Can airlines help reduce deforestation?

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The global airline industry could become an ally in combating deforestation, as countries are set to vote at the September 2016 meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on whether airlines can use REDD+ credits to offset their emissions. Image Source: Flickr, Marinelson Almeida

A window of opportunity may be opening to secure sustainable financing – from an unusual source – to support national, state, and provincial-level efforts to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+).

The global airline industry is seeking international agreement on a program to cap the carbon dioxide emissions of flights between countries, and let airlines use a Market-Based Measure (MBM) to offset emissions above the cap. When the 191 governments that comprise the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) vote on the MBM at the end of September, that may decide whether airlines can use REDD+ to offset their emissions above 2020 levels.

Why does ICAO need REDD+?

In 2013, ICAO member states adopted a goal of “carbon neutral growth from 2020” – i.e., capping the net emissions of international flights at 2020 levels. International aviation’s emissions, however, are forecasted to rise dramatically, as tens of thousands of new large aircraft take to the skies in coming decades.

Even after international aviation makes improvements in operational and technological efficiency, the sector will still likely face an “emissions gap” of 7.8 billion tonnes (or 7.8 Gt CO2) over the period of 2020-2040. National and jurisdictional level REDD+ projects that meet the environmental and social safeguards agreed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are anticipated to be able to supply offsets enabling aviation to cover a significant portion of the expected gap, even while ensuring that these reductions are not also claimed against national emission reduction commitments.

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The international aviation sector will still likely face an “emissions gap” of 7.8 billion tonnes over the period of 2020-2040 between their goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and their projected emissions – even after international aviation makes improvements in operational and technological efficiency. Image source: Flightpath 1.5

Getting the right REDD+ into ICAO: REDD+ programs that meet UNFCCC requirements

The December 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted by the 197 Parties to the UNFCCC, gave special recognition to the key role that REDD+ can play in mitigating climate change.

The Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC’s 2013 Warsaw Framework on REDD+, and related UNFCCC Decisions provide that REDD+ programs must be created at national, or – temporarily – subnational (e.g. state and province) level. This is important because national and subnational REDD+ programs (collectively known as jurisdictional REDD+ or “JREDD+” programs) can create and enforce policies to address deforestation at a large scale.

For example, without jurisdictional REDD+, there’s a risk that forest protection in one project area could displace deforestation to other areas; this is avoided when REDD+ projects are “nested” in a national or jurisdictional-level program. According to guidance by the UNFCCC, JREDD+ programs’ results must be recognized by national REDD+ Focal Points and submitted to the REDD Information hub in order to ensure that emissions reductions are not claimed more than once.

ICAO’s timeline

In March and April, ICAO convened a set of regional dialogues to give governments, industry, and civil society stakeholders the opportunity to discuss MBM design options and potential sources of offsets. ICAO will convene a high-level ministerial meeting May 11-13 at ICAO headquarters in Montreal, Canada, to review a draft text. Additional meetings will be held throughout the summer and the final, and most important ICAO Assembly, where the MBM will be finalized, is to be held in Montreal from 27 September to 7 October 2016.

Seizing the opportunity

REDD+ countries interested in sustainable financing for their national and jurisdictional REDD+ programs should be aware of the potential for a new ICAO market based mechanism to provide such financing. In order to seize this opportunity, REDD+ policy makers and aviation counterparts need to collaborate to ensure an ICAO market based mechanism inclusive of REDD+ and with environmental integrity.

Posted in Aviation, Deforestation, REDD+| Leave a comment

7 reasons the Paris Agreement signing actually matters

Secretary_Kerry_Sits_With_UN_Secretary-General_Ban_Before_a_Bilateral_Meeting_at_COP21_in_Paris_(23567825382)

United States and more than 160 other countries set to formally sign the Paris Agreement on Earth Day 2016. Photo: Secretary Kerry Sits With UN Secretary-General Ban Before a Bilateral Meeting at COP21 in Paris.
Image Source: U.S. Department of State

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has invited countries to sign the Paris Agreement at the UN headquarters in New York on April 22, the first day the Agreement is open for signature. Here are seven reasons why the Earth Day ceremony is important.

1) The April 22 signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement is expected to shatter the record for the most countries to formally sign an international agreement in a single day.

Representatives from more than 160 countries (and counting – see the latest at the UN site), including sixty heads of state, will be in New York to signal their commitment to the Agreement struck in Paris last December. This would surpass the previous record of 119 signatures, set by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982.

