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.

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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|: | 4 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

Picturing low-carbon development: Methane cook stoves in rural India

A picture is worth a thousand words – and in this case, what you don’t see is the key story: what isn’t in the picture is black soot coating every wall.

Cook stoves powered by methane generate far less soot than those fueled by wood.

That’s because this resident of rural India is cooking on a two-burner stove powered by methane rather than wood. The methane is produced by a small-scale “digester” located just outside her home. (In the digester, manure from the family’s livestock, stabled nearby, is broken down by bacteria and converted to methane.)

And because she is cooking with methane, not only are her walls cleaner – so are her lungs, and those of her children and husband.

At least as importantly, she no longer needs to spend three to four hours every day – seven days a week, 365 days a year – gathering wood.

That means that instead of her having to collect firewood, build a fire and get it hot enough to cook, she can make the family’s breakfast with the flick of a switch on the methane stove. This time savings in the morning allows her children to get to school as classes begin, rather than several hours into the school day.

Those “extra” hours in her day also allow her to earn outside income, through activities like sewing or making biofertilizers and biopesticides for sale to local farmers – or simply to rest and have a modicum of leisure time. In addition, the digester generates enough fuel that she can cook more than once daily, providing her family with a more varied and nutritious diet.

Improving Indians’ standard of living while not harming environment

The methane digester that powers the stove provides remarkable benefits compared to the traditional wood-fired stove; it:

  1. Digests manure that otherwise would have released methane directly into the atmosphere. Although burning converts methane into carbon dioxide (CO2), methane itself is 23 times more powerful at trapping heat than is CO2.
  2. Allows trees and shrubs to continue storing carbon, rather than being cut down and burned as cooking fuel. Those avoided emissions, once tallied and verified, can be sold as offset credits that pay for the digesters.
  3. Boosts families' standard of living without any increase in carbon emissions.

Villagers show Steve Cochran and me their record books verifying each stoves' methane consumption. The villagers were extraordinarily hospitable, welcoming us with garlands of fresh flowers.

These photos were taken on a recent trip to India with my colleagues Richie Ahuja, Director of EDF’s India Program, and Steve Cochran, our Vice President for Climate and Air.

Richie spends a significant portion of his time in India, working closely with the five innovative nonprofits with whom we are partnering on projects in rural communities. (See Richie’s blog post from International Women’s Day about how EDF is using film to teach rural women about climate change.)  For Steve and me, though, this was the first time we’d seen any of the projects in action.

The methane digesters initiative is a project of the Agricultural Development and Training Service (ADATS), a comprehensive nonprofit rural development organization that since 1977 has worked on sustainable agriculture as well as adult literacy, children’s education, community health and related issues in southern India. Our other partner groups are working on a variety of additional rural technologies, including solar lanterns, more-efficient wood-burning stoves, and low-carbon farming.

EDF is exploring how carbon markets can help provide funding for these locally based initiatives that help significantly improve living standards for the rural poor.

With more than half of India’s nearly 1.2 billion residents having annual incomes under $500, economic development is essential. It’s starting to occur, and with astonishing speed – indeed, India is projected to be the globe’s third-biggest economy by 2035.

For too long, it’s been assumed that development will lead inexorably to massively greater carbon emissions. Our work in India seeks to help create an alternate path – one consistent with avoiding dangerous climate change even as the world’s most populous democracy continues its vital task of lifting its poorest citizens out of poverty.

Posted in India, Other| 1 Response

The Cancún Agreements: what they mean, where issues now stand, and where they’re going (to Durban!)

Jennifer Haverkamp is EDF’s Managing Director for International Policy & Negotiations.

The deal U.N. climate negotiators reached last week in Cancún is modest, but the gathering’s dramatic conclusion does restore confidence in the U.N. process, which was limping badly after last year’s fiasco in Copenhagen.

Observers witnessed one of the most dramatic closing “plenary” sessions of the 16 years of negotiations yet, complete with rounds of standing ovations as the Mexican chair overrode Bolivia’s vocal objections and efforts to block adoption of the agreement.  But, seeing themselves as holding in their hands not just the fate of the U.N. climate process, but also the credibility of the multilateral system, 193 of the 194 countries united to adopt the “Cancún Agreements” and redefine what the climate convention’s “consensus” decision-making process means.

Unlike so many previous meetings, ministers and their negotiators vacated the Moon Palace beach resort with giddy relief and a renewed self-confidence in their ability to make progress in this particular forum.  The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks appear to have stumbled back on track.

