This week and next, more than 190 nations are meeting again for the annual United Nations climate conference, this year being held in Doha, the capital city of oil- and gas-rich Qatar.
The Doha conference comes at a moment of increased awareness of climate change, after “Superstorm Sandy” pummeled the heavily populated east coast of the United States, and a handful of reports from generally cautious global institutions painted grim pictures of the risks of future climate change. Those gathered in Doha need to take heed of these warnings.
The UN negotiations are not known for their speed. But just as the climate negotiations over the years have been assuredly, if slowly, moving forward, we expect this year’s Conference of Parties 18 (COP 18) to also make some measured progress.
The real headline-grabbers are more likely to be found outside the UN negotiations, where countries and states have been busily launching and benefiting from their own emissions reductions programs.
Just since last year’s negotiations, Australia’s carbon price has gone into effect; Korea and Mexico have passed domestic climate legislation; China is moving forward with emissions trading pilot programs; and Europe’s Emissions Trading System, which has achieved significant emissions reductions at minimal cost, is about to transition to its third phase. In the United States, a new report shows that the U.S. is on track to reduce its emissions by more than 16 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, thanks in part to state and regional initiatives (along with important actions by the Environmental Protection Agency and availability of low-cost natural gas).
The countries now meeting in Doha are scheduled to finalize a second round of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to cut greenhouse gases, and to wrap up the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) negotiating track, which was launched in Bali in 2007 and led many countries to make voluntary emission reduction pledges but fell short of a comprehensive binding agreement.
Doha will also set the course for the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” (ADP) track, whose goal is a new climate deal for all countries to be agreed by 2015 and to take effect in 2020.
We expect countries can make demonstrable progress in Doha by agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, which starts January 1, 2013, and by concluding the Long-term Cooperative Action negotiating track. These results will allow them to turn their full attention to bringing lessons learned and key policy tools from those two agreements – as well as a few unresolved carryover issues – into the new negotiations.
An especially encouraging feature of the new ADP negotiation is its across-the-board buy-in, since all developed and developing countries agreed to its terms last year in the Durban negotiations. To make this agreement as strong as possible, the ADP should create a framework that is both “welcoming” – meaning the legal framework can accommodate nations that may not be able to ratify the 2015 deal (perhaps including the U.S.), and have options for nations to participate, even if they’re not formal signatories to the agreement – and “dynamic,” so it can bring in new issues as needed.
We don’t anticipate a lot of progress on the ADP in Doha, but countries can reasonably be expected to reach consensus on a fairly specific, concrete plan for at least the coming year’s work toward the new agreement.
National, regional, local “bottom-up” measures making real progress
As important as the UN’s “top-down” inclusive approach to a comprehensive agreement is, much of the recent progress on climate has happened outside of the UN process, through national, state and local measures that are cutting emissions and forming a world of “bottom-up” climate actions.
Currently, 25% of the world’s economy is putting in place national emissions limits and implementing cap-and-trade systems. This includes:
- The EU and New Zealand, which have existing cap and trade systems. Europe’s Emissions Trading System has achieved significant emission reductions at minimal cost. (Read EDF’s full report: The EU Emissions Trading System: Results and Lessons Learned)
- China, which is moving forward on several pilot carbon trading pilots.
- South Korea and Australia, which have adopted climate laws under which they will launch carbon markets in 2015. Australia’s official carbon price went into effect in July, which should help dent its emissions – the highest, per capita, of any developed country.
- Mexico, which adopted legislation that authorizes (though does not require) establishment of a carbon market.
- California, whose carbon market just held its first allowance auction in mid-November.
The United States has come to Doha less than a month after Superstorm Sandy struck the east coast and President Barack Obama was re-elected, and a month before California’s cap-and-trade system goes fully into effect.
Even without having national climate legislation, the United States is making some progress in reducing emissions. A new report from think tank Resources for the Future found:
currently, the country is on course to achieve reductions of 16.3 percent from 2005 levels in 2020. Three factors contribute to this outcome: greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, secular trends including changes in relative fuel prices and energy efficiency, and subnational efforts.
California’s cap-and-trade system, which starts January 1, 2013, sets a declining limit or “cap” on emissions in sectors with the highest amount of greenhouse gas pollution, and will eventually cover 85% of California’s emissions. For the 10 northeastern states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a report earlier this year found they cut per capita carbon emissions 20 percent faster than the rest of the nation from 2000-2009 while regional per capital GDP grew 87 percent faster than did that of the rest of the country.