The Paris Agreement aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. This record-breaking signing ceremony demonstrates the political momentum behind the Agreement’s global plan to tackle climate change.

2) Signing is the next step for countries to join the agreement, but is not the end of the story.

Signing the Agreement in New York sends a strong and early signal of a country’s intention to launch its domestic processes necessary to join the Agreement. Once those processes are concluded, Governments will formally deposit with the United Nations Secretary-General, who is the depositary of the Paris Agreement, their “instrument of ratification, approval, acceptance or accession,” by which they formally join – and consent to be bound by – the Agreement.

Some nations will sign and join the Agreement on the same day, since they have already completed the necessary domestic procedures back home. States that don’t sign on April 22 still retain the ability to join the Agreement later.

3) The content and structure of the Paris Agreement means the U.S. can join quickly.

Like the vast majority of international agreements that the U.S. joins, the Paris Agreement does not require Senate action. Presidents from Washington onward — including Ronald Reagan, who did it 14 times in his second term — concluded agreements like this as “executive agreements,” based on existing executive authorities.

These executive agreements have the same binding force domestically as any other international treaty or agreement the U.S. joins. As long as the U.S. president has authority under existing U.S. law to implement the Paris Agreement’s provisions, the pathway to U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement is open, and does not need to include a stop in the Senate.

As it did with the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the U.S. can join the Agreement by simply depositing a brief formal document (called an “instrument of acceptance”) with the UN.

4) Early implementation of the Paris Agreement is now more likely.

Language in the draft agreement preventing it from taking effect until 2020 was dropped during the final stages of negotiations in Paris, so the Agreement will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions join.

Together with important statements from the U.S. and China (which together represent almost 38% of the world’s emissions) indicating they will sign the Agreement on April 22, and formally join the Agreement this year, the record-breaking signing ceremony means that many countries are on the path to joining the Agreement soon.

The Paris Agreement is likely to enter into force well before 2020, and possibly by 2017, making the provisions of the Agreement legally binding on those countries that have joined. Early entry into force offers the opportunity to accelerate a global transition to the prosperous, carbon-neutral economies of the future, and better address the needs of those communities in the U.S. and abroad that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

5) Momentum is building for markets to play a central role in meeting the ambitious climate goals agreed in Paris, and called for by science.

The groundswell of international support for the Paris Agreement contributes to confidence that countries can achieve the Paris Agreement’s vision of international cooperation on carbon markets to reduce emissions. Only by harnessing the ingenuity and creativity of business, entrepreneurs, and innovators will we be able to drive down emissions fast enough and far enough to achieve the reductions that the science demands. An April 14 report by EDF and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) found countries can surpass their Paris pledges by pricing carbon through carbon markets.

By affirming a role for carbon markets, the Paris Agreement recognizes the realities already on the ground, where emission trading systems are at work in over 50 jurisdictions home to nearly 1 billion people. When China adopts a national carbon trading system, beginning in 2017, that number will rise to 2 billion – almost a third of the world’s population.

The Paris Agreement provides a framework for cooperation among jurisdictions, but nations still must step up with effective and transparent domestic carbon markets. Almost half of all countries have already either stated their intention to use international carbon markets to cut their carbon pollution, or are already employing them domestically, at the national or subnational level.

6) Accelerated action on forest protection is a key to global and national efforts to reduce emissions.

Many of the countries participating in the New York signing ceremony are taking important steps to protect their forests, under an agreed international framework for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). Forests are the only sector specifically mentioned in the Paris Agreement, signaling political recognition of the urgent need for better protections as well as financial incentives that confirm that forests are more valuable alive than dead. Outside of the climate negotiations, Germany, Norway and the UK confirmed their support by pledging $5 billion in REDD+ funding between 2015-2020, while developing countries presented their progress on creating and implementing REDD+ programs.

7) Clear and growing momentum to implement the Paris Agreement shines a spotlight on the next big climate win the world needs: adoption of a global market-based measure in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

International aviation wasn’t covered in the Paris Agreement, due in part to these emissions falling outside national emissions accounts. However, the UN’s aviation arm is working on a deal this fall that would limit emissions from this rapidly growing sector. ICAO is developing a proposal for airlines to offset all emissions above 2020 levels through high-quality, rigorously verified emissions reductions in other sectors – such as through reductions in emissions from deforestation, achieved under the UNFCCC's "REDD+ Framework". A cap on aviation at 2020 levels could achieve 8 billion tons of emissions reductions in the next two decades – reductions that would otherwise not be obtained under the Paris Agreement.