The Cancún Agreements

Once the euphoria wears off, the Cancún Agreements will look much like the Copenhagen Accord brought in from its limbo, but with more elaboration, more institutions and committees, and a detailed work program for 2011 that will necessitate additional negotiating sessions.

The Agreements contain no new binding national pledges to cut carbon emissions, and no decision about whether to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to cut greenhouse gases whose first “commitment period” is set to end in 2012.  But the Agreements do include a commitment by rich nations to create a $100 billion Green Climate Fund to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.  And for the first time, the UNFCCC has put its seal of approval on a framework for reducing emissions from deforestation.

The Cancún deal was reached in significant part by kicking down the road the most difficult decisions, such as the fate of the Kyoto Protocol’s second round of commitments, and how to merge the Kyoto agreement with the parallel “LCA” negotiating track, where negotiations over obligations for the U.S. and major developing countries are lodged.

The Agreements are a package of decisions balanced across the main areas of negotiation, and include:

  • a reaffirmation of countries’ Copenhagen Accord commitments to curb their greenhouse gas emissions (also known as mitigation)
  • a legal structure for the reporting and monitoring of mitigation and finance commitments
  • a strong decision on emissions from deforestation (REDD+)
  • the creation of a Green Fund and attendant institutional arrangements
  • “centers and networks” to advance the transfer of clean technology
  • institutions to assist developing countries with adaptation

What Cancún means for 2011’s Durban talks

Despite these successes, the prospects for achieving an overarching, legally binding agreement by the next Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP-17) in Durban, South Africa are not materially brighter than before.

With Japan and Russia adamantly declaring they won’t re-up their Kyoto commitments beyond 2012 without the U.S., Brazil, South Africa, India and China on board with commitments, and with no prospect of U.S. legislation anytime soon, the building blocks for a deal are still elusive.

Moreover, the South African hosts have large shoes to fill: Cancún’s success is widely attributed to the diplomatic skills of Mexico’s Foreign Minister, Patricia Espinosa, and its Special Representative on Climate and U.N. Permanent Representative, Luis Alfonso de Alba, and to Mexico’s ability to run an inclusive, transparent confidence building process throughout the year.

The UNFCCC remains a forum worthy of countries and non-governmental organizations’ active engagement, but all involved need to take a long-term view of its prospects for reaching a comprehensive agreement and meanwhile continue to pursue opportunities to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in other forums.

Cancún outcomes: where policy issues stand now

On the first day of the talks, we shared a list of what we expected would be the most important issues to watch in Cancún.  It’s now clear that reducing emissions from deforestation and finance were big winners in the two-week conference, but each major policy saw some movement.

Here’s a breakdown of what happened with the main policy issues at COP-16 in Cancún, how our expectations fared, and what it means as countries turn their sights on COP-17 in Durban.

Avoiding Deforestation (REDD+)

In what Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared “undoubtedly one of the greatest outcomes of this conference”, the UNFCCC adopted a decision on deforestation and climate change.  Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) was seen by many as an area most likely to make some progress in Cancún if an overall agreement could be reached, but negotiators managed to exceed expectations, approving the key elements needed to make REDD+ a reality.

In a welcome move, negotiators agreed to all three proposed phases of REDD+: REDD+ readiness (phase 1), REDD+ implementation (phase 2), and results-based payment-for-performance (phase 3).  The agreement also includes a global goal for reducing emissions from deforestation, and allows for interim state-level REDD+ programs that have clear paths toward becoming national-level.

In the next year, countries will explore the options for financing all three phases and report back their findings in Durban.  To ensure REDD+ policies’ workability and durability, countries must use the sustainable and large-scale funding that carbon markets can generate, and heading out of Cancún, all but one country – Bolivia – agrees that markets should be explored.  The decision also instructs the technical advisory group to the Convention to decide on the monitoring, methods and safeguards needed to implement REDD+ in the next two years.

The basic framework that this decision creates will give countries and the private sector the needed guidance and certainty to make REDD+ a reality.  In a historic achievement, after five years of debate, the UNFCCC has put its seal of approval on REDD+.

Indigenous Peoples and REDD+

The role of stakeholders was strengthened through the REDD+ decision’s incorporation of social and environmental safeguards.  The decision includes transparency measures for protections for indigenous peoples, who are critically important to REDD+ policies because they are best-suited to monitor and protect their land from deforestation.

