Category Archives: UN negotiations

UN talks produce a strong agreement on forest protection, but otherwise déjà vu

Around midnight on Friday, November 25 – several hours after the annual UN climate conference was scheduled to have ended – I stood in the hallway of a temporary conference center erected on the soccer pitch of the National Stadium in Warsaw, watching the scrum of the climate talks in their final hours.

nat_keohane-377x287

Nat Keohane is EDF's Vice President for International Climate and a former economic adviser to the Obama administration.

NGO representatives were pitching stories and sharing intelligence with reporters, negotiators were huddling in groups or dashing off to last-minute bilateral meetings, and everyone was scrounging for coffee or late-night sandwiches to power another all-nighter.

The talks appeared on the brink of failure as countries deadlocked over the core questions of which countries should be obligated to reduce emissions and who should pay for it. In the end, as nearly always happens, an agreement was reached and the talks didn’t fall apart. That has become a typical pattern at these annual UN talks.

If the scene was familiar, the headlines that came out of the talks were familiar as well: Developing Nations Stage Protest at Climate Talks (NY Times); UN presses rich nations to act on climate funds (FT); Modest deal breaks deadlock at UN climate talks (AP); UN talks limp towards global 2015 climate deal (Reuters); Climate Finance Battle Shows Expectation Gap at UN Talks (Bloomberg).

But despite the dulling sense of déjà vu that Friday night in Warsaw, there was already reason for celebration. That’s because earlier that same evening – in a break with past years – the Conference of the Parties (or COP, as the talks are formally labeled) had already held the first part of its closing plenary to formally adopt decisions on areas in which negotiators could agree.

During that session, the COP agreed on a comprehensive agreement on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) – leading to what the UN, countries, media outlets and NGOs all identified as a bright spot in the negotiations.

Forest protection remains a crucial part of the climate action toolkit

With deforestation responsible for about 15% of the world’s manmade greenhouse gas emissions – that’s more than all the cars and trucks in the world – we can’t solve climate change without saving our forests. REDD+ creates economic incentives to reward countries and jurisdictions that reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation below rigorously defined baselines.

The Warsaw Framework for REDD+ Action, as it’s formally known, sets down deep roots for REDD+, and sends a clear signal that it will continue to be a crucial tool for protecting forests and the people who depend on them, by:

  1. ensuring a rigorous, transparent framework for measuring emissions reductions from reduced deforestation;
  2. affirming that financial flows will be “results-based,” meaning that REDD+ compensation will be tied to demonstrated results; and
  3. creating a structure for forest nations to share views on the effectiveness of REDD+ implementation.

The REDD+ outcome was a “big step forward,” my colleague and EDF REDD+ expert Chris Meyer told E&E News, explaining:

We had a foundation for the house; now we have the walls, the plumbing, the electricity and the roof for REDD+.

On the issue of forest protection, at least, the UN talks did exactly what they are supposed to do: they reaffirmed work that had been done in previous years, built upon it in negotiating sessions held over the past twelve months, and made the final push to resolve key issues of disagreement in the two weeks of talks in Warsaw.

This comprehensive package of decisions provides a structure for countries to develop REDD+ programs at a national level, and take advantage of the approximately $700 million per year already pledged for REDD+ program preparation and to pilot results-based payments.

The REDD+ agreement also opens a path for the International Civil Aviation Organization and other bodies that are considering developing market-based mechanisms, whether multi-lateral, national or regional, to bring REDD+ into their systems with an imprimatur of a multilateral standard.

Beyond REDD+, little formal progress

Outside of REDD+, the talks were notable more for what didn’t happen than what did. The talks didn’t make significant progress, although they managed not to collapse.

With two years until a new agreement is supposed to be reached in Paris, countries didn’t set a clear template for what they need to announce in terms of emissions reductions targets, or when they need to announce the targets. Nor did they make much progress on the key issue of climate finance – although surprisingly constructive talks on the difficult issue of compensating the world’s most vulnerable countries for the impacts of climate change reached a compromise agreement to create the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage to address the issue going forward.

On two important but lower-profile issues, there appeared to be signs of common ground behind closed doors – but these didn’t translate into movement in the formal negotiations.

