Author Archives: Nat Keohane

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

Lima climate talks: What progress can be made at COP 20?

Coming into this year’s UN climate talks in Lima, countries were riding a wave of positive momentum generated by good news.

COP20 plenary

As climate talks in Lima enter their final week, the main question is how much progress negotiators will make toward an effective international agreement for the long run. Source: Flickr (UNclimatechange)

In Beijing last month, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies — and largest emitters — stood together to underscore their joint commitment to addressing climate change.

A few weeks prior, the European Union announced its plans to reduce emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

As a result, the three jurisdictions that account for nearly half of annual carbon pollution worldwide have all made significant commitments to reduce or limit their emissions (although more ambitious cuts are needed to put the world on a path to climate safety).

As with many important topics, however, to get a full sense of how the UN climate negotiations are going requires also looking beyond the headlines.

As the talks enter their second and final week, some of the developments outside of the spotlight are raising concerns even as the US-China bilateral agreement continues to be the basis for broader optimism.

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Posted in Lima (COP-20), News, UN negotiations| 1 Response

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

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


(Image: Jane Kratochvil)

We saw the largest climate rally in history draw 400,000 people – up from the 250,000 we had initially hoped for – and then the United Nations Climate Summit, where 125 heads of state joined business and civic leaders to discuss ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Another highlight for the week was the growing momentum for putting a price on carbon. More than 1,000 businesses and investors, nearly 100 national, state, province and city governments, and more than 30 non-profit organizations called for expanding emissions trading and other policies that create market incentives for cutting pollution.

Could it be that we’re finally reaching the point of meaningful action on climate change? To find out, I asked colleagues at Environmental Defense Fund who participated in the Climate Summit for their key take-aways from the week.

Here’s their report:


Eric Pooley, Sr. Vice President, Strategy and Communications: This march shot down, once and for all, the old canard that Americans “don't care” about climate change. And it reminded me what an extremely big tent the coalition for climate action really is — with plenty of room for groups with vastly different views.

More than 1,000 EDF members and staff, plus 300 members of the Moms Clean Air Force, were proud to be marching alongside all kinds of people from all kinds of groups from all over the country. To win on climate, we need a strong outside game and a strong inside game. EDF is helping to build both.


Mark Brownstein, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and EnergyMethane is becoming a top priority in the fight against climate change. Last week, EDF helped to launch the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil & Gas Methane Partnership, which creates a framework for oil and gas companies to measure and reduce methane emissions and report their progress.

At the summit, I watched the chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, turn to Fred Krupp to say that his company was interested in joining the six companies that already agreed to sign on. While the ultimate test of the partnership will be the reductions that it achieves, it has gotten off to a promising start.


Stephan Schwartzman, Senior Director, Tropical Forest Policy: One of the high points of the week, no doubt, came when 35 national and state governments, more than 60 non-profits and indigenous organizations, and 34 major corporations pledged to halve deforestation by 2020 – and to completely end the clearing of natural forests by 2030. EDF was proud to be part of the coalition that put the New York Declaration on Forests together.


Christopher Meyer, Amazon Basin Outreach Manager: Indigenous groups from the major rain forest basins pledged to continue to conserve 400 million hectares under their control. Those 400 million hectares are important for cultural and biodiversity purposes globally, but they also hold an estimated 71 gigatons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 11 years of emissions from the United States.

I was honored to accompany Edwin Vasquez Campos of the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, and to watch him deliver a stirring speech to a room that included the leaders of Norway and Indonesia. It was the first time an indigenous leader was given such an opportunity at the U.N.


Fred Krupp, EDF President: On September 23, EDF hosted a meeting with Chinese government officials, who reiterated their plans for a national carbon market in China, and said they’re interested in working with the United States to combat climate change. Later that day, I heard President Obama speak at the United Nations General Assembly.

I was encouraged and inspired to hear him say that the U.S. and China, “as the two largest economies and emitters in the world … have a special responsibility to lead.”


Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia: After a three-year global effort involving a large number of diverse stakeholders, we finally launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. Its purpose: To help the world figure out how to feed a growing population on a warming planet.

The alliance will use the latest technology and draw on the experience of farmers to improve livelihoods and build resilience – while at the same time cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. This is climate action that truly counts.


Ruben Lubowski, Chief Natural Resource Economist: One thing that made the Climate Summit unique was that it included corporate leaders, not just heads of state. In addition to signing the New York Declaration on Forests, chief executives of major global companies that buy and trade palm oil and other tropical commodities that drive deforestation – companies like Cargill, Unilever, and Wilmar – spoke strongly about their plans to change sourcing practices.

Already, companies accounting for about 60 percent of the world’s palm oil trade have made commitments to eliminate deforestation from their products.


Derek Walker, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and Energy: California has served as a proving ground for climate change policies that can be adapted by other jurisdictions, whether in the U.S. and abroad – and there’s more to come. My highlight for the week: when Gov. Jerry Brown said that California will set a post-2020 emissions limit and ratchet up its 33-percent renewable standard – already the nation’s top target.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols also told us that the state is preparing to develop rules on how to incorporate forest carbon credits into its carbon market – a key step toward reducing deforestation.

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

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

3 takeaways from the California, Mexico climate agreement

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

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

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices on July 30

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

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

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

1. Combatting climate change is sound economic policy

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

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

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

2. Carbon pricing continues to gain traction

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

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

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

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

3. A new model for cooperation

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

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

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

Posted in Emissions trading & markets, Mexico, News| 4 Responses
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