EDF Talks Global Climate

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

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

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(Image: 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.

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices on Sept. 29.

Posted in Agriculture, Brazil, Deforestation, Emissions trading & markets, Indigenous peoples, News, REDD, United States|: | Leave a comment

NY Times forests oped is out on a limb: protecting trees still key to solving climate change

In an oped in Saturday's New York Times (To Save the Planet, Don't Plant Trees), Nadine Unger argues that reducing deforestation and planting trees won't help fix climate change but will rather make it worse. One might ask how the 2,000-plus scientists and experts on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) got this one wrong – they found tropical deforestation a major source that must be reduced to control climate change – but in fact it's Unger who's way out on a limb here.

Steve Schwartzman, Director of Tropical Forest Policy

Steve Schwartzman, Director of Tropical Forest Policy

When trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in their trunks, branches, leaves and roots. When people cut the trees down and burn them to clear forest for cattle pasture or crops, as they have at a rate of 13 million hectares of forest per year in the tropics over the last decade, this releases CO₂ back into the atmosphere.

Unger argues that forests absorb more sunlight than crops or grassland, which reflect more sunlight back into space and cool the earth. But that's not true in the tropics. In tropical forests like the Amazon, where deforestation is happening and thus where the Climate Summit's attention is focused, trees take up water from rainfall and evaporate it through their leaves, and create cloud cover. These clouds reflect even more sunlight than grasslands or bare earth, thus cooling the earth more. This is why large-scale deforestation disrupts rainfall regimes – and why deforestation in the Amazon, if unchecked, may reduce rainfall in California.

Emissions from tropical deforestation are, from the perspective of the atmosphere, just the same as emissions from burning fossil fuels – carbon that was wood, coal, oil or gas is turned into CO₂ and released to the atmosphere. In a living forest, trees do die and, over time release CO₂ to the atmosphere. But then new trees grow, and absorb that CO₂ again – not the case when forests that have stored carbon for centuries are replaced by grass to feed cattle or oil palm plantations.

Contrary to Unger’s claims, the "high risk" is to ignore the 200 billion tons of at-risk carbon stocks in the world’s tropical forests. In fact, as the IPCC has concluded, stopping tropical deforestation is a critical priority for controlling climate change.

Posted in Deforestation, News|: | 4 Responses

How one Brazilian state is reducing deforestation while growing its economy

By Chris MeyerAmazon Basin Outreach Manager; Alisha Staggs, Corporate Partnership Project Manager; and Dana Miller, Terrestrial Carbon Policy Fellow. This post, which originally appeared on the EDF+Business blog, is our second in a series on how companies can reduce deforestation from their supply chains. Read the first post here.

What do companies, governments, civil society organizations and indigenous peoples have in common? Despite their differences, they share a common interest in reducing deforestation, which accounts for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

On September 23rd, leaders from all of these groups will meet at the UN Climate Summit in New York City to spark action on climate change issues including deforestation. The Climate Summit hopes to rally action around two forest efforts, creating incentives to reduce deforestation in tropical countries through REDD+ policies (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and eliminating deforestation from the supply chains of commodities such as palm, beef, soy and paper.

The Board of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)—a group of 400 companies with combined sales of around $3.5 trillion—has committed to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. However, CGF has also recognized that they cannot solve deforestation on their own, and have called on governments to make REDD+ a priority in a legally binding UN climate agreement in 2015

At EDF, we believe that REDD+ is the best way to reduce deforestation and promote sustainable economic development and that consumer goods companies are in a prime position to support REDD+ in the countries they source from.

Acre: REDD+ in practice

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Acre, Brazil. Image: Wikipedia

The state of Acre, Brazil provides an example of how REDD+ can bring governments, companies and local communities together to reduce deforestation and increase economic development. Acre has committed to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020 compared to a historical baseline from 1996-2005, which would prevent 182 to 221 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions using REDD+ policies. Also, Acre installed a robust monitoring system of its forests, including satellite imaging to track deforestation.

To reduce deforestation, Acre has created various incentives programs, including:

  • Supporting timber certification through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and investing in manufacturing plants to produce more valuable wood products;
  • Designing strategies for zero deforestation beef growth to produce more cattle on already cleared land; and
  • Rewarding indigenous peoples for protecting forests. Indigenous peoples have already received $2.9 million to restore degraded lands using traditional land use practices, to protect habitats and watersheds, and to preserve their cultures.

As a result of its efforts, Acre reduced deforestation by 60 percent in 2010 compared to a 1996-2005 baseline, while increasing its real GDP by 62% since 2002nearly doubling the national average GDP growth.

