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How Mexico’s reforms open new doors for reaching clean energy and climate goals

(This post originally appeared on Foreign Policy Blogs on Feb. 24)

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With a new climate change law and President Enrique Peña Nieto's overhaul of federal oil and electricity monopolies, Mexico now has important opportunities to meet renewable energy and emissions reduction goals and grow its economy. Credit: Edgar Alberto Domínguez Cataño

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s major policy reform proposals, on everything from new taxes on soda pop to amending the 70-year constitutional prohibition on foreign investment in Mexico’s petroleum sector, have swept through that nation’s congress with breathtaking speed.

The reform agenda did not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention. Peña Nieto had campaigned on a platform of increasing economic growth and jobs through major (and controversial) reforms. The energy reform restructures and opens up Mexico’s federal energy monopolies to foreign investment — a major goal being to boost the country’s oil and gas production.

But in all the discussion of shifting the global energy map, a critical potential is being overlooked: The overhaul of Mexico’s federal oil and electricity monopolies also breathes new life into prospects for making the energy sector cleaner and opening the door to green growth in the long run.

Mexico now has important opportunities to meet renewable energy and emissions reduction goals and grow its economy.

Energy and climate goals

Mexico’s new climate change law, which I’ve written about previously, sets voluntary national targets to reduce Mexico’s total emissions to half of 2000 levels by 2050 and requires Mexico to get over a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2024.

At present, Mexico’s energy sector is responsible for roughly 65 percent of its national greenhouse gas emissions and renewables make up a small fraction of electricity production. Over the last decade, multiple independent analyses have shown certain measures in the energy sector could save or even make Mexico money while keeping millions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere.

So, if Mexico’s energy sector could make money while modernizing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (seemingly a win-win), what’s the hold up? Some of the most significant barriers have been a shortage of new capital to invest in modernization, efficiency, and long-term upgrades, as well as old-school inertia and institutional resistance to doing things differently.

But much of that old system, without a doubt, is changing now.

Moving toward a greener future

The latest reforms and the 2012 climate change law lay the groundwork for the country’s transition from relying on an aging infrastructure, old technologies and heavy fossil fuel dependence to a green growth future.

1. Emissions reduction targets

Mexico has committed to reducing its emissions 30 percent below business-as-usual levels by 2020 and 50 percent below 2000 levels by 2050. While voluntary, the targets it set at the U.N. climate negotiations in 2009 and reiterated in its climate law are a serious commitment on an international stage, and Mexico’s high-profile leadership on climate change should not be taken lightly. Experts from Mexico’s environment ministry and National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change based these targets on extensive analysis — and they were put on the table precisely because they can be achieved with the right incentives.

2. National emissions registry and green light on emissions trading

Mexico’s climate change law created the national emissions registry as part of its National Climate Change System; polluting industries’ reporting is mandatory, standardized and public. Addressing emissions across an entire national economy through the integrated measurement, reporting, accounting and transparency required by the national registry helps establish the building blocks for emissions trading. (The law also explicitly authorized, but did not require, the development of a voluntary emissions trading system.)

3. Price on carbon in fossil fuels

Fiscal reforms by the Peña Nieto administration include a tax on carbon in fossil fuel products, which aims to reduce Mexico’s emissions by seven million tons annually, and applies to everything, from diesel, to coal, to propane. The amount of the tax is based on the carbon content and linked to global market prices for carbon tons.

Built in to the tax legislation is eligibility for companies to pay the carbon tax through carbon offsets projects of an equivalent number of tons.

4. Pilot trading of carbon credits

The passage of the new carbon tax coincided with the announcement of a new offset trading platform on the Mexican stock exchange where credits for carbon emissions reductions (in tons) can be purchased either for the voluntary market, or in lieu of paying the carbon tax for those tons. This would create, in essence, a mini-compliance market for carbon credits.

It’s unclear what the scale and rules around offsets under the tax law will be, but the platform will mean developing key precursors to a future emissions-trading system — accountability, transparency, tracking of credits and transactions.

While Mexico may be tip-toeing into the emissions-trading-system arena, analysis by Environmental Defense Fund shows developing a full-scale emissions-trading system would be profitable and effective for meeting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions targets. Legally binding targets would be a necessary step in getting there.

5. New opportunities for capital, technology, and transparency

Most of Mexico’s energy infrastructure to meet demand beyond 2020 is yet to be built and it is widely acknowledged that the potential for renewable energy in Mexico vastly outweighs the current development. Opening Mexico’s major energy producing sectors to private investment provides capital, pressure to reduce waste and increase transparency to attract investment, and — particularly in the electricity sector — opens the field to a wide array of clean energy players who previously could not break in to Mexico.

