic states. First was the need to maintain environmental security. In this context, environmental security can be understood as avoiding or mitigating acts leading to environmental damage or deterioration that could violate the interests of states and their populations, in particular their northern and northern indigenous peoples. The need to maintain the region’s environmental integrity in the face of increased economic activity was a prevalent theme in much of the Canadian, American, and Russian documentation. The second concern was the need for a constabulary capacity to monitor who arrives in each state’s waters and what they are doing there. Most of the Arctic states said they had inadequate means to police the area. Much of the proposed Arctic security policy has been justified as improving the states’ abilities to meet these new environmental and constabulary needs.

Finding 3: Desire for cooperation but resolve to protect national interests.

In most of their statements, the states have reiterated their commitment to collegiality and the principles of international law to ensure that an accessible Arctic is developed in a peaceful and cooperative manner. On the other hand, many of the Arctic states’ actions and statements make it clear that they intend to develop the military capacity to protect their national interests in the region. This approach implies that while diplomacy and cooperation are preferred, the Arctic nations will reserve the right to use unilateral force to defend their interests if necessary.

Finding 4: Remilitarization of the Arctic.

While the two previous findings suggest that the Arctic states are focused on building a cooperative security environment in the region, there is a third, apparently contradictory trend toward modernizing their military forces in the Arctic. Some have already begun rebuilding their Arctic military capabilities, and most of the others are drawing up plans to do so. Consequently, if political cooperation in the region should sour, most of the Arctic nations will have forces that are prepared to compete in a hostile environment.

Finding 5: Non-Arctic states and organizations seek roles in the Arctic.

The EU and NATO have been examining the issues of governance and security in the Arctic. NATO’s initial focus appears to be on improving coordination of security-related issues, such as search and rescue. Given the importance of the region to NATO members such as Canada, Norway and the United States, it seems likely that NATO will remain engaged in the region. The EU’s interest is framed in the context of ensuring that new governance mechanisms are designed to include the interests of all European states. The EU has also issued policy statements that place a strong emphasis on protecting the environment. Separate from the EU, France has announced that it plans to provide its military with some Arctic capabilities. Although it has not expressed geopolitical interest in the Arctic, China plans to increase its scientific research activities in the region and has added a strategic studies department to its Polar Research Institute.

Finding 6: Underlying causes of policy developments.

The principal cause of renewed national interest in the Arctic is the increasing accessibility of Arctic waters resulting from global warming and new maritime technologies. Accessibility leads to the potential for new sea routes or the expansion of old ones, an important issue for both Russia and Canada. Western nations have focused on augmenting scientific research, environmental protection, sustainable development, and a constabulary and military presence. The United States stake in the Arctic is comparatively small, and historically it has tended to act with minimal interest in the region compared with the other Arctic states. Russia has invested tens of billions of dollars in Arctic oil projects, and its recent policy statements and actions suggest that it will act assertively to safeguard its oil wealth and position in the Arctic. Although oil and gas are less central to the core interests of the rest of the circumpolar powers, the importance of Arctic oil will grow for all nations as oil prices continue to rise and the desire for energy security grows.
 

Conclusions & Recommendations

Taken as a whole, the Arctic policy statements and actions taken since 2008 clearly disprove Hypothesis 1. There can be no doubt that there is renewed national and international interest in the Arctic along both economic and strategic lines. However, distinguishing between Hypothesis 2 and Hypothesis 3 is more difficult, as many of the statements and actions of the polar states indicate both a sincere desire for peaceful cooperation and serious preparations for strong military capabilities to defend core national interests in the region.

While Hypothesis 2 is the preferred outcome of all Arctic states, significant national investments in establishing a modern military capability in the north signals that core national interests are the top priority of most of them. Under these circumstances, competition and conflict (i.e. Hypothesis 3) could become the Arctic reality if cooperative mechanisms cannot keep pace with developments or otherwise prove inadequate to settle international disputes in the region. Continued monitoring of national and international developments in the Arctic will help clarify whether conditions are tipping more toward cooperation or more toward competition. A living component of this study will continue to track these developments over time and can be accessed via the Web at http://cmss.ucalgary.ca/arcticsecurity.

Maintaining security and peace in the Arctic will require adapting policies and institutions to the emerging environment there. First, the Arctic states need to strengthen existing multilateral institutions and agreements, especially those related to security. The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, wisely advocates the accession of the United States to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides an important framework by which to resolve disputes over, for example, the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Arctic. States also need to develop practical bilateral and multilateral agreements whereby their new Arctic capabilities can work together. Where practices develop to allow cooperation, that cooperation is easier to maintain should relations become strained due to factors developing outside of the Arctic. An early example of such practices is the development of a search and rescue treaty, the first legally binding agreement to come out of the Arctic Council, which was signed by member states in May 2011. Joining these multilateral regimes, however, is not enough; Arctic states must renew a commitment to comply with existing obligations and implement their commitments as well.