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In Acre, Brazil, deforestation decreased by 60 percent compared to a 1996-2005 baseline, while GDP per capital increased by 70 percent and cattle size increased by 14% since 2005. Source: Acre Government

Scale and international recognition

In contrast to smaller REDD+ projects, Acre’s REDD+ program covers the whole state, and aligns all policies and land-use planning around the joint objectives of reducing deforestation, increasing agricultural productivity, and improving livelihoods. Acre has also harmonized its reduction target, reference level, and monitoring system with Brazil’s National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) so the state can link up to the national REDD+ program.

Acre will become the first pilot project for Jurisdictional and Nested REDD+ (JNR) programs by the Verified Carbon Standard, an offset standard setter, and will become the first jurisdiction to supply compliance grade REDD+ credits. Acre signed a Memorandum of Understanding with California (along with Chiapas, Mexico) and agreements with the Brazilian states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) to develop guidelines for including REDD+ in  the states’ existing or projected carbon markets. Acre has also received an initial payment of $20 million from the German Development Bank.

Lessons from Acre

Acre holds valuable lessons for governments and businesses on how to reduce deforestation across a whole jurisdiction while increasing sustainable economic development.

To meet their deforestation-free commitments, companies should source commodities from jurisdictions like Acre and encourage countries and states that they source from to adopt REDD+ programs so that companies can benefit from the strong policy framework, robust monitoring systems and incentives that these programs provide.

Chris Meyer and Alisha Staggs will present on how to eliminate deforestation from company supply chains using REDD+ at The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) Member Summit in Berlin from September 30th to October 2nd.

Additional reading:

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD|: | Leave a comment

Companies and NGOs collaborating to end deforestation in supply chains

This post by  originally appeared on the EDF+Business blog August 27.

Deforestation can pose significant operational and reputational risks to companies, and we at EDF are seeing companies start to take action in their supply chains. Deforestation accounts for an estimated 12% of overall GHG emissions worldwide–as much global warming pollution to the atmosphere as all the cars and trucks in the world. In addition, deforestation wipes out biodiversity and ravages the livelihoods of people who live in and depend on the forest for survival.

Tropical deforestation in Mato Grosso do Sul, Pantanal, Brazil (Source: BMJ via Shutterstock)

Unfortunately, it’s a hugely complex issue to address. Agricultural commodities like beef, soy, palm oil, paper and pulp—ingredients used in a wide variety of consumer products—drive over 85% of global deforestation. Companies struggle to understand both their role in deforestation, and how to operationalize changes that will have substantive impacts.

When the drivers of deforestation are buried deep in the supply chain, innovative and collaborative solutions are required. In the past several years, we have seen many in this space make big commitments toward solving the problem, but gaining transparency into tracking against these commitments has been almost as difficult as gaining transparency into the supply chains themselves.  For many companies, the hope for making good on their promises may come in the form of powerful partnerships.

Change Starts with Commitments

In 2010, the board of directors of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)—a consortium of 400 companies with combined sales of around $3.5 trillion—committed to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020, mobilizing the resources of the world’s largest companies to achieve their goal. This commitment is focused on the key commodity drivers of deforestation: soy, beef, palm oil, paper and pulp.

In the last four years, to encourage their members to implement this commitment, CGF has published commodity specific sourcing guidelines, created an Activation Toolkit, and launched the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department. However, despite making many resources available, there has yet to be a concerted effort to measure or track against the commitment, leaving many in the NGO community skeptical.

Partnerships to Build Transparency

Enter The Sustainability Consortium (TSC®) with its membership of non-profits (including EDF), government agencies, university partners and consumer product companies with combined revenues totaling over $2.4 trillion. The Consortium’s goal is to create systems that accurately measure and report environmental and social impacts associated with particular product categories in order to help retailers–and eventually consumers–make smarter decisions about what goes onto shelves and into shopping bags.

To create common ways to measure and report impacts, TSC membership has developed Product Sustainability Toolkits for 110  product categories (and counting), including all of the major commodity drivers of deforestation. For the last two years, Walmart has been implementing these toolkits through their Sustainability Index. Walmart has been able to extrapolate the toolkits to cover over 700 categories and more than 2,500 suppliers.

While Walmart’s achievements are very exciting for EDF, what’s even more exciting is that what was once only happening in-house at Walmart is now easily implementable by all TSC members and others across the consumer goods industry through the new SAP Product Stewardship Network –an online community that enables companies and their supply chains to efficiently exchange sustainability data.

This marks a major milestone in TSC and a huge opportunity for action.  TSC will deliver an updated version of its TSC Product Sustainability Toolkits, including Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), in October, which will offer even more harmonized and easily comparable metrics across commodities.