Key pieces of the policy outlined have been driven by different goals and approaches, and of course, spanned a presidential election. But they do provide essential ingredients for a cohesive climate and energy policy and an effective mechanism to get to Mexico’s climate and development goals, and the time is ripe to put them together.

The Peña Nieto administration has already issued its climate change strategy (see my analysis from last June), and a roadmap for implementing climate policy between now and 2018 — just approved by its high-level commission — is due to be released this spring. Legislation to implement the Peña Nieto reforms is being crafted now.

Mexico will face the challenge of balancing the much-hyped economic potential of tapping its fossil fuel reserves with the climate change leadership it has established over the last decade. But as the world aspires to transition toward low-carbon economies that are no longer dependent on the fossil fuel reserves so keenly eyed in Mexico, there is significantly underappreciated opportunity here — to reduce the environmental impact of old, dirty sources of energy, while taking the long view and building a sustainable future economy.

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Passengers on India’s largest airline can now invest in low-carbon rural development

Airline travelers in India who fly the country’s largest airline now have an opportunity to support low-carbon rural development programs across the country.

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A new partnership will allow passengers on India's largest airline to invest in offsets that promote low-carbon rural development programs, including low-carbon farming. Credit: Richie Ahuja

The landmark partnership was unveiled this weekend between the Fair Climate Network (FCN), a consortium of Indian groups that is committed to improving health and livelihoods in rural communities, promoting climate resilience and reducing climate pollution, and IndiGo, the country’s largest and fastest growing airline.

The company will use the funds collected through this voluntary program to purchase some of the offsets generated by more than 300,000 Indian families from 36 climate mitigation projects. The projects, being developed and implemented by FCN, help families in rural India gain access to clean, reliable energy and improve farm income while cutting carbon emissions.

These climate adaptation and mitigation activities include innovative and sustainable low-carbon farming techniques and cooking with clean methane power instead of highly polluting traditional wood stoves. The families produce the methane fuel by using biogas digesters to process livestock manure.

Why this is a big deal for India – and Indians

It bears repeating that this is an Indian company buying carbon offsets created in India. We’ve seen other projects in India create offsets that have been purchased by, for example, European organizations. But this project is truly an effort of and for the people of the world’s largest democracy.

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300,000 Indian families participate in programs under the Fair Climate Network, a consortium of Indian groups committed to improving health and livelihoods in rural communities. Credit: Tal Lee Anderman

In offering this program, Indigo is providing its customers an opportunity to support its commitment to shared prosperity and “inclusive” growth – growth that benefits not only rural families that are members of the Fair Climate Network, but also IndiGo’s passengers and all Indians, who will benefit from a healthier environment.

Ram Esteves, the Convener of FCN said addressing rural development is a "high priority," adding:

We need programs that support economic development and deliver social, health and environmental co-benefits, including climate adaptation and mitigation. IndiGo has reposed faith and trust in this understanding of inclusive development where a stable and healthy economy is good for business. This partnership is a strong step in this direction.

IndiGo’s President and Executive Director Aditya Ghosh called the move a “momentous opportunity” for the company, saying:

We strive to make a difference each day and find solutions that help manage our carbon footprint. We are delighted to partner with FCN on this initiative which not only helps us and our passengers achieve just that, but goes far beyond by creating a sustainable positive impact and improving many individuals’ livelihoods.

The company is showing leadership by making this commitment to inclusive growth and offsets, along with other green technology investments, an integral component of its future growth. This partnership can serve as a model for Indian business leaders looking to make a difference in their communities.

Learn more at:

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Warsaw talks can lay groundwork for new international climate architecture

For the next two weeks, representatives from more than 190 countries are meeting in Warsaw for the annual international climate negotiations, known as the 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — or “COP-19.”

Countries in Warsaw face the challenge of how to invite broad participation to an international climate agreement, while encouraging ambitious emissions cuts. Above: UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres gives a welcome speech in Warsaw. Source: Flickr (UNFCCC)

But while the delegates are gathering in Poland — and their hearts are with the Philippines — their minds will be 850 miles to the west, in Paris. That’s because in two years’ time, the same set of countries will meet there to conclude a new global agreement to fight climate change, intended to take effect from 2020.

As a result, even as delegates in Warsaw continue to work on individual issues – such as how to support policies that reduce emissions from deforestation, and how to finance work that reduces greenhouse gas emissions — they are also beginning to grapple with how to knit those components together in an overarching agreement.

No major breakthroughs are expected this year, but many nations have expressed the desire to develop a skeletal framework and flesh out a coherent design for the 2015 agreement.

Their challenge: How to invite broad participation, while simultaneously encouraging ambitious emissions cuts?

A middle path between “top-down” and “bottom-up”

The answer may be to seek a middle ground between what are sometimes called the “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches.

The top-down approach envisions a sweeping agreement that would allocate the allowable “carbon budget” among countries and create a comprehensive system to implement it. Solving the problem in a single go would be great for the climate. But that approach doesn’t mesh with the political realities of tackling the climate issue in an arena with 190+ different nations, each with its own energy mix and development priorities. Those realities came into sharp relief four years ago in Copenhagen, where grand hopes of a “global deal” ran into the reality of a UN process better suited to incremental progress.

At the other extreme, a purely “bottom-up” approach may appear more realistic, but risks achieving little. Without any framework in place to encourage countries to undertake ambitious actions, to verify that they are abiding by commitments they have made, or to provide them with the tools they need to carry them out, it is unlikely that their pledges will add up to anything remotely ambitious enough to solve the problem, or that their pledges will be implemented.

A middle road is needed: a path between “top down” and “bottom up,” and an approach that recognizes that while the UN can’t solve the problem at one blow, it has a key role to play in supporting and promoting effective action by countries. The key to this approach is constructing a legal framework, or “architecture,” that provides a home for a range of different national approaches while ensuring market integrity and encouraging ambition.

In Warsaw, an important portion of the discussion about the architecture of the 2015 agreement will play out in a track known as the “framework for various approaches,” established in Durban in 2011. Created as a forum for exploring both market and non-market approaches for reducing emissions, the “FVA" offers an important opportunity to set guidelines for the design of effective, high-integrity national programs. As a result, it provides an opening to chart the middle path.

Minimum pillars of an effective climate architecture

A sound climate architecture should give countries the confidence to take on and implement ambitious targets. It can do that by ensuring rigorous and transparent monitoring and reporting — so that countries can verify that other nations are following through on their own commitments. An architecture should create incentives for early action, even before a new agreement takes effect from 2020.

An architecture should also establish minimum guidelines or standards for the integrity of domestic programs, enabling countries to evaluate each other’s actions. Such an approach would also have the effect of facilitating environmentally sound linkages between and among those nations with existing and emerging carbon markets.

This kind of architecture could then become a “gift that keeps on giving,” as it would reinforce nations’ willingness to undertake even more ambitious targets in the future, secure in the knowledge that their negotiating partners are also undertaking and implementing their commitments.

Fortunately, establishing these guidelines does not require re-inventing the wheel: existing domestic and international emissions reductions programs have provided lessons that can be applied to both non-market and market approaches to reducing greenhouse gases. (We’ve summarized these in our most recent submission to the UN [PDF].)

One clear lesson from existing programs is that a workable and effective agreement to reduce carbon pollution would contain the following “minimum pillars”:

  1. National emissions budgets, with sectoral or jurisdictional emissions caps which may be internationally or domestically enforceable, supported by rigorous measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of emissions following internationally agreed standards, to ensure transparency;
  2. Incentives for early action;
  3. For those nations that choose to use them, high-integrity market mechanisms to meet their emissions caps; and
  4. Flexibility in how nations might participate in a new agreement, recognizing that some nations may not be able to ratify internationally binding elements of any final 2015 deal.

Our policy brief, A Home for All: Architecture of a future global framework for mitigation action [PDF], has more details.

What the Warsaw talks can deliver

Although nations are unlikely to define the content and structure for the 2015 agreement at this level of specificity by the close of the Warsaw meeting, we hope countries can agree on a clear blueprint for the next phase of work that incorporates these “minimum pillars” of transparency and environmental efficacy.

The Warsaw meetings are unlikely to generate much front-page news. But behind the scenes, the talks can play an important role in preparing the ground for Paris. The key task is to lay the foundation for a durable and dynamic legal architecture that accommodates real-world constraints, while refusing to accept a lack of ambition: an architecture that provides a home for all nations to contribute to addressing the shared global challenge of climate change.

As the impacts of warming temperatures and rising seas become ever more apparent around the globe, the need for such an architecture becomes all the more urgent.

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In Warsaw climate talks, potential to make real progress on key issues

Countries meeting in Warsaw for the annual United Nations climate conference won't  finalize the structure of an international agreement to address climate change, but they should make progress on some important topics that will serve as the foundation for such an agreement.