On the issue of agriculture, useful conversations occurred that could help integrate agriculture into a more holistic discussion of the role of the land sector in responding to climate change, even if no formal progress were made in the context of these negotiations.

On the critical question of how to construct an international climate architecture that promotes and supports ambitious national action through carbon markets, countries put some useful options on the table – but could not reach a decision, instead deferring further discussion until next June.

To be sure, we never expected much to happen at these Warsaw talks. They were always going to be more about headaches than headlines.

But it’s hard to escape the sense that countries spent two weeks reopening issues that we thought had been resolved and fighting the same battles that have been fought before, only to make a last-minute lunge in the final hours to finish barely ahead of where they started.

A good example is on the key question of participation. Since the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which listed the world’s advanced economies in an appendix or “annex,” the distinction between “Annex I” and “Non-Annex I” countries has been a central point of contention. Five years later, the Kyoto Protocol assigned emissions reductions only to “Annex I” countries. Eliminating the so-called “Kyoto firewall” has been a red line of the U.S. and other advanced economies, which point to the rapid growth in major emerging economies such as China and India, and the concomitant rise in their greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2011, at the UN talks in Durban, South Africa, countries declared that a new agreement, to be finalized in Paris in 2015, would be “applicable to all Parties” – a phrase widely understood to mean that the Annex I/Non-Annex I distinction would be erased. But the first draft of the negotiating text in Warsaw hardly referred to Durban and instead used the different term “broad participation.” That opening salvo didn’t last, and the final text reaffirmed the Durban agreement – but not before significant energy had gone into re-fighting that battle.

The world outside the UN talks

With little to show for their two weeks of long days and all-nighters, negotiators have left themselves a lot to do over the next two years to reach a meaningful outcome in Paris.

However, countries and other actors don’t need to wait for an international agreement in 2015 to start addressing climate change. It was clear, through events on the sidelines of the negotiations and conversations with other attendees at the conference, that cities, states, countries and regions around the world have already started moving to cut their emissions and adapt to climate change.

Some of the most interesting side events highlighted the progress made in China on provincial carbon trading pilots and explored how the Chinese experiments could learn from California’s experience in building a successful carbon market. And the Climate and Clean Air Coalition – a group of more than 70 state and nonstate partners working together to reduce short-lived super-pollutants like methane, black carbon, and HFCs – also announced important progress. Those side events were a reminder that the UN talks, while they remain important, are not the only game in town.

That’s a good thing, and a reason for optimism. Because with the damaging impacts of climate change already apparent in the United States and around the world, the world urgently needs near-term action to turn the corner on global emissions and put us on a downward trajectory toward climate safety.

Read EDF's press release on the outcome of the Warsaw negotiations: Strong agreement to protect forests highlight of UN climate talks.

Also posted in Deforestation, REDD, Warsaw (COP-19)|: | 3 Responses

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.

Also posted in News, REDD, Warsaw (COP-19)|: | Leave a comment

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

Also posted in Deforestation, News, REDD, Warsaw (COP-19)|: | Leave a comment

Doha wrap-up: countries eke out modest deal on Kyoto, new agreement, and climate loss, but postpone many issues

In Doha, countries wrapped up loose ends on technical issues and began to lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement that will establish commitments starting in 2020. Photo credit: Flickr user UNclimatechange

It’s now been a couple of weeks since the UN climate talks ended in Doha, Qatar, where countries made modest progress on the road to a new global climate treaty – although not without the familiar drama of all-night sessions, ignored deadlines and last-minute compromises.

Doha began to lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement that will establish commitments for the post-2020 period, picking up where the current agreements leave off (the Kyoto Protocol and the voluntary emissions targets for 2020 that were adopted in Copenhagen by a number of countries, including the U.S. and major emerging economies).

The Doha talks also showcased some of the usual frictions among countries’ negotiating positions, including:

  • The U.S. government focused chiefly on ensuring all countries would participate in a future climate agreement that would collapse the Kyoto Protocol’s rigid divide between developed and developing countries.
  • China and India pressed to protect developing countries’ special status.
  • Small island states and other vulnerable nations pitched hard for the ambitious emissions cuts and financing commitments they see as essential to their basic survival.