Climate change has reemerged in the speeches of President Obama since his re-election. In his acceptance speech, he said
we want our children to live in an America … that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.
Later, when asked in his recent White House press conference what he was going to do about climate change in his second term, he promised to have a “wide-ranging conversation” with experts on “what more we can do to make short-term progress in reducing carbons.”
Beyond the rhetoric, however, the U.S. is in much the same position as last year: with no prospects for national climate legislation, and a tight foreign aid budget, the U.S. has again shown up to the negotiations bazaar with little to trade for its demands of other major emitters.
Policy issues to watch
EDF's experts have been closely tracking policy issues leading up to Doha, and will continue to do so throughout the COP. Below we highlight some background and recommendations for those likely to feature prominently in the negotiations.
Legal architecture of a UN climate agreement
The negotiations launched last year have a deadline of 2015 for concluding a new climate agreement, applicable to all countries that are “party” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to take effect in 2020. Many countries have called for a period of exploratory discussions and brainstorming before any attempt to choose the specific legal form of the 2015 agreement, and those discussions will likely continue in Doha.
The fundamental challenge countries face in the coming years is developing a legal framework that attracts and encourages nations to place effective, durable limits on the greenhouse gas emissions of entities in their jurisdiction, to enforce those limits through legally binding instruments, and to take action quickly.
Three key successful architectural elements of the Kyoto Protocol – and that are now being incorporated into national and state climate laws around the world (including those of Australia, the European Union, and California) – can help countries meet this challenge: binding caps on emissions, flexible market mechanisms to meet these caps, and accountability. In light of the fact that some nations may not, due to their domestic legal systems and political constraints, be able to ratify the final agreement, countries will need to think clearly and creatively about how to design a “welcoming” legal architecture for the 2015 agreement that has options to allow such nations to participate.
The new 2015 ADP agreement, not scheduled to enter into force until 2020, does not prevent countries from agreeing to targets that start earlier than that date, or to improve upon the pledges they have made for reductions between now and 2020. A legal framework for the 2015 deal that recognizes early action by countries may incentivize them to increase their ambition pre-2020, as required by the Durban decision, and, indeed, by climate science. A workable and effective agreement would contain the following “minimum elements:” an emissions budget approach; fungibility of trading mechanisms; and flexibility for non-Kyoto parties who have domestic carbon markets to link to the new ADP agreement. We hope countries can reach an outcome that meets such minimum elements and incentivizes early action, ensures transparency and environmental integrity, and provides predictability to carbon markets.
The Kyoto Protocol played a prominent role in last year’s negotiations, when its future looked to be hanging by a thread and developing countries vowed that it would not “die on African soil.” When the EU effectively kept it alive in Durban by agreeing to take on a second commitment period, EDF said that countries would be tested on whether they could coax into flame that spark of hope, or whether they would go back into their respective corners of stalling and delay.
The intervening year has seen its share of stalling and posturing, but the test comes now in Doha, when countries need to – and likely will – agree to the set of Kyoto Protocol amendments needed to launch a second commitment period. The group of developed countries signing up this time will be much smaller than in the first go-round. Major emitting countries including Japan, Russia and Canada have walked away from the table, but the European Union, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Belarus and Kazakhstan will make a second round of commitments. It would be welcome, though surprising, if those countries upped their “ambition” by making more stringent commitments than the pledges they already made in Copenhagen or Cancun, or what’s already enshrined in their domestic legislation.
One of the most dynamic issues in the international climate talks now is finance for climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. Since the negotiations last year, countries have appointed a board for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was created in 2010 to help finance the efforts of some developing countries to adapt to the impact of climate change and curb their greenhouse gas emissions. That board has begun meeting and actively considering how best to structure its operations. The GCF has also found a home in Songdo, South Korea. However, in Doha countries still face a huge challenge: where to find public and private money to finance the Fund, which could eventually grow as big as $100 billion a year.
No money has actually started flowing into the GCF yet, but countries in Doha will be looking to find funding for the gap between now and when sources and consistent flows of funds to the GCF are clearly defined. That means pressure will be on for countries to pledge more funds, which will be a challenge. Since 2009, when countries last pledged money to “fast-start financing” in Copenhagen, expectations have changed, timelines have slipped and new structures in the UN – like the new ADP global agreement – are evolving. Countries will likely be averse to putting forward large sums until they have more clarity on commitments and rules governing the flow of funds. A tense discussion around these shorter term finance commitments is likely, but pressure will be on for all parties to demonstrate their commitment to mitigation, adaptation and finance. Doha cannot afford to fall back on already small ambitions.
For public funds for longer term financing, countries are unlikely to commit to anything in Doha. That’s because the appetite of the global community for providing such funds is linked to whether countries agree on strong mitigation commitments, and many countries don’t yet feel assured of others’ commitment to address climate change or that GCF funds will be “effectively” utilized. What countries need is to have a concrete conversation about effectively using the funds that are available. A clear set of rules will deliver the confidence needed for companies and investors to commit more resources to address climate change, both through the UNFCCC and outside the process.
Even in this current economic crisis, there is a lot of money for low-carbon development, and there are lots of hopeful signs on the ground. However, there’s still plenty more money for business-as-usual: most private investment right now goes exactly in the wrong direction. Private sector finance is the only way to achieve the clean energy transition, but turning it around first requires strong policy signals. Critical potential climate finance funds are sitting right now in the stock and bond markets and in countries’ national public expenditures; to unlock them, countries in Doha and the GCF first and foremost must deliver clear signals of their serious commitment to address climate change.
Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV)
Robust and transparent measuring, reporting, and verification (MRV) of emission reductions is essential for building the trust necessary for countries to take action and accurately compare efforts in reducing emissions, and for creating a structure that encourages investment, innovation, and finance for low-carbon development.
In Durban last year, nations agreed on new MRV rules for both developed and developing countries, as well as mechanisms for analyzing the results and providing support to improve future efforts. The agreements in Durban on transparency and accountability usefully built upon the 2010 Cancun decisions, but more specific reporting requirements and more robust review and compliance procedures will have to be added over time to ensure environmental integrity and improve the quality of carbon markets. In Durban the COP also agreed that developing countries' domestically supported mitigation actions will be measured, reported and verified domestically in accordance with "general guidelines" to be developed.
In Doha, MRV issues are likely to arise in discussions to implement the new market mechanism agreed in Durban last year. The efficacy of this new mechanism depends on instituting a rigorous Kyoto-like MRV template for accounting, accountability, and market integrity. Robust MRV is particularly critical for major emitters in both the developed and developing world that are likely to play a significant role in carbon markets. EDF thus supports proposals that allow large-emitting developing countries to access carbon markets if they step up to a higher level of MRV. Countries should delegate additional technical MRV issues that are not resolved this year to relevant subsidiary bodies, to carry forward into the negotiations for the new agreement to be concluded by 2015.
Avoiding deforestation (REDD+) & indigenous peoples
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is one of the policy areas in the UNFCCC negotiations that has made the most progress in recent years. Countries have made major decisions on the building blocks needed for REDD+, including agreement that REDD+: 1) is intended to “slow, halt and reverse deforestation;” 2) is a voluntary mitigation mechanism; 3) has to be a part of the overall mitigation efforts in the UNFCCC; and 4) needs strong environmental and social safeguards.
With such priming, REDD+ is almost at the finish line in the LCA negotiations and in a promising position to be included in the new ADP negotiations. Here are three major issues that may see progress in Doha:
- Technical Issues (Week 1): The technical and scientific body that provides recommendations to the COP, SBSTA, is meeting the first week of Doha to negotiate further guidance on important technical issues. For reference levels, (a snapshot of a country’s emissions for deforestation in a given year) countries should work on what they committed to last year regarding technical assessment – enabling the technical assessment of proposed reference levels once they have been submitted, and initiating work (ideally by the next conference) on developing methodological guidance for the technical assessment of proposed REDD+ reference levels. For measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions, countries are close to agreeing on REDD+ MRV guidance. However, to minimize complications between these discussions and the simultaneous discussions taking place in the LCA negotiations, countries should make the overall REDD+ guidance general, which will provide the necessary flexibility in constructing their reference level, MRV and monitoring systems. For indigenous peoples: Indigenous peoples are advocating in SBSTA for a REDD+ decision to include more guidance and details on Safeguard Information Systems – systems for providing information on how social and environmental safeguards are addressed and respected.
- Finance and REDD+ in LCA (Week 2): In the LCA REDD+ track, which starts the second week of Doha, countries have an opportunity to reach consensus on procedures and modalities on REDD+ financing for results-based actions – meaning countries will try to agree on how to pay for REDD+ reductions and what sources of finance can be used. A good outcome would allow countries to use the market to pay for REDD+, and countries with caps on their emissions after 2015 to use a portion of REDD+ credits to meet their commitments.
- REDD+ as part of the ADP negotiations: Not every REDD+ issue will be finalized in Doha, but with the LCA ending, it remains unclear what exactly will happen to any remaining REDD+ issues. A smart solution would be to include REDD+ in the new ADP negotiations, which would thereby formally recognize it as a mitigation component.
A good decision in Doha will provide more direction about how REDD+ will be financed, and carbon markets must play a role. And REDD+ should be part of the negotiations toward a new agreement so that when the deal is finalized in 2015, countries will be able to use REDD+ credits to meet a portion of their national emission reductions commitments.
Emissions from land management in developed countries (LULUCF)
Emissions from countries’ “managing” forests, croplands, grasslands, and wetlands, or from converting land from one use to another (such as through cutting down trees or planting new forests) make up a substantial component of the greenhouse gas profile for many countries. When countries take action to reduce these emissions, they can use some of the reductions to help meet their emission reduction commitments. For countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, the rules for accounting for these reductions in the second commitment period were revised in 2011 and will come into effect in 2013; these rules fall under the UNFCCC’s issue called Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).
Doha’s scientific and technical discussions are covering several sub-topics related to LULUCF:
- New “activities” for the Clean Development Mechanism: Countries considering adding new kinds of activities to the current list of land-management practices that can register projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), whose projects are intended to reduce emissions in developing countries and are supported by developed countries. This would allow developed countries to contribute to more emission reductions in developing countries for improved land-management practices.
- “Permanence” of LULUCF emission reductions: Parties are discussing ways to deal with the possibility that these kinds of emission reductions in the CDM may not be permanent. For example, if reductions occur from a reforestation project that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, those reductions could be reversed if the forest is cut or burned down. In such cases, the carbon in the forest should be treated like other kinds of capital assets by protecting it with insurance mechanisms and by assigning liabilities in case these assets are damaged or destroyed (this view is shared by many countries).
- Comprehensiveness of land-management emissions: This issue is more long-term, and relates to expanding the array of land management emissions that are covered by countries’ commitments. The current rules give countries a choice regarding some of the activities to be covered, but most countries agree that all land-management activities should eventually be counted in their commitments. From a technical perspective this will be a challenging task, but countries in Doha are discussing how to expand the comprehensiveness of their accounting. EDF made a submission to the UNFCCC explaining our views on how they should proceed.
- “Additionality”: Countries are also debating how to identify the “additionality” of emissions reductions from LULUCF activities – that is, the amount of reductions that would not have happened without some kind of policy intervention. Identifying the additionality of activities is important for measuring the real contribution of policies and actions to reduce emissions, but the technical challenges associated with quantifying the “additional” reductions are tricky, and are not likely to be resolved anytime soon. However, it is worthwhile to begin this discussion in Doha, because it will create a space to address some lingering problems that could undermine the environmental integrity of the LULUCF accounting rules.
Overall, the discussions on LULUCF issues may indicate a new willingness of countries to grapple with the technical challenges that they must overcome to expand and improve the participation of more countries – a contrast with past negotiations, in which political expediency has sometimes trumped technical rigor and environmental integrity.
Agriculture is important to every country, but in many nations climate change is threatening the food security and rural livelihoods that agriculture provides. Moreover, the agricultural sector itself contributes a substantial share of the emissions that cause climate change, often in the form of powerful greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide. There is currently no coherent work program within the UNFCCC where countries can discuss how climate change relates to the many aspects of agriculture in all of the national contexts where it occurs.
In Doha, the question is whether to set up a new work program to consider the scientific and technical aspects of agriculture and climate change. Countries have already formally submitted their views to the UNFCCC about establishing such a work program – like one that exists for finance or REDD+ – with many in favor of creating one during the Doha meeting. A scientific and technical discussion would certainly be useful now; an EDF submission on agriculture outlines why it is important and what could be achieved.
Collectively, countries need to take action to help farmers adapt to climate change. It is also clear that emissions from agriculture can be reduced in many locations, and countries should formally consider how these substantial reductions could be achieved in a way that protects food security and rural livelihoods.
The major emitters’ paucity of vision, ambition and urgency has brought us to the brink of catastrophe. It’s these factors, not the forum, that explain why the best we can hope for at Doha is modest incremental progress on the road to 2015.
And if that sounds a bit surreal in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, well, that's unfortunately today’s reality. “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”