Category Archives: UN negotiations

Lima climate talks showcase another path to global climate action: through states, provinces and cities

Kevin de Leon Peru COP

California state Senate President Kevin de León arrives at the conference center for the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru. Image used with permission from Senator de León.

The chattering classes of the climate policy world are abuzz with their customary post-mortems following the latest breathless two-week session of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change 20th Conference of Parties (also known simply as COP 20), held in Lima, Peru.

Consensus is forming around a “slightly better than nothing” assessment of the Lima Call for Climate Action, which was adopted in the wee hours of Sunday amidst the usual skirmishes over money, monitoring, and mandates.

Lima clarified some of the expected content of the national pledges (“Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” INDCs in COP shorthand) to be presented by all countries next year.

Notwithstanding the softness engendered by the word “intended,” at least we aren’t firmly stuck in the “old world order” where only developed countries are taking on mitigation actions.

Subnational cooperation and pathways to climate progress outside UN process

While nations squabbled about intentions, another story was playing out on the sidelines of the COP, showcasing real, groundbreaking and consequential progress at the subnational level – within states, provinces, and cities.

After spending the vast majority of my time in Lima with innovative and dynamic subnational leaders, I came away with an unbridled sense of optimism and renewed hope that there are pathways to climate progress, even if many of them go around rather than through the formal UN process.

California, laboratory of climate change solutions

California delegation to COP 20

California's delegation to the Lima climate negotiations. Image used with permission from Senator de León.

California has long been a laboratory of climate change solutions and will be expanding its cap-and-trade program to cover transportation fuels in two short weeks.

Meetings with the California contingent are always a sought-after ticket at the COPs, and California delegates are always eager to learn from and trade ideas with their counterparts around the world.

California’s low-carbon leadership was amplified in Lima by Senate President Kevin de León, who regaled delegates with his always charismatic case for the connection between climate action, jobs, and economic growth, pointing to California’s cap-and-trade system as an example of how California can "lead the world and show other nations the way to de-carbonize their economies."

A very encouraging trend is the evolution of subnational cooperation from platitudes to concrete plans.

Partnership between California and China

I moderated a panel highlighting the collaboration between California and China, a partnership that involves a substantive, two-way exchange of ideas and expertise on issues such as emissions trading, clean vehicles, sustainable infrastructure, and technology deployment.

In less than two years, cities and provinces in China have developed pilot cap-and-trade programs that are paving the way for a future national emissions trading system in China. California has a lot to learn from the Chinese experience, and Chinese leaders studied the design of California’s system as the pilots were being developed.

Cooperation among North American states and provinces

Subnational partnerships in North America are taking off, in part because of the lack of action at the national level, particularly in the U.S. and Canada.

California and Quebec recently completed a successful joint allowance auction, the final step in fully linking the two jurisdictions’ cap-and-trade systems.

In Lima, the top environmental officials from California, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec issued a joint statement resolving to “work together towards mid-term greenhouse gas reduction goals,” a key step towards locking in long-term action and unleashing innovation in low-carbon technologies.

California Governor Jerry Brown announced his support for a 2030 GHG target at the UN Climate Summit in September, and legislation has been introduced in California that would establish a 2050 mandate and require interim targets in 2030 and 2040.

Commitments from subnational governments

While countries are submitting their INDCs, subnational governments are also putting their commitments to paper.

An important initiative called The Compact of States and Regions, launched at the UN Climate Summit by The Climate Group, will aggregate and evaluate the commitments being taken by subnational governments around the world.

States, provinces, and cities are not waiting for the UN or their national governments to act.

Meanwhile, Governor Brown’s indefatigable policy czar Ken Alex is spearheading a “subnational INDC process,” wherein subnational leaders around the world will be invited to sign an agreement, to be unveiled over the next year, committing to reducing their emissions at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, or to cutting their per capita emissions to below two tons.

Thankfully, states, provinces, and cities are not waiting for the UN or their national governments to act. There is a lot to be optimistic about, and subnational and subnational governments are showing leadership and forging ahead in what could be seen as a friendly competition to develop and implement the boldest and most successful climate change initiatives.

These leaders are restless, motivated, and they realize that the future of people and the planet are at stake. As my friend Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, said time and again in Lima: “We’re going to do this.”

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Lima climate talks: Narrow outcome gives more clarity on path to Paris

Sea temperature map

A map at the Lima climate negotiations shows sea surface temperatures around the world. Source: Flickr (UNclimatechange)

The annual United Nations climate talks concluded in Lima, Peru, with a narrow outcome that provides some additional clarity on the path to finalizing a new climate agreement next year in Paris.

Nations were able to make limited progress on the modest goals expected of them, including:

  1. clarifying how countries will report their “intended nationally determined contributions” in early 2015; and
  2. identifying the main elements of the agreement to be negotiated next year and wrapped up in Paris.

When the talks ended well past their Friday deadline, Nathaniel Keohane, Vice President for international climate said:

The foot-dragging in Lima is out of step with the urgent signs of climate change that are already apparent in Peru's melting glaciers and threatened fisheries, as well as around the globe. To finalize an effective climate agreement in Paris next year, negotiators will have to move past the tired tactics and old ways of thinking that were on display these last two weeks.

We will not solve climate change with a single UN agreement. What an agreement in Paris can do is build a structure that spurs countries to be more ambitious, makes them accountable for their progress, and gives them the confidence that other countries are taking action as well.

With each passing year, more and more momentum on climate change is building outside the UNFCCC. The UN talks remain a valuable forum — the one place where all countries come together to discuss climate change. But as we have seen in the past few months, there are now multiple ways forward on climate change, including direct cooperation between nations, action by states and provinces, and engagement by the private sector. To make progress at the scale and pace required to meet the challenge of climate change, we need to take advantage of every pathway we have.

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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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Forestry, Agriculture and other Land Use in the Global Climate Agreement

Against a backdrop of tree-covered mountains, negotiators from all over the world are meeting for the next two weeks in Lima, Peru for the United Nations annual climate change conference. Before the meeting, Environmental Defense Fund and partners coordinated a workshop in Lima, where a group of country negotiators and other experts discussed how to bring forests and other land uses front and center in the global climate agreement to be signed in Paris next year. Participants agreed that the agreement needs to include land use in a simple, flexible and transparent way to encourage as many countries as possible to take action in this doubly important sector, which both accounts for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and also absorbs a significant fraction of the world’s carbon emissions every year. Read More »

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Building on global momentum, Lima climate talks take on foundational issues

The annual UN climate conference kicked off today in Lima, Peru, and over the next two weeks delegates from more than 190 countries will be seeking to build on the momentum created by the recent US-China bilateral agreement and efforts launched at September's Climate Summit.

Christiana Figueres

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres opens the latest round of UN climate talks in Lima, Peru. Source: Flickr (UNclimatechange)

Nathaniel Keohane, vice president of EDF's International Climate Program and a former economic adviser in the Obama administration said in EDF's opening statement:

Lima signals the bell lap in the current round of talks leading to a climate agreement in Paris next year. Countries won’t finalize an agreement in Lima, but they should make progress in setting out fundamental elements of such an agreement.

No single UN agreement will solve climate change. What an agreement in Paris can do is to build a structure that spurs countries to be more ambitious, makes them accountable for their progress, and gives them the confidence that other countries are taking action as well.  The talks in Lima can lay the groundwork for such an outcome.

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Expectations for forests, REDD+ and land use issues at the Lima climate negotiations

Starting next week, the UN’s annual climate negotiations are being hosted by Lima, Peru – one of the nine countries that make up the Amazon Rainforest, under the shadow of the murder of Ashaninka indigenous leader Edwin Chota and three others last September in the Peruvian Amazon. Chota and the other indigenous activists had long protested illegal logging in their territory. The murders remain unresolved.

At last year’s negotiations, forests were big news, as negotiators built on years of technical discussions by finalizing the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). Forests aren’t likely to provide headlines again this year, but a couple of items will be up for discussion – and what’s happening on forests elsewhere in Peru is noteworthy independent of the UN process. Read More »

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