Second, the Arctic states will need to acknowledge and deal with the renewal of military strength in the Arctic. This need runs counter to the tendency of states to publicly downplay the potential for military conflict in the Arctic in order to emphasize their legitimate desire for cooperation. The Arctic Council should reconsider its existing prohibition on discussing military security issues. Failure to do so may encourage the development of alternative forums such as the “Arctic Five” group of states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States) that met at Ilulissat, Greenland in May 2008 and Quebec, Canada in March 2010. The challenges facing the Arctic are multi-dimensional and require both bilateral solutions, such as the Russian-Norwegian maritime border agreement, as well as a unified international response. A sectoral response to the multitude of issues that are increasingly developing in the region threatens to create a piecemeal, ad hoc governance system that may act to prevent the level of coordination needed to resolve future disputes.

The widely held notion that climate change will occur gradually over the 21st century, allowing ample time for society to adapt, is belied by the unprecedented pace of both climate change and policy developments in the Arctic today. Such rapid changes will challenge governments’ abilities to anticipate and diplomatically resolve international disputes within the region. The lesson to the rest of the world might be to anticipate changes and adapt and/or react as soon as possible, using new and existing diplomatic tools, before core national interests take center stage and promote competition and possibly conflict. With global warming, time is of the essence, not only for mitigation, but for adaptation at both the community level and the international level.

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Can Nuclear Be Part of Our Clean Energy Future?

Nuclear energy is often touted as a reliable, carbon-free element in our electricity portfolio, but three major challenges must be overcome before it can play a bigger role in our energy mix: cost, reactor safety, and waste disposal. Recent progress on each of these fronts shows that nuclear energy may indeed be a greater component of our clean energy future.

As a zero-carbon energy source that also has the highest capacity factor, new nuclear generation is especially well suited to provide baseload generation, which is an emerging gap in our electricity system. As electricity demand rises, aging coal plants are retired, and we pursue greenhouse gas emission reductions, there is a growing need for new low- and zero-carbon baseload electricity generation. Without technological breakthroughs in electricity storage technology, wind, and solar, energy cannot adequately meet baseload demand due to intermittency. Natural gas is lower emitting than coal, but it still emits greenhouse gases and has historically been vulnerable to price volatility.  

March 2012 Newsletter

Click here to view our March 2012 newsletter.

Learn about new EPA power plant rules, an action plan to get more electric vehicles on the road, recommendations from the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Intiative to boost domestic oil production while cutting CO2 emissions from power plants, and more in C2ES's March 2012 newsletter.

February 2012 Newsletter

Click here to view our February 2012 newsletter.

Learn about the new international coalition aimed reducing short-lived climate pollutants, a framework for carbon capture and storage, and how federal agencies are incorporating climate adaptation into their decision making, the start of a clean energy standard conversation, and more in C2ES's February 2012 newsletter.

How U.S. Can Lead on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

With Secretary Clinton’s announcement this week of a new coalition aimed at short-lived climate pollutants such as methane and soot, the U.S. is helping to focus international attention on a critical but frequently overlooked dimension of the climate challenge. To maximize its leadership on this front, the U.S. should also take stronger steps to tackle these pollutants at home.

The new multilateral effort to address short-lived climate pollutants (also called short-lived climate forcers) is an important recognition of both the scientific and political realities that surround climate change. A growing body of scientific evidence underscores the importance of near-term action to slow the rate of climate change, which is proceeding more rapidly than scientists predicted. Because methane, black carbon and hydroflurorocarbons (HFCs) have relatively short atmospheric lifetimes, reductions in these compounds will have significant near-term benefits in reducing climate change.  In contrast, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Reductions in CO2 are critical to limit the amount of warming over the longer term, but have more limited impact in the near term.   

Eileen Claussen Comments on the Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution

Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

February 16, 2012

The Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution offers a promising avenue for practical action to slow the pace of global warming.

Going after black carbon, methane and other short-lived climate forcers is no substitute for a strong, sustained effort to significantly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change. Nor can this new coalition take the place of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the principal forum for mobilizing the global climate response.

But targeted efforts to reduce short-lived climate pollution can moderate climate impacts in the near term while we work toward the longer-term strategies needed to rein in carbon dioxide emissions. They could prove especially critical in slowing the loss of sea ice and of glaciers that millions rely on for freshwater. Many of these measures would also protect public health by curbing local air pollution, particularly in developing countries.

At a time when comprehensive solutions to the climate challenge are not yet at hand, we need to tackle it piece by piece, pursuing practical strategies wherever we can. This coalition is a good example. If the countries launching it can deliver the resources, and succeed in recruiting others to the effort, this new initiative has the potential to make a real difference.   

Contact: Rebecca Matulka, 703-516-4146

Learn more about short-lived climate forcers

 

Addressing Climate Change in the Near Term: Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

There is growing recognition within the scientific and policy communities that efforts to address climate change should focus not only on substantially reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but also on near-term actions to reduce those climate pollutants that remain in the atmosphere for much shorter periods of time. With atmospheric lifetimes on the order of a few days to a few decades, the primary short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) are methane, black carbon and certain hydrofluorocarbons. SCLPs are responsible for 30-40 percent of global warming to date. Actions to reduce their emissions could reduce by half the amount of warming that would occur over the next few decades.

In the past few years, considerable attention has shifted to these compounds. New policies (described below) have advanced both within the United States and by the international community aimed at reducing emissions of these pollutants.

Reductions Required in both CO2 and SLCPs

To effectively slow the rate and magnitude of climate change, a strategy that significantly reduces both carbon dioxide and SLCPs is critical:

  1. Reducing CO2 emissions limits the ultimate amount of warming. Because CO2 represents by far the largest source of climate-warming emissions, and because it stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, large reductions in CO2 emissions are required to meet any long-term climate stabilization goal, such as the 2°C goal set by the international community.
  2. Reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants would, on the other hand, effectively slow the near-term rate of climate change. Because SLCPs remain in the atmosphere for a relatively short period of time (compared to CO2) reducing their emissions would result in more immediate benefits. In addition to limiting climate change impacts already underway, including important regional impacts such as glacial melting, SLCP reductions would reduce local air pollution and produce other co-benefits. The U.N. Environment Programme recently estimated that aggressive efforts to reduce SLCPs would avoid 2.4 million premature deaths by 2030 and reduce warming between now and 2040 by a half a degree.

Key Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of about 12 years and a global warming potential of 25 times that of carbon dioxide. It makes up approximately 9 percent of GHG emissions in the United States and roughly 14 percent worldwide. Methane emissions result primarily from oil and gas production and distribution, coal mining, solid waste landfills, cultivation of rice and ruminant livestock, and biomass burning. Reductions in methane emissions also improve local air quality by reducing ground-level ozone, which harms agriculture and human health, and is itself a SLCP.

Black carbon (BC) results from incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels. Its major sources are diesel cars and trucks, cook stoves, forest fires, and agricultural open burning. Black carbon has a short atmospheric lifetime, on the order of a few days to weeks.

Because of a very brief atmospheric lifetime measured in weeks, black carbon's climate effects are strongly regional. BC particles give soot its black color and, like any black surface, strongly absorb sunlight. In snow-covered areas, the deposition of black carbon darkens snow and ice, increasing their absorption of sunlight and making them melt more rapidly. BC may be responsible for a significant fraction of recent warming in the rapidly changing Arctic, contributing to the acceleration of sea ice loss. BC also is contributing to the melting of Himalayan glaciers, a major source of fresh water for millions of people in Asia, and may be driving some of the recent reduction in snowpack in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Black carbon's short lifetime also means that its contribution to climate warming would dissipate quickly if emissions were reduced. Additionally, since BC contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, reductions in BC emissions would have significant co-benefits for human health, particularly in developing countries.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a family of industrially produced chemicals widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning, foam blowing, and other applications. They were developed to replace ozone-depleting substances (primarily chlorofluorcarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons – CFCs and HCFCs) a few decades ago. While HFCs now contribute around 1 percent of total global warming emissions, their use is expected to grow dramatically over time. HFC-134a, the most widely used of these compounds, has an atmospheric lifetime of 13 years and a global warming potential of 1300.

Because ozone-depleting substances (CFCs and HCFCs) are also potent greenhouse gases, their phase-out under the Montreal Protocol has contributed significantly to climate mitigation efforts to date. The treaty's net contribution to climate mitigation (taking into account the growth of HFCs as replacements) is estimated to be five to six times larger than the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period targets.

Policy Actions in the United States to Limit SLCPs

President Obama included specific actions aimed at reducing emissions of SLCPs in his Climate Action Plan, announced in June 2013. The plan called for the Environmental Protection Agency to use its regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act to limit the use of HFCs where more climate-friendly alternatives are available. In August 2014, under its Significant New Alternatives Program, EPA proposed to limit the use of certain HFCs in mobile air conditioning, specified types of foams and aerosol applications.

In September 2014, the Obama administration announced a series of voluntary commitments from chemical firms, manufacturers and retailers to move rapidly away from HFC-134a and similar compounds and to shift to more environmentally friendly replacements. The announcement also called for the federal government to shift its purchasing to products that use alternatives to HFCs.

The Climate Action Plan also called for additional domestic actions to curb methane emissions, and created an interagency task force to develop a comprehensive strategy for identifying and reducing methane emissions. As a first step in implementing this strategy in April 2014, EPA issued for public comment five white papers on emission sources and reduction technologies for reducing methane in the oil and gas sector.  On January 14, 2015, the Administration announced a series of actions aimed at reducing methane emissions in the United States by 40-45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. The announcement calls for EPA to directly regulate methane emissions from new or modified oil and gas production sources and natural gas processing and transmission sources.  It also calls for the agency to issue guidelines for states to reduce VOC emissions from existing oil and gas systems in nonattainment areas and within the Ozone Transport Region. The Bureau of Land Management is to take action to reduce emissions from existing oil and gas wells leased on public lands.  

 International Initiatives to Limit SLCPs

Climate and Clean Air Coalition: In February 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the creation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Directed specifically at reducing global emissions of SCLPs, this coalition has grown from six governments at the tine of its announcement to 36 state and regional governmental partners, and numerous international and non-governmental organizations. Since its inception, it has developed initiatives across a wide range of sectors including diesel engines, cook stoves, HFCs, oil and gas, and waste.

Montreal Protocol Action on HFCs

A proposal by the United States, Mexico and Canada would require an 85 percent reduction in specified HFCs by 2035 for developed countries, and 2045 for developing countries. While efforts in past years to achieve agreement on this or related proposals have been unsuccessful, the United States and others continue to make the case at annual meetings of the Protocol and in other multilateral and bilateral discussions for using this treaty as a mechanism for achieving worldwide reductions in HFCs. This issue will once again be discussed at the 2015 Meeting of the Parties scheduled for October in Dubai.

High-Level Bilateral and Multilateral Discussions:

President Obama and President Xi of China in a statement issued in June 2013 agreed to work together using the Montreal Protocol to phase-down HFCs.

In St. Petersburg, Russia at the G-20 meeting in September 2013, the member nations included in their final declaration a statement supporting the use of the Montreal Protocol to phasedown HFCs.

In their joint statement on Sept. 30, 2014, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi of India recognized the need to use the institutions and expertise of the Montreal Protocol to reduce emissions of HFCs.

Congressional Action

On May 9, 2013, Rep. Scott Peters introduced the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction Act, which would create a task force aimed at developing strategies and actions to reduce SLCPs.

On September 18, 2014, Senators Christopher Murphy, Susan Collins, and nine others introduced a similar bill, the Super Pollutants Act of 2014.

C2ES Resources:

  • Bachmann, John and Seidel, Stephen, Domestic Policies to Reduce the Near-Term Risk of Climate Change. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 2013.
    This paper sets out a series of cost-effective steps that the Obama Administration can implement under existing authorities that would deliver substantial near-term reductions in the rate of climate change.
  • Fast Action to Reduce the Risks of Climate Change: U.S. Options to Limit Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, Feb. 2012
  • Bodansky, Daniel, Multilateral Climate Efforts Beyond the UNFCCC, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Nov. 2011.
    This report looks at a number of multilateral entities that could play a role in addressing certain of the SLCFs including: the Montreal Protocol as a possible  venue for HFCs and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution as a possible venue for BC, methane and other ozone-precursors.
  • Bachmann, John, Black Carbon: A Science/Policy Primer, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), 2009.
    This paper summarizes current knowledge on the effects of soot components—black carbon and organic particles—on climate, and identifies sources and technologies to mitigate their impacts. It also presents perspectives on the potential role of soot mitigation approaches in developing more comprehensive climate strategies.
  • What is Black Carbon?, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), April 2010.
    This factsheet provides an overview of black carbon as a major contributor to global climate change. It describes why reducing black carbon is a win-win scenario for both climate and health reasons.
  • Read Eileen Claussen's statement on the Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution

Additional Resources:

International Forums Focused on SLCPs:

SLCP-Related Initiatives:

 

 

January 2012 Newsletter

Click here to view our January 2012 newsletter.

Learn about the Climate Leadership Conference, Australia's new carbon pricing mechanism, the Make an Impact energy conservation challenge, and more in C2ES's January 2012 newsletter.

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