Countries meeting in Warsaw for the UN climate negotiations can make real progress on key issues that will serve as the foundation of an international climate agreement. Above: Election of the negotiations' President His Excellency Mr. Marcin Korolec. Source: Flickr (UNFCCC)

Over the next two weeks, more than 190 countries will be working on topics that constitute the nuts and bolts of an international climate agreement, such as how to support policies that reduce emissions from deforestation (REDD+), and how to finance work that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Countries at the 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — or “COP 19” — also face the broader issue of how to knit these topics together in an overarching agreement, set to be finalized at the 2015 negotiations in Paris. The 2015 agreement's structure, or framework, will be an important area for discussion in Poland.

Nathaniel Keohane, EDF’s vice president for international climate and a former economic adviser in the Obama administration, said:

Negotiators in Warsaw need to clear out the brush so they can see a path to resolving major issues on the road to Paris.

Warsaw is unlikely to generate front-page headlines – but below the surface, there is considerable potential to make real progress on key foundational issues.

This is the year for negotiators to get their hands dirty and prepare the ground for an effective framework in 2015 – one that encourages countries to take ambitious emissions cuts and invites all countries to participate.

Read the full news release: In Warsaw UN climate meeting, focus is on 2015 Paris talks as countries take on foundational issues

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Aviation emissions deal: ICAO takes one step forward, half step back

ICAO's decision today on aviation emissions offers the prospect of the world's first carbon cap on an entire global sector.

The United Nations agency for aviation today launched a three-year effort to achieve a global market-based measure to cap the climate pollution of international aviation.

After nights of lavish receptions – a testament to the financial robustness of international aviation – delegates finally got down to the hard work of negotiating a resolution on how ICAO will tackle the climate change issue.

The decision by the 191 countries in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop a measure to limit the emissions of international civil aviation offers the prospect of the world's first carbon cap on an entire global sector.

Last night, we said the proposal – which was adopted around noon today – amounted to “one step forward, half a step back."  Here’s what we meant.

 One step forward, half a step back

The decision by the 38th General Assembly to develop, by 2016, a global market-based measure capping international aviation’s carbon pollution at 2020 levels is a step forward on the path to averting dangerous climate change. If it were a country, aviation would rank in the world’s top ten largest emitters, and it is one of the fastest growing sources of global warming pollution.

With this decision, ICAO has opened a door to the possibility of a future global cap on these emissions and an array of programs – including a market-based measure sought by both the industry and the environmental community – to ensure that the cap is met.

However, a bedrock principle of international law is that nations have the sovereign right to limit pollution emitted in their borders. So, ICAO’s attempt to narrow the ambit for countries to implement their own market-based measures to cap and cut the burgeoning global warming pollution from international aviation pushed it half a step back.

Differences erupt in waning hours

Deep differences between and among countries erupted in the waning hours at the just-concluded Assembly, including disagreements about how and even whether to complete this task.  At several points the meeting seemed destined to disintegrate.

An acrimonious vote on whether countries could bring aviation emissions under their national emissions trading system nearly caused the meeting to disintegrate.

In the end delegates agreed 1) nations should seek the agreement of other nations before imposing their market-based measures on flights from those other nations; and 2) such national market-based measures should exempt flights to and from nations whose flag carriers hold less than 1% share of the global market, measured in “revenue-ton-kilometers.”

Next steps

Remember – this decision is only a first step, but it is an important one because it provides a path forward for a cap on the aviation sector.

Now it’s time to shift to the hard work of designing the global market-based mechanism and getting 191 countries to agree to it.

Intensive efforts will be needed to make ICAO’s promise a reality. It’s not the time to let up, and ICAO can’t be let off the hook.

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Bloomberg-EDF analysis: Mandates plus markets could make airlines' emissions goals readily affordable

The aviation industry can affordably meet and beat its goal of halting carbon emissions growth from 2020 if it uses high-quality, low-cost carbon offsets, according to a new analysis from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Airlines’ goal of “carbon-neutral growth from 2020” could be so readily affordable that governments justifiably could hold airlines to a much tighter emissions target. Image source

Our analysis comes on the heels of a consolidated industry call for the governments of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to commit, at their next triennial September meeting, to adopt a mandatory global program to limit aviation’s carbon pollution by 2016 at the latest.

While forecasts are inherently uncertain, best estimates indicate that while new technologies, operations and infrastructure can help industry dampen emissions growth, substantial increases in aviation emissions are likely after 2020. Consequently, to meet their proposed mandatory goal of "carbon-neutral growth from 2020," it is very likely that airlines will need some kind of carbon offsetting mechanism.