A Call to Action

Many companies have taken extensive steps internally to reduce their risk of deforestation, often, though, the efforts are disjointed in relation to supply chain activity and consequently do not easily ladder up to meet an umbrella goal like that of CGF. TSC’s KPIs provide a much-needed solution for this.

Alisha Staggs

TSC has developed broad, globally applicable, outcome-based metrics for tracking land transformation/deforestation. Because these metrics are nonprescriptive, they are compatible with a wide range of strategies. In addition, TSC has included specific KPIs to track the use of certification as way to address issues such as deforestation, including RSPO and FSC, both of which have been endorsed by CGF.

TSC is working to drive adoption of the toolkits within its own membership, which has more than 30 member companies in common with CGF—including Walmart, Ahold, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Kroger. CGF and TSC officially joined forces in 2012 when they announced a partnership between the two organizations, but we have yet to see this partnership live up to its potential. CGF has recognized that they cannot stop deforestation by themselves and have called on governments around the world to “secure an ambitious and legally binding global climate deal” at the UN Paris Climate Summit in 2015 and to prioritize the implementation of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) policies, which will be the focus of our next blog in this series.

Call us optimists, but we see 2015 as the year that their combined efforts of setting industry goals and using key performance indicators to measure progress can take deforestation beyond commitment and towards broad measurement, reporting and progress for this issue.

Look for Alisha and her EDF colleagues at the TSC Member Summit in Berlin, Germany, September 30 to October 2, where they will be leading discussions on commodity-driven deforestation during the sector working groups.

Posted in Deforestation, REDD, Supply chains|: | Leave a comment

California-Mexico partnership on climate change: promise, possibility, and a whole lot of work to do

California Governor Jerry Brown and Mexican officials pose after signing climate pact. (Credit: Danae Azuara)

California Governor Jerry Brown and Mexican officials pose after signing climate pact. (Credit: Danae Azuara)

When California Governor Jerry Brown kicked off a three-day trade and investment mission to Mexico last week, he didn’t do it by meeting with the minister of finance (though that did come later in the trip).

Instead, Governor Brown presided over a marquee event where he signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mexico’s federal Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to cooperate on combating climate change – a key priority that complements a broader joint economic agenda very well.

The Governor, staff, high-level administration officials, and legislators on the California delegation had a packed agenda that covered not only climate change, but also trade, investment, education, energy and immigration.

As a participant in the large delegation, I attended official events focused on energy and climate that were both substantive and informative. Both sides spoke thoughtfully and enthusiastically about implementation of the MOU.

But it was the meetings we had after the delegation had departed that gave me additional insight – and hope – that this agreement can truly signal the beginning of a new chapter in Mexico and California’s history, and one with global significance.

Still, it is fair to ask: In a world where MOUs are plentiful but action often seems in short supply, why is this agreement actually, as my colleague Nat Keohane argues, a sign that momentum is growing on climate action? I provide here some perspective on what we know about California’s and Mexico’s past and potential future paths on climate change.

Climate change optimism in Mexico

Mexico is currently the world’s 13th largest economy, though it’s projected to grow to the 5th largest by 2050. The country boasts a stable currency, saw modest growth in the middle class over the last decade, and is California’s biggest export market. Mexico’s foreign minister, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, had no shortage of such statistics at hand when he explained to a group of business delegates in Sacramento why Mexico is such a good place to invest and build partnerships.

But Mexico is also a good place to invest in working to combat climate change. The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has inherited a legacy on climate change leadership, through high-profile international emissions-reduction targets and a sweeping domestic climate change law that passed just before he took office. It is also a country poised for big changes, in no small part because its congress just approved a national energy reform, with potentially enormous implications for its energy future and emissions trajectory.

Regardless of whether Mexico’s climate change law passed on Peña Nieto’s watch, it is his to interpret, to implement, and potentially to capitalize on immensely. Ratcheting down Mexico’s national emissions toward the 2020 target of 30% below business as usual can be achieved by implementing smart energy and economic development policy that also drives the growth of a sustainable, low-carbon economy. There is enormous opportunity in Mexico to achieve significant, economy-wide emissions reductions (many at low cost) to meet the country’s ambitious mitigation goals and to stimulate green investment and economic growth, particularly in the energy sector.

California-Mexico climate partnership opportunities on display

Given that opportunity, EDF staff met last week in Mexico City with policymakers, NGOs, think tanks and other experts to understand how this MOU could help propel Mexico and California forward, and serve as an important impetus for even broader ambitious action.

What we heard repeatedly, especially from those close to the California-Mexico climate agreement, was optimism and a multitude of perspectives on ripe opportunities to work together.

The MOU itself outlines cooperative work on policy and technical tools, such as putting a price on carbon (the price being a key ingredient to drive investment in low-carbon technologies and increased efficiency); potential harmonization of measurement, monitoring, and tracking of greenhouse gas emissions; and promoting the development of renewable energy (an area where California has enormous expertise and Mexico a huge untapped potential).

California’s bet on win-wins for the environment and the economy is paying dividends, with a state economy back on track after weathering a recession and implementing the second largest cap-and-trade program in the world. And California sees the lion’s share of green investments in the country, with green job growth outpacing all other sectors ten-fold.

Mexico has the opportunity to strengthen its investment in a green economy and benefit the health of its citizens and the planet, while showing itself as a shining example of global vision and leadership. And in California, it has found the ideal partner to help make it happen.

Could the energy on both sides fizzle? Could Mexico’s President decide to walk away from Mexico’s climate leadership?

Sure, it’s possible – but it’s hard to make a case for doing so. The very same strategies reduce emissions – improvements in technology, efficiency, increasing green investment, and making smart decisions on fuels, transportation, and infrastructure – also provide short- and long-term economic gains for Mexico, and ultimately, could do so for the entire region.

Governor Brown spoke passionately last week about the reality and the urgency of climate change, and both governments reflected a sincere desire to do something real to make a difference together. For my part, I was convinced – now it’s time to get down to work.

Related:

Posted in Mexico, News|: | Leave a comment

3 takeaways from the California, Mexico climate agreement

California Governor Jerry Brown and Mexican officials signing climate agreement. in Mexico City

California Governor Jerry Brown and Mexican officials sign climate pact. (Photo credit: Danae Azuara)

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices on July 30

If you are looking for a sign that momentum is growing on climate action, this week’s groundbreaking agreement between California and Mexico to cooperate on climate change is a good place to start.

Most of the agenda at the four-day gubernatorial event was what you would expect to find at a trade and investment mission: agreements to cooperate on education, immigration, investment, but the inclusion of serious talks on climate change was surprising and hopeful.

The most tangible impact of the collaboration will be seen in the technical cooperation, information sharing, and potential policy alignment that are envisioned in the climate change agreement. But this week’s pact also suggests three less tangible but no less important takeaways:

1. Combatting climate change is sound economic policy

The fact that the climate change agreement was one of a handful of issues highlighted on California Governor Jerry Brown’s trip underscores the increasing importance of climate change to economic growth.  The impacts of climate change in California and the United States are becoming increasingly apparent, and Mexico faces similar issues of rising temperatures, increasing wildfires, and extreme precipitation.

With the growing evidence that climate risk will bring significant economic costs in the near term, and that delay will drive up the costs of taking action, smart climate policy is increasingly a key component of sound economic policy.

At the same time, the agreement also highlights the enormous opportunities for smart policy to drive clean energy innovation and investment on both sides of the border.  California’s leadership on climate change has already helped to make it a world leader in clean technologies. For its part, Mexico is poised to tap its enormous potential in solar, wind, and geothermal energy to help drive economic growth and energy security.

2. Carbon pricing continues to gain traction

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed on Monday by Governor Brown and Rodolfo Lacy, Undersecretary of Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, highlights carbon pricing as one of the key issues for cooperation under the agreement.

Both sides are already taking action in this area: California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32) includes the world’s most comprehensive emission trading program for greenhouse gases, while Mexico has instituted a partial carbon tax on fossil fuels that represents an important initial step that could lay the groundwork for a more effective price on carbon in the coming years.

A price on carbon is a crucial policy tool to achieve the deep emissions reductions the world needs to avoid dangerous climate change. By ensuring that the true costs of climate pollution are reflected in the price of fossil fuels, and rewarding emissions reductions, carbon pricing ensures deployment of cost-effective climate solutions — and creates a powerful incentive to develop new technologies.

The agreement by California and Mexico adds another boost to the growing momentum on carbon pricing around the world. About 40 national and more than 20 sub-national jurisdictions, accounting for more than 22 percent emissions already have a price on carbon, according to the World Bank.

3. A new model for cooperation

The agreement between California and Mexico can provide a model for collaboration in the emerging “bottom-up” approach to climate change, in which national policies take center stage, rather than a “top-down” global agreement negotiated at the UN. Bilateral and regional cooperation will be all the more important in a bottom-up world, to foster greater ambition and give countries confidence that others are taking action as well.

California and Quebec have already linked their carbon markets. Now with carbon pricing a centerpiece of cooperation between California and Mexico, it does not seem too far-fetched to envision a “North American carbon market” emerging in the not-too-distant future.

California and Mexico face joint challenges from a changing climate. Together they can demonstrate to the world concrete progress on practical solutions to reduce carbon emissions, drive clean energy innovation and promote low-carbon prosperity.

Posted in Emissions trading & markets, Mexico, News|: | 3 Responses

How measuring trees in Panama is benefitting indigenous groups, forests and the climate

By Chris Meyer, Outreach Manager, Amazon Basin and Lauren Newton, Program Associate, International Climate Program

en español  |  Indigenous peoples  have relied on the rainforests for their survival for thousands of years. Their knowledge of the forests and dependence on the lands make them effective protectors of the forests — and particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

indigenous-technician-measuring-cuipo-Panama

An indigenous technician takes the measurement of a cuipo tree in Darien, Panama. The measurements will help researchers calculate the quantity of carbon stored in the forest. (Credit: Chris Meyer)

The indigenous group Organization of Embera and Wounaan Youth of Panama (OJEWP) formed teams that recently started measuring and recording the size of trees in the territories of five indigenous communities, with technical guidance from academics from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and McGill University.

In May, the OJEWP team started their work in the community of Arimae, located in the Darien, an eastern province of Panama. The team is now nearing completion of the data-gathering project, which will ultimately help researchers calculate the quantity of carbon stored in the forest.* The results will also contribute to identifying the overlap between Panama’s valuable forest carbon “stocks” and its indigenous territories, which are home to more than half of Panama’s forests.

Access to this accurate forest carbon stock data for indigenous territories is crucial for indigenous peoples when they discuss policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) with government officials. It's also helpful for policy makers who design policies to conserve forests and their respective carbon stocks.

Deforestation accounts for as much as 15% of all manmade global warming pollution. This measuring of forest carbon stocks is an important step in the measuring, reporting and verification step that ensures the integrity of REDD+ policies.

STRI-indigenous-technicians-plot-measurement-Panama

STRI's Javier Mateo discusses measuring plot boundaries with indigenous technicians in Darien, Panama. Proper measuring of plots will allow the technicians to take accurate measurements of the forest’s carbon stocks. (Credit: Chris Meyer)

Before heading to the forests, the team first needed to become “technicians” in accurately measuring trees. STRI and McGill University trained them in the fundamentals of accurate tree measurement, including how to measure tree diameter (width) and height, collect plant and soil samples, set up the 100m x 100m (1 hectare) plots, and use GPS technology to tag these measurements. Once in Darien, STRI’s Javier Mateo-Vega said the group’s forest carbon measurements went well, and that:

Our team, comprised of mostly Embera [people] from various territories across Darien, has been instrumental in carrying out rigorous scientific research that will inform future REDD+ related policy and on-the-ground work.

Nakibeler Lopez of OJEWP added that the team also learned “the potential contained in the natural resources of the territories of indigenous peoples in Panama." With this potential in the forest’s natural resources, and the historical role indigenous peoples have played in protecting them, ensuring the indigenous groups receive a fair distribution from any future REDD+ program will be essential for the program’s success.

An effective solution to global climate change must include REDD policies that engage indigenous peoples, and EDF will continue to support the effort to integrate lessons learned from the implementation of this work into REDD+ policy discussions.

*Note: The fifth and final field visit for this project is scheduled for August. Once measurements are completed, the data collected will be fed into territorial carbon maps and shared with the participating indigenous communities. STRI, McGill University, OJEWP, and EDF – with the support of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facilities’ capacity building program – plan to present the results in December at the United Nations climate change convention in Lima, Peru. 

Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD|: | 1 Response

Advancing transnational governance of geoengineering research

This post was co-authored by Alex Hanafi and Andy Parker, and originally appeared on The Washington Geoengineering Consortium.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its last report in a three-part series  assessing the latest data and research on climate change.  The new report discusses actions we can take to limit the magnitude and rate of climate change, while previous reports focused on the scientific basis for climate change, and on potential ways to reduce vulnerability to the risks presented by our rapidly changing climate.

The morning sun reflects on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean as seen from the Apollo 7 spacecraft during its 134th revolution of the Earth on Oct. 20, 1968. Image Credit: NASA

The morning sun reflects on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean as seen from the Apollo 7 spacecraft during its 134th revolution of the Earth on Oct. 20, 1968. Image Credit: NASA

For the first time, these IPCC reports also include significant attention to the topic of “solar radiation management” or SRM.  Also known as “solar geoengineering,” SRM describes a controversial set of theoretical proposals for cooling the Earth, and thereby potentially counteracting the temperature-related impacts of climate change, by reflecting a small amount of inbound solar energy back into space.

With the impacts of rising temperatures already being felt and the IPCC drawing into sharper focus the range of impacts expected in the coming decades, SRM is attracting increasing attention as a potential cheap, fast-acting, albeit temporary response to some of the dangers of climate change.

SRM’s potential effects are only poorly understood, however.  And most discussions to date on SRM research governance, as well as most research activities, have taken place in developed countries.  Yet people in developing countries are often most vulnerable both to climate change, and any potential efforts to respond to it.  The scientific, ethical, political, and social implications of SRM research are necessarily global. Discussions about governance of SRM research should be as well.

Recognizing these needs, in 2010 the Royal SocietyEnvironmental Defense Fund (EDF), and TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences) launched the SRM Governance Initiative (SRMGI), an international NGO-driven initiative, to explore how SRM research could be governed. SRMGI’s activities are founded on a simple idea: that early and sustained dialogue among diverse stakeholders around the world, informed by the best available science, will increase the chances of SRM research being managed responsibly, transparently, and cooperatively.

SRMGI is neither for nor against SRM. Instead, it aims to foster inclusive, interdisciplinary, and international discussion on SRM research and governance.

Much of the work of SRMGI concentrates on bringing in new voices and perspectives, particularly from the developing world. For example, in late 2013, SRMGI and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) published a report on a series of SRM research governance workshops held around Africa in 2012 and 2013.  These workshops were made possible by funding from the IAP (the global network of science academies) and UNESCO. The workshops took place in Senegal, South Africa, and Ethiopia in 2012 and early 2013, bringing in over 100 participants from 21 different African countries.

The workshops followed the same approach developed by SRMGI at previous meetings held in China, India, Pakistan and the UK, with three factors perhaps most important to their success:

First, local partnerships have been crucial. As with previous local SRMGI partners (such as the Sustainable Development Policy Institutein Pakistan, or the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in India), AAS’s convening power, networks of experts, and reputation were invaluable assets.

Second, participant interaction is prioritized over expert lectures.  After introductory talks on the science of SRM and the range of socio-political concerns it raises, discussion turns to local participants drawn from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. Quickly breaking down into small groups, they are encouraged to explore and express their own concerns, hopes and ideas regarding SRM research and governance.

A third important element of SRMGI’s success has been the decision to avoid identifying preferred or consensus options among different governance arrangements. Instead, SRMGI aims to ‘open up’ discussions of SRM governance by exploring and recording the different perspectives and options that participants express—from no special governance to complete prohibition of research activities.  Knowing that there is no meeting statement to sway, and that opinions will simply be discussed and recorded, often leads to a broad and thoughtful exchange. This decision to avoid “picking winners” has been seen among both developed and developing country stakeholders as a key component in establishing trust and encouraging participation in SRMGI activities.

To build the capacity for an informed global dialogue on geoengineering governance, a critical mass of well-informed individuals throughout the world must be developed, and they must talk to each other, as well as to their own networks. An expanding spiral of distinct, but linked outreach processes could help build the cooperative bridges needed to manage potential international conflicts, and will help ensure that if SRM technologies develop, they do so cooperatively and transparently, not unilaterally.

With SRM research in its infancy, but interest in the topic growing, the IPCC’s inclusion of SRM in its report is a reminder of the importance of establishing governance mechanisms to ensure that where SRM research does proceed, it is safe, ethical, and subject to appropriate public oversight and independent evaluation. Well-informed voices from civil society and other stakeholders can play an important role in guiding these evolving international discussions.

No one can predict how SRM research will develop or whether these strategies for managing the short-term implications of climate change will be helpful or harmful.  But early cooperation and transnational, interdisciplinary dialogue on geoengineering research governance will make it more likely that the global community can make informed decisions about research into SRM and other emerging geoengineering technologies.

 

Alex Hanafi is Senior Manager of Multilateral Climate Strategy at EDF, where he coordinates a range of research and advocacy programs designed to promote effective policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the globe.

 

 

 

Andrew Parker

Andy Parker is a Research Fellow in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  His research focuses on the politics and governance of solar geoengineering.

 

 

 

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'Feeding 9 billion' requires facing up to climate change

This post was co-authored by Kritee, Senior Scientist, International Climate; Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia; and Tal Lee Anderman, Tom Graff Fellow – India Low-Carbon Rural Development

National Geographic's May cover story, “Feeding 9 billion,” offers valuable insights into how to feed a growing global population while reducing agriculture’s environmental impacts. But it omits some key connections with a critical issue: climate change.

