Climate 411

COP 25: The mess in Madrid – and how international carbon markets can still drive ambition despite it

Midnight COP 25 plenary on Dec. 14 in Madrid. UNclimatechange via Flickr.

At just before 2:00 pm Sunday afternoon in Madrid, at a sprawling conference center on the outskirts of the city, a new record was set — and not an enviable one. That’s when the gavel finally fell on COP 25 — the 25th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — making it the longest COP in history, as it extended nearly 44 hours past its scheduled end.

Even with all that extra time, however, negotiators from 197 Parties were unable to reach agreement on virtually anything of real consequence, including one of the issues that topped the conference agenda: guidance for promoting the integrity of international carbon markets, in particular by ensuring consistent and robust accounting of emissions reductions transferred among countries.

While that failure is widely recognized, the outcome also offers three key implications for how markets can move forward.

  • First, negotiators came surprisingly close to a good deal. That provides a foundation for negotiators to build on next year – although it’s not at all clear that having failed two years in a row, the third time will be the charm.
  • Second, countries that are serious about markets don’t need to wait for the UN to provide guidance: they can and should move ahead to set their own rules.
  • Third, the failure to reach agreement puts the Kyoto Protocol’s offset program (known as the Clean Development Mechanism) on shaky legal ground – something that decision makers at the UN’s aviation agency, ICAO, should heed.

How markets can help drive ambition

Markets may seem like a surprising headline topic for an international climate negotiation. But they are a central, if underappreciated, tool to make faster, deeper cuts in climate pollution — which is desperately needed, given the growing gap between the world’s current emissions trajectory and where we must go to meet the Paris Agreement’s objective of limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

The Paris Agreement expressly recognizes, in its Article 6, that carbon markets provide a critical tool to enhance ambition. Market-based international cooperation enables countries to do more together than they could on their own. Economic analysis by EDF shows that carbon markets could achieve nearly double the emissions reductions relative to current Paris Agreement commitments, at no extra cost. The current nationally determined commitments (NDCs) are nowhere near ambitious enough to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, and we need all the tools in the box to avoid climate catastrophe.

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Posted in Carbon Markets, COP 25, Paris Agreement, United Nations / Comments are closed

Climate Changed: Millions of Americans Already Living Beyond Temperature Goal

(This post was co-authored by Nat Keohane and David Festa

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NASA

The hotter future that climate pollution is creating has already arrived for 1 in 10 Americans. A new analysis from The Washington Post shows that 34 million Americans live in areas that have now seen average temperatures rise farther than the goal set by the Paris climate agreement — 2 degrees centigrade or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even as the Trump administration attempts to dismantle policies to reduce climate pollution, average temperatures have shot up in parts of North Dakota, Montana, Utah, in the Northeast and Southwest, and elsewhere. These increases – which are not summer spikes, but year-round averages – are part of the trend that is worsening wildfires, making more damaging storms, and creating serious problems for farmers.

The Post‘s Steven Mufson, Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin, and John Muyskens surveyed more than 100 years of weather data about the continental United States from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and other scientific sources. Their work provides a bold-face headline to the peer-reviewed science that shows the dangerous speed at which our world is warming. It comes on the heels of last week’s United Nations report on land use and climate change, which warned of increasing water scarcity and food shortages from continued warming.

If there is good news in these disturbing reports, it is that the tangible reality of climate change may be spurring action to reduce emissions and begin the long overdue process of building resilience. Despite the Trump administration’s surrender on the issue, many states are newly aggressive. New Jersey, one of the states that the Washington Post reports is getting hottest fastest, just enacted a series of climate pollution reduction policies. Minnesota, California, and Maine – all states with areas of 2-degree increase – have recently put in place ambitious climate action policies. Colorado, another state with hotspots, just enacted landmark legislation that sets some of the strongest targets in the country for reducing climate pollution.

We can’t solve the climate crisis without leadership from the federal government, but there are paths forward to a better outcome. Failing to act because we hear bad news will only make the problem tougher. If we can generate the political will, we can make our future dramatically safer by moving to a 100% clean economy.

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Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Cities and states, Extreme Weather, News, Policy, Science / Comments are closed

Bad news and good news on cutting climate pollution

Climate change is an urgent threat and we must overcome significant hurdles to address it — beginning with the reckless polices of the Trump administration.

Some countries are on track to meet their commitments under the Paris agreement, some are falling behind, and many will not start in earnest until compliance rules are agreed to at the UN climate conference in Poland.

The climate action story so far is a mix of positive and negative trends. As has been well-covered in the media, the US is trying to pull out of the Paris Agreement and global emissions rose in 2018. Those hard facts cannot be dismissed. But there are also larger market and technology trends which, combined with the actions of responsible governments, are creating some positive indications, too. Which side wins out will depend on the action of political leaders, investors, engineers, voters, and activists.

The positive examples below are not simply individual bits of good news, but signs of a world economy in the midst of transition: Read More »

Posted in Clean Air Act, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Paris Agreement, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed

The path forward for net-zero emissions climate policy

By Nat Keohane and Susanne Brooks

This post originally appeared in The Hill

Climate change is a defining threat of our generation. But the way forward has never been clearer. Electric power generation is being transformed by the rapid deployment of wind, solar and utility-scale storage. Technological innovation is reshaping transportation and industry. New means of capturing and storing carbon are on the horizon.

Even so, the challenge is monumental. To have a reasonable chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change, the world must achieve “net-zero emissions” — taking as much carbon out of the atmosphere as we put into it — in this century. Here in the United States, we are currently emitting carbon pollution at seven times the rate that we are soaking it up. We must take advantage of every cost-effective opportunity to cut climate pollution now, while investing in the innovations that will put us on course for net-zero emissions as soon as possible.

Economic and technological trends alone won’t do the trick. Waiting to act only deepens the challenge and increases the cost and pace of reductions needed. To unleash the full potential of breakthrough clean energy technologies, we need well-designed policies that accelerate the low-carbon transition rather than hinder it.Encouragingly, action is already underway: cities, states, and businesses are forging ahead to enact policies and undertake initiatives to reduce pollution, building on momentum from the plummeting costs of clean energy technologies. Those efforts are crucial. But the world won’t solve climate change without American leadership at all levels. To cut climate pollution at the scale and pace that science tells us is necessary requires national action.

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Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Climate Change Legislation, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed

Cutting carbon pollution from aviation: A major breakthrough years in the making

dsleeter_2000

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Five years ago, I had one of the hardest tasks in government for someone who cares about climate action: running an interagency process in the White House on addressing carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation.

To put it mildly, climate action in the aviation sector was at an impasse.

The European Union was seeking to extend its greenhouse gas emission trading system to include international flights to and from Europe. The EU was well within its legal rights, and a range of studies showed that despite significant emission reductions the costs to passengers would be slight.

But the political opposition was widespread and fierce.

India had gone ballistic at the idea. Russia threatened to deny Europe access to its airspace. China said it would cancel orders for European aircraft.

In the United States, meanwhile, not a single senator was willing to block legislation that railed against Europe’s proposal to cover American air carriers.

And yet, last week, the 191 member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization agreed to the first-ever cap on carbon pollution from a global sector, adopting by broad acclaim a market-based measure on carbon dioxide emissions from international flights.

The agreement, while not perfect, is significant – not only for the emissions reductions it promises to achieve, but also because of the circuitous journey that got us here.

Industry: We need consistency

The impetus to find a way out of the impasse came from two quarters.

The first was a business imperative. What the aviation industry feared more than anything was a patchwork of regulations – one approach in Europe, another in the U.S. and still another in China. That made the industry, a strong opponent of the EU’s plan, willing to come to the table to get a global deal.

The second was the Obama administration’s commitment to climate action. If we couldn’t overcome the widespread opposition to Europe moving ahead, could we leverage the threat of EU action to land an international agreement?

ICAO, the aviation agency of the United Nations, had already agreed in 2010 to explore policy options to achieve a global solution. So in the fall of 2011, I raised the idea of pivoting to ICAO in a conversation with Mike Froman, then the White House Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs.

A breakthrough came the following spring, when Tony Tyler, head of the International Air Transport Association, met with Mike and made it clear that the industry would support a robust market-based measure in ICAO.

EU: Get a deal or else

That summer, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern held the first of a series of informal meetings among countries to discuss an ICAO solution.

Meanwhile, the administration worked to ensure that when the anti-E.U. legislation was passed by Congress that autumn, it directed the administration to negotiate a global approach.

Work on a global market-based approach accelerated once ICAO agreed in 2013 to develop a proposal for formal consideration.

The EU kept the pressure on by making clear that it would reinstate its coverage of international flights if ICAO failed to act.

The industry remained supportive, just as Tony Tyler had pledged back in 2012. Environmental Defense Fund and our partners in the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, which EDF helped to found 20 years ago, published economic and legal analyses and provided technical support to governments, including through expert participation in ICAO working groups.

My former colleagues in the Obama administration spearheaded the effort to reach an agreement and put on a full-court diplomatic press in the last few weeks to secure participation from as many countries as possible.

Nations: We’ll move if we can compromise

The global market-based measure announced in Montreal last week will reduce carbon pollution by an estimated 2.5 billion tons over the first fifteen years of the program. It signals continued momentum on climate action, and positions the aviation sector as an engine of demand for high-quality emissions reductions around the world.

To be sure, the agreement is not perfect. An ideal agreement would apply to all anticipated emissions growth, whereas the deal currently covers 76 percent – although that will rise if more nations join.

The “carbon-neutral growth” target must be strengthened over time if the aviation sector is to do its fair share to address climate change – which is why the agreement includes provisions for regular review in light of the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goals.

To accommodate the concerns of fast-growing emerging markets, the agreement initially ties each air carrier’s responsibility to the sector’s overall emissions growth, not just its own emissions – arguably a more equitable approach, but one that dampens incentives for within-sector emission reductions.

And the agreement sets a two-year time frame for finalizing the crucial draft rules needed to determine what types of emissions units will be eligible for use in the program and ensure that they are not “double-counted” against other compliance obligations.

Such compromises, however, were crucial to garnering the support of a huge majority of ICAO’s member nations and getting the agreement across the finish line.

A good day for the climate

Some, including a few of my colleagues in the environmental movement, focus on the deal’s shortcomings to castigate it or at least damn it with very faint praise.

But letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is a luxury the world cannot afford – least of all the people of countries on the front lines of climate change, such as Jamaica, Burkina Faso and the Marshall Islands, whose representatives helped create momentum for the deal in the final days of the negotiations by eloquently urging ICAO to act.

Back home in New York the night after the deal was announced, my daughters, 11 and 14, asked how my day had been. I had to pause and let it sink in.

“Well, we got an international agreement that we’ve been working toward for many years that will limit carbon pollution from airplanes – and help make the future of the planet just a little bit safer” I told them. “So, yes, it was a very good day.”

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, News, Partners for Change, Policy / Comments are closed

8 reasons for hope: Our top take-aways from Climate Week

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

My forecast had been for a Climate Week “on steroids” and that’s exactly what we got.

Image source: Jane Kratochvil

We saw the largest climate rally in history draw 400,000 people – up from the 250,000 we had initially hoped for – and then the United Nations Climate Summit, where 125 heads of state joined business and civic leaders to discuss ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Another highlight for the week was the growing momentum for putting a price on carbon. More than 1,000 businesses and investors, nearly 100 national, state, province and city governments, and more than 30 non-profit organizations called for expanding emissions trading and other policies that create market incentives for cutting pollution.

Could it be that we’re finally reaching the point of meaningful action on climate change? To find out, I asked colleagues at Environmental Defense Fund who participated in the Climate Summit for their key take-aways from the week.

