Selected category: UN negotiations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Paris Agreement: Strength in numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate leadership beyond the EU

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

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

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

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

Other factors driving momentum

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

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

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

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

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

This post originally appeared June 29 on EDF Voices.

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How a Coalition of Carbon Markets Can Complement the Paris Agreement and Accelerate Deep Reductions in Climate Pollution

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International cooperation is essential to achieve the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of keeping warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. While the Paris Agreement provides several market- and transparency-related tools that can help spur international cooperation, countries must now create the coalitions needed to move forward with implementation. Image Source: Jorge Royan

As countries gather here in Bonn, Germany to begin the work of translating the historic Paris Agreement into action, there is widespread recognition that individual countries’ carbon-cutting pledges must be strengthened in the coming years to deliver the ambitious long term goal agreed in Paris: keep warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and achieve global net zero emissions before 2100.

The Paris Agreement provides several market- and transparency-related tools that can help spur the international cooperation necessary to achieve its long term goal, including provisions that facilitate high-integrity, “bottom-up” linkages of domestic carbon markets to cut carbon pollution. These linkages (described in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement as “cooperative approaches”) promise to reduce costs, and unlock the finance needed to drive deeper global emissions reductions. The agreement on cooperative approaches in Paris reflects the widespread recognition among nations that carbon markets, accompanied by a clear, comprehensive transparency framework, will help drive the deep emissions reductions needed to prevent the most severe impacts of climate change.

With the urgency of climate action clear, the key challenge now becomes: how can we accelerate the international cooperation needed to solve the Paris equation?

One concrete step, drawing on the cooperative approaches provisions of the Paris Agreement, would be to establish a coalition of carbon market jurisdictions to catalyze the development and increase the ambition of domestic carbon markets.   Much as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) helped broaden participation and ambition in trade, a voluntary coalition of carbon market jurisdictions (CCM) could expand the scope and maximize the cost-effectiveness of ambitious climate action around the globe.

Why coordinate on carbon markets?

As carbon markets continue to expand, coordination among jurisdictions using or considering carbon markets – especially on the rules and standards needed to ensure environmental integrity and maximize cost-effectiveness – will give governments and the private sector the confidence to go faster and farther in reducing their climate-warming pollution.

A coalition of carbon markets can help deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement and catalyze the deep global emissions reductions that climate science demands.

Although the Paris Agreement provides a framework for international cooperation on carbon markets, it is ultimately up to countries to work together to agree the detailed rules necessary for international carbon markets to drive emissions down and investment up.

The good news is that groups of countries can make substantial, early progress, ultimately informing and complementing the longer-term UNFCCC process.

 

“Minilateral” efforts can stimulate faster, deeper emissions cuts and strengthen international cooperation

Rapid and early emissions cuts are the single most important determinant of whether the global community is likely to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). And delaying necessary action to reduce global warming pollution dramatically increases costs to the global economy.

For both the climate and our economies, not all emissions reductions are the same:  the earlier, the better.

That’s why it is so important that Article 6 of the Paris Agreement affirmed that cooperative emissions trading between countries can continue and expand while multilateral accounting guidelines are developed. Transactions will need to be “consistent with” any multilateral guidance developed by Parties to the Paris Agreement over the coming years – particularly to ensure that the same emission reductions are not claimed toward more than one mitigation pledge (“double counted”).

A “minilateral” coalition of carbon markets could complement efforts under the UNFCCC by fostering agreement on detailed standards for the accounting, transparency, and environmental integrity of internationally transferred emissions units. These “nuts and bolts” standards, which will help avoid errors in tallying up total emissions and traded units, form the bedrock of high-integrity emissions trading. Early agreement would give countries the confidence to move forward quickly in implementing their Paris pledges and a basis for increasing their ambition over time.

Practically speaking, future UNFCCC guidance on cooperative approaches will likely be influenced by working examples of international emissions trading, making the success of a carbon markets coalition an important precedent for broader cooperation on markets in the UNFCCC. This process could mirror recent progress on standards for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+), where technical advances made by countries in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility contributed to greater progress in the UNFCCC.

What’s next?

In Paris, a diverse group of 18 developed and developing countries led by New Zealand announced that they will work quickly together to develop standards and guidelines to ensure the environmental integrity of international market mechanisms.

This group – or another similar coalition – could “set the bar” for market-based climate action by developing robust accounting and transparency standards for environmental and market integrity. Coordinated leadership by forward-looking jurisdictions would help ensure that the growth of international emissions trading is accompanied by enhanced ambition and real, permanent, additional, and verifiable emissions reductions.

Over a longer period, these same guidelines could support the establishment of a common trading framework among a coalition of carbon market jurisdictions. A framework might include mutual recognition of emission units, harmonized approaches to verifying emissions reductions and generating offset credits, and a shared trading infrastructure, which together could ensure environmental integrity and encourage more countries, states, and provinces to cap and price carbon.

Paris began a new, more ambitious chapter in the history of climate action, but much of the chapter is yet to be written. We’re in the race of our lives to finish the work of protecting future generations and building prosperous low-carbon economies. A coalition of carbon markets can help deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement and catalyze the deep global emissions reductions that climate science demands.

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7 reasons the Paris Agreement signing actually matters

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United States and more than 160 other countries set to formally sign the Paris Agreement on Earth Day 2016. Photo: Secretary Kerry Sits With UN Secretary-General Ban Before a Bilateral Meeting at COP21 in Paris.
Image Source: U.S. Department of State

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has invited countries to sign the Paris Agreement at the UN headquarters in New York on April 22, the first day the Agreement is open for signature. Here are seven reasons why the Earth Day ceremony is important.

1) The April 22 signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement is expected to shatter the record for the most countries to formally sign an international agreement in a single day.

Representatives from more than 160 countries (and counting – see the latest at the UN site), including sixty heads of state, will be in New York to signal their commitment to the Agreement struck in Paris last December. This would surpass the previous record of 119 signatures, set by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982.

The Paris Agreement aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. This record-breaking signing ceremony demonstrates the political momentum behind the Agreement’s global plan to tackle climate change.

2) Signing is the next step for countries to join the agreement, but is not the end of the story.

Signing the Agreement in New York sends a strong and early signal of a country’s intention to launch its domestic processes necessary to join the Agreement. Once those processes are concluded, Governments will formally deposit with the United Nations Secretary-General, who is the depositary of the Paris Agreement, their “instrument of ratification, approval, acceptance or accession,” by which they formally join – and consent to be bound by – the Agreement.

Some nations will sign and join the Agreement on the same day, since they have already completed the necessary domestic procedures back home. States that don’t sign on April 22 still retain the ability to join the Agreement later.

3) The content and structure of the Paris Agreement means the U.S. can join quickly.

Like the vast majority of international agreements that the U.S. joins, the Paris Agreement does not require Senate action. Presidents from Washington onward — including Ronald Reagan, who did it 14 times in his second term — concluded agreements like this as “executive agreements,” based on existing executive authorities.

These executive agreements have the same binding force domestically as any other international treaty or agreement the U.S. joins. As long as the U.S. president has authority under existing U.S. law to implement the Paris Agreement’s provisions, the pathway to U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement is open, and does not need to include a stop in the Senate.

As it did with the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the U.S. can join the Agreement by simply depositing a brief formal document (called an “instrument of acceptance”) with the UN.

4) Early implementation of the Paris Agreement is now more likely.

Language in the draft agreement preventing it from taking effect until 2020 was dropped during the final stages of negotiations in Paris, so the Agreement will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions join.

Together with important statements from the U.S. and China (which together represent almost 38% of the world’s emissions) indicating they will sign the Agreement on April 22, and formally join the Agreement this year, the record-breaking signing ceremony means that many countries are on the path to joining the Agreement soon.

The Paris Agreement is likely to enter into force well before 2020, and possibly by 2017, making the provisions of the Agreement legally binding on those countries that have joined. Early entry into force offers the opportunity to accelerate a global transition to the prosperous, carbon-neutral economies of the future, and better address the needs of those communities in the U.S. and abroad that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

5) Momentum is building for markets to play a central role in meeting the ambitious climate goals agreed in Paris, and called for by science.

The groundswell of international support for the Paris Agreement contributes to confidence that countries can achieve the Paris Agreement’s vision of international cooperation on carbon markets to reduce emissions. Only by harnessing the ingenuity and creativity of business, entrepreneurs, and innovators will we be able to drive down emissions fast enough and far enough to achieve the reductions that the science demands. An April 14 report by EDF and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) found countries can surpass their Paris pledges by pricing carbon through carbon markets.

By affirming a role for carbon markets, the Paris Agreement recognizes the realities already on the ground, where emission trading systems are at work in over 50 jurisdictions home to nearly 1 billion people. When China adopts a national carbon trading system, beginning in 2017, that number will rise to 2 billion – almost a third of the world’s population.

The Paris Agreement provides a framework for cooperation among jurisdictions, but nations still must step up with effective and transparent domestic carbon markets. Almost half of all countries have already either stated their intention to use international carbon markets to cut their carbon pollution, or are already employing them domestically, at the national or subnational level.

6) Accelerated action on forest protection is a key to global and national efforts to reduce emissions.

Many of the countries participating in the New York signing ceremony are taking important steps to protect their forests, under an agreed international framework for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). Forests are the only sector specifically mentioned in the Paