Author Archives: Jennifer Haverkamp

Doha wrap-up: countries eke out modest deal on Kyoto, new agreement, and climate loss, but postpone many issues

In Doha, countries wrapped up loose ends on technical issues and began to lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement that will establish commitments starting in 2020. Photo credit: Flickr user UNclimatechange

It’s now been a couple of weeks since the UN climate talks ended in Doha, Qatar, where countries made modest progress on the road to a new global climate treaty – although not without the familiar drama of all-night sessions, ignored deadlines and last-minute compromises.

Doha began to lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement that will establish commitments for the post-2020 period, picking up where the current agreements leave off (the Kyoto Protocol and the voluntary emissions targets for 2020 that were adopted in Copenhagen by a number of countries, including the U.S. and major emerging economies).

The Doha talks also showcased some of the usual frictions among countries’ negotiating positions, including:

  • The U.S. government focused chiefly on ensuring all countries would participate in a future climate agreement that would collapse the Kyoto Protocol’s rigid divide between developed and developing countries.
  • China and India pressed to protect developing countries’ special status.
  • Small island states and other vulnerable nations pitched hard for the ambitious emissions cuts and financing commitments they see as essential to their basic survival.

We knew heading into the talks that Doha would be more about process and wrapping up loose ends on technical issues than concrete deliverables, and indeed the outcome in most areas was to continue talking. Some notable outcomes were the following:

 1) Negotiating tracks

Countries ultimately managed to agree on a three-part deal that:

    1. extends the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, although it covers an increasingly small set of countries, as countries such as Russia, Japan and Canada have dropped out, while the United States remains outside the agreement.
    2. completes the “LCA” track, the parallel round of negotiations dating back to the 2007 Bali Road Map, under which many nations (including major developing countries) took voluntary pledges to reduce their emissions by 2020.
    3. sets a course for negotiating the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” (ADP), a new climate deal covering all major emitters that is to be agreed by 2015 and take effect in 2020.

With the unfinished business of the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali agenda finally behind them, countries can now face forward and concentrate on crafting the robust new agreement that we so urgently need.

2) Finance

As expected, a large sticking point across the negotiations was climate finance.

Developing countries had entered Doha seeking firm commitments and clarifications of how financing would scale up between now and the $100 billion a year by 2020 they were promised in Copenhagen in 2009, but instead got a workplan and reassurances.

The talks’ modest outcome also failed to send the policy signal needed to unlock critical private investments in climate change.

3) REDD+

In contrast to previous years and widely help expectations for Doha, parties made little progress in crafting standards for REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, plus afforestation and reforestation).

A decision to embrace the use of carbon markets to finance REDD+ was postponed until next year. REDD+ is being held hostage to slower progress on linked issues such as how emission reductions are measured and verified, and on the perennially thorny finance issues.

Noteworthy development: “Loss and Damage”

One of Doha’s notable developments was that, for the first time, the talks broached the subject of compensation from rich countries for the “loss and damage” incurred by the most vulnerable nations due to climate change.

This loss and damage agreement is the next step in the UN’s increasingly reactive response to climate change, and demonstrative of the UN’s recognition that the severe consequences of climate change have become today’s problem. First, the focus was on avoiding emissions. When mitigation efforts proved inadequate, it turned more attention to adaptation. Now, as the effects of extreme weather and rising oceans hit communities from the Philippines to New Jersey, the UN has realized it must begin to grapple with them.

The coming year’s task is to begin debating what promises to be one of the most controversial issues on their agenda, and the discussions are unlikely to result in a formal liability mechanism given the very strong opposition of the United States and other developed countries. But whatever the outcome, the sobering reality is that grappling with the dangerous effects of climate change can no longer be put off to some future date; they are already inflicting harm.

Looking ahead

The UN climate negotiators have a busy year ahead of them, with perhaps as many as three interim negotiating sessions before reconvening next November in Warsaw, Poland.  But regardless of the coming year’s progress, there remains a wide gulf – nay, chasm — between what countries have pledged to do over the next eight years and what the science demands.

To begin addressing this “ambition gap” there must be progress outside the UN framework at the national and local level, as well as in other multilateral forums, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, the G-20 and the new coalition of countries and environmental groups (including EDF) focusing on near-term actions to reduce short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, black carbon and refrigerant gases.