We knew heading into the talks that Doha would be more about process and wrapping up loose ends on technical issues than concrete deliverables, and indeed the outcome in most areas was to continue talking. Some notable outcomes were the following:

 1) Negotiating tracks

Countries ultimately managed to agree on a three-part deal that:

    1. extends the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, although it covers an increasingly small set of countries, as countries such as Russia, Japan and Canada have dropped out, while the United States remains outside the agreement.
    2. completes the “LCA” track, the parallel round of negotiations dating back to the 2007 Bali Road Map, under which many nations (including major developing countries) took voluntary pledges to reduce their emissions by 2020.
    3. sets a course for negotiating the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” (ADP), a new climate deal covering all major emitters that is to be agreed by 2015 and take effect in 2020.

With the unfinished business of the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali agenda finally behind them, countries can now face forward and concentrate on crafting the robust new agreement that we so urgently need.

2) Finance

As expected, a large sticking point across the negotiations was climate finance.

Developing countries had entered Doha seeking firm commitments and clarifications of how financing would scale up between now and the $100 billion a year by 2020 they were promised in Copenhagen in 2009, but instead got a workplan and reassurances.

The talks’ modest outcome also failed to send the policy signal needed to unlock critical private investments in climate change.

3) REDD+

In contrast to previous years and widely help expectations for Doha, parties made little progress in crafting standards for REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, plus afforestation and reforestation).

A decision to embrace the use of carbon markets to finance REDD+ was postponed until next year. REDD+ is being held hostage to slower progress on linked issues such as how emission reductions are measured and verified, and on the perennially thorny finance issues.

Noteworthy development: “Loss and Damage”

One of Doha’s notable developments was that, for the first time, the talks broached the subject of compensation from rich countries for the “loss and damage” incurred by the most vulnerable nations due to climate change.

This loss and damage agreement is the next step in the UN’s increasingly reactive response to climate change, and demonstrative of the UN’s recognition that the severe consequences of climate change have become today’s problem. First, the focus was on avoiding emissions. When mitigation efforts proved inadequate, it turned more attention to adaptation. Now, as the effects of extreme weather and rising oceans hit communities from the Philippines to New Jersey, the UN has realized it must begin to grapple with them.

The coming year’s task is to begin debating what promises to be one of the most controversial issues on their agenda, and the discussions are unlikely to result in a formal liability mechanism given the very strong opposition of the United States and other developed countries. But whatever the outcome, the sobering reality is that grappling with the dangerous effects of climate change can no longer be put off to some future date; they are already inflicting harm.

Looking ahead

The UN climate negotiators have a busy year ahead of them, with perhaps as many as three interim negotiating sessions before reconvening next November in Warsaw, Poland.  But regardless of the coming year’s progress, there remains a wide gulf – nay, chasm — between what countries have pledged to do over the next eight years and what the science demands.

To begin addressing this “ambition gap” there must be progress outside the UN framework at the national and local level, as well as in other multilateral forums, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, the G-20 and the new coalition of countries and environmental groups (including EDF) focusing on near-term actions to reduce short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, black carbon and refrigerant gases.

While more and deeper cuts are urgently needed around the world, we’re seeing real action in national and state-wide climate programs in Europe, Australia, California, South Korea, China and others. It is domestic efforts like these, in tandem with multilateral accords and initiatives, that will get us to a secure climate future.

Also posted in Doha (COP-18), REDD|: | Leave a comment

Doha climate talks: review of the major issues at COP 18

This week and next, more than 190 nations are meeting again for the annual United Nations climate conference, this year being held in Doha, the capital city of oil- and gas-rich Qatar.

Jennifer Haverkamp is director of EDF's international climate program

The Doha conference comes at a moment of increased awareness of climate change, after “Superstorm Sandy” pummeled the heavily populated east coast of the United States, and a handful of reports from generally cautious global institutions painted grim pictures of the risks of future climate change. Those gathered in Doha need to take heed of these warnings.

The UN negotiations are not known for their speed. But just as the climate negotiations over the years have been assuredly, if slowly, moving forward, we expect this year’s Conference of Parties 18 (COP 18) to also make some measured progress.

The real headline-grabbers are more likely to be found outside the UN negotiations, where countries and states have been busily launching and benefiting from their own emissions reductions programs.

Just since last year’s negotiations, Australia’s carbon price has gone into effect; Korea and Mexico have passed domestic climate legislation; China is moving forward with emissions trading pilot programs; and Europe’s Emissions Trading System, which has achieved significant emissions reductions at minimal cost, is about to transition to its third phase. In the United States, a new report shows that the U.S. is on track to reduce its emissions by more than 16 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, thanks in part to state and regional initiatives (along with important actions by the Environmental Protection Agency and availability of low-cost natural gas).

Negotiations overview

The countries now meeting in Doha are scheduled to finalize a second round of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to cut greenhouse gases, and to wrap up the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) negotiating track, which was launched in Bali in 2007 and led many countries to make voluntary emission reduction pledges but fell short of a comprehensive binding agreement.

Doha will also set the course for the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” (ADP) track, whose goal is a new climate deal for all countries to be agreed by 2015 and to take effect in 2020.

We expect countries can make demonstrable progress in Doha by agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, which starts January 1, 2013, and by concluding the Long-term Cooperative Action negotiating track. These results will allow them to turn their full attention to bringing lessons learned and key policy tools from those two agreements – as well as a few unresolved carryover issues – into the new negotiations.

An especially encouraging feature of the new ADP negotiation is its across-the-board buy-in, since all developed and developing countries agreed to its terms last year in the Durban negotiations. To make this agreement as strong as possible, the ADP should create a framework that is both “welcoming” – meaning the legal framework can accommodate nations that may not be able to ratify the 2015 deal (perhaps including the U.S.), and have options for nations to participate, even if they’re not formal signatories to the agreement – and “dynamic,” so it can bring in new issues as needed.

We don’t anticipate a lot of progress on the ADP in Doha, but countries can reasonably be expected to reach consensus on a fairly specific, concrete plan for at least the coming year’s work toward the new agreement.

National, regional, local “bottom-up” measures making real progress

As important as the UN’s “top-down” inclusive approach to a comprehensive agreement is, much of the recent progress on climate has happened outside of the UN process, through national, state and local measures that are cutting emissions and forming a world of “bottom-up” climate actions.

Currently, 25% of the world’s economy is putting in place national emissions limits and implementing cap-and-trade systems. This includes:

  • The EU and New Zealand, which have existing cap and trade systems. Europe’s Emissions Trading System has achieved significant emission reductions at minimal cost. (Read EDF’s full report: The EU Emissions Trading System: Results and Lessons Learned)
  • China, which is moving forward on several pilot carbon trading pilots.
  • South Korea and Australia, which have adopted climate laws under which they will launch carbon markets in 2015. Australia’s official carbon price went into effect in July, which should help dent its emissions – the highest, per capita, of any developed country.
  • Mexico, which adopted legislation that authorizes (though does not require) establishment of a carbon market.
  • California, whose carbon market just held its first allowance auction in mid-November.

U.S. position

The United States has come to Doha less than a month after Superstorm Sandy struck the east coast and President Barack Obama was re-elected, and a month before California’s cap-and-trade system goes fully into effect.

Even without having national climate legislation, the United States is making some progress in reducing emissions. A new report from think tank Resources for the Future found:

currently, the country is on course to achieve reductions of 16.3 percent from 2005 levels in 2020. Three factors contribute to this outcome: greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, secular trends including changes in relative fuel prices and energy efficiency, and subnational efforts.

California’s cap-and-trade system, which starts January 1, 2013, sets a declining limit or “cap” on emissions in sectors with the highest amount of greenhouse gas pollution, and will eventually cover 85% of California’s emissions. For the 10 northeastern states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a report earlier this year found they cut per capita carbon emissions 20 percent faster than the rest of the nation from 2000-2009 while regional per capital GDP grew 87 percent faster than did that of the rest of the country.

Climate change has reemerged in the speeches of President Obama since his re-election. In his acceptance speech, he said

we want our children to live in an America … that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.

Later, when asked in his recent White House press conference what he was going to do about climate change in his second term, he promised to have a “wide-ranging conversation” with experts on “what more we can do to make short-term progress in reducing carbons.”