The Parties also agreed to tie financing for REDD+ activities to these environmental and social safeguards, meaning countries will have to show they are protecting forests and indigenous peoples in order to receive financing for their REDD+ projects and giving indigenous peoples more control over the financing of their development pathway.

The REDD+ decision also importantly includes a reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that could provide for annual reporting of social safeguards by countries to the UNFCCC, and should provide a safeguard framework from which to start REDD+ readiness work.

Finance

Finance has been and remains one of the lynchpins for a comprehensive global climate deal.  Cancún produced a good, balanced result, establishing a Green Climate Fund (GCF) while focusing more on institutional arrangements for finance than on by when and from where funds might come.  The GCF, a top-line demand of developing countries, will disburse funds devoted to climate mitigation and adaptation activities.

The funds are to be governed by a board of 24 members – with equal representation from developed and developing countries – and includes mechanisms that allow recourse to experts.  The structure also ingeniously addresses the concerns of the developing world; instead of using current and existing institutions for setting the guidelines and the delivery of long-term finances, the World Bank is deemed an interim trustee of the funds for the next three years and will manage and deliver the funds under direction from the Board with clear administration and accounting guidelines.  Under this process, Parties will have transparency and control of the process, and are ensured balance between financing activities for climate mitigation and adaptation.

For short-term finance issues, the Cancún Agreements reiterate developed countries’ commitments in the Copenhagen Accord to deliver on “fast-start finance” within three years, and include commitments to better reporting, balance among themes (e.g. adaptation, mitigation, forestry, and capacity building), and prioritization for the most vulnerable nations.

Now long-term finance will be the larger focus, though Parties postponed addressing sources of finance and commitments, instead taking note of the report of the U.N. Secretary General’s Advisory Group on Finance (AGF) and designating a Standing Committee for the Fund to mobilize resources for long-term financing.  This postpones – to Durban or beyond – a discussion of long term finance options, pending establishment of the Committee.

The AGF report clearly indicates there are multiple ways to reach the targeted $100 billion-per-year climate funding by 2020, including well-designed and transparent market mechanisms.  Governments must take the first step in providing financing, but ultimately the only truly scalable and sustainable source of finance is the private sector, responding to proper government incentives – which is why it was encouraging to see in the negotiating text language supportive of markets.

To ensure effectiveness and build confidence in the GCF, the global community must now guarantee transparency and accountability in how the funds are generated, allocated, and spent.

Shared Vision (Long-Term Targets) and Pledges

One of the most contentious issues in the negotiations, and a top priority for the United States, was giving the emission reduction pledges of last year’s Copenhagen Accord a more formal status under the U.N. climate agreement.  Because they spanned both developed and developing country commitments, and thus departed from the Kyoto Protocol’s stark division of responsibility, where and how this was done carried major baggage.  Ultimately, the Parties simply “took note of” the pledges, arguably little improvement over their taking note of the Copenhagen Accord.

The Parties did, however, agree on the need to take urgent action to meet the long-term goal of holding temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius, a level above which the planet is expected to suffer serious irreversible impacts.  Notably, they also agreed on the need for “peaking emissions”, and to work in 2011 towards identifying a timeframe for when emissions at a global level should reach their peak and begin declining.  And, addressing a “must have” of the Small Island States, they agreed to a review and possible strengthening of the goal to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Agreeing on an actual collective emissions reduction goal by 2050 was postponed until Durban.

Transparency & Accountability (MRV)

Thanks in large part to a compromise proposal from India’s Minister Ramesh, the U.S. and China were able to reach agreement on their biggest sticking point: transparency and accountability (known in the UNFCCC as monitoring, reporting, and verification, or MRV) for developed and developing countries’ mitigation actions and for the financing of developing country actions.

The agreement requires developed countries to enhance the reporting of their mitigation actions (including submitting annual emission inventories and reporting on their progress in achieving their emissions reductions), and also to improve the reporting of their financial, technological and capacity-building support to developing countries.  It requires developing countries to improve their reporting on emissions and actions, with their reports subject to domestic monitoring, reporting, and verification “in accordance with guidelines to be developed under the Convention”.  The reports will also be reviewed by independent technical experts.

The Parties also agreed on a workplan for enhancing the relevant guidelines.  These provisions are an important step toward national accountability, but what precisely goes into those guidelines, how they are applied, and how they are enforced remain crucial open questions that will have to be answered credibly if the UNFCCC is to support a viable global carbon market and ensure that countries deliver the emission reductions needed to avert dangerous climate change.

Land-Use and Forestry

Heading into Cancún, hopes were high that agreement could be reached on the accounting rules for emissions from changes in land use (like forestry), which are a prerequisite to setting targets for the Kyoto Parties’ second commitment period.  Parties in Cancún had the opportunity to reach consensus on robust rules with strong environmental integrity that would enhance accuracy, comparability, completeness, consistency, and transparency in land-use accounting – but they only managed a few baby steps toward this goal. ‪

Parties ultimately agreed to require developed countries to undertake a technical review of how they were constructing their chosen forest-accounting baselines (initial level of emissions), and agreed on a detailed set of guidelines for conducting such reviews with environmental integrity.  The technical review process was developed in response to developing countries’ (and non-governmental organizations’) concerns about potential loopholes and a lack of transparency.

These scientific reviews will ensure developed countries will be forthcoming about their data in a comparable and consistent way; their data will be reviewed by independent experts from around the world; and the review process will catch any problems.  The strength of this review process also creates a powerful disincentive for any Party that is considering a baseline that isn't comparable, consistent, or as accurate as other Parties'.

All other questions were put off – including those that could have made progress toward delivering a complete package, like forest management baselines, and the accounting for harvested wood – with the intention of finalizing them by Durban, when Parties will also have the benefit of seeing the results of the technical reviews.  In the meantime, countries should focus on accomplishing a robust and timely review, and resolving these remaining elements of the package in a way that maintains the environmental integrity of the system.

Future of the Kyoto Protocol

The Parties punted on one of the most contentious issues facing them: the fate of the Kyoto Protocol.  In Cancún, developed country parties to the Kyoto Protocol finally embraced a collective goal of reducing their emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, though with caveats, and without agreeing to a second round of emission reduction commitments after 2012.  Both Japan and Russia had announced they would not sign up for post-2012 obligations without seeing the United States and major emerging economies take on obligations as well.

Instead of forcing the issue, parties agreed that discussions will continue in the coming year, with the goal of avoiding a gap between the first and second commitment periods.  Also postponed to Durban were decisions on how long the second commitment period should be.

International Shipping & Aviation (Bunker Fuels)

Negotiations on the international transport sector reached a deadlock in Cancún, with Parties unable to agree on even the opening language of negotiating text to address bunker fuels, nor any general framework for an agreement, nor a work plan for the coming year headed toward Durban.‪

As such, Parties missed their opportunity to send a clear signal to the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization – the U.N. agencies for international maritime shipping and aviation affairs which have accomplished next to nothing on climate over 16 years – that greenhouse gas emissions from international transport must be regulated immediately. ‪

There is clear disagreement in multilateral negotiations on international shipping and aviation, which makes it even more important for regions and states to continue moving forward in regulating the emissions from these sectors.  The international forums should push forward on the development and implementation of global sectoral measures to reduce emissions from international transport.  However, they must work in parallel with regional systems, whose right to regulate these sectors instead of waiting for uncertain and belated action from these bodies should be preserved.

Momentum as preparations for Durban begin

Even though Cancún’s talks just ended, the trek to Durban has begun – and there’s a lot to be done before COP-17 starts on Nov. 28, 2011.  We expect the Parties will schedule several additional sessions between now and then to start hammering out some details and move negotiations forward before reconvening in South Africa.

This year’s measured success, particularly with REDD+ and finance, offers an encouraging start for the coming year, but it’s up to countries to maintain the momentum – and for nongovernmental organizations and other stakeholders to keep them headed toward the ambitious, durable outcome we so desperately need.

Many of our colleagues have also posted thoughtful analyses of the Cancún summit outcomes.  See, for example, posts by Harvard University’s Robert Stavins, World Resources Institute’s Jennifer Morgan, and Natural Resources Defense Councils’ Jake Schmidt.

**EDF’s international climate experts contributing to this blog post include Steve Schwartzman (REDD+, Indigenous Peoples); Gus Silva-Chávez (REDD+); Chris Meyer (Indigenous Peoples); Richie Ahuja (Finance); Gernot Wagner (Finance); Annie Petsonk (MRV, Future of Kyoto Protocol); Jason Funk (Land-Use and Forestry); Miriam Chaum (Land-Use and Forestry); and Jenny Cooper (International Shipping & Aviation).  You can read their updates from Cancún at http://blogs.edf.org/climatetalks/category/un-negotiations/cancun/.