While more and deeper cuts are urgently needed around the world, we’re seeing real action in national and state-wide climate programs in Europe, Australia, California, South Korea, China and others. It is domestic efforts like these, in tandem with multilateral accords and initiatives, that will get us to a secure climate future.

Posted in Doha (COP-18), REDD, UN negotiations| Leave a comment

Doha climate talks: review of the major issues at COP 18

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.

Jennifer Haverkamp is director of EDF's international climate program

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).

Negotiations overview

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.

U.S. position

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.

Kyoto Protocol

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.

Climate finance

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. “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).
  3. 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.
  4. “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

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.

Closing observations

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?”

*EDF’s international climate experts contributing to this blog post include Alex HanafiGus Silva-ChávezChris MeyerRichie AhujaGernot WagnerJason Funk and Karen Florini.

Posted in Deforestation, Doha (COP-18), Indigenous peoples, News, REDD, UN negotiations| 5 Responses

In Durban, world's major economies show will to address climate change

Sunday morning around 5 am, almost 36 hours after the UN climate negotiations were slated to conclude, the chair finally banged her gavel and declared the 17th annual UN climate ministers meeting at an end. Exhausted delegates and ministers — those that hadn't already melted away to the airport hours before — emerged from an already partially dismantled venue into the bright clear sunshine and fresh promise of a new day. And just maybe, that's a metaphor for the UN climate talks as well.

Durban was quite the cliffhanger, swinging back from the brink of collapse to produce surprisingly good results compared to the low incoming expectations. Instead of being the meeting that let the Kyoto Protocol "die on African soil", as many had feared, Durban will be known for launching negotiations of a new agreement that encompasses all the major emitters, and thereby beginning finally to erode the rigid old walls between developed and developing countries. The negotiations are to conclude by 2015, and come into effect by 2020, which is far slower than the enormity of the problem requires, but a fair reflection of what the political freight in 2011 can bear. As part of the deal, the EU has agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol to at least 2017, and Kyoto parties are to finalize their next round of commitments by December 2013. These next couple of years will test whether the parties can now coax into flame the spark of hope struck here, or whether they go back into their respective corners of stalling and delay.

Lack of certainty over whether the global community will move beyond the vague action plans and pledges that were the outcome of previous meetings has hampered the development of robust climate policy in many nations, and threatened to undermine the important national commitments that have already been made in jurisdictions from Australia to California, and Europe to New Zealand. The agreement reached in Durban is an opportunity to improve upon that situation: its goal is an outcome, that is, in the words of the Durban conclusions, "a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC", applicable to all Parties. Stronger than the "agreed outcome" language of the Bali Action Plan, the Durban meeting therefore cracks open the door on negotiations which could lead to the kind of comprehensive, legally binding treaty that can serve as a powerful driver of domestic action. But the lack of specificity in this negotiating mandate also means that the Parties could use it to continue to posture, delay, and reargue old fights.

In a top priority for developing countries, the gathered nations also took a critical step toward making the much-anticipated Green Climate Fund a reality, by agreeing on structural details for setting up the fund, which aims to finance efforts of developing countries to adapt to the impact climate change and curb their greenhouse gas emissions. And even though the new fund is not quite yet a functional bank, Germany, Denmark, and South Korea have made the first pledges for contributions in 2013.

In other key developments, there was solid progress on developing standards for anti-deforestation work in developing countries (known as REDD+, for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), as well as recognition that carbon markets could be used to finance forest protection. Unfortunately, though, standards were adopted for developed-country forest and land use accounting that create big loopholes in meeting their emission reduction commitments.

The global carbon market dodged a major bullet in Durban. Collapsed talks could have been disastrous. Instead, a positive signal came through clearly: the Kyoto Protocol will be extended; the Ministers endorsed market-based financing for REDD+; they have agreed to define a new market mechanism (in addition to the existing clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation projects); and the EU is already talking about tightening its emissions reduction target, which will increase demand for international credits. And overall, Durban's signal that the world's major economies are serious about addressing climate change over the long term will boost countries' bottom up efforts to institute emissions trading schemes, as in Australia, Korea, Brazil, and China.

Nations that have implemented Kyoto through domestically binding targets, in particular the EU, have learned how powerfully these targets can drive national action, and how domestic carbon markets can drive innovation and the search for better, cheaper faster ways of cutting global warming pollution. It is vital that the next round of negotiations continue this drive.