Corn withered by drought in America. (Photo credit: Ben Fertig, IAN, UMCES)

Drought in the U.S. causes withering of corn. (Photo credit: Ben Fertig, IAN, UMCES)

As the Food and Agriculture Organization recently documented in great detail, climate change is likely to fundamentally alter the structure of food systems around the globe. With about 43% of the world’s population employed in agriculture, it’s vital that farmers have the knowledge and tools they need both to adapt to climate change and to help mitigate it.

Author Jonathan Foley, who directs the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, lays out several steps for “Feeding 9 billion.” Though he starts by acknowledging that agriculture emits “more greenhouse gases than all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes combined,” he doesn’t explicitly mention how his plan relates to a changing climate.

The first of his steps – halting conversion of additional forests and grasslands to agriculture – is crucial to stopping climate change, given the vast quantities of greenhouse gases released in these conversions. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on mitigation noted, protecting forests and increasing carbon content of the soils can decrease global emissions by as much as 13 gigatons CO2eq/year by 2030 – more than a quarter of current annual global emissions.

Foley also highlights the need to reduce meat consumption, because only a very limited portion of calories consumed by animals yield edible food for humans, and to reduce food waste. According to the IPCC, these consumer-level steps have the potential to decease agricultural emissions by 60% below the current trajectory. While Foley didn’t acknowledge these mitigation potentials, we agree that these are important steps to feeding the world’s population and protecting our environment.

But it’s his steps calling for improving productivity – both by growing more food on existing farms, and by using fertilizer, water and energy more efficiently – where the interactions with climate are more complex and need special attention.

Climate adaptation and resilience in agriculture

Foley rightly points out that to feed the world’s future population, more food needs to grow on existing farms. However, he doesn’t note that some of the effects of climate change – droughts, floods and heat waves in many parts of the world – are already reducing crop yields, and these effects and their consequences are expected to worsen.

The IPCC’s recently published 5th Assessment Report on adaptation concludes that:

  • Climate change is already negatively affecting yields of crops and abundance of fish, and shifting the regions where crops grow and fish live
  • Future changes in climate will increase competitiveness of weeds, making it difficult and more expensive to control them
  • By 2050, changes in temperature and precipitation alone will raise global food prices by as much as 84% above food prices projected without these two climatic factors
  • Major grains like wheat, corn, and rice could see as much as a 40% decrease in yield from a 20C increase in local temperatures. That’s because of the changing rainfall frequency and intensity, unpredictability and irregularity of growing seasons, and higher ozone levels that often accompany high CO­2 levels

To deal with these consequences and ensure food security and livelihoods, adaptation to climate change is essential. Indeed, adopting carefully chosen adaptation and resilience measures could improve crop yields as much as 15-20%. The IPCC recommendations include:

  • Altering planting/harvesting dates to match the shifting growing seasons
  • Using seed varieties that might be more tolerant of changing climatic patterns
  • Better managing water and fertilizer use
A farmer training session, led by EDF’s partner NGO in India (Photo credit: Accion Fraterna)

A farmer training session, led by EDF’s partner NGO in India (Photo credit: Accion Fraterna)

Achieving high yields requires enabling farmers all over the world to adapt, build and restore the resilience of agricultural ecosystems in the face of continued climate change. Given that many farmers in developed countries have already reached what are currently maximum possible yields, it’s particularly urgent to work with farmers in the developing world.

A vast majority of these farmers in developing countries own small-scale farms (less than two acres in size) and have limited resources, and as a result are on the frontline of experiencing the unfolding impacts of climate change. These farmers are already growing the majority of the world’s food – more than 90% of the world’s rice, over 65% of its wheat and 55% of its corn. Notably, as opposed to our recommendations for farmers in the developed countries, some of them might need to increase their fertilizer use to achieve better yields as opposed to decreasing it. Feeding a world of 9 billion thus requires facing the disproportionate effect that climate change has on the 2 billion people who depend on small-scale farms for their livelihood.

Barriers to climate adaptation & mitigation in agriculture

The latest IPCC report also noted that the “nature” of the agriculture sector means:

“there are many barriers to implementation of available mitigation options, including accessibility to … financing, … institutional, ecological, technological development, diffusion and transfer barriers.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Many farmers, especially small scale land-owners in developing parts of the world, lack access to reliable scientific information and technology. In some cases, relevant information has not even been generated.

An Indian peanut farm where EDF is monitoring yield and greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Richie Ahuja)

An Indian peanut farm where EDF is monitoring yield and greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Richie Ahuja)

For example, small-scale rice farmers in Asia lack access to information enabling them to determine what amounts of water, organic and synthetic fertilizer will optimize yields while also minimizing release of the greenhouse gases methane (which is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released), and nitrous oxide (which is nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide). EDF is working with the Fair Climate Network in India and with Can Tho University and other partners in Vietnam to help generate that information and facilitate its use by farmers.

More generally, agricultural institutions at all levels – international, regional, national and local – need to work closely with farmers to learn and promote evidence-based, locally appropriate agricultural adaptation and mitigation technologies and practices. Farmer access to finance can further help improve the adoption rate of these technologies. Larger investments in farming infrastructure and science from government and private sector also need to be channeled to promote food security through low-carbon farming.

Our food system cannot achieve high yields without building and restoring the resilience of agricultural ecosystems, and the system won’t be sustainable if agriculture doesn’t do its part to mitigate climate change.

To feed 9 billion people, we must overcome barriers to reducing climate change’s effects on agriculture, and agriculture’s effect on climate.

Posted in Agriculture, Deforestation, Forestry, India|: | 4 Responses

Indonesian ministries draw on EDF to advance greenhouse-gas accounting capabilities

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made one of his most urgent pleas yet to stop climate change last month, calling climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” — and it was no coincidence he chose to do it in Indonesia.

The island nation is, as Secretary Kerry said, “one of the most vulnerable countries on Earth.” It is already prone to storms, floods, droughts, forest fires, and other extreme weather events, all of which could be exacerbated by climate change. A changing climate could also trigger catastrophic sea level rise that could contaminate Indonesia’s drinking and irrigation systems, and, in some of the worst case scenarios, swallow many of its islands whole.

Indonesia degree of exposure to natural hazards

Indonesia’s vulnerability to climate change. Source: UNOCHA, 2006 in UNDP, 2007.

Needless to say, those sorts of impacts would have dire consequences on the human beings living in Indonesia, the fourth most populous country on earth. However, the nation’s ecosystem would also be in grave danger. Indonesia harbors large reserves of carbon and biodiversity, and is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest and widespread peatlands, flooded soil that stores carbon from thousands of years ago.

But Indonesia also ranks among the top ten countries for its greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of which come from land-use change and forestry. The nation has experienced the greatest increase in forest cover loss from 2000 to 2012, with a high of 20,000 km2 per year (or about 4.9 million acres) between 2011 and 2012 (including harvest of timber and palm oil plantations). The main “driver” of deforestation in Indonesia is clearing for agriculture, particularly for palm oil plantations. Haze from slash and burn agriculture has caused respiratory infections, asthma and other illnesses in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Photo Campur 432_web

Experts from EDF and Indonesia’s National Council on Climate Change conducted workshops with the Ministry of Agriculture.

The good news is these emerging challenges have prompted Indonesia to recognize the dangers of climate change and its responsibility to act. In 2011, President Yudhoyono committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent below its current trajectory by 2020, or even 41 percent if the country receives international support. The bulk of emission decreases are to come from reducing deforestation and forest degradation.

To demonstrate that they are honoring their commitments, the country needs to collect and analyze data on greenhouse gas emissions following guidelines set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and submit this data in its National Communications for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Indonesia’s National Council on Climate Change (DNPI) asked EDF to help conduct training workshops for two of the agencies primarily responsible for the data, the Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Agriculture. The workshops detailed each step involved in creating for the UN an inventory of the country’s emissions and removals of greenhouse gasses from agriculture, forestry and other land uses and the mitigation activities it has undertaken. These workshops also facilitated our collaboration and data-sharing capabilities with the Indonesian government, who worked with EDF’s Chief Natural Resource Economist, Ruben Lubowski, and colleagues from other non-governmental organizations to analyze the carbon reduction potential of different policies.

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Delegates from the Ministry of Forestry fill out IPCC worksheets to calculate gains and losses of carbon from forests for each province, while EDF and DNPI experts look on.

Accurately accounting for emissions will help Indonesia’s government demonstrate its progress toward reaching its reduction target by 2020, and could position the country to receive international funding for its efforts, including through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), a program that provides economic incentives to protect forests.

In 2010, Norway committed to a $1 billion agreement with Indonesia, with most of the funds contingent on verified emissions reductions from forest protection. Indonesia also prolonged its forest moratorium, which prohibits new licenses for clearing forests after 2011. On the private-industry end, a number of companies that source commodities from Indonesia recently have made their own commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, including Unilever, Wilmar, Kelloggs, and Asia Pulp and Paper.

This alignment between public and private sectors in protecting forests should be reinforced by good quality data, well-structured economic incentives and policies, and ambition. However, much work remains to be done on land-use issues to protect forests and biodiversity, improve livelihoods and food security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Until then, Indonesia remains, in the words of Secretary Kerry, a country on the “front lines of climate change.”

Posted in Deforestation, REDD|: | 2 Responses