Posted in Cancún (COP-16), Deforestation, Forestry, Indigenous peoples, News, REDD, UN negotiations| 2 Responses

Cancún talks must put paralyzed U.N. climate negotiations back on track

The following is cross-posted from Reuters AlertNet.

It seems a familiar story, these days: while heat waves break historical records and we suffer more of the floods, hurricanes and droughts that experts warn will only increase with climate change, the United Nations climate negotiations come and go with few expectations and even fewer constructive outcomes.

So it is not surprising to those following the climate talks that the recent meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Tianjin, China, sputtered to a close, highlighting deep-seated disagreements that continue to impede progress.

Late next month, ministers from the nearly 200 countries of the United Nations convene in Cancún, Mexico, to take up issues left unresolved in last year's Copenhagen talks. But their senior negotiators have managed to run out the 2010 clock through repeated unproductive negotiating sessions resembling a Bill Murray "Groundhog Day" movie plot.

(On the positive side, Tianjin's talks were the first that China has hosted, reflecting a more serious engagement by that country in the process.)

In Copenhagen's wake, countries should be motivated to rebuild confidence in the U.N. process by delivering concrete results at Cancún's Conference of Parties (COP-16). But instead, countries are still struggling with some major overall structural issues, and have made disappointing progress on important forestry and land-use policies.

Now it's unclear whether their negotiators will be able to rise far enough above these issues by Cancún to produce a meaningful outcome.

Historical problems stymieing progress

Since the 2007 Bali conference (COP-13), countries have locked themselves in two separate negotiating tracks, often with developing and developed countries pitted against each other. Now they find themselves groping for the keys to bring these tracks together.

The negotiations have also been plagued by distracting bickering among major players, and troubling progress – or lack thereof – in critical policies.

Much attention recently has been given to policies regarding deforestation and land-use practices like forestry, ranching and wetland restoration. Setting a troubling precedent, the parties appear poised to finalize in Cancún accounting rules for emissions from forest management that would allow developed countries to claim carbon credits or avoid debits without changing their activities.

Although negotiators spent the week in Tianjin crafting a mechanism to make this accounting method more transparent, the review process would do little more than make a bad approach transparently bad.

Similarly disappointing is the lack of progress in the REDD-plus Partnership, which 50 countries launched in May 2010 to provide billions of dollars toward reducing deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) in developing countries. It's particularly dismaying that a process launched with such high hopes earlier this year is being bogged down by debates over procedural hurdles.

REDD policies are crucial, since deforestation and forest degradation account for 15 to 17 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Donor countries must stop dickering and start releasing the funding needed for this partnership to make REDD-plus a reality.

Global talks not the only way forward

Success in Cancún will be measured by adoption of a strong and balanced set of decisions, as well as a work plan for a way forward to South Africa's COP in December 2011. Cancún must put us back on a track to an eventual comprehensive approach to reducing global emissions and achieving climate safety.

But to reach climate safety, we may not be able to wait on the U.N. process. We're in a critical period: emissions must start to decline between now and 2020.

While efforts toward a comprehensive approach are being made, it is incumbent on major emitters – as well as on other areas like shipping and aviation that don't fit neatly into individual countries' responsibilities – to begin now the shift to a low carbon economy.

And while it is easy to make the UNFCCC process the scapegoat for the current paralyzed state the negotiations are in, it's highly doubtful that simply shifting the talks to another forum would resolve the problem.

Until major economies are prepared to put in the hard work needed to find genuine solutions for all parties, countries will continue treading water, no matter which forum's banner hangs over the conference center.

Posted in Cancún (COP-16), UN negotiations| 2 Responses

Clean Energy Ministerial: a modest move in a good direction

Ministers, senior officials and business leaders representing the world’s biggest economies at the first ever Clean Energy Ministerial in Washington this week took an important step in addressing the nuts and bolts of technological innovation for clean energy and energy conservation.

It is encouraging to see that despite the long way we have to go on national and international climate policies, nations are beginning to share the expertise that is crucial to making real greenhouse gas reductions.

Policy will be toothless without the know how to move nations to clean energy economies.  At the same time, we will need greater levels of ambition and stronger policy signals if these technologies are ever to be deployed at the scale needed to make a difference.

EDF encourages the participants to expand future summits to include the Small Island Developing States and other coastal nations that are already suffering the impact of climate change and making public commitments to transforming to low energy economies.

See a letter that EDF and other NGOs sent last week to Secretary Chu, host of the Ministerial.

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