Beyond the rhetoric, however, the U.S. is in much the same position as last year: with no prospects for national climate legislation, and a tight foreign aid budget, the U.S. has again shown up to the negotiations bazaar with little to trade for its demands of other major emitters.

Policy issues to watch

EDF's experts have been closely tracking policy issues leading up to Doha, and will continue to do so throughout the COP. Below we highlight some background and recommendations for those likely to feature prominently in the negotiations.

Legal architecture of a UN climate agreement

The negotiations launched last year have a deadline of 2015 for concluding a new climate agreement, applicable to all countries that are “party” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to take effect in 2020. Many countries have called for a period of exploratory discussions and brainstorming before any attempt to choose the specific legal form of the 2015 agreement, and those discussions will likely continue in Doha.

The fundamental challenge countries face in the coming years is developing a legal framework that attracts and encourages nations to place effective, durable limits on the greenhouse gas emissions of entities in their jurisdiction, to enforce those limits through legally binding instruments, and to take action quickly.

Three key successful architectural elements of the Kyoto Protocol – and that are now being incorporated into national and state climate laws around the world (including those of Australia, the European Union, and California) – can help countries meet this challenge: binding caps on emissions, flexible market mechanisms to meet these caps, and accountability. In light of the fact that some nations may not, due to their domestic legal systems and political constraints, be able to ratify the final agreement, countries will need to think clearly and creatively about how to design a “welcoming” legal architecture for the 2015 agreement that has options to allow such nations to participate.

The new 2015 ADP agreement, not scheduled to enter into force until 2020, does not prevent countries from agreeing to targets that start earlier than that date, or to improve upon the pledges they have made for reductions between now and 2020. A legal framework for the 2015 deal that recognizes early action by countries may incentivize them to increase their ambition pre-2020, as required by the Durban decision, and, indeed, by climate science. A workable and effective agreement would contain the following “minimum elements:” an emissions budget approach; fungibility of trading mechanisms; and flexibility for non-Kyoto parties who have domestic carbon markets to link to the new ADP agreement. We hope countries can reach an outcome that meets such minimum elements and incentivizes early action, ensures transparency and environmental integrity, and provides predictability to carbon markets.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol played a prominent role in last year’s negotiations, when its future looked to be hanging by a thread and developing countries vowed that it would not “die on African soil.” When the EU effectively kept it alive in Durban by agreeing to take on a second commitment period, EDF said that countries would be tested on whether they could coax into flame that spark of hope, or whether they would go back into their respective corners of stalling and delay.

The intervening year has seen its share of stalling and posturing, but the test comes now in Doha, when countries need to – and likely will – agree to the set of Kyoto Protocol amendments needed to launch a second commitment period. The group of developed countries signing up this time will be much smaller than in the first go-round. Major emitting countries including Japan, Russia and Canada have walked away from the table, but the European Union, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Belarus and Kazakhstan will make a second round of commitments. It would be welcome, though surprising, if those countries upped their “ambition” by making more stringent commitments than the pledges they already made in Copenhagen or Cancun, or what’s already enshrined in their domestic legislation.

Climate finance

One of the most dynamic issues in the international climate talks now is finance for climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. Since the negotiations last year, countries have appointed a board for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was created in 2010 to help finance the efforts of some developing countries to adapt to the impact of climate change and curb their greenhouse gas emissions. That board has begun meeting and actively considering how best to structure its operations. The GCF has also found a home in Songdo, South Korea. However, in Doha countries still face a huge challenge: where to find public and private money to finance the Fund, which could eventually grow as big as $100 billion a year.

No money has actually started flowing into the GCF yet, but countries in Doha will be looking to find funding for the gap between now and when sources and consistent flows of funds to the GCF are clearly defined. That means pressure will be on for countries to pledge more funds, which will be a challenge. Since 2009, when countries last pledged money to “fast-start financing” in Copenhagen, expectations have changed, timelines have slipped and new structures in the UN – like the new ADP global agreement – are evolving. Countries will likely be averse to putting forward large sums until they have more clarity on commitments and rules governing the flow of funds. A tense discussion around these shorter term finance commitments is likely, but pressure will be on for all parties to demonstrate their commitment to mitigation, adaptation and finance. Doha cannot afford to fall back on already small ambitions.