An offset mechanism that limits credit supply to high-quality carbon units currently available and expected to come on-line in the future, could let airlines meet their emissions target at very modest cost. If governments adopt tough criteria ensuring that offsets represent real reductions in net carbon emissions, and if industry moves swiftly to capture those carbon units, the costs to airlines could be quite low – e.g., less than 0.5% of projected total international airline revenue in 2015, and less than a third of the fees airlines collected last year for checked bags, legroom and snacks.

In the current round of talks, the aviation industry is asking governments to mandate caps on airlines’ emissions at 2020 levels. Our analysis finds that a well-designed, high-integrity carbon offset program would make carbon-neutral growth from 2020 so affordable, that governments justifiably could hold airlines to a much tighter emissions target. That could mean putting back on the table a target the industry had proposed several years ago, namely cutting emissions 50% by 2050.

As my report co-author, Bloomberg New Energy Finance chief economist Guy Turner, said:

These findings show that the international aviation sector can control its CO2 emissions easily and cheaply by using market based mechanisms. The relatively small cost and ability to pass any costs through into ticket prices, should encourage the international aviation sector to accelerate and deepen its emission reduction pledges. More ambitious emission reductions now look much more doable, than mere stabilization from 2020.

Our analysis offers context to the costs of such a global market-based mechanism using offsets with strong environmental integrity, which the aviation industry called on ICAO last month to adopt to keep the industry’s net emissions stable from 2020 on. Such an offset program would allow the airlines to meet their emissions targets by both making emissions cuts within the aviation sector, and drawing on offsets that represent real emission cuts in other sectors.

Blog-exclusive addendum: effect on ticket prices

A well-designed global offset program, using high-quality offsets that represent real reductions in emissions, could add only a few dollars to a typical international fare:

  • From Paris (CDG) to Beijing (PEK): $1.90 – $3.00
  • From Paris (CDG) to Delhi (DEL): $1.50-$2.30
  • From Paris (CDG) to Cape Town (CPT): $2.40-$3.70
  • From Paris (CDG) to Buenos Aires (EZE): $2.70-$4.30
  • From New York (JFK) to Buenos Aires (EZE): $2.10-$3.20

Read more in our press release and the full BNEF-EDF analysis, Carbon-Neutral Growth for Aviation: At What Price?

Also posted in Aviation, Emissions trading & markets |: | 2 Responses

What President Obama's Climate Action Plan means for international efforts on climate change

In a powerful speech earlier today, President Obama announced a comprehensive, common-sense set of steps that the Administration is taking to address climate change by cutting carbon pollution, preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change, and leading international efforts to address global climate change. It’s worth taking a look at what the President’s speech, and the Climate Action Plan he unveiled today, might mean in the international arena.

President Obama's new Climate Action Plan emphasizes the U.S. role in global efforts to stop climate change.

Much of the plan concerns what the U.S. – the world’s second-largest emitter – can do to reduce emissions at home. A major component is the President’s decision to direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move ahead with carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, which account for about 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Putting in place such standards – using authority the Administration already has under the Clean Air Act – is the single most important step the U.S. can take to reduce carbon emissions.

More broadly, the President laid out a whole-of-government approach that includes actions from the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Interior, Transportation, and other agencies across the federal government. (EDF President Fred Krupp provides an overview of the plan and his reactions to it on our EDF Voices blog.)

But there is also a welcome emphasis on the U.S. role in global efforts to address climate change, through measures that include reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), expanding clean energy use, mobilizing climate finance and leading efforts to address climate change through international negotiations.

The President’s plan highlights the recent agreement between the U.S. and China to work together in phasing down the consumption and production of HFCs – industrial gases used in applications such as refrigeration and cooling that are thousands of times more potent warmers than carbon dioxide on a pound-for-pound basis. And the plan points to the critical importance of helping vulnerable countries adapt to a changing climate, pledging to strengthen resilience to climate change around the world.

Comprehensive climate action plan includes efforts on international aviation emissions and coal-fired power plants around the world

Among the many international issues covered by the plan – many describing work that is already underway – two specific commitments stand out as worth focusing on in the coming months.

1) First, the Climate Action Plan recognizes the importance of addressing global warming pollution from international air travel, highlighting that the Administration is “working towards agreement to develop a comprehensive global approach” in the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO. Progress on aviation is important not only because of the emissions involved (if global aviation were a country, it would rank in the world’s top ten largest emitters) but also because it represents an area where the international community could make headway in the near term. An agreement in ICAO at its upcoming meeting in September would give a valuable boost to international efforts more broadly, simply by demonstrating that agreement in multilateral forums is possible.