Posted in Durban (COP-17), Forestry, REDD, UN negotiations| 2 Responses

Durban UN climate talks could see modest, incremental progress; What to watch at COP-17

Amid the dismal global economic climate and the nearing expiration of the sole international agreement that obligates nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, representatives from more than 190 countries are gathering in Durban, South Africa to continue negotiations toward a comprehensive global agreement to curb climate change.

Regrettably, but not surprisingly, this year’s annual two-week meeting of countries party to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the 17th Conference of Parties, or COP-17 – is generally anticipated to make only modest, incremental progress toward that goal.

Modest success for the Durban conference would entail countries producing a timetable and clear path to negotiate a new comprehensive agreement that has binding obligations to reduce global emissions and achieve climate safety. Countries also need to commit to further reducing emissions through pledges and commitments – ideally by signing up for a second round of commitments to the Kyoto Protocol.

However, given political realities and the global economic downturn, even that’s a heavy lift.

Under these unfortunate circumstances, our expectations for Durban must fall far short of our desired outcomes.   Instead, the best outcomes EDF can foresee in Durban are:

  1. For countries to maintain forward momentum in the UN climate negotiations process.  A reasonable expectation is for agreement on a negotiating “work plan” that states which issues countries will tackle for the next couple of years, and for a clear path toward a comprehensive, binding agreement.
  2. Incremental progress in setting up the institutional structures needed to implement the Cancun Agreements.  Most notably, countries should launch and agree to begin funding the Green Climate Fund, dedicated to helping developing countries address and adapt to climate change.
  3. A positive signal to the carbon market that there’s life after DurbanAustralia’s passing a domestic carbon price sent a very strong signal just this month.  But more countries need to step up to the plate.
  4. For emissions from land-use change and forestry, the adoption of rules for accounting that determine with environmental integrity whether countries have in fact reduced their emissions and met their obligations.

Later in this post, we analyze in greater detail these and other key issues likely to figure prominently in the upcoming negotiations.

The U.S. role in Durban

There’s a perception that the United States – in the midst of President Obama's reelection campaign– does not want to rock the boat in Durban, since climate change isn’t a high-profile issue in the race back home.

It’s also very difficult for the U.S., which never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has no near-term prospect of domestic federal climate legislation, to support a negotiating mandate whose goal is a binding, ambitious global climate deal anytime soon.

But the Obama Administration is trying to walk a fine line between urging global action and putting the brakes on negotiated outcomes too ambitious for its domestic politics.  At a press conference during his recent trip to Australia, Obama reiterated the U.S. position of wanting all countries – not just major developed countries – to address climate change:

We all have a responsibility to find ways to reduce our carbon emissions [but] advanced economies can’t do this alone…  [S]o, ultimately, what we want is a mechanism whereby all countries are making an effort.  And it’s going to be a tough slog, particularly at a time when… a lot of economies are still struggling.  But I think it’s actually one that, over the long term, can be beneficial.

The critical question for the other countries around the table is now this: do they temper the ambition and reshape the objectives of this process to accommodate the U.S. domestic situation, or do they continue striving for the kind of comprehensive, binding agreement needed to deal with the problem?

Regardless, until the U.S. can bring more to the climate change negotiations than empty pockets on its domestic policy side, emerging economies are unlikely to come forward with bold actions themselves.  Put another way, incremental progress is probably the most the UN process can expect for the foreseeable future.

Real progress being made through national, regional, local “bottom-up” measures

UN climate negotiations, while important, are fortunately but one front of several in the fight against disastrous climate change.  When looked at in the broader context of what must happen, Durban in and of itself is not the place where the battle will be won or lost.

Real progress is taking place at the national, regional and local levels, creating a world of bottom-up actions addressing climate change.

  • In Australia, an official carbon price goes into effect in July, which should help dent its emissions – the highest, per capita, of any developed country.
  • Europe’s Emissions Trading System continues its steady growth, and soon will cover aviation emissions.
  • California has just approved the largest, first-ever economy-wide carbon market in North America, which could eventually link to other carbon markets around the world.
  • China’s latest five-year plan has a limited cap-and-trade system and significant carbon intensity reduction targets.
  • New Zealand has a domestic emissions trading system.
  • Korea has pending legislation to create its own domestic emissions trading system.

A great story in the Financial Times along these lines says that despite the “glacial pace” of the UN talks, it has become “more and more evident that many of the world’s biggest countries and companies are pressing on regardless. From China to California, from Ford to PepsiCo, there has been a striking surge in emissions-cutting activity."

Policy issues to watch

EDF's experts have been closely tracking policy issues leading up to Durban, and below we highlight some background and recommendations for those likely to feature prominently in the negotiations.

Kyoto Protocol

Durban is not a case of “the future of Kyoto hanging by a thread,” although that’s how some have been casting it.  Rather, nations are grappling with how to proceed, despite there having been very few developments to help them overcome the historically deep divides between industrialized and developing countries on climate policy, divides whose origins go back to the birth of the UNFCCC more than twenty years ago.

Notably, the U.S. is not offering anything new to help overcome these divides. The dismal state of US federal climate policy has raised problems for both the Dialogue on Long-Term Cooperative Action (“LCA” – discussions under the UNFCCC track, in which the US participates) and for the talks about extending the Kyoto Protocol through a second round of emissions reduction commitments (in which it does not). But the US paralysis, and consequent exacerbation of the gaps between and among the countries in those forums, open up, for those nations that do want to move forward, an important opportunity to closely consider what they really need and want from the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC in order to tackle the climate change problem effectively.

What’s important here is not specifically whether nations agree in Durban to a second commitment period under Kyoto.  Their low probability of doing so at this meeting has been widely recognized for some time. What IS important is that the nations participating in Kyoto have learned a lot about its fundamental architecture in the fourteen years since it was adopted.  They have learned that much of that architecture is capable of catalyzing large amounts of investment, innovation, and finance for low carbon development.  They have also learned that, frankly, some of that architecture is clunky and could usefully be revised.  Based on that learning, many nations are sorting out which elements of Kyoto they want to keep and build upon, which elements could usefully be changed, and what new elements might need to be added in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of efforts to tackle and respond to climate change and foster low-carbon economic development.

What’s clear is that, at the top of the list, many nations have learned that well-designed carbon market frameworks have great potential for helping achieve these goals.  So they want to keep, in some fashion, and to build upon, the carbon market elements of the Kyoto Protocol.  That’s why we are seeing continued progress in the Kyoto Protocol and LCA on market infrastructure and expansion, for example in the areas of MRV (infrastructure), and REDD+, and sectoral mechanisms (expansion), and we expect that Durban will yield positive incremental results in these areas. That’s also why we are seeing the EU moving forward with its carbon market, and new carbon markets under development in Australia, New Zealand, California, and China.

Where Kyoto’s architecture is incomplete, nations will continue to try to build out new elements, focusing, for example, on adaptation and finance. Whether nations ultimately build on the elements of the Kyoto Protocol under the auspices of that agreement, or under the UNFCCC through the LCA track, or by developing new frameworks that build on the key elements of each, will not be sorted out completely at Durban.

In fact, the Durban meeting could simply agree to apply the existing Kyoto framework as a practical matter for a few years beyond 2012 as nations undertake this build-out process. But what is clear is that core elements of the Kyoto Protocol – including the core concepts of carbon markets – will continue, through Durban and beyond. 

Climate Finance

Financing both the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and countries' adaptation to the changing climate will be one of the most critical issues in this year's negotiations.

Often the current global economic crisis is offered as a reason for slow actions on climate finance. For a while this was true but this is rapidly evolving. It should be noted that liquidity exists in the market and capital is seeking good places for investment – meaning now is the time to really leverage climate finance as one of the tools to catalyze investments and job creation while addressing climate change.

Countries must think creatively about new and sustainable sources of financing.  Most observers, including the UN Director General's advisory committee on finance, recognize that much of the $100 billion will have to come from private sources.  Well-functioning carbon markets (including linked global markets) are one way to finance and efficiently reduce emissions globally.  But especially in the interval while that market is developing, the role of well-directed scarce public finance is critically important to progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

In Cancun, countries agreed to establish a “Green Climate Fund.” In Durban it’s likely – and we believe necessary – that countries make critical progress on the Fund by determining where it will be housed.  There are many options available for where and how the Fund will operate, but the ultimate system selected should leverage existing institutional capacities, and not create a new bureaucratic structure.  It should also be efficient, transparent and effective, and include methods for measuring return on investment.

We urge countries to direct climate finance funds to investments that:

  • Avoid overly political allocation decisions.
  • Help countries adapt to climate change.
  • Include good climate effectiveness, ensuring that funds lead to real emissions reductions.

With finance being a major issue in Durban, countries can’t afford to allow the global economic crisis or political issues to undermine much-needed funding efforts. If nations don’t pay for climate mitigation and adaptation to avert problems now, they will be paying for it later in the aftermath of devastating natural disasters, destruction of farmlands and other inevitable impacts from unchecked climate change.

REDD+ and Indigenous Peoples

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) was a highlight of Cancun last year, as parties put their stamp of approval on and agreed to the basic framework for the REDD+ program.  In Durban, the parties could agree on REDD+ policy details that would enable countries to move forward with their own initiatives while ensuring environmental integrity –  but decisions on REDD+ are likely tied to achieving breakthroughs on the higher profile , more political issues, such as the fate of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the launch of the Green Climate Fund.

If countries do overcome these major political issues, Durban could produce REDD+ decisions on:

  1. Social safeguards/ information for safeguard systems: The discussions over the past year, most recently in Panama, of a safeguard information system – a system to provide information on the implementation of safeguards that ensure respect for the basic human rights (rights to resources, land, consultation, etc.) of people affected by REDD+ activities – have provided enough momentum to help the Parties reach a decision in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA).  Although a final outcome may be beyond reach in Durban, EDF believes that even a basic outline for safeguard strategies, which includes support for indigenous peoples, will help move REDD+ policy in a good direction.
  2. REDD+ finance: With a few exceptions, countries have largely agreed that carbon market financing should be included as a potential source of financing for REDD+.  Although broader financing decisions may not be reached, we hope that the Durban conference will formally adopt the use of carbon markets as a finance option.
  3. Reference Levels: Countries in Durban may, though are unlikely to, settle on REDD+ reference levels (that is, initial reference points for countries which help them determine their total emissions from deforestation and measure their progress in reducing emissions).
  4. Measuring, reporting and verification (MRV): MRV is its own agenda item in the negotiations, but the MRV of REDD+ is unique, since measuring emissions in relation to trees is different from measuring emissions from cars or smokestacks.  We don’t expect MRV to be decided for REDD+ in Durban, either in the MRV discussions or in the REDD+ discussions.

Most easily attainable of these REDD actions  would be a technical decision on a framework for the functioning of the safeguard information system, followed by REDD+ finance.  But if the talks stall on the larger political issues, even these REDD+ decisions will, unfortunately, get pushed off to next year.

Land Use, Land-Use Change & Forestry (LULUCF)

Issues related to the greenhouse gases associated with land use and forestry are tremendously important for climate change, but over the years they have consistently been among the most contentious topics in the UNFCCC, as covered under rules for Land Use, Land-Use Change & Forestry (LULUCF).

Forests sequester vast amounts of carbon every year, removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and for some countries the management of their forests makes a huge difference in whether they can meet their national targets for reducing emissions.  However, forests are natural systems, and their dynamics are not entirely under human control, making it difficult to account for the effects of forest management and other land-use activities.

Forest accounting discussions are important for both developed countries that are managing emissions from their forests, and developing countries that are working to reduce emissions from deforestation.  Flawed forest accounting rules could directly reduce the financial support for both efforts.  The accounting rules for forests in developed countries may serve as a guide for future accounting rules for developing countries under REDD+, so all countries have a stake in these rules.

This year, we have seen reasonable progress on forest-related accounting issues.  In Cancun, the developed countries agreed to submit new, more detailed information on their forest emissions. All of this information was subjected to an expert review, giving us a higher level of clarity about what is happening in their forests.  Also, the countries negotiated solid provisions to deal with unforeseen disturbances (such as wildfires and tsunamis) and to improve accounting for durable wood products, such as housing and furniture.

We think the time has come for countries to adopt a set of robust rules for forest accounting, so that the issue does not impede the effort to set new Kyoto Protocol targets.  At the same time, we insist that these rules have environmental integrity – civil society and vulnerable countries will not — and should not — accept a set of rules that undermine the goals of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol.

A group of African countries has been working on an approach that we think could break the logjam in Durban on this difficult and complex issue. It would award countries credits toward their targets only after they reduce their forest emissions to below historical levels. That approach could give countries the necessary flexibility to stabilize emissions from forest management over the longer term. EDF experts have been advising the Africa group on their work.

The proposal by the African nations could correct a flaw in another approach, called Reference Levels, which would permit countries to increase their emissions by cutting down more forests, without paying the price for those emissions.  Since increasing emissions from forests has the same atmospheric impact as burning fossil fuels, we consider increasing forest emissions without consequences to be unacceptable.