For public funds for longer term financing, countries are unlikely to commit to anything in Doha. That’s because the appetite of the global community for providing such funds is linked to whether countries agree on strong mitigation commitments, and many countries don’t yet feel assured of others’ commitment to address climate change or that GCF funds will be “effectively” utilized. What countries need is to have a concrete conversation about effectively using the funds that are available. A clear set of rules will deliver the confidence needed for companies and investors to commit more resources to address climate change, both through the UNFCCC and outside the process.

Even in this current economic crisis, there is a lot of money for low-carbon development, and there are lots of hopeful signs on the ground. However, there’s still plenty more money for business-as-usual: most private investment right now goes exactly in the wrong direction. Private sector finance is the only way to achieve the clean energy transition, but turning it around first requires strong policy signals. Critical potential climate finance funds are sitting right now in the stock and bond markets and in countries’ national public expenditures; to unlock them, countries in Doha and the GCF first and foremost must deliver clear signals of their serious commitment to address climate change.

Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV)

Robust and transparent measuring, reporting, and verification (MRV) of emission reductions is essential for building the trust necessary for countries to take action and accurately compare efforts in reducing emissions, and for creating a structure that encourages investment, innovation, and finance for low-carbon development.

In Durban last year, nations agreed on new MRV rules for both developed and developing countries, as well as mechanisms for analyzing the results and providing support to improve future efforts. The agreements in Durban on transparency and accountability usefully built upon the 2010 Cancun decisions, but more specific reporting requirements and more robust review and compliance procedures will have to be added over time to ensure environmental integrity and improve the quality of carbon markets. In Durban the COP also agreed that developing countries' domestically supported mitigation actions will be measured, reported and verified domestically in accordance with "general guidelines" to be developed.

In Doha, MRV issues are likely to arise in discussions to implement the new market mechanism agreed in Durban last year. The efficacy of this new mechanism depends on instituting a rigorous Kyoto-like MRV template for accounting, accountability, and market integrity. Robust MRV is particularly critical for major emitters in both the developed and developing world that are likely to play a significant role in carbon markets. EDF thus supports proposals that allow large-emitting developing countries to access carbon markets if they step up to a higher level of MRV. Countries should delegate additional technical MRV issues that are not resolved this year to relevant subsidiary bodies, to carry forward into the negotiations for the new agreement to be concluded by 2015.

Avoiding deforestation (REDD+) & indigenous peoples

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is one of the policy areas in the UNFCCC negotiations that has made the most progress in recent years. Countries have made major decisions on the building blocks needed for REDD+, including agreement that REDD+: 1) is intended to “slow, halt and reverse deforestation;” 2) is a voluntary mitigation mechanism; 3) has to be a part of the overall mitigation efforts in the UNFCCC; and 4) needs strong environmental and social safeguards.

With such priming, REDD+ is almost at the finish line in the LCA negotiations and in a promising position to be included in the new ADP negotiations. Here are three major issues that may see progress in Doha:

  1. Technical Issues (Week 1): The technical and scientific body that provides recommendations to the COP, SBSTA, is meeting the first week of Doha to negotiate further guidance on important technical issues. For reference levels, (a snapshot of a country’s emissions for deforestation in a given year) countries should work on what they committed to last year regarding technical assessment – enabling the technical assessment of proposed reference levels once they have been submitted, and initiating work (ideally by the next conference) on developing methodological guidance for the technical assessment of proposed REDD+ reference levels. For measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions, countries are close to agreeing on REDD+ MRV guidance. However, to minimize complications between these discussions and the simultaneous discussions taking place in the LCA negotiations, countries should make the overall REDD+ guidance general, which will provide the necessary flexibility in constructing their reference level, MRV and monitoring systems. For indigenous peoples: Indigenous peoples are advocating in SBSTA for a REDD+ decision to include more guidance and details on Safeguard Information Systems – systems for providing information on how social and environmental safeguards are addressed and respected.
  2. Finance and REDD+ in LCA (Week 2): In the LCA REDD+ track, which starts the second week of Doha, countries have an opportunity to reach consensus on procedures and modalities on REDD+ financing for results-based actions – meaning countries will try to agree on how to pay for REDD+ reductions and what sources of finance can be used. A good outcome would allow countries to use the market to pay for REDD+, and countries with caps on their emissions after 2015 to use a portion of REDD+ credits to meet their commitments.
  3. REDD+ as part of the ADP negotiations: Not every REDD+ issue will be finalized in Doha, but with the LCA ending, it remains unclear what exactly will happen to any remaining REDD+ issues. A smart solution would be to include REDD+ in the new ADP negotiations, which would thereby formally recognize it as a mitigation component.