Of course, “working toward agreement” is pretty broad. But it seems reasonable to expect the Administration to be at least as ambitious as the airline industry itself. Earlier this month, the International Air Transport Association called for ICAO to agree on a global market-based measure to cap emissions from international aviation, and put forward principles to help governments reach that agreement.

ICAO should commit, this year, to develop such a detailed approach over the next three years and formally adopt it at the next ICAO Assembly in 2016. Such an ICAO agreement won’t happen without visible and assertive U.S. backing, however. That’s why it was so welcome to see international aviation mentioned in the action plan – and why we (and the rest of the environmental community) will be watching the Administration’s actions with interest over the next few months, and holding the Administration to its commitment to lead.

2) Second, the plan announces a new and stronger commitment to end financing for new coal-fired power plants around the world. The President “calls for an end to U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas,” with narrow exceptions for the world’s poorest countries (in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists) or coal plants that capture and store their carbon emissions. This pledge appears to go considerably beyond the guidelines for coal-plant financing by multilateral development banks that the U.S. Treasury released in 2009, both by setting a higher bar for what coal plants would still be allowed and by covering all U.S. government support (including financing from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Ex-Im Bank, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and USAID).

As importantly, the plan commits the Administration to “work actively to secure the agreement of other countries and multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies as soon as possible.” That sort of leadership will be critical, since past attempts to limit financing of new coal plants by multilateral development banks have run into significant opposition. A bright-line position from the U.S. government could be crucial in providing clarity on the issue and helping to push the world away from coal.

Ultimately, the international impact of the President’s speech and Climate Action Plan will depend on the emissions reductions that result. Carried out ambitiously, the steps announced yesterday could help put the United States on the path to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 – meeting the target that the U.S. inscribed in the Copenhagen Accord in 2009.

Making good on that pledge, even in the face of intransigence by the U.S. Congress, would provide a welcome sign of renewed U.S. leadership. Today’s climate plan is an important step in the right direction.

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Hopeful signs for U.S. and Chinese Cooperation on Climate Change

The past week has offered a thrilling glimpse into the future for the millions of people around the U.S. and across the world who are yearning for real solutions to climate change. On June 18, Shenzhen, an economically-vibrant city of 15 million on the South China Sea, launched the first of seven Chinese regional pilot carbon market systems slated to begin by the end of 2014. The Shenzhen market is set include at least 635 local companies that contribute approximately 40% of the city’s CO2 emissions, and is expected to result in a 21% decrease in the carbon intensity of the economy in just two years. Shenzhen is one of seven carbon trading pilots that represent about 25% of China’s GDP and may include thousands of companies emitting hundreds of millions of tons of CO2.

Derek Walker is Associate Vice President of EDF's U.S. Climate and Energy Program.

Inspiration, encouragement and support for Shenzhen’s maiden market launch came from a familiar place:  California. Both Shenzhen and California have well-established reputations as trailblazers on innovative solutions that match economic growth with environmental gains. Perhaps it will be little surprise, then, that none other than the state’s top climate change official,  California Air Resources Board (CARB) Chair Mary Nichols and Governor Brown’s personal representative, Wade Crowfoot, stood with senior officials from Shenzhen and from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) at last Tuesday’s launch. Nichols has presided over the development of California’s groundbreaking climate change effort and oversaw the Fall 2013 launch of California’s carbon market, the first comprehensive state-level system in the U.S.

The California market is a promising model for Shenzhen and the other Chinese pilots. California has held three allowance auctions to date, with strong participation by companies and a modest increase in the price of allowances with each auction. Ultimately, California’s carbon market will be a key element driving the state back to 1990 levels of greenhouse gas pollution by 2020, accompanied by dramatic improvements in air quality and significant incentives to carbon-cutting entrepreneurs. Nichols formalized the partnership between California and Shenzhen by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) paving the way for technical cooperation between officials and other stakeholders engaged in the respective carbon market programs.

The California-Shenzhen partnership is just the tip of the iceberg in the crescendo of cooperation between the U.S. and China.  Earlier this month in California, President Obama and Chinese President Xi signed an agreement to collectively fight dangerous hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are used in air conditioning and refrigeration.  HFCs are pound-for-pound some the most potent greenhouse gases, and controlling them will be an essential short-term piece of solving the climate change puzzle.

