Selected category: International

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.”

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

Votes Reveal Increasing Senate Support for Clean Power Plan — Resolutions to Block It Are Going Nowhere

US_Capitol_Building_at_night_Jan_2006

Courtesy: Wikipedia

It can be hard to interpret political maneuvering inside the Washington Beltway, and today’s Senate votes on the U.S. Clean Power Plan are no exception. So take it from someone who keeps a close eye on these votes in Congress — this was a good day for the Clean Power Plan, for U.S. climate leadership, and for a clean energy future.

Why?

Because today’s votes showed that the Clean Power Plan has gained support in the Senate since a test vote earlier this year.

More importantly, today’s votes demonstrated that the Senate is well short of what is needed if Senators truly want to stop the Clean Power Plan from taking effect.The measures that were passed narrowly today (52-to-46) are going nowhere. President Obama will veto these efforts to undo the Clean Power Plan, and there are more than enough supporters of the plan in Congress to sustain the veto.

The Clean Power Plan is a Clean Air Act initiative to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants and spur growth in clean energy. It is an important part of America’s leadership strategy on climate change, which is helping not only to accelerate the transition to clean energy here at home but also to inspire actions by other nations, including China. With world leaders set to convene global talks on climate change in the coming weeks, it’s important to put today’s votes in context.

For two years — even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was developing the Clean Power Plan — Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been promising to block the rules any way he could. In March, he launched a symbolic attack on the Clean Power Plan that passed the Senate 57-43.

In today’s vote, which was based on an infrequently used procedure called the Congressional Review Act, McConnell’s margin of victory grew smaller. Three Republicans (Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois) broke from McConnell and supported the Clean Power Plan.

Since the rule’s release this summer, public support for limits on carbon pollution have only increased. According to a Public Policy poll done this month, 60 percent of voters in Iowa support the Clean Power Plan, while 70 percent of voters in Illinois and 64 percent in Virginia support it.

The Clean Power Plan comes at a time when shifts in technology are opening new pathways to clean energy. Even utility companies recognize that a fundamental shift has taken place. The CEO of one of America’s largest coal burning power companies, AEP, recently said he views the Clean Power Plan as a:

catalyst for the transformation that’s already occurring in our industry

The Clean Power Plan is also just one element of a bigger turning point in American policy on clean energy and climate in recent years. The adoption, a few years ago, of dramatically increased gas mileage standards and greenhouse gas limits for cars is no longer a matter of controversy. States like California and a consortium of nine northeastern states are demonstrating that market-based climate pollution limits are good for economic growth.

The bottom line is that today’s votes to “overturn” the Clean Power Plan were all about political theater. Everyone involved knows the congressional resolutions will ultimately fail, so it’s a free vote for politicians who want to appeal to a relatively narrow slice of the electorate.

The larger narrative, which is the transformation of the United States into a global leader to protect the next generation from climate pollution, is the real story.

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China's underestimated carbon emissions: What does it mean for climate action?

By Dan Dudek

The New York Times revealed in a Nov. 4 article that China has been burning as much as 17 percent more coal annually than previously thought, citing new Chinese government data.

It was sobering news to all of us who are working to reduce China’s dependency on fossil fuels, but not necessarily a verdict on the country’s – or the world’s – prospects going forward.

It’s important to note, first of all, that China’s revised coal consumption numbers have not changed scientists’ estimates of global carbon dioxide levels in the air. Unlike national emissions data, which is based on fuel consumption statistics, global levels are measured directly.

So what do we make of the news that China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, has been underestimating coal use since 2000?

China needs good data, and knows it

Significantly higher emissions in any country increase the urgency and difficulty of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change – and this is especially true for an economy the size of China’s. However, it is significant that this story was prompted by the Chinese government reporting its own data corrections, and not by an external watchdog.

China has acknowledged the challenges it faces trying to develop robust emissions estimates, and the new numbers, though troubling, are a sign that the country is making progress in this regard.

This is important not just for the international climate negotiations that kick off in Paris later this month, but also for China’s long-term strategy.

China has made it a priority to upgrade its baseline inventory emissions data, especially for sources that might be included in its national emissions trading system. Good baseline data is a prerequisite to the effective carbon trading and reduction program Environmental Defense Fund has been working toward for 25 years.

Needed now: Deeper emissions cuts 

It’s also important to note that while the emission data was revised, China’s growth in coal consumption has actually been declining, a trend that remains unchanged and will likely continue.

The government has recently targeted 6.5 percent economic growth as the official target for the next five years, down from the recent 7- percent rate. Slower growth, air quality concerns, new requirements to invest in renewables and energy efficiency, and the international commitments to peak emissions and introduce a carbon market will all put continued downward pressure on coal.

China’s data correction does not change our basic understanding of what it will take to reach the crucial turning point where global emissions finally level off and begin to decline.

We have long known that much deeper reductions will be required to get us there. The Paris commitments are shaping up to be a major milestone on that road, but won’t by themselves get us where we need to go.

For China, the solution remains a national carbon market that creates the incentives to  lower emissions as efficiently as possible. China remains committed to launching the market  in 2017.

For all of us who understand the urgency of global climate change, The New York Times story is a reminder that there is still a great deal of work still to be done – in China and beyond.

Image source: Flickr/Nicolò Lazzati 

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Read 1 Response

4 undeniable signs we're making progress on climate change

Seven months ago, I made a strong statement that may have left some people shaking their heads. I said that we can turn the corner on climate change – end the centuries-long rise in greenhouse gas emissions and see them peak and begin to decline – in just five short years.

As it turns out, 2015 is shaping up to be a year of giant steps toward that goal.

In a deeply reported New York Magazine piece, political writer Jonathan Chait calls it “the year humans finally got serious about saving themselves.” Says Chait, “The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with – by the standards of its previous behavior – astonishing speed.”

I agree. Here are four reasons I believe we’re headed in the right direction:

1. America is tackling greenhouse gas pollution

The United States remains among the world’s largest per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants. But thanks to this year’s action by the Environmental Protection Agency, America now has a Clean Power Plan that will cut emissions from power plants, our single largest source of carbon, by 32 percent over the next 15 years.

The era of unlimited climate pollution is over.

On the heels of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan came a proposed rule to cut methane from newly built facilities in the oil and gas industry. More needs to be done, but this is an important step in dealing with a potent greenhouse gas that accounts for 25 percent of Earth’s current warming.

These climate laws will help the U.S. meet our target to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, a commitment we made to the international community that is key to getting other large polluters to do their share.

We’ll need further reductions, but this is a very significant start.

2. China is building momentum for global action

The world’s No. 1 greenhouse gas emitter, China submitted its climate plan to the United Nations in June, confirming it will let emissions peak by 2030 – and possibly sooner. I know from my colleague Dan Dudek in China that “sooner” is possible because this is a country that’s serious about climate action.

Pollution is choking Chinese cities and threatening economic growth, but the country’s leaders also see opportunity in the emerging clean energy industry. China has pledged to have 20 percent of its energy come from wind, solar and other non-fossil energy sources within 15 years – a massive investment in a nation of 1.4 billion.

This year alone, China is expected to add 18 gigawatts of new solar capacity. By comparison, the U.S. recently surpassed 20 gigawatts total.

To have China and the U.S. making such significant commitments has transformed the dynamic going into the U.N. climate summit in Paris. Instead of making excuses for inaction, the leading emitters have launched a virtuous cycle of increasing ambition.

That changes everything.

3. Clean energy is lifting people out of poverty

One billion people worldwide still have no energy, and more than 1 billion live in extreme poverty. Turning the corner on climate cannot mean that economies can’t develop.

But just as some developing economies adopted cellular technology without ever having land lines, some will leap-frog the dirty energy phase of economic development and go straight to clean.

In fiscal 2014, the World Bank more than doubled lending for renewable energy projects to nearly $3.6 billion – or 38 percent of its total energy lending.

As Rachel Kyte, the bank’s vice president and special envoy for climate change, recently said, what poverty-stricken people of the world need now is a “a low-carbon revolution.”

And this is starting to happen. In 2014, the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil and South Africa invested $131 billion in clean energy, just 6 percent less than the developed world did.

4. Pope Francis is galvanizing world opinion 

When Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical on environmental stewardship in June, he made an urgent moral appeal to the world.

As my colleague Paul Stinson noted at the time, “A leading voice without political boundaries, the pope has the ability to reach people who previously could not or would not face the reality of climate change.”

Pope Francis called on us to push harder to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy sources – and people are listening.

The day he speaks to Congress later this month, a climate rally is expected to draw many thousands to the nation’s capital in a unified call for action. Environmental Defense Fund will be there, too.

The momentum is growing. We’re on our way to turn the corner on climate change – and the race of our lives is on.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

Lima climate talks showcase another path to global climate action: through states, provinces and cities

Kevin de Leon Peru COP
California state Senate President Kevin de León arrives at the conference center for the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru. Image used with permission from Senator de León.

The chattering classes of the climate policy world are abuzz with their customary post-mortems following the latest breathless two-week session of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change 20th Conference of Parties (also known simply as COP 20), held in Lima, Peru.

Consensus is forming around a “slightly better than nothing” assessment of the Lima Call for Climate Action, which was adopted in the wee hours of Sunday amidst the usual skirmishes over money, monitoring, and mandates.

Lima clarified some of the expected content of the national pledges (“Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” INDCs in COP shorthand) to be presented by all countries next year.

Notwithstanding the softness engendered by the word “intended,” at least we aren’t firmly stuck in the “old world order” where only developed countries are taking on mitigation actions.

Subnational cooperation and pathways to climate progress outside UN process

While nations squabbled about intentions, another story was playing out on the sidelines of the COP, showcasing real, groundbreaking and consequential progress at the subnational level – within states, provinces, and cities.

After spending the vast majority of my time in Lima with innovative and dynamic subnational leaders, I came away with an unbridled sense of optimism and renewed hope that there are pathways to climate progress, even if many of them go around rather than through the formal UN process.

California, laboratory of climate change solutions

California delegation to COP 20
California's delegation to the Lima climate negotiations. Image used with permission from Senator de León.

California has long been a laboratory of climate change solutions and will be expanding its cap-and-trade program to cover transportation fuels in two short weeks.

Meetings with the California contingent are always a sought-after ticket at the COPs, and California delegates are always eager to learn from and trade ideas with their counterparts around the world.

California’s low-carbon leadership was amplified in Lima by Senate President Kevin de León, who regaled delegates with his always charismatic case for the connection between climate action, jobs, and economic growth, pointing to California’s cap-and-trade system as an example of how California can "lead the world and show other nations the way to de-carbonize their economies."

A very encouraging trend is the evolution of subnational cooperation from platitudes to concrete plans.

Partnership between California and China

I moderated a panel highlighting the collaboration between California and China, a partnership that involves a substantive, two-way exchange of ideas and expertise on issues such as emissions trading, clean vehicles, sustainable infrastructure, and technology deployment.

In less than two years, cities and provinces in China have developed pilot cap-and-trade programs that are paving the way for a future national emissions trading system in China. California has a lot to learn from the Chinese experience, and Chinese leaders studied the design of California’s system as the pilots were being developed.

Cooperation among North American states and provinces

Subnational partnerships in North America are taking off, in part because of the lack of action at the national level, particularly in the U.S. and Canada.

California and Quebec recently completed a successful joint allowance auction, the final step in fully linking the two jurisdictions’ cap-and-trade systems.

In Lima, the top environmental officials from California, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec issued a joint statement resolving to “work together towards mid-term greenhouse gas reduction goals,” a key step towards locking in long-term action and unleashing innovation in low-carbon technologies.

California Governor Jerry Brown announced his support for a 2030 GHG target at the UN Climate Summit in September, and legislation has been introduced in California that would establish a 2050 mandate and require interim targets in 2030 and 2040.

Commitments from subnational governments

While countries are submitting their INDCs, subnational governments are also putting their commitments to paper.

An important initiative called The Compact of States and Regions, launched at the UN Climate Summit by The Climate Group, will aggregate and evaluate the commitments being taken by subnational governments around the world.

States, provinces, and cities are not waiting for the UN or their national governments to act.

Meanwhile, Governor Brown’s indefatigable policy czar Ken Alex is spearheading a “subnational INDC process,” wherein subnational leaders around the world will be invited to sign an agreement, to be unveiled over the next year, committing to reducing their emissions at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, or to cutting their per capita emissions to below two tons.

Thankfully, states, provinces, and cities are not waiting for the UN or their national governments to act. There is a lot to be optimistic about, and subnational and subnational governments are showing leadership and forging ahead in what could be seen as a friendly competition to develop and implement the boldest and most successful climate change initiatives.

These leaders are restless, motivated, and they realize that the future of people and the planet are at stake. As my friend Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, said time and again in Lima: “We’re going to do this.”

This post originally appeared on our EDF Talks Global Climate Blog.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Read 1 Response

US-China climate pact a "game changer" for clean energy

(This blog by Karin Rives originally appeared on EDF Voices)

President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China. Source: Flickr/White House

For the first time, the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters have pledged to reduce carbon pollution. This is a game changer, writes Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

The agreement between the United States and China will be a giant boost for clean-energy markets.

Having the world’s two largest economies competing to accelerate the adoption of no-carbon and low-carbon technologies will send one of the most powerful market signals we have ever seen, Fred writes.

China, spurred by its smog-burdened cities and the growing costs from the impact of climate change, will be increasing its already substantial investments in solar and wind, working with the U.S. on new approaches to cleaner energy and reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

And America’s fears of competition from China may now be cast in a new, positive direction: Who will dominate – and profit from – the renewable-energy resources that will power the world’s low-carbon economy?

In the past century, fossil fuels were the surest route to wealth and power. Now, the companies that produce and sell carbon-free and low-carbon technologies – from solar and wind to energy efficiency and nuclear – will be advantaged.

And the U.S. must demonstrate that it is up to the task of competing with China in all of these areas, Fred writes.

His full article is available to subscribers of the Wall Street Journal.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments are closed
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