International Transport

Efforts to curb emissions from international aviation, one of the more contentious issues of  the year, will likely spur heated debate during the Durban climate negotiations as Parties push for action to tackle emissions reductions in the separate UN agencies responsible for global aviation and maritime shipping.

Tensions already are high with a case against the European Union’s law to reduce emissions from aviation pending in the European Court of Justice, a U.S. House-passed bill to prohibit airlines from complying with the EU law, and a recent UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council meeting where disagreements flared over the EU law.

To push regulatory efforts of ICAO and the UN's International Maritime Organization (IMO) forward, Parties to the UNFCCC need to send a clear signal in Durban that these two agencies must not delay in designing and implementing a multilateral approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their sectors. However, it is crucial countries do so in a manner that does not jeopardize national or regional policies to reduce emissions from aviation and shipping, such as the EU aviation directive.

‪Negotiations on emissions from planes and ships came to a standstill in Cancun, but were resurrected at meetings earlier this year, with the slight hope of fruitful negotiations in Durban.  But the UNFCCC’s role in regulating these emissions is limited, ever since the UNFCCC booted decisions on reducing emissions from aviation and maritime to the sectors’ respective UN agencies – ICAO and IMO – nearly two decades ago. Since then, countries have yet to produce any policy solutions in these forums as they struggle over how to reduce emissions from international aviation and maritime shipping.

Legal Architecture of a UN Climate Agreement

Though many nations remain committed to an international framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming, the legal architecture of such an agreement or agreements – how it could be spelled out or structured in legal terms – is in great flux.

EDF supports a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol architecture, with as many countries as possible participating with their own binding commitments, and the option for other countries to link with their own national systems at a later point.

Regardless of the outcome at Durban, the fundamental infrastructure and principles of the Kyoto Protocol have proven successful.  Many aspects of the Kyoto Protocol are now being incorporated into national systems, including:

  • Binding caps on emissions
  • Flexible market mechanisms to meet these caps
  • Accountability

We strongly encourage nations to enshrine these principles in a legally binding framework that is open to any country willing to participate. Disagreements between major emitters or a lack of universal agreement on a legal format should not impede nations that are willing to be climate leaders from moving forward from  Durban with an architecture that supports environmental integrity and predictability for markets.

Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV)

In Cancun last year, nations agreed to develop new rules for keeping track of global warming emissions and emissions reductions in both developed and developing countries.

Robust and transparent measuring, reporting, and verification (MRV) is essential for building the trust necessary for countries to take action and compare efforts in reducing emissions, and for creating a structure that would encourage  investment, innovation, and finance for low-carbon development.

In negotiations since Cancun, nations have already produced preliminary guidelines for reporting to be undertaken by developing and developed countries, as well as mechanisms for analyzing the results and providing support to improve future efforts.

In Durban, they have the opportunity to strengthen provisions for transparency and accountability to ensure environmental integrity and improve the quality of carbon markets.  EDF also supports proposals that allow major-emitting developing countries to step up to a higher level of MRV.  Parties will also work on resolving such issues as timelines for reporting, and the proper role of NGOs in ensuring transparency and accountability in national reporting.

If the Kyoto Protocol's history is a guide, Durban is likely to yield a foundation that leads to tighter standards on MRV over time.  It took two or three years from the time Kyoto was agreed to when nations sorted out some of the regime's accounting rules.  We may expect a similar timeline for working out the kinks of Cancun's MRV agreements.

Closing Observations

Eyebrows sometimes get raised at the size and scope of the UNFCCC’s large annual gatherings, which bring together not only delegates from more than 190 countries, but a host of other participants, many of whom never see the inside of the official conference venue, much less buttonhole a negotiator.  This is especially the case in years with modest negotiating ambitions.

But it's important to remember that these annual COPs also host the lower profile working meetings that implement the various existing agreements and provide support and education to the parties.  And over the years they have taken on almost a medieval fair aspect, becoming the annual meetings of a de facto global trade association of climate change professionals, activists, and their supporters.  The city will serve up a rich smorgasbord of official and unofficial “side events”,  receptions, and hallway conversations where participants share exciting new ideas, launch reports, and recount progress and problems taking place outside the UN's auspices.

The annual gatherings also are important for helping keep the pressure on countries, refocusing international media attention on climate change, and serving as crucial action-forcing events.  It’s not a coincidence that Australia passed its carbon price just weeks before Durban, or that South Africa, as the host country, released its own climate plan last month.