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Who should pay for pollution?

Recent study by American Lung Association finds that 80% of Californians are still at risk from unhealthy air. Opponents to clean air claim the "right" to pollute in ongoing litigation.
Image Source: Flickr, San Bernardino Valley, 2009

It’s pretty clear we have to limit pollution. This week the American Lung Association released their “State of the Air Report” finding that 80% of Californians are still at risk from unhealthy air, despite decades of effort and significant progress. Climate-destabilizing air pollution is harming our state in countless ways, from the Sierra to the Central Valley to the coastline. Given the high cost of pollution, who should pay and take responsibility when it occurs? Should the responsibility primarily be with polluting companies, or should the costs be borne by society at large?

California has been regulating conventional air pollutants for decades, but has only recently started regulating climate pollutants that not only warm our planet but also worsen and are otherwise directly linked to sources of local air pollution.

Many businesses in California are good corporate citizens on this issue. They accept that pollution imposes a cost on society. They even appreciate the flexible, cost-effective approach California regulators have adopted of capping carbon pollution and allowing regulated businesses to trade “allowances,” so pollution can be reduced in the least expensive way possible.

This support is most often demonstrated quietly, through actions like consistently meeting obligations under the cap-and-trade program, engaging constructively at workshops to strengthen the program, and most importantly by not obstructing progress in the courts and the halls of government.

Groups seeking free allowances or to avoid regulation altogether have spent millions on campaigns and lobbying.

But others, like those represented by the California Chamber of Commerce and the Pacific Legal Foundation, are delaying efforts to clean up our air — seemingly arguing that they have a right to pollute for free. They are challenging California’s practice of auctioning some carbon allowances and using the revenue to further reduce carbon pollution.

This litigation has been dragging on for years, ever since the CalChamber filed its suit on the eve of the first cap-and-trade auction in 2012. The Pacific Legal Foundation didn’t file until the next spring. Both lawsuits were filed too late to stop the auctions from taking place, but were just in time to insert doubt and opponent’s views about their right to pollute for free into California’s historic effort to regulate carbon pollution. Back in 2013, a trial court rejected claims that auctions were illegal. But these challengers were not dissuaded, they appealed and the case is still pending.

Failing so far in court, those seeking to pollute for free are attempting to take their case to the court of public opinion after the appellate court asked for supplemental briefing in the case. The appellate court has asked both parties to answer several questions. While the court is giving careful attention to this important issue, opponents are cynically using op-eds and other media stories to plead their case for why polluting should be free.

Groups seeking free allowances or to avoid regulation altogether have spent millions on campaigns and lobbying. The California Legislature is likely the ultimate audience for this effort. Bills to provide free allowances or exempt some polluters have been proposed before but have never gotten any traction.

California has been successfully regulating harmful climate pollutants for over three years now. And holding polluters accountable for some of the cost that society bears is an integral part of the state’s strategy. Hopefully legislators will continue to see this current round of rhetoric for the self-serving ploy that it is.

Posted in California, Emissions trading & markets| Leave a comment

How sustainable rice farming in Vietnam is increasing revenue while reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Co-authored by Joe Rudek, Lead Senior Scientist and Trần Thu Hà, VLCRP Director

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Example of Vietnam Low Carbon Rice Project (VLCRP) sampling site. Greenhouse gas was sampled using a static chamber placed in the rice paddy. Note water depth sampling tube in foreground, left of center, and square quadrat marker, just above center, where rice plant characteristics were measured over the course of the crop season. Image Source: Environmental Defense Fund, Joe Rudek

Rice production in Vietnam has increased significantly over the last few decades such that enough rice is produced there not only to supply Vietnam’s needs but also to support a major export industry.

About half the rice in Vietnam is grown in the Mekong Delta, at the southern end of the country; The water-rich Mekong Delta with its tropical climate is well suited to rice production in flooded paddies. However, flooded rice paddies also result in substantial emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Rice grown in the Mekong Delta alone is responsible for about 8 to 9% of the Vietnam’s total GHG emissions, according to the Vietnam 2014 Biennial Report to the UNFCCC and this is a conservative estimate.

