Author Archives: Nat Keohane

With joint action plan, US and Mexico walk the walk on energy and climate

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When President Obama joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Ottawa last month at the North American Leaders’ Summit to announce ambitious goals on climate and clean energy, EDF President Fred Krupp said that “implementing them will be the true measure of success.”

Today, the United States and Mexico took important next steps towards successful implementation, announcing new details on how the two countries will work together to:

  • curb emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas responsible for a quarter of today’s warming, by reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% by 2025;
  • expand clean energy to meet the goal of 50% electricity generation from zero-carbon sources by 2025;
  • promote residential, commercial, and industrial energy efficiency; and
  • align methodologies for estimating the social cost of carbon, a key input into understanding the benefits of reducing carbon pollution.

If the June announcements were the poetry, today’s announcements were the prose — but they are no less important for it. The work plans, workshops, technical dialogues, and regulatory processes laid out in today’s announcement are the nuts and bolts of effective governing. Just as important, the concreteness and specificity of these plans give a clear signal of the countries’ strong commitment to getting these things done.

The two countries also reaffirmed their commitment to work together in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for the adoption of a robust market-based measure to limit emissions from international aviation, and to join the Paris Agreement and support its entry into force this year.

Today’s announcement provides yet another illustration of the growing importance of North American leadership on climate and clean energy — one of many recent bright spots in climate action.

The concreteness and specificity of these plans give a clear signal of the countries’ strong commitment to getting these things done.

And it’s not hard to see why. Canada and Mexico are two of the U.S.’s top three trading partners. By advancing together, the three countries can reap the full economic and environmental benefits of a clean energy economy, creating opportunities for clean energy entrepreneurs, low-carbon investment, and sustainable economic development across the continent.

Today’s announcement is a particularly strong signal from Mexico, which — with a well-earned reputation for climate leadership on the international stage — must still demonstrate how domestic policy will match those ambitious targets. Indeed, Mexico itself has much to gain from following through. With a historically oil-dependent economy, the country is already feeling the fiscal pinch of rock-bottom global oil prices. Combine that with the enormous untapped potential and newly opened market for renewable energy generation, and pathway is clear to major opportunities for economic growth through low carbon energy and efficient production.

The path to shared global prosperity is a low-carbon path. By moving from the bold type of headline announcements to the finer print of detailed workplans, the U.S. and Mexico just took a meaningful step in that direction.

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A bright spot amid Brexit? Growing momentum for global climate action.


A new era of climate leadership: Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. announced major joint commitments on climate and clean energy on June 29, 2016. Image Source: Presidencia de la República Mexicana

Last week’s vote by the British to leave the European Union has triggered a crisis in political leadership, thrown financial markets into turmoil and prompted eulogies for the European project – even as the ultimate consequences of the vote remain uncertain.

Against that backdrop, a bit of good news may be welcome. And it comes from an unlikely quarter: climate action.

That may sound surprising at first since climate change was hardly a high-profile issue in the Brexit campaign. Voting on the referendum reflected concerns about inequality, immigration, globalization, multiculturalism and an out-of-touch political elite.

Even so, the prospect of the United Kingdom’s departure has raised concerns about impacts on climate and energy policy, including possible delays in finalizing the EU’s 2030 emissions target.

But whatever the implications may be for Britain and the EU, one thing is clear: Brexit can’t derail the overwhelming global momentum on climate action that produced the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement: Strength in numbers

A British exit from the EU would not have any effect on the formal architecture of the agreement, which was approved last December by more than 190 countries and has been signed by 177 – including each of the EU member states.

Given that overwhelming support, the agreement may very well enter into force this year – something that will happen once at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions formally join the agreement.

To date, 50 countries representing more than 53 percent of global emissions have formally joined or committed to join the agreement this year — closing in on the threshold of 55 countries and 55 percent of emissions needed for the agreement to enter into force. As a result, the agreement may well enter into force as soon as this year, even without the EU (which was not expected to join the agreement this year in any case).

This signals a remarkable shift. A decade ago, Europe was the world’s indispensable leader on climate action – and even temporary uncertainty about the pace of progress in the EU would have had repercussions around the globe.

The Paris Agreement, however, was the culmination of a paradigm shift away from a model of “top-down” climate action concentrated in a handful of countries, and toward more a more decentralized and inclusive approach.

As climate action has become much more broad-based, it has also become more resilient.

Climate leadership beyond the EU

That is not to say that leadership on climate from both the U.K. and the EU is not vital; it is, and will continue to be. Taken as a whole, Europe is still the world’s third-largest emitter. It remains a powerful and valuable voice for ambition.

Fortunately, political support for climate action in the region remains high, with 60 percent of Europeans saying global warming is already harming people around the world.

But we are long past the days when climate progress depended on one bloc of countries. Just consider this:

  • The leaders of the three North American countries met today to announce greater cooperation on climate change – including major new commitments on clean energy and on methane emissions from oil and gas.
  • Under the leadership of President Obama, the United States is now a global leader on climate action, with U.S. emissions in 2014 at 9 percent below their 2005 level, and an ambitious target of reducing emissions between 26 and 28 percent by 2025, relative to 2005.
  • President Xi Jinping of China has made tackling climate change a priority, with a commitment to ratify the Paris Agreement this year, a pledge to peak China’s emissions by 2030, if not before; and a plan to institute a nationwide emission trading program as early as next year.
  • The unprecedented bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and China, culminating in the joint announcements on climate change made by Presidents Xi and Obama in November 2014 and again in September 2015, were a crucial step in laying the foundation for success in Paris.
  • Brazil – although currently engulfed in political turmoil of its own – has reduced emissions over the past decade more than any other country, thanks to the enormous success of its Amazon states in curbing tropical deforestation.
  • India, where the moral imperative of poverty alleviation remains paramount, is committing to renewable energy and experimenting with new models of low-carbon development.

Other factors driving momentum

Underlying these country-level shifts are more fundamental drivers. The impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly more visible, in record temperatures and extreme weather events.

A clean energy revolution is underway: Wind power is competitive with coal in much of the world even without subsidies, the cost of solar panels has dropped 75 percent in less than a decade and new technologies for how we use and store energy more efficiently are transforming markets.

Meanwhile, leading companies are stepping up by reducing their carbon footprints, greening their supply chains and calling for policies such as a price on carbon.

In short, leaders around the world have come to the realization that the path to shared global prosperity is a low-carbon path.

That makes the politics of climate action more resilient now than they ever have been before. And that is good news to keep in mind in these uncertain days.

This post originally appeared June 29 on EDF Voices.

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Report back from Paris: What the new climate deal means – and where we go from here


Source: Flickr/ UNClimateChange

The United Nations climate agreement in Paris, and the intense negotiations leading up to it, were a breakthrough in a number of important ways.

First of all, the agreement represents the coming of age of climate diplomacy. It was evident from the beginning that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who chaired the talks, had the full trust and confidence of the room.

He artfully identified a zone of agreement among 196 delegations that gave nearly everyone something they wanted without crossing red lines.

The agreement was also the culmination of months of bilateral diplomacy at the highest levels, most visibly between the U.S. and China. The direct involvement of President Obama and other world leaders was critical to success – and shows a strategic savvy and leader-level involvement that we haven’t seen in past climate talks.

But it’s the language of the agreement itself, and the broad backing it received, that makes it such a big deal. It means that we now have a chance – not a guarantee, but a chance – to put the world on a healthier path.

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Posted in Deforestation, Emissions trading & markets, News, Paris, REDD+, UN negotiations| Leave a comment

To know what the United States is really doing on climate change, look past the political theater

Photo of U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Clean Power Plan – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program to cut carbon pollution from the country's largest emitting sector, electric generating stations – is here to stay. Image: cropped photo from Flickr/ USCapitol.

It’s always hard to interpret political maneuvering in other countries. Governments resign, coalitions form, legislation means something other than what it seems to mean. So in the coming weeks, when newspapers around the world run headlines saying “U.S. Congress Votes to Overturn Clean Power Plan,” their readers may be forgiven for some confusion about America’s position coming into the Paris climate talks.

The first and most important thing to understand is that the Clean Power Plan – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program to cut carbon pollution from our largest emitting sector, electric generating stations – is here to stay. Bills to “block” the Plan may pass the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, but they will go no further. That is because those bills cannot become law unless President Obama signs them. He has made it abundantly clear that he won’t agree to dismantle his leading climate initiative.

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4 wins we need to make the Paris climate talks a success

Christiana Figueres photo

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, will lead the climate conference that kicks off in Paris on Nov. 30, 2015. Source: Flickr/ UNclimatechange

In just a few weeks, negotiators from nearly every country in the world will gather at a sprawling airfield outside Paris to secure a new international agreement on climate change.

The goal of the Paris gathering – known as the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21 – is a verifiable accord that allows countries to make and meet commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Paris agreement can also establish the rules of the road for how countries monitor and report their emissions and reductions – so that the rest of the world knows that they are following through, and can hold accountable those who do not.

Of course, we already know that COP21 won’t solve everything.

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Lima climate talks: What really happened.


At the Lima climate negotiations, negotiators reached a narrow outcome that provided a little more clarity on the path to reaching a new international climate agreement in Paris in 2015. Source: Flickr (UNEP)

In the wee hours of last Sunday morning, negotiators at the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, finally concluded this year’s talks with a narrow outcome that provided a little more clarity on the path to reaching a new international climate agreement during the December 2015 talks in Paris.

Although the talks have been characterized as the “first time” all countries have agreed to cut emissions, that’s actually not the case.

Although the talks have been characterized as the “first time” that all countries have agreed to cut emissions, that’s actually not the case. That key development came in South Africa in 2011, where the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action established a process to develop a new agreement “applicable to all Parties” (the same accord that will be finalized in Paris).

And Durban itself built on the progress made in 2009 in the Copenhagen Accord, which included pledges by developing as well as developed countries to undertake mitigation actions. That put a crack in the so-called “firewall” that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol had raised between developed countries (which took on binding emissions reductions) and developing countries (which did not).

Nonetheless, the Lima Call for Climate Action did take an important step forward in reaffirming this trend.

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Posted in Lima (COP-20), UN negotiations| 2 Responses
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