As California and Shenzhen roll up their sleeves to support one another’s ambitious climate change programs, they will provide demonstrable proof of the promise of cooperation between their nations and will deliver results and momentum towards national action. In her remarks at the Shenzhen launch, Mary Nichols called the leadership of California, Shenzhen, and other provinces, states and cities around the world “a foundation that national and international action can spring from.”

The Chinese carbon trading pilots are strong signals that climate change is an issue to be taken seriously and to be acted on expeditiously. In the U.S., President Barack Obama takes the stage in Washington tomorrow to lay out his Administration’s vision for bold national action to fight climate change, an eagerly-anticipated outline of how progress will be achieved towards Obama’s 2009 commitment to slash greenhouse gas pollution 17% by 2020.

While 2020 will be an important milestone in charting progress, it is but the beginning of a long journey. Climate change science couldn’t be clearer about the need to achieve dramatic greenhouse gas reductions by mid-century. And no long-term solution to the environmental challenge of our lifetime will be found without the leadership of the world’s top greenhouse gas polluters. That leadership is now coalescing into national and bilateral action and, for the first time in some time, offers hope that we are headed in the right direction.

Cross-posted from EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

Also posted in Emissions trading & markets |: | 1 Response

Mexico's new president releases promising strategy for national climate action

Mexico is the 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and has been a leader among developing and middle-income countries on international climate policy – and so far domestic actions appear to be backing the country’s international commitments to reduce its emissions. While the strategy does not provide many new details, it does seem to carefully examine and support key aspects of Mexico’s new climate change law for implementation.

Mexico's new National Strategy on Climate Change lays out actions the country could take to reduce its emissions domestically. (Source)

The strategy was called for in Mexico’s General Law on Climate Change (LGCC), which was signed into law last June. Because the sweeping, but extremely general, legislation predated Enrique Peña Nieto’s new presidency, it was an open question whether the incoming administration would champion the issue or downplay implementation.

Peña Nieto’s administration hinted at an answer by releasing its official strategy for addressing climate change earlier this month.

The new National Strategy on Climate Change, released June 3 by the Environment Ministry (SEMARNAT), lays out a number of potential actions Mexico can take to reduce emissions – also known as “mitigation.” These actions focus on prioritizing mitigation potential, cost-efficiency, and additional benefits for reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions.  Some highlights include:

    • Accelerating the transition to low-carbon energy sources, with a goal to produce 35% of electricity from “clean” sources by 2024.
    • Development of new economic instruments to finance mitigation, including the potential development of an emissions trading system.
    • Reducing subsidies that favor inefficient use of resources, and redirection of current subsidies from fossil fuels.
    • Reducing energy intensity through conservation and efficiency measures.
    • Integrating national emissions reductions targets into the federal, state and sectoral programs.
    • Improving forest management and reducing deforestation through REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) policies and other measures.
    • Reducing emissions of short-term climate forcers and other greenhouse gases.

There are a number of highly encouraging signs from its release, which was  a few weeks before the official deadline. The Peña Nieto administration reiterated and expanded on some  key components of the law and the strategy maintains its focus on developing a climate change program that is centered on reaching Mexico’s emissions reductions targets.

Recall that only last summer, the historic climate law passed in Mexico’s outgoing congress with broad support across parties, including the current president’s. The comprehensive and historic law laid out a broad institutional framework; established federal responsibility for the development of strategies, plans and programs to address climate change mitigation and adaptation; and put forward ambitious (though still non-binding) domestic targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

We noted then that the real guts of how Mexico would achieve those targets was left to be determined, and ultimately its success would rely on strength of commitment to implementation by Mexico’s next federal government.

What the climate strategy could mean for Mexico

The good news is that the new administration’s plan appears to take full advantage of the framework laid out by the law through the new “National Climate Change System.” The plan also includes the key commitment that national mitigation targets of 30% below business as usual by 2020 and 50 % below 2000 levels by 2050 will be integrated into the federal, state and sectoral development programs – where the real action on emissions reductions will be.

Notably, its introduction also frames the strategy explicitly in an international context where many countries, as well as some states and provinces, are developing or implementing emissions trading systems as a cost-efficient mechanism for reducing emissions.  (You can learn more about emissions trading programs around the globe in EDF’s new resource, The World’s Carbon Markets.)

Clearly, Mexico has taken note of its potential to participate in carbon markets in building a low-carbon economy – and rightly so.

With a new administration that has focused on public commitments to economic growth, job creation, and energy, taking advantage of such tools could form a key part of reducing emissions nationally while setting the country on a path to prosperity and low carbon development for the future.  Mexico, in particular, has a wealth of opportunities for effective, cost-efficient emissions reductions in many key sectors.