A good decision in Doha will provide more direction about how REDD+ will be financed, and carbon markets must play a role. And REDD+ should be part of the negotiations toward a new agreement so that when the deal is finalized in 2015, countries will be able to use REDD+ credits to meet a portion of their national emission reductions commitments.

Emissions from land management in developed countries (LULUCF)

Emissions from countries’ “managing” forests, croplands, grasslands, and wetlands, or from converting land from one use to another (such as through cutting down trees or planting new forests) make up a substantial component of the greenhouse gas profile for many countries. When countries take action to reduce these emissions, they can use some of the reductions to help meet their emission reduction commitments. For countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, the rules for accounting for these reductions in the second commitment period were revised in 2011 and will come into effect in 2013; these rules fall under the UNFCCC’s issue called Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).

Doha’s scientific and technical discussions are covering several sub-topics related to LULUCF:

  1. New “activities” for the Clean Development Mechanism: Countries considering adding new kinds of activities to the current list of land-management practices that can register projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), whose projects are intended to reduce emissions in developing countries and are supported by developed countries. This would allow developed countries to contribute to more emission reductions in developing countries for improved land-management practices.
  2. “Permanence” of LULUCF emission reductions: Parties are discussing ways to deal with the possibility that these kinds of emission reductions in the CDM may not be permanent. For example, if reductions occur from a reforestation project that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, those reductions could be reversed if the forest is cut or burned down. In such cases, the carbon in the forest should be treated like other kinds of capital assets by protecting it with insurance mechanisms and by assigning liabilities in case these assets are damaged or destroyed (this view is shared by many countries).
  3. Comprehensiveness of land-management emissions: This issue is more long-term, and relates to expanding the array of land management emissions that are covered by countries’ commitments. The current rules give countries a choice regarding some of the activities to be covered, but most countries agree that all land-management activities should eventually be counted in their commitments. From a technical perspective this will be a challenging task, but countries in Doha are discussing how to expand the comprehensiveness of their accounting. EDF made a submission to the UNFCCC explaining our views on how they should proceed.
  4. “Additionality”: Countries are also debating how to identify the “additionality” of emissions reductions from LULUCF activities – that is, the amount of reductions that would not have happened without some kind of policy intervention. Identifying the additionality of activities is important for measuring the real contribution of policies and actions to reduce emissions, but the technical challenges associated with quantifying the “additional” reductions are tricky, and are not likely to be resolved anytime soon. However, it is worthwhile to begin this discussion in Doha, because it will create a space to address some lingering problems that could undermine the environmental integrity of the LULUCF accounting rules.

Overall, the discussions on LULUCF issues may indicate a new willingness of countries to grapple with the technical challenges that they must overcome to expand and improve the participation of more countries – a contrast with past negotiations, in which political expediency has sometimes trumped technical rigor and environmental integrity.

Agriculture

Agriculture is important to every country, but in many nations climate change is threatening the food security and rural livelihoods that agriculture provides. Moreover, the agricultural sector itself contributes a substantial share of the emissions that cause climate change, often in the form of powerful greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide. There is currently no coherent work program within the UNFCCC where countries can discuss how climate change relates to the many aspects of agriculture in all of the national contexts where it occurs.

In Doha, the question is whether to set up a new work program to consider the scientific and technical aspects of agriculture and climate change. Countries have already formally submitted their views to the UNFCCC about establishing such a work program – like one that exists for finance or REDD+ – with many in favor of creating one during the Doha meeting. A scientific and technical discussion would certainly be useful now; an EDF submission on agriculture outlines why it is important and what could be achieved.

Collectively, countries need to take action to help farmers adapt to climate change. It is also clear that emissions from agriculture can be reduced in many locations, and countries should formally consider how these substantial reductions could be achieved in a way that protects food security and rural livelihoods.

