Climate Compass Blog

The core issues in the Paris climate talks

Leaders at the February 2015 UNFCCC conference in Geneva. Photo courtesy UNFCCC.

The final year of U.N. talks aimed at producing a new global climate agreement kicked off this week in Geneva. As negotiators wrestle with the working draft of the new agreement, it’s clear that all the core issues remain very much in play.

The talks, under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), were launched in 2011 in Durban, South Africa, and are to conclude this December in Paris. The aim is a post-2020 agreement “with legal force” and “applicable to all.”

The more immediate goal in Geneva is to produce a “draft negotiating text,” which technically must be in circulation at least six months before Paris. But the text emerging from Geneva will be very far from a finished product. The starting point this week was a 39-page collection of parties’ proposals forwarded from COP 20 in December in Lima. By mid-week, the working draft had grown to nearly 90 pages.

The unwieldy text reflects the wide disparities remaining on all the core issues in shaping the Paris agreement.

Countries will soon begin submitting their “intended nationally determined contributions” to the agreement. That these INDCs (focused primarily on constraining greenhouse gas emissions) will be “nationally determined” suggests that the agreement will have a strong “bottom-up” character. Much of what’s at issue is whether and how to blend in “top-down” elements to create a hybrid agreement that delivers both broad participation and stronger ambition.   

Here are some of the core issues for the year:

Differentiation – Developed countries want to do away with the stark differentiation seen in the Kyoto Protocol, which set binding emissions targets for developed countries only. But most developing countries are resisting the proposed alternative: accepting a de facto self-differentiation as countries tailor their contributions to their own circumstances.

Finance – More than $10 billion was pledged recently to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries through the newly established Green Climate Fund. Developing countries are trying to hold developed countries to their commitment to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private finance by 2020, and want assurances of increased flows in the years beyond. Developed nations want to broaden the circle of donor countries, so the onus is not entirely on them.

Adaptation – Developing countries argue that the UNFCCC historically has been too mitigation-centric and adaptation has gotten short shrift. Many fought unsuccessfully in Lima to include adaptation in the scope of INDCs (countries can address it if they choose to), and are now pushing other ways to devote more attention and resources to the issue.  

Legal character ­– Beyond a stipulation that the agreement will have “legal force,” there’s no consensus on precisely what form it will take – or, more importantly, which particular elements will be legally binding. While the United States, for instance, might be prepared for binding procedural commitments (such as commitments to make a nationally determined contribution, and report on its implementation), it opposes binding emission targets.

Transparency – Existing UNFCCC requirements for the reporting and review of countries’ efforts are bifurcated: a more rigorous system for developed countries than for developing. Developed countries are pushing for a common framework covering all parties.

Ambition ­– The initial round of national contributions will not reduce global emissions enough to meet the goal of limiting warming to 2°C.  Some parties are pushing, and others resisting, a mechanism to bring parties back to the table at regular intervals to up their contributions.

Despite the slow pace in the negotiating room, there are encouraging signs from capitals that Paris could in fact deliver a meaningful agreement.

The joint announcement last year by the United States and China of their respective post-2020 targets showed that both want a deal. Add in the European Union, which also has announced its target, and that accounts for more than half the world’s emissions. India, meanwhile, has begun devoting more attention to climate change, with the new prime minister telling his diplomats this week to “shed old mindsets” and help the country position itself as a leader.    

Ten months out, it’s dangerous to venture predictions. But if the political will among the major economies keeps strengthening, Paris could prove our best chance since the UNFCCC’s launch more than 20 years ago for a balanced, durable agreement that – while it won’t solve climate change – will help put us on track.

6 rules for happy climate partnerships

One city, company, state or nation can’t solve our climate and energy challenges overnight. Meaningful progress requires a variety of approaches by multiple actors, and that’s why partnerships are critical.

The benefits, indeed, the necessity of partnering and collaborating on climate action is increasingly being recognized.

The MIT 2014 Sustainability Report notes that “a growing number of companies are turning to collaborations — with suppliers, NGOs, industry alliances, governments, even competitors — to become more sustainable.” Collaborating with non-traditional partners was the focus of this month’s National Association of Clean Water Agencies’ (NACWA) Winter Conference, where C2ES President Bob Perciasepe touted the benefits of water and energy utility partnerships. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will recognize the importance of innovative partnerships for the first time in the upcoming 2015 Climate Leadership Awards to be announced Feb. 24 in Washington D.C.

Successful partnerships on climate and energy challenges, like successful relationships, take work. So in honor of Valentine’s Day, we offer the following six rules for strong partnerships:

1. Be authentic and honest. Coming into the partnership with a clear understanding of what drives your organization and the motivation for partnering can influence the success of the project. As McKinsey&Company puts it, “Any collaboration must make sense for all parties, whether their primary interests are commercial, environmental, or social. Enlightened self-interest is the only genuinely sustainable motive.”

2. Share a joint vision of the future. Agreeing on the expectations and goals of the partnership helps establish a shared language, which is a key ingredient for developing a sense of trust. For example, the C2ES Make an Impact program works with companies to craft of a vision of a successful employee engagement program and then works collaboratively to create and deliver a unique engagement campaign.

3. Fill roles that accentuate strengths. Companies often partner with nonprofits, universities or companies in their supply chains to bring together the right mix of resources to achieve goals. As partnerships are developing, it’s important to understand each organization’s strengths and constraints. For example, an organization with unique expertise but a mission not tightly aligned with a partnership's goal could still make a valuable contribution.

4. Remember: Your partner doesn’t need to fill every role for you. “You complete me” is a beautiful thought as long as it’s coming from Jerry Maguire. Given the complexity of some climate challenges, some efforts will require more than two actors. For example, the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative brings together a number of public agencies as well as universities and nonprofits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prepare for local climate change impacts and share their learnings.

5. Things should be good - most of the time. There can be a lot of negotiating and management associated with developing and maintaining truly transformative partnerships. Organization leaders have to put in the time and sometimes make concessions for the collaboration to succeed. That said, it is important that the benefits and value created through the collaboration outweigh the transaction costs of the time and resources required to participate in the partnership.

6. Allow your partner to evolve - and let yourself evolve, too. Organizational evolution is expected. Internal and external priorities, strategies, and ability to contribute to partnerships change over time. Some changes in leadership and markets will provide growth opportunities but may require the partnership to adjust. Maintaining an open dialogue will go far in preserving what the relationship has already delivered and ensuring that everyone is aware of and can respond to evolving conditions.

C2ES will explore these best practices and the role of innovative partnerships in climate solutions in a side event at the 2015 Climate Leadership Conference, which is a platform for powerful collaboration on climate. The conference gathers forward-thinking leaders from business, government, academia, and the non-profit community to explore energy and climate solutions. Online registration closes Feb. 18.


Taking action on climate change is good business strategy

A new C2ES report highlights lessons useful for companies and policymakers as more states and countries consider carbon pricing to spur innovative technologies and cut emissions at the lowest possible cost.

The report, written for the World Bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR), examines how three companies — Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Rio Tinto, and Royal Dutch Shell -- prepared for carbon pricing programs.

The PMR shares this type of information with developing countries to help them create their own market-based policies. We were pleased to partner with the PMR to explore how a few of the companies in our Business Environmental Leadership Council prepared for carbon pricing and we thank the companies for sharing their expertise.

The lessons they shared fall into two categories – what business can learn from other companies operating in carbon markets and what governments considering market-based climate policy can learn from business.

Lessons for companies include: 

  • Incorporate climate change into a company’s strategy. Regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions can affect many industries, especially those that are energy-intensive. Companies need top-level support for a comprehensive climate change strategy that leverages expertise across the company. For instance, in 1998, Shell conducted its first formal study on the potential impact of climate-related regulations on its global business. Then managing director and later CEO Jeroen van der Veer was the driving force behind the study, which built an internal case for climate action.
  • Monitor, report, and verify (MRV) greenhouse gas emissions. A first step is often to build a greenhouse gas inventory. The inventory helps a company understand its direct and indirect emissions and anticipate its exposure to new carbon pricing regulation. For example, some of Rio Tinto’s units started collecting inventory emissions as far back as the mid-1990s, several years before any regulations required them to do so. Today, Rio Tinto continues to measure and report on emissions from most operations, even in jurisdictions where there is no reporting requirement.
  • Identify risks and opportunities. By engaging in the policymaking process, companies can reduce uncertainty as well as identify business opportunities.
  • Build knowledge and skill early. There are many ways to increase company knowledge of future carbon policies, such as participating in a voluntary offset market to understand the methodologies, rules, and processes for acquiring carbon credits. PG&E gained experience with offsets in 2007 through its ClimateSmart program. Working with the Climate Action Reserve, PG&E supported the development of several offset protocols, and some of the protocols were later adopted by California’s cap-and-trade program. These activities can also build in-house expertise, including how to handle carbon trading transactions.

Lessons for policymakers include:

  • Create a predictable regulatory environment. An environment of predictability, consistency, and flexibility is key to helping companies plan with confidence.
  • Introduce early emissions reporting. Introducing reporting requirements in advance of carbon pricing regulations gives companies time to build an inventory of accurate emissions data.
  • Include flexible market mechanisms. Certain design features, such as offsets and the banking and/or borrowing of allowances, can provide flexibility and improve the efficiency of a new program.
  • Balance stakeholder interests. Each company and sector will have its own set of interests under a carbon pricing regime. The goal is to balance different interests and find solutions that benefit society as a whole.

The lesson for both companies and policymakers is that for an emissions policy to meet government objectives in a way that is also workable for the business community, it is crucial to create an open and transparent dialogue. This dialogue is essential as more states and countries look to carbon pricing.

Almost 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states, and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms or are planning to implement them. South Korea launched its carbon pricing program in January. China is running pilot carbon pricing programs in seven cities and two provinces and intend to release a plan for a national program next year. South Africa will also implement a carbon pricing program next year.

More than a quarter of the U.S. population lives in a state with a price on carbon, and some states may consider the policy as a way to implement new power plant emissions standards.

Getting ahead of the curve and preparing for these programs is just sound business strategy.

Answers to 3 key questions about the hottest year on record

Last year was the warmest globally in the 135 years since records have been kept. That was confirmed today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

What’s significant about one year’s temperature?

What does one record-breaking year say about climate change? Alone, very little, but 2014’s heat did not happen in isolation. It was part of a longer streak of warm years. The last 38 years have been warmer than the 20th century average. All of the top 10 warmest years have occurred since 1998. Taken together, these warm years demonstrate that the Earth’s climate has changed and continues to change. The “warm streak” also provides a strong argument against those who claim global warming somehow stopped in the last 15-20 years. Although it is true that the rate of warming since 1998 was slower than in prior decades, the longer-term picture is unequivocal. The planet is still warming up. And as we’ve discussed previously, the ups and downs that occur over a few years or even a decade should not be used to undermine (or unnecessarily embellish) the reality of the broad warming trend.

Another interesting aspect of 2014 is that the high-temperature mark was broken without much help from El Niño. El Niño events occur when a large area of the tropical Pacific Ocean maintains above-average temperatures for many consecutive months. So, when we have an El Niño, the planet has a good chance of being warm as a whole. El Niños helped make 1998, 2005, and 2010 some of the warmest years in the temperature record. However, in 2014, ocean conditions fell somewhere between neutral and a bona fide El Niño (see NOAA’s recent blog on the state of El Niño).

Global average annual temperatures since 1880, from NOAA and The dark red columns represent the 10 warmest years in the record. 2014 is the warmest year in the record.

Resolve to make an impact at work in 2015

If your New Year’s resolution is to make a difference, why not start at work?

A majority of us say we’d be more satisfied if we had a job where we could make a social or environmental impact on the world. A recent study shows Millennials especially see businesses as potential partners in helping them make the world a better place.

No matter your title or department, or if it’s just you working in your home office, you can help make your workplace a little greener and reduce the emissions that are contributing to climate change.

Here are 8 steps to consider giving a try:

Photo by Ellie Ramm

Cafeteria composting and recycling are great ways to cut food waste at work.