For the past several years, EDF has been working with agricultural experts from Can Tho University, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), Extension System officials, and farmers in two provinces (Ag Giang and Kien Giang) to pilot a sustainable low carbon rice farming system known as 1 Must, 6 Reductions (1M6R) which is a modification and advancement of a Vietnamese government recommendation. The 1 Must factor in this system is the use of certified rice seed. The 6 Reduction factors are water use, fertilizer, pesticides, seed density, harvest loss and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Vietnam Low Carbon Rice Project (VLCRP) partners developed the specifics for the 1M6R package of practices and piloted them over a two-year period in the two provinces. The pilots showed that 1M6R reduced input costs, increased yield, increased plant vitality (important to survival during late season storms) and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Net revenue was increased by as much as 60% as a result. Not surprisingly, farmers are readily adopting the new set of practices.

The sustainable farming system reduced input costs, increased yield, increased plant vitality, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

An important part of VLCRP was interaction with farmers, organization of farmer groups and efforts to improve opportunities for women. Adult learning techniques were employed and agricultural experts in the partnership met with farmers, organized into groups, throughout the crop seasons to train them in the 1M6R techniques and in record keeping via daily diaries.  Farmer leaders were trained so they could teach their peers. This approach has allowed the proliferation of the 1M6R techniques beyond the project boundaries.

One of the most challenging scientific aspects of VLCRP was the measurement of GHG emissions. Gas samples were drawn from static chambers placed in the rice paddies and transported to a lab at Can Tho University for analysis. Most important to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is the use of alternative wetting and drying (AWD) of the soils and reductions in nitrogen fertilizer. The interruption of flooding to allow the soil to dry and become re-oxygenated is key to the reduction of methane emissions. However, this practice can increase nitrous oxide emissions, an even more potent greenhouse gas than methane. The reduction in nitrogen fertilizer (among other factors) is key to minimizing nitrous oxide emissions.

The completion of the 1M6R pilot research which was funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (formerly known as Australian AID), has been documented in a project summary and a set of project proceedings, which are being prepared for submission to peer reviewed journals. The findings offer Vietnamese farmers a means to increase revenue while greatly reducing the environmental footprint and GHG emissions of their rice production.

Posted in Agriculture, Vietnam| Leave a comment

California’s Climate Leadership Can Help Save Tropical Forests

Source: Environmental Defense Fund, Steve Schwartzman

Source: Environmental Defense Fund, Steve Schwartzman

Back in 2006, when California was passing the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), some in industry pushed back hard, claiming that California couldn’t stop climate change by itself and that all AB32 would do was compromise the competitiveness of the state’s economy. California has proved the naysayers wrong – its economy is booming, and emissions are falling. Far from going at it alone, the Golden State is increasingly leading a global trend.

Now, California has an opportunity to build on its international leadership. By setting the gold standard for carbon market credit for international sectoral offsets – the subject of the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) upcoming workshops – it can send a powerful signal to communities and governments that are fighting to stop tropical deforestation: carbon markets will help support their struggle.

California’s climate change program has prompted a plethora of bottom up climate action programs around the world, some of which are already achieving large-scale emissions reductions. Last December in Paris, California hosted a meeting of the “Under 2 MOU”, a group of 127 sub-national jurisdictions started by California and Baden-Wurttenburg in Germany, accounting for over a quarter of the global economy that have committed to reducing emissions below 2Mt per capita or 80% – 95% by 2050. Since the national commitments made at the Paris UN climate conference represent about half of what the science tells us is needed to keep warming below the critical threshold of 2°C, the Under 2 MOU could contribute significantly to closing the gap.

California has an opportunity to build on its international leadership by setting the gold standard for carbon market credit for international sectoral offsets.

California was also a founder of the Governor’s Climate and Forest Task Force (GCF), with Amazonian states and Indonesian provinces, in 2008. The GCF now includes 29 states and provinces from four continents, covering over a quarter of the world’s remaining tropical forests and collaborates on low-carbon rural development and creating incentives for reducing emissions from tropical deforestation and forest degradation – and GCF members have become global leaders in reducing CO₂ emissions.