Making Durban a success is a daunting challenge, and even more so for the conference's hosts, South Africa –  logistically, substantively, and diplomatically.  They are hosting a huge gathering of ministers, negotiators, myriad environmental, labor, business, agricultural and other stakeholders, activists, indigenous peoples, and youth, all while wearing three distinctly different hats:  neutral COP chair, member of the BASIC major emerging economies bloc (with Brazil, India and China), and representative of the Africa Group of countries, whose members include the some of the most vulnerable, least developed nations.

We wish the South African hosts well, and urge all the gathered nations to work hard and negotiate in good faith.  They must deliver on the modest expectations they have set themselves; our planet's future cannot afford anything less.

Posted in Aviation, Deforestation, Durban (COP-17), Forestry, Indigenous peoples, REDD, UN negotiations| 2 Responses

Australia’s carbon price system passes in historic vote in lower house, 2012 start now virtually guaranteed

Australia is likely to pass legislation next month that will give it the largest carbon price system in the world outside of Europe. (Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user Urban Gazelle)

In a historic vote Wednesday Oct. 12, Australia’s lower house passed a legislative package to put a price on carbon starting mid-2012.  This will put the country – which is comparable to the United States as one of the developed world’s largest per-capita emitters – on the path to reducing its emissions and shifting energy to renewable, less-polluting sources.

The bill, passed by a predictably close margin, is now virtually guaranteed to pass in the Senate when it comes to a vote, likely in November.  That will give Australia, the third-most coal-dependent country in the world, the largest carbon-price system in the world outside of the European Union (at least until California’s program takes effect six months later).

What Australia’s "Clean Energy Future" legislation will do

The Clean Energy Future package consists of 18 bills that aim to cut Australia’s emissions 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 (though the target can be strengthened based on international action), and 80% below 2000 levels by 2050.

The legislation reaches these targets through programs that will start shifting Australia’s energy to renewable sources by:

  1. Placing a price on carbon.
    • Starting July 2012, Australia’s largest industrial emitters, which cover roughly two-thirds of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution, will have to pay a fixed price for the carbon pollution they produce — $23 (Australian) per ton of carbon, rising by 2.5 per cent each year.
    • In 2015, the fixed price system will automatically transition to a market-based cap-and-trade system open to trading carbon credits in the international market.
  2. Designing the market-based system to link to international carbon markets, with plans to link with already operational cap-and-trade programs in New Zealand and Europe after 2015.
  3. Giving a big boost to renewable energy research and development and deployment through a new $10 billion financing vehicle, the “Clean Energy Finance Corporation.”  The money will be invested in jump-starting Australian commercial-scale renewable energy projects to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

The Australian system has strong support from key international players in global carbon markets: the European Union and the United Kingdom have both praised the Australian approach, and a senior visiting Chinese official has observed that China is also looking to the Australian system as a potential model as China designs its six proposed regional cap-and-trade trials.

The link to international markets that’s built into the system also sets up Australia to become a key player in the international offset market – and will enhance Australia’s influence at the UN climate conference in Durban at the end of this year.

We look forward to Australia’s Senate vote in November, and to the critical momentum the country will bring to the development of international carbon markets when it becomes the newest member in the group of the world's carbon market leaders.

Posted in News, Other| 5 Responses

EDF submits comments to New Zealand's emissions trading system review

New Zealand is currently conducting a review of its emissions trading system for greenhouse-gas pollutants, as required by the law that enacted the program.

EDF has submitted comments to New Zealand as it undergoes a review of its emissions trading system.  (Image: Yodod/Flickr)

EDF recently submitted comments for the review, because:

we believe that what happens in New Zealand can make a real difference to the global response to climate change. Historically, New Zealand has initiated important policy innovations that have been adopted around the world over time, from female enfranchisement to fisheries quota management systems. Again, the world is watching New Zealand…

Our comments focus on developments in carbon markets including California, Europe, and elsewhere, suggesting some enhancements that New Zealand policy-makers may wish to consider in the post-2012 environment.

In our submission, we also recommend the country pay particular attention to factors such as:

  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Continued access to other carbon markets
  • Ongoing development of other carbon markets
  • Maintaining control and flexibility over the types of offsets which can be admitted into the New Zealand ETS
  • Environmental credibility of the market and its instruments

Read more about EDF's Submission to New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) Review 2011.

Posted in Economics, News, Other, Uncategorized| Leave a comment
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