Closing observations

The major emitters’ paucity of vision, ambition and urgency has brought us to the brink of catastrophe. It’s these factors, not the forum, that explain why the best we can hope for at Doha is modest incremental progress on the road to 2015.

And if that sounds a bit surreal in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, well, that's unfortunately today’s reality. “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

*EDF’s international climate experts contributing to this blog post include Alex HanafiGus Silva-ChávezChris MeyerRichie AhujaGernot WagnerJason Funk and Karen Florini.

Also posted in Deforestation, Doha (COP-18), Indigenous peoples, News, REDD|: | 5 Responses

Doha climate talks could see measured progress toward new global agreement

International climate negotiations have begun in Doha, Qatar, where countries can make progress toward a new global agreement, climate finance and reducing deforestation emissions, among other technical issues. Photo credit: Flickr user UNclimatechange

The largest international climate negotiations of the year kicked off Monday in Doha, Qatar, drawing delegates from more than 190 countries in a grand effort to create a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt climate change.

Worldwide attention is particularly focused on climate after a number of respected and typically conservative global institutions — including The World Bank, United Nations Environment Program, International Energy AgencyPwC – in reports released in the weeks leading up to Doha painted grim pictures of the risks of extreme climate change.

These talks in Doha could see measured progress toward a new global agreement in some areas — or, as The New York Times put it, "the agenda for the two-week Doha convention includes an array of highly technical matters but nothing that is likely to bring the process to a screaming halt."

Environmental Defense Fund anticipates three issue areas could see important progress in Doha:

1) Negotiating tracks

The countries now meeting in Doha are scheduled to finalize a second round of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to cut greenhouse gases, and wrap up the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) negotiating track, which was launched in Bali in 2007 and led many countries to make voluntary emission reduction pledges but fell short of a comprehensive binding agreement.

Doha will also set the course for the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” track, whose goal is a new climate deal for all countries to be agreed to by 2015 and to take effect from 2020.

International Climate Program Director Jennifer Haverkamp said in EDF's opening statement:

Countries can make real progress in Doha by agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period with minimal fuss and delay, and concluding the Long-term Cooperative Action track, so they can turn their full attention to bringing lessons learned and key policy tools from those agreements forward into the new negotiations.

Even the U.S. founding fathers didn’t get the Constitution right the first time – remember the Articles of Confederation? Countries, in constructing this new agreement, have a chance to incorporate the key elements of these tracks: Kyoto’s binding structure and accountability, and the LCA’s broadened participation among countries and new tools to fight climate change.

2) Climate finance

Countries in Doha should deliver clear signals of ambitious commitment to address climate change, a much-needed policy signal that will help unlock and target critical climate finance funds that exist right now in the stock and bond markets and in countries’ national public expenditures.

3) Deforestation emissions

For policies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), countries have the opportunity to agree that multiple sources of finance can be used to pay for REDD+ reductions, and thereby send another positive signal to tropical forest nations.

Climate & Forests Specialist Gustavo Silva-Chávez said last week in a blog post previewing the Doha REDD+ negotiations:

REDD+ is almost at the finish line. We need a decision with more direction about how it will be financed, and carbon markets must play a role.

Countries, states making major climate progress

Outside the UN negotiations, countries and states have been busy launching and benefiting from emissions reductions programs. Just since last year’s negotiations:

Here in the United States, California begins its state-wide cap-and-trade system on January 1, and the northeastern states’ regional cap-and-trade system (RGGI) is already cutting emissions while the regional per capita GDP is growing faster than that of the nation as a whole. And a new report shows that the U.S. is on track to reduce its emissions by more than 16 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, thanks in part to these states’ initiatives.

Haverkamp said these moves are all significant:

“A full quarter of the world’s economy – from California to China, Mexico to South Korea – has or is putting in place programs to reduce emission. The top-down UN process is still critical to stopping dangerous climate change, but more and more countries are deciding not to wait around for it to tell them what to do. We’re already in a bottom-up world.”

 

See related post: REDD+ almost at the finish line: Doha preview

Also posted in Deforestation, Doha (COP-18), Europe, Forestry, Indigenous peoples, Mexico, News, REDD|: | 1 Response
  • Categories

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS