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
This commentary was originally published by Nature
A preoccupation with binding commitments blocks progress in the global effort against climate change. It’s time to correct course, says Elliot Diringer.
When governments gather for another round of United Nations (UN) climate change negotiations later this month in Durban, South Africa, they face a familiar thicket of issues. Yet for many – and, no doubt, for headline writers around the world – one stands above all the rest: the survival or death of the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto’s emission targets expire at the end of 2012, making Durban the last chance to set new targets in time to avoid a ‘commitment gap’.
Kyoto will likely emerge from Durban alive, but just barely. This should not be cause for alarm. While the protocol remains an important emblem of multilateralism, it has become, in reality, more of an impediment than a means to genuine progress. More important than ensuring Kyoto’s long-term survival is building something better to take its place.
Durban affords an overdue opportunity to honestly reconsider what it is we can look to the UN climate process to deliver, and when. With the start of the Kyoto negotiations 16 years ago, the international community decided that legally binding commitments were the answer to climate change. A binding-or-nothing mentality has held sway ever since, and the result often has been ‘nothing’.
Although it has been obvious for some time that most of the developed world is unwilling to one-sidedly assume new binding targets, many developing countries will arrive in Durban insisting on precisely that. Without a compromise, the outcome this time may be less than nothing. It might, in the worst case, be the unraveling of the entire enterprise.
The more sensible course is an incremental one. Modest successes were achieved at last year’s climate-change negotiations in Cancún, Mexico. The parties should build on that with further steps to strengthen the regime; they should also declare their intent to work toward binding commitments, while acknowledging that this will take time. Meanwhile, governments and climate advocates must work at home to build domestic support for strong national action. Without that, future international commitments will mean little, binding or not.
In Durban, governments will again be challenged by the same two fundamental issues that dominated at the very start of the global climate effort two decades ago. One is governance: Is the best approach a binding top-down treaty with sanctions for non-compliance, a loose bottom-up arrangement with countries free to define their own voluntary commitments, or something in-between? The second is fairness: How is effort against this quintessentially global challenge equitably apportioned among countries whose degrees of responsibility and capacity vary so widely, and are continually evolving?
The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change took a first stab at both. On fairness, it established the principle that countries should act “in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” Applying that principle, it set specific obligations for developed countries only – returning their greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. But this was simply an “aim”, not a binding target. As to the ultimate shape of the regime, the Convention left the door wide open.
It soon became evident that most developed countries would miss this goal, and in 1995 the parties launched a new round of talks that led to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. They agreed right off that new commitments would apply to developed countries only. And, inspired in part by the success of the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances, they decided that this time the targets would be legally binding. (The prescribed consequences for non-compliance, however, are technically not binding – illustrating the many shades of grey associated with the ‘binding’ concept.)
It took until 2005 for Kyoto to win enough ratifications – notwithstanding its renunciation by the United States – to enter into force. In that time and in the years since, the emissions picture has shifted dramatically. Global greenhouse-gas emissions are up 25% since 1997. China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest annual emitter. Collectively, developing country emissions are now 58% of the total, and rising fast.
Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that countries such as Japan, Canada and Russia adamantly refuse to assume new binding targets unless the other major economies at present outside Kyoto’s reach – most notably, the United States and China – do so as well. And for now, the odds of that happening are nil.
Yet for many, binding commitments remain a holy grail. This produced a near disaster two years ago at the Copenhagen meeting, where the widely held but wholly unrealistic expectation of a binding outcome was destined to go unmet. World leaders managed to hash out a political deal, the Copenhagen Accord, but in the final vitriolic hours, a handful of parties blocked its formal adoption. To both those in the room and those watching from afar, the UN climate process appeared to teeter. Another go-round like that in Durban could push it over the edge.
A key premise of the Kyoto experiment was that binding international commitments would drive national efforts. Yet outside Europe, where concern about climate change has always run strongest, there is little evidence that this is true. A prime counter example is Canada, where emissions are now 17-30% above 1990 levels (depending on whether land-use emissions are counted), despite a binding commitment to reduce them to 6% below.
Where ambitious national efforts have emerged, two other drivers appear more influential: political will and economic self-interest. Australia is arguably a case of the former. Heavily reliant, like Canada, on natural resources and energy-intensive exports, Australia’s last government fell when it tried to push through emissions trading. But the new minority government – a coalition including the Green party – recommitted to the issues and just this month enacted an ambitious carbon-pricing scheme.
The mercantile motive, meanwhile, is nowhere more evident than in China, which has quickly dominated the emerging clean-energy market and now produces nearly 50% of the world’s wind turbines and solar panels. China will also soon introduce emissions trading at the regional level.
In most cases, economic motive and political will both play a part. Germany and the United Kingdom are going beyond European Union (EU) mandates with 2020 emission targets 40% and 34%, respectively, below 1990 levels. South Korea devoted most of its 2009 US$38-billion economic stimulus to green growth, including energy efficiency and renewables. It and some other developing countries, including Brazil, India and South Africa, are fashioning or implementing market-based policies to drive efficiency or reduce emissions. Where neither political will nor competitive drive has yet taken hold, as in the United States, investment and action unfortunately lag.
If the principal drivers of action are domestic, do international commitments matter? Yes. In the long term, Kyoto’s adherents are right: emissions commitments should be binding. Strong, sustained action to preserve a global good requires confidence that all are indeed contributing their fair share. But we need to be more realistic about how and when we get there.
Fortunately, if governments are prepared to look beyond Kyoto, they can find in last year’s Cancún Agreements the seeds of a more viable successor. That pact gave the essential elements of the Copenhagen Accord the UN imprimatur, and offered countries the opportunity to pledge explicit targets or actions for 2020. More than 80, including all the major economies, have now done so.
This time, the numbers were set unilaterally, not negotiated as in Kyoto; pledges came from both developed and developing countries; and they are voluntary, not binding. In other words, even as the Kyoto negotiations have dragged on, a parallel ‘bottom-up’ framework has begun to take shape.
As yet, it is hardly adequate. To begin with, the 2020 pledges are too weak to put countries on track towards limiting warming to 2 °C, the goal set in Copenhagen and affirmed in Cancún. Beyond that, the operational elements of Cancún – a new Green Climate Fund for developing countries, stronger reporting and scrutiny of countries’ actions, and new adaptation and technology mechanisms – are mere shells, with a raft of details still to be agreed on.
In Durban, parties should indeed set their sights towards eventual binding commitments. But they should focus primarily on the more prosaic nuts and bolts of strengthening transparency and support for developing countries. However incremental, such steps will get us further than a recurring cycle of false expectation and failure.
For the Kyoto Protocol itself, the likely outcome is some sort of half-measure. A leading option is to set new emission targets through a ‘political’ second commitment period, which can be approved outright by ministers gathered in Durban, rather than a legally binding amendment to the protocol, which would have to be brought home and ratified, a long and difficult process for many governments. Even if joined by only the EU and a handful of others, such a life-support mechanism would avert a blow-up, and buy time to build a sounder alternative.
Looking across the multilateral landscape, it is clear that strong, durable agreements don’t typically spring forth fully formed – they evolve over time. Kyoto was a bold attempt to short-circuit the process. The real tragedy is not its demise, but that the binding-or-nothing mindset has in the meantime kept us from pursuing other multilateral means of tackling climate change. Durban is a chance to correct course.
Elliot Diringer is Executive Vice President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
November 16, 2011
On E&E TV's OnPoint, Eileen Claussen discusses goals of the newly-launched Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and assesses the current state of energy policy talks in Washington. Claussen also gives her views on the Obama administration's handling of energy policy. Click here to watch the interview.
Click here for additional details on C2ES.
For those of you who came to our website today expecting to find information and resources from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, please don’t click away. Today we announced an exciting transition. We are now C2ES — the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. In addition to changing our name, we’ve refreshed our mission and strategic approach, updated our website, and made other changes to ensure that we can continue to craft real solutions to the energy and climate challenges we face today.
Yes, a great deal has changed in the last 24 hours. But what hasn’t changed is the need for straight talk, common sense and common ground. Today’s climate and energy issues present us with real challenges — and real opportunities as well. This is about protecting the environment, our communities and our economy. And it is about building the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable future.
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.
This Q&A orginally appeared on Singapore International Energy Week's website.
Q1. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Do you see an agreement on its successor during negotiations at Durban later this year? Or is an extension of the Kyoto Protocol or a move to a transitional framework a more likely outcome?
Eileen Claussen: The Kyoto Protocol has played an important role in advancing climate change efforts in some parts of the world. Most notably, the European Union established its successful Emissions Trading System and other policies in order to fulfil its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. However, because developing countries are exempt from Kyoto's emission targets and because the United States has chosen not to join, the Protocol covers just one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Japan, Canada and Russia have made clear that they will not take on new binding targets post-2012 without commensurate obligations by the United States and the major developing countries, which are not prepared for binding commitments. Hence, there appears very little prospect of new Kyoto commitments being adopted in Durban.
While our ultimate aim should be a comprehensive and binding international climate framework, we must accept that getting to binding commitments will take time. The Cancún Agreements made important progress in strengthening the existing frameworks in the areas of finance, transparency, adaptation and technology. Further incremental progress in these areas will promote near-term action and will strengthen parties' confidence in one another and in the regime, thereby building a stronger foundation for a later binding agreement. At the same time, countries must continue strengthening political will and policies domestically. In Durban, parties should make concrete progress in implementing the Cancún Agreements--for instance, by establishing the Green Climate Fund and agreeing on stronger transparency measures--while affirming their intent to work toward binding outcomes.
Q2. Global GHG emissions increased by a record amount last year. Is the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degree Celsius just a "nice Utopia" as IEA's Dr Fatih Birol put it?
EC: Long-term goals are tricky. On the one hand, they provide a rallying point to help focus attention and orient action, and a yardstick for measuring progress. On the other hand, they are meaningful only if they can be operationalized, and if interim efforts don't appear to be on track, people may be discouraged as a result and the will to act may actually weaken. In the case of climate, a temperature goal is appealing because it is easily related in the public mind to the core issue--global warming. But as a metric, it is several steps removed from the action that is needed: Reducing emissions. From a practical standpoint, a global emissions goal might be more helpful.
Countries' pledges to date clearly do not put us on the path to meeting the 2 degree goal. While achieving the goal is not yet out of the question, it would require a dramatic acceleration of efforts around the globe. The bottom line is that we know what direction we must go. Whatever our long-term goal--indeed, whether or not we have a long-term goal--the immediate challenge is the same: Ramping up our efforts as quickly as possible.
Q3. How much of an impact will the recent nuclear power crisis in Japan have on GHG emissions reduction?
EC: It is still too early to know what impact the Fukushima disaster will have on energy choices and greenhouse gas emissions around the world. The most dramatic example is the recent decision by Germany to completely phase out nuclear power. While many in Germany believe that the gap can be filled by renewable energy and improved energy efficiency, others are deeply concerned that the country will deepen its reliance on coal, making it impossible to achieve its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Other countries must assess for themselves the implications of Fukushima for their energy futures. For those countries choosing to continue or deepen their reliance on nuclear power, the tragedy clearly offers lessons for improving safety. Given the continued growth in energy demand projected in the future, particularly in developing countries, it is difficult to imagine that we will be able to meet the world's energies needs and simultaneously meet the climate challenge without continued reliance on nuclear power. It is therefore imperative that we continue striving to enhance safety and solve the issue of long-term waste disposal.
Q4. Technology is seen as a key enabler to achieve low emissions growth. In your opinion, what are the top three technologies available today that can make the biggest impact?
EC: There are thousands of technologies available today that could make a huge impact with the right policy support, such as a price on carbon. But the problem, at least in the US today, is that it is unclear when such policy support will be forthcoming. So I will pick my top three based on the ones that need the least additional policy support to make a contribution, either because they yield multiple economic benefits beyond climate, or because they benefit from existing policy drivers.
a. Batteries in cars. Batteries can be used in vehicles in a variety of ways. While a battery-only vehicle may only be able to fill a niche market, hybrid vehicles that run on either gasoline or electricity will likely have broader appeal, and start-stop batteries, which turn off the gasoline engine while a vehicle idles, can be applied to just about any vehicle, achieving modest per-vehicle reductions that add up to significant reductions fleet wide. The combination of new US standards for fuel economy and GHG emissions and electric utility interest in selling electricity can drive battery costs down. The potential emission reductions are enormous, but they depend on cleaning up the electricity grid.
b. Information technology. IT can enable dramatic GHG reductions, for example through energy efficiency (e.g. smart buildings that turn on lights and HVAC when they're needed and turn them off when they're not), substituting videoconferencing for travel, and using wireless communication to optimize transportation routing for people and goods. Convenience and time savings are such powerful drivers of IT that it needs little incremental policy support.
c. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) using CO2. CCS is technically available, and potentially a game changer, enabling us to continue to use fossil fuels but with very low CO2 emissions. CO2-EOR is already economic using naturally occurring CO2, and is close to economic using captured CO2. With very little policy support, EOR using captured CO2 could yield some near-term emission reductions while driving CCS costs down, thereby enabling enormous emission reductions in the future.
Q5. Energy efficiency has long been touted as the lowest hanging fruit to address the energy and climate change challenges. Many Asian countries have announced ambitious targets to cut their energy and carbon intensities. For example, as part of its 12th Five-Year Plan, China has indicated that it aims to cut energy intensity by 16 percent and carbon intensity by 17 percent in the next five years. Do you think Asian countries are doing enough? What more can they undertake to help combat climate change?
EC: Efficiency improvements that generate more economic output with less energy input are important for a variety of reasons, including energy supply security, pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction, and improvement of livelihoods. Countries such as Korea, China and India have taken significant measures to improve efficiency, with the result that the energy intensity of their economies has been lowering over the past decade.
Many energy efficiency measures are classified as "low hanging fruit," meaning the energy savings and other benefits they produce far outweigh the cost of investing in them. Asian countries are currently focusing on exploiting these low hanging fruit, notably in the industrial and power sectors, as well as in appliances and equipment, and large commercial and public buildings. Eventually, achieving additional energy savings will require more expensive investments, and targeting more difficult sectors, such as small and medium enterprises and households.
Asian governments will need to adjust policy tools to meet these new challenges. Policy certainty and appropriate price signals are important to ensure the efficiency improvement potentials of current investments are maximised. One way of providing these is through cap-and-trade type systems, such as those being considered or developed in China, India and Korea. This will also require the phase-out of subsidies that artificially decrease energy prices and encourage consumption rather than conservation. Though progress is slow, several Asian countries have taken or are taking steps in this direction as well.
Limiting the growth of or reducing energy consumption is, of course, essential. However, shifting to less carbon-intensive sources of energy is equally important in the medium to long term. As such, many Asian countries should also be commended for investing in developing less GHG-intensive energy sources.
The Pew Center's September 2011 newsletter highlights a new intiative focused on expanding carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery, a new brief on international climate assistance, the lessons we can learn from Hurrican Irene, and more.
By Daniel Bodansky
On December 31, 2012, the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period will expire. Unless states agree to a second commitment period, requiring a further round of emissions cuts, the Protocol will no longer impose any quantitative limits on states’ greenhouse gas emissions. Although, as a legal matter, the Protocol will continue in force, it will be a largely empty shell, doing little if anything to curb global warming.
This discussion paper analyzes the options going forward for the Kyoto Protocol, including adoption of a legally-binding second commitment period, a “political” second commitment period, or no new commitment period. It also considers the legal implications of a gap between the end of Kyoto’s first commitment period and the adoption of a new legal regime to limit emissions, the prospects for the Clean Development Mechanism in the absence of a second Kyoto commitment period, and the relationship between the Kyoto Protocol negotiations and the emerging regime under the Cancun Agreements.
Daniel Bodansky is Lincoln Professor of Law, Ethics and Sustainability, at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. This paper is based on a presentation made to a workshop organized by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Konigswinter, Germany in June 2011. The paper is published in Viewpoints, a publication of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.
Will U.S. companies be ready to compete in the world markets of the future? Global clean energy markets pose a $2.3 trillion opportunity over the next 10 years, providing enormous potential for innovation in new technologies, products and business models. These opportunities will help us achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions that scientists say are needed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
Yet the United States’ commitment to developing these markets for innovation is lagging. While the Pentagon is calling for improved energy security, the U.S. House of Representatives is proposing funding cuts for energy innovation that would reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. After surviving the FY 2011 federal budget battle by receiving $180 million out of the $300 million requested by the President, on June 15 the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to cut FY 2012 funding to $100 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The President had requested $550 million for the agency, which funds transformational energy technology research.
In Brief: Clean Energy Markets: Jobs and Opportunities
July 2011 Update (originally published February 2010)
Download this Brief (PDF)
This brief discusses how investment in clean energy technologies will generate economic growth and create new jobs in the United States and around the globe. The United States stands to benefit from the expansion of global clean energy markets, but only if it moves quickly to support domestic demand for and production of clean energy technologies through well-designed policy that enhances the competitiveness of U.S. firms.
Clean energy markets are already substantial in scope and growing fast. Between 2004 and 2010, global clean energy investment exhibited a compound annual growth rate of 32 percent, reaching $243 billion in 2010. Forecasts of investment totals over the next few decades vary according to assumptions made regarding the nature of future global climate policies. Over the next decade, assuming strong global action on climate change, cumulative global investment totals for clean power generation technologies could reach nearly $2.3 trillion.
Recognizing the potential of these markets, the European Union, China, and other nations are moving to cultivate their own clean energy industries and to position them to gain large market shares in the decades ahead.
- The European Union continues to lead the world in clean energy investments, spending nearly $81 billion in 2010. Since 2009, China has invested more money per year in clean energy technologies than the United States, investing $54.4 billion in 2010 compared to the United States’ $34 billion. Over 85 percent of today’s market for clean energy technologies is outside of the United States, primarily in Asia and Europe.
- Germany’s clean energy investments of $41.2 billion were the second most for any country in 2010, surpassing the now third-place United States.
- China now boasts the world’s largest solar panel and wind turbine manufacturing industries, accounting for nearly 50 percent of manufacturing for both technologies.
- Danish wind manufacturers produce close to 22 percent of annual global installed wind capacity.
These countries have taken deliberate steps to position themselves as leaders in the 21st century clean energy economy. History shows that it matters where industries are first established, and countries can use policy to foster domestic “lead markets” for particular industries, giving them the foothold that can lead to significant growth in global market share. In the United States, well-crafted climate and clean energy policy can give nascent clean energy industries such a foothold by creating domestic demand and spurring investment and innovation. Strong domestic demand creates not only export opportunities but also jobs – many of which must be located where the demand is, thus fostering domestic job growth even when industry supply chains are globally dispersed.
National climate and clean energy policy in the United States can help create jobs and domestic early-mover industries with the potential to become major international exporters. Such policy should provide incentives for investment in clean energy, for example through a clean energy standard, that requires a certain amount of electricity be obtained from clean energy sources, or a market-based mechanism that puts a price on carbon. The time to act is now: through policy leadership at home and abroad, the United States can position itself to become a market leader in the industries of the 21st century.
Click here for the press release.
This post originally appeared on Txchnologist
At a time when many are adopting the narrative that carbon markets are faltering, the European Union (EU) is aggressively pursuing the expansion of theirs to include aviation. One of only two mandatory greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade systems in the world, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) plans to fold in a new sector beginning in January 2012. Our research shows reducing GHG emissions from aviation is critical if we are to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. Low-carbon fuel technology and other technologies for airplanes are advancing at a rapid clip, but we need a climate policy – either a price on carbon or something else – to get over the hump.