As an international leader on climate, Mexico also appears interested in leveraging this positive domestic action globally.  The document states:

This strategy is a fundamental step to implement the General Climate Change Law and shows that Mexico is advancing in complying with its international commitments. To the extent that it is executed, it will also be the best argument to demand collective action against climate change from the international community.

With the world’s global carbon-dioxide emissions reaching a record high in 2012, there is still a chance to avoid the worst effects of climate change – but action, indeed, is what we need.

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New IEA report sets a road map to a cleaner energy future

Today, the International Energy Agency released a special report of its World Energy Outlook, entitled Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map. The report is notable not only for its substantive conclusions – but for what it signifies.

First, the substance:

The report starts by emphasizing that energy-related CO2 emissions are a crucial driver of global warming, that they are increasing rapidly, and that as a result the world is not on target to keep concentrations of greenhouse gases below the level that would provide even a fifty-percent probability of limiting the increase in average global temperatures to two degrees – a commonly cited benchmark to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.  Standard fare, perhaps – but noteworthy nonetheless coming from the world’s leading energy authority.

A road map toward a more secure future

The key finding of the report — what makes it required reading — is the analysis of what the IEA calls its “4-for-2˚C scenario.”

The IEA identifies a package of four policies that could keep the door open to 2 degrees through 2020 – at no net economic cost to any individual region or major country, and relying only on existing, widely available technologies:

  1. Specific energy efficiency measures in transport, buildings, and industry (1.5 GT savings in 2020/49% of the total package)
  2. Limiting construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants (640 MT/21%)
  3. Minimizing methane emissions from upstream oil and gas production (550 MTCO2e/18%)
  4. Accelerating the partial phaseout of fossil fuel subsidies (360 MT/12%)

The IEA estimates that these four measures would reduce energy-related GHG emissions by 3.1 GT CO2-eq in 2020, relative to IEA's "New Policies" reference scenario – corresponding to 80% of the reduction required to be on a 2-degree path.

Take a look at this chart, from IEA's report, that summarizes the policies:

Here's a second chart, also from IEA's report. This one makes the key point about no net economic costs:

Four policies, using widely available technologies, imposing no net economic cost on any individual region or major country, that put the world in the position to make the turn to climate safety.

That’s the headline.

The cost of delay

IEA's report also discusses the vulnerability of the energy sector to climate change, and emphasizes that delaying climate action will drive up the costs of meeting a 2 degree target later.  The report estimates that putting off action until 2020 would trim near-term investment by $1.5 trillion in the short run – but at the cost of requiring an additional $5 trillion to be spent in subsequent years.  In present-value terms, using a 5% discount rate, delay doubles the cost of action: from $1.2 trillion to $2.3 trillion.

This is an argument that we at EDF — and others — have been making for some time. But it is a crucial one nonetheless – and the IEA analysis gives some added analytical weight to the argument.

Not an oil shock, but a climate shock

These findings are especially welcome coming from IEA, a world-respected authority on energy markets and policy that was founded to facilitate international coordination among oil-consuming countries.  Indeed, the messenger may be nearly as important as the message.  What launched the IEA was the 1973-4 oil crisis.  Now, nearly forty years later, the IEA report makes clear that the real energy-related threat to economic prosperity is not an oil shock, but a climate shock.

Back to the big picture

To be sure, the four policies analyzed in this report won’t fully suffice to address climate change in the long run: indeed, much more ambition will be needed.

Under the “4-for-2˚C” scenario, the IEA estimates that world energy-related emissions will peak and start to decline before 2020 – but we’ll still need concerted action on a global scale to get greenhouse gas emissions onto a steepening downward trajectory.

Take a look at one more chart from IEA's report:

Acknowledging this point, IEA's report underscores the importance of continued innovation in low-carbon technologies in transport and power generation (including carbon capture and storage), and highlights the vital importance of a long-term carbon price.

Beyond the scope of the report, there’s much to be done outside the energy sector – in particular by curbing tropical deforestation, and promoting the spread of agricultural practices that can achieve the “triple win” of greater productivity, greater resilience to climate, and lower environmental impacts (including GHG emissions).  And all of these efforts must be carried out in tandem with the overarching challenge of promoting broad-based economic prosperity around the globe, as President Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank has repeatedly emphasized.

But the bottom line is that one of the most hopeful publications on climate change you’ll read this year has come from the International Energy Agency, of all places.  Here is a road map toward a cleaner, more secure future.  Now it’s up to us to take it.

Cross-posted from EDF's Climate 411 blog.

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