Here’s their report:

1. PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH

Eric Pooley, Sr. Vice President, Strategy and Communications: This march shot down, once and for all, the old canard that Americans “don’t care” about climate change. And it reminded me what an extremely big tent the coalition for climate action really is — with plenty of room for groups with vastly different views.

More than 1,000 EDF members and staff, plus 300 members of the Moms Clean Air Force, were proud to be marching alongside all kinds of people from all kinds of groups from all over the country. To win on climate, we need a strong outside game and a strong inside game. EDF is helping to build both.

2. METHANE EMISSIONS RISE TO THE TOP

Mark Brownstein, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and EnergyMethane is becoming a top priority in the fight against climate change. Last week, EDF helped to launch the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil & Gas Methane Partnership, which creates a framework for oil and gas companies to measure and reduce methane emissions and report their progress.

At the summit, I watched the chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, turn to Fred Krupp to say that his company was interested in joining the six companies that already agreed to sign on. While the ultimate test of the partnership will be the reductions that it achieves, it has gotten off to a promising start.

3. COMMON GROUND ON FORESTS

Stephan Schwartzman, Senior Director, Tropical Forest Policy: One of the high points of the week, no doubt, came when 35 national and state governments, more than 60 non-profits and indigenous organizations, and 34 major corporations pledged to halve deforestation by 2020 – and to completely end the clearing of natural forests by 2030. EDF was proud to be part of the coalition that put the New York Declaration on Forests together.

4. INDIGENOUS PEOPLES GOT THE RECOGNITION THEY DESERVE

Christopher Meyer, Amazon Basin Outreach Manager: Indigenous groups from the major rain forest basins pledged to continue to conserve 400 million hectares under their control. Those 400 million hectares are important for cultural and biodiversity purposes globally, but they also hold an estimated 71 gigatons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 11 years of emissions from the United States.

I was honored to accompany Edwin Vasquez Campos of the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, and to watch him deliver a stirring speech to a room that included the leaders of Norway and Indonesia. It was the first time an indigenous leader was given such an opportunity at the U.N.

5. US-CHINA LEADERSHIP ON CLIMATE?

Fred Krupp, EDF President: On September 23, EDF hosted a meeting with Chinese government officials, who reiterated their plans for a national carbon market in China, and said they’re interested in working with the United States to combat climate change. Later that day, I heard President Obama speak at the United Nations General Assembly.

I was encouraged and inspired to hear him say that the U.S. and China, “as the two largest economies and emitters in the world … have a special responsibility to lead.”

6. CLIMATE-SMART AGRICULTURE – NO LONGER JUST A CATCH PHRASE

Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia: After a three-year global effort involving a large number of diverse stakeholders, we finally launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. Its purpose: To help the world figure out how to feed a growing population on a warming planet.

The alliance will use the latest technology and draw on the experience of farmers to improve livelihoods and build resilience – while at the same time cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. This is climate action that truly counts.

7. CORPORATIONS ARE ON BOARD

Ruben Lubowski, Chief Natural Resource Economist: One thing that made the Climate Summit unique was that it included corporate leaders, not just heads of state. In addition to signing the New York Declaration on Forests, chief executives of major global companies that buy and trade palm oil and other tropical commodities that drive deforestation – companies like Cargill, Unilever, and Wilmar – spoke strongly about their plans to change sourcing practices.

Already, companies accounting for about 60 percent of the world’s palm oil trade have made commitments to eliminate deforestation from their products.

8. CALIFORNIA DOES IT AGAIN

Derek Walker, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and Energy: California has served as a proving ground for climate change policies that can be adapted by other jurisdictions, whether in the U.S. and abroad – and there’s more to come. My highlight for the week: when Gov. Jerry Brown said that California will set a post-2020 emissions limit and ratchet up its 33-percent renewable standard – already the nation’s top target.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols also told us that the state is preparing to develop rules on how to incorporate forest carbon credits into its carbon market – a key step toward reducing deforestation.

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