Between 2006 and 2013, the states of the Brazilian Amazon, supported by national policy, reduced Amazon deforestation about 75% below the 1996 – 2005 annual average, reducing emissions by about 4.2 billion tons of CO₂ — far more than any other country or region in the world — while simultaneously increasing agricultural output and improving social indicators. Regional leader, Acre, is developing a market-based system to reward landowners and forest communities financially for conserving forest, and dedicated 70% of the proceeds of the first international transaction for forest carbon credits to indigenous and forest communities.  Overall,  reduced deforestation resulted from both state and federal policy, law enforcement, and signals from major consumer goods companies that deforestation-based soy and beef would be denied market access. California and the GCF’s work on carbon market credit for reducing deforestation gave communities and producers the prospect of economic incentives – for the first time – for protecting rather than destroying forests.

Around the world, some 50 states and countries are moving ahead with either cap-and-trade emissions reductions regime or carbon taxes – most of which began well before the Paris Agreement and President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Meanwhile, 188 nations have made reduction commitments  covering about 90% of global emissions through the UN Paris Agreement. Increasingly countries and states are recognizing – as California and the Amazon have demonstrated – that they can stop Greenhouse Gas pollution and grow their economies at the same time, and that learning how will make them more competitive and prosperous in a carbon-constrained global economy. California, Acre, and other GCF members’ innovative development of international sector-based credits will ultimately give all of these  carbon pricing  initiatives more options and make them stronger.

Moving ahead with allowing international sector-based offsets into California’s carbon market will take the process to the next level, signaling to tropical jurisdictions globally currently responsible for more Greenhouse Gas pollution than all the cars and trucks in the world that living forests can become worth as much as dead ones.

Posted in Deforestation, Emissions trading & markets, Forestry, REDD+| Leave a comment

Solving the “Paris equation”: The role of carbon markets in meeting the Paris Agreement’s ambitious goals

Source: UN,

Source: Flickr, UN Photo/Mark Garten

As nations around the world consider the results of the historic climate agreement reached at the 21st annual climate talks in Paris last December, one thing is clear: the Paris Agreement is contributing to – and a sign of – growing momentum around the world to address climate change. For the first time in history, nearly all the countries of the world have put forward concrete pledges to cut pollution and address the impacts of climate change on local communities.

Two significant outcomes of the Paris Agreement reflect that momentum:

  1. A more ambitious global goal, in which nations agreed to hold warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and “pursue efforts” to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
  2. A requirement that nations come back to the table every five years to strengthen their individual pledges, in order to achieve their collective goal over time.

While the pathway necessary to limit warming to 2.7 or even 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit is not specified by the Paris Agreement, nations did agree that they would achieve a “balance” between anthropogenic (i.e., human-caused) emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and anthropogenic removals by so-called carbon sinks, such as via reforestation or afforestation, “in the second half of this century.” That translates to the following simple equation, which nations agreed to solve no later than 2100:

(anthropogenic emissions of GHGs) – (anthropogenic removal of GHGs by forests and other sinks) = 0

Notably, nations also provided several market- and transparency-related tools that could help solve this “Paris equation”:

  • Provisions that facilitate high-integrity, “bottom-up” linkages of domestic carbon markets to cut carbon pollution. These linkages (described in the Agreement as “cooperative approaches”) promise to reduce costs, and unlock the finance needed to drive deeper global emissions reductions;
  • A new, centralized market mechanism, governed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to reduce GHG emissions and contribute to sustainable development; and
  • An enhanced transparency framework, requiring regular reporting and review of all nations’ climate efforts.

These three elements of the Paris Agreement reflect the widespread recognition among nations that carbon markets accompanied by a clear, comprehensive transparency framework will help drive the deep emissions reductions called for by science.

 

What the Paris Agreement means for carbon markets

By affirming a role for carbon markets in international climate cooperation, the Paris Agreement recognizes the realities already on the ground, where emission trading systems are at work in over 50 jurisdictions home to nearly 1 billion people. When China adopts a national carbon trading system, beginning in 2017, that number will rise to 2 billion – almost a third of the world’s population.

Figure 1:  Existing, Emerging, and Potential Carbon Pricing Jurisdictions

And more than half of the world’s countries are using, or plan to use, carbon markets to stimulate the innovation and investment needed to meet their Paris climate pledges.

With the UN now blessing the growing use of bottom-up cooperation between jurisdictions to link their markets and spur greater efficiency, as California and Quebec have done, the challenge now becomes how to accelerate the transparent, high-integrity international cooperation needed to solve the Paris equation.  That cooperation – needed both inside and outside the UNFCCC – is the subject of my next post.

Posted in Emissions trading & markets, Paris, UN negotiations| Leave a comment
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