Climate Compass Blog

An American in Marrakech

For 10 exhausting days, from the moment I arrived in Marrakech for the latest U.N. conference on climate change, I found myself thrust into the uneasy role of unofficial emissary for a country transformed overnight.

COP 22 had started on a high note, as thousands from around the world celebrated the remarkably swift entry into force of the Paris Agreement just days earlier. But then in a flash, with news of Donald Trump’s surprise victory, the historic gains of Paris seemed suddenly at risk of unraveling.

By the time I touched down in Marrakech two days after the election, the initial shock had given way to deep anxiety, with rumors swirling that president-elect Trump would proclaim at any moment that he would pull the United States from the Paris Agreement.

As a strictly nonpartisan organization, C2ES has worked closely over the years with Democrats and Republicans alike. Before and after the election, we made clear our willingness to work with the next administration and others to build common ground.

On the ground in Marrakech, like other veteran COP-goers from the United States, I found myself besieged by delegates desperate for insight into what had happened and, more importantly, what would happen now. I had precious little to offer.

My first instinct was to note that one huge lesson of the entire campaign was the utter unpredictability of political outcomes – and that would be true going forward as well.

True, the incoming president had declared climate change a hoax and vowed to “cancel” the Paris Agreement. But, I’d note, he’d also denied his climate denialism and, back in 2009, he’d signed an open letter in The New York Times supporting climate legislation.  Plus, there were already signs he was tempering his views on other issues like immigration and health care.

At two C2ES-sponsored side events, I was joined by major U.S. companies, a top California official and a Democratic staffer from the Senate (we’d invited a speaker from the Trump transition team but they had no one in Marrakech). We all made the case that the strong momentum in the United States toward a clean-energy transition is bound to continue.

But we could offer no solid assurance that our collective efforts had not just suffered a real blow.

Against that uncertainty, it was heartening to hear country after country reaffirm its commitment to the Paris Agreement and to a low-carbon future. The negotiations, now focused on filling in the details of the new Paris architecture, continued. And in the end they achieved the same outcomes they likely would have.

So for the moment, at least, the world is pressing ahead. But as we all head home from Marrakech, the uncertainty still looms. Should President-elect Trump make good on his campaign promise to withdraw from Paris, there is no denying that the consequences could be grave.

The Paris Agreement is a remarkable achievement. Its pragmatic approach preserves the full sovereignty of nations to decide their own paths forward, while also providing them the means to hold one another accountable. It is precisely the sort of agreement U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have long advocated.

But the agreement will only achieve its full promise if the more detailed rules being negotiated over the next two years are sound. The best way to ensure that is for the United States to remain at the table, honoring its commitments, and providing the kind of leadership that only it can.Flags at COP 22

Lessons learned from climate transparency

One of the key issues at COP 22 in Marrakech was how to implement the transparency provisions of the Paris Agreement through which countries can hold one another accountable for their promises.

The agreement requires that this “enhanced transparency framework” build on parties’ experiences with existing transparency processes under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A new C2ES brief highlights some of the key lessons countries are drawing from their experiences – lessons underscored by many parties in Marrakech.

The Paris Agreement requires all countries to report regularly on their greenhouse gas emissions and their efforts to reduce them. Their reports will be subject to two levels of international review – first, a review by technical experts, then a “multilateral consideration of progress” where countries put questions to one another. The new system is to provide “built-in flexibility” for developing countries with limited capacity. 

Under the existing system, which sets different requirements for developed and developing countries, the latter have only recently begun to undergo any form of international review. While many initially approached that prospect with trepidation, they’ve discovered more to be gained than feared.

One of the most important lessons shared by both developed and developing countries is that fulfilling their international transparency requirements has produced significant domestic benefits. Collecting the information needed for reporting starts important conversations across sectors and actors, between different levels of government, and among relevant stakeholders. Transparency as a government-wide effort can help identify mitigation opportunities and challenges as well as track and inform domestic policy implementation.

Another lesson is that the processes’ facilitative approach has helped parties overcome apprehensions about reporting and review. The process is more of a technical dialogue than an interrogation where experts judge or criticize parties. This friendly exchange helps parties learn and improve each time they go through technical analysis, since mistakes actually lead to identifying obstacles and areas for improvement as well as capacity-building needs.

Parties also have stressed that building stronger in-country capacity is crucial to effective developing country participation in transparency. Episodic project funding for the preparation and submission of greenhouse gas inventories makes it hard for developing countries to continuously collect data or provide regular training to their inventory experts. In-country capacity helps incentivize key players and institutions and establish a sense of ownership at the national and institutional level.

In Marrakech, seven developing countries went through their first Facilitative Sharing of Views (FSV) workshop under the existing International Consultation and Analysis (ICA) process. FSV is essentially a Q&A between the party or parties being assessed and other parties on the basis of their biennial update reports. 

At a side event, several parties, a technical expert and the secretariat reflected on further lessons from the ICA process. Namibia and Tunisia both said the process helps them improve the quality of their reports and promotes the institutional arrangements needed to form the basis for a national measurement, reporting and verification system. The secretariat noted that even it has capacity issues: with its supplementary budget depleted, its ability to undertake technical analysis is limited.

Like the FSV, the multilateral assessment is another peer review forum where parties are free to ask questions of a party on its biennial report. At COP 22, 24 developed countries went through a second round of Multilateral Assessment based on their second biennial reports under the International Assessment and Review process.

The Paris Agreement established a Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency (CBIT), which will strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of developing countries to meet the enhanced transparency requirements and to improve over time. The CBIT just approved its first set of projects in Costa Rica, Kenya, South Africa, and 11 donors announced pledges totaling nearly $55.3 million. Other countries like Japan have declared their intention to support the fund.

Although no final decisions on transparency were taken in Marrakech, parties have made initial progress in negotiating the details of the Paris transparency framework. If all goes as planned, parties will wrap up their work on these decisions in 2018, to be adopted by the first meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement.

Countries chart pathways toward deeper decarbonization

Globally, countries are committing to near-term actions to address climate change and many, including Canada, Mexico, Germany and the U.S., are beginning to look much further ahead to the long-term strategies needed to reduce the significant risks of a changing climate. These strategies highlight options that can yield the necessary reductions to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

In addition, on Thursday the climate champions Laurence Tubiana and Hakima El Haite announced the 2050 Pathways Platform to support other countries in the development of their mid-century strategies. Twenty-two countries have signed up for the initiative, and many have indicated they will work toward their own strategies. In addition, 15 cities, 17 state and regions, and nearly 200 companies have joined the initiative to support national strategies.

All of the plans submitted thus far focus on technology pathways rather than specific policies. Another common element is a focus on changes to land use and forestry that can absorb some of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. The strategies also prioritize which sectors of the economy really need to transform: energy, transportation, land-use and forest sequestration, and short-lived climate pollutants.

The decision to release the U.S, Canadian and Mexican mid-century strategies together at COP 22 in Marrakech was made at a joint leaders’ summit in Ottawa in June, building on the countries’ economic ties and shared energy and transport infrastructure.

In the U.S., there are three focus areas for achieving significant emission reductions: decarbonizing the energy sector, improving the U.S. land sink, and reducing emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. The U.S. strategy identifies positive trends over the last decade in each of these areas, and puts forward priorities for strengthening those trends.

These priorities include improved efficiency throughout the energy system, transitioning almost completely to non-emitting energy sources (including nuclear and fossil fuel with capture capture technology for electricity generation), enhancing carbon sequestration on U.S. lands, developing negative emissions technology (BECCS, or Beneficial Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage), and reducing methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbon emissions.

The U.S. strategy does not give a preferred balance between these priorities, but does include model scenarios showing that overachieving on any one priority would mean other priorities would need to contribute less. For example, the analysis that underlies the strategy includes a scenario with no CO2 removal technology. If negative emission technologies do not become available, the U.S. could still meet its 2050 goal by creating a larger land sink and achieving larger reductions in the energy sector.

While the mid-century strategy does not specify policy recommendations, it does note that “a key priority for future policymakers is a transition to efficient carbon pricing over time,” either at a subnational or economy-wide level.

Mid-century strategies can guide the private sector to make long-term investments consistent with the 2050 goals. It may also provide a framework for collaboration between governments and cities, states, and companies around a vision for deep decarbonization. C2ES looks forward to working with businesses and governments at all levels to provide vital input to these strategies.

(Contributing author: C2ES Solutions Fellow Ashley Lawson)

Businesses continue to lead on climate

Business leaders at COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco, explain how investments in clean energy and efficiency make good sense for everyone. L to R: Elliot Diringer, Executive Vice President, C2ES; Cathy Woollums, Senior Vice President, Environmental Services and Chief Environmental Counsel, Berkshire Hathaway Energy; Nanette Lockwood, Global Director, Policy and Advocacy, Ingersoll Rand; Kevin Rabinovitch, Global Sustainability Director, Mars Incorporated; Tamara “TJ” DiCaprio, Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability, Microsoft.

Businesses have invested billions in clean energy and efficiency because it makes business sense.

At a side event at the U.N. climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, leaders of major companies reiterated the benefits of those investments – for their companies, customers, the environment and the economy -- and said they will keep moving toward sustainability.

“We see a clear business case for this,” said Kevin Rabinovitch, Global Sustainability Director at Mars Inc. The global food and candy company has committed to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from its operations by 2040. Working toward energy efficiency helps the company cut costs, he said, but also motivates employees who are working toward a higher purpose.

“These targets, these programs, these goals need to transcend individual leaders, be they in government or in corporations,” Rabinovitch said. “We’re solving long-term problems. We need to put structures and systems in place that are consistent and durable.”

“You’re now looking at decades of investment. Businesses are not going to walk away from this,” said Nanette Lockwood, Global Director, Policy and Advocacy at Ingersoll Rand. The maker of air conditioners and refrigeration systems has committed to invest $500 million by 2020 to develop alternative refrigerants to HFCs and to reduce emissions by 50 million metric tons by 2030. “Once we set a direction and we create value and markets, we continue down that path.”

The C2ES event, co-sponsored with the Edison Electric Institute, featured senior representatives from Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Ingersoll Rand, Mars and Microsoft. They are among the more than 150 U.S. firms that have committed to specific climate actions as part of the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

“Microsoft is committed to its sustainability goals, to its clean energy goals. Our investments in innovation in this area are good not only for the environment, but also for our business and for the economy,” said Tamara “TJ” DiCaprio, Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft, whose operations have been carbon neutral since 2012. Microsoft uses an internal carbon fee to fund energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable communities.

As the largest regulated owner of renewable energy generation in the U.S., Berkshire Hathaway Energy has invested more than $15 billion in renewable projects, and has pledged to invest up to another $15 billion going forward.

“We can bring renewable solutions to our customers at very low cost and sometimes no additional cost,” said Cathy Woollums, Senior Vice President for Environmental Services and Chief Environmental Counsel. “It’s a win for the environment; it’s a win for our customers; and it’s a win for us.”

In a C2ES statement released in October when the Paris Agreement reached the threshold for entry into force, 11 leading companies said they are “committed to working on our own and in partnership with governments to mobilize the technology, investment and innovation needed to transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy.” The statement notes that the Paris Agreement facilitates stronger private sector action by providing long-term direction, promoting transparency, addressing competitiveness, and facilitating carbon pricing.

Speakers at the event agreed on the importance of consistency, transparency and partnerships moving forward. The Paris Agreement, with nearly all of the world’s nations committing to move in the same direction, is sending signals that the business and investment community are internalizing in their long-term investing and decision-making. And working together with cities and states, and other companies, helps them share best practices and go further, faster to reach their goals.

A lot of the progress that has been made, especially in the United States, in reducing emissions has been driven by market and technology forces, and those forces will continue even in the absence of federal action on climate change.

Asked what will change under the new U.S. administration, Woollums said, “We need to give the new administration a chance to develop rational policies. The President-elect understands business. To the extent that the things that we’ve been doing make business sense, we will continue to do those things.”

 

VW-EPA settlement presents opportunities for cities and states

Alternative-fuel and electric vehicles could benefit from the $14.7 billion in penalties Volkswagen will pay for equipping millions of vehicles with devices to cheat U.S. emissions testing.

The penalties are part of a final settlement announced in October between the German automaker and federal and California regulators for installing software designed to beat emissions tests on more than a half million diesel vehicles with 2-liter engines. The software reduced the vehicles’ emissions during testing to levels that were up to four times lower than they were during normal road use.

While a large part of the settlement is being set aside for a leasing and buyback program for VW owners, $4.7 billion will be spilt among two investment projects that mitigate the pollution emitted from these cars and invest in zero emission technology. The billions of dollars in these two programs provide ample opportunity for cities and states to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by expanding alternative-fuel projects and electrifying existing vehicle fleets.

The Nitrogen Oxide (NOX) Emissions Mitigation Trust and the zero-emissions technology investment plan are intended to reduce the adverse environmental impacts of VW vehicles that violated the law, and to address the fact that consumers bought these cars under the mistaken belief that they were lower-emitting than other commercially available vehicles. 

  • The NOX Emissions Mitigation Trust is a $2.7 billion fund that will be administered to U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Native American tribes over three years, starting once the trust is fully funded. Each has been allocated a certain percentage of the money based on the amount of VW 2-liter vehicles sold and operated there. The awards range from $7.5 million (Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) to $381 million (California). This money can be put toward upgrading aging medium- and heavy-duty diesel-powered vehicles, by repowering them with either new diesel or alternative fuel, or all-electric versions. Additionally, each state can use up to 15 percent of its allocation to install and maintain light-duty zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) supply equipment such as EV charging stations.
  • Through two separate zero-emissions technology investment plans, Volkswagen must invest $2 billion to promote and advance the use and availability of ZEVs in the United States. Some $1.2 billion will be directed toward an EPA-approved national National ZEV investment Investment plan, while $800 million will be earmarked toward a California-specific plan. Volkswagen will be responsible for selecting and granting the funds to proposed projects that install and operate ZEV infrastructure, build public awareness of ZEVs, and improve access to ZEVs without requiring consumers to purchase or lease a ZEV at full-market value (such as developing a ZEV ride-sharing program). 

Cities and states can provide input in the distribution of these two VW programs at several points along the way and may be direct beneficiaries of VW funding. For the NOX Emissions Mitigation Trust, each state must submit a mitigation plan. These plans must incorporate public comments on issues such as states’ overall goals for the fund, the amount of funds apportioned to each project, and an assessment of potential emission benefits, particularly in areas with a disproportionate share of air pollution. These state mitigation plans specifically provide the public with insight into a state’s vision for the use of the money and encourage municipal participation in the process. 

City officials will also have an opportunity to weigh-in on the national ZEV investment plan. Volkswagen has about four months to create a draft of the investment plan. The draft must incorporate meaningful input from states, municipalities, and tribes, and identify opportunities where ZEV investment is needed most. Cities can be on the lookout in November for Volkswagen’s outreach plan, which provides a timeline for receiving comments and guidance. Similarly, the California Air Resources Board will share its state-specific plan with the public for comment.

In the meantime, cities can prepare by identifying key projects in their communities for improving public and private fleet emissions, building EV charging infrastructure, and increasing public awareness of ZEVs. Local officials can also collaborate with school boards, businesses, utilities, charging service providers, and low-income community advocates to help select possible projects to be included in both of VW’s settlement funds.

For more information, C2ES will be releasing a fact sheet detailing more specific ways cities can potentially influence the distribution of the VW settlement. Additional information can also be found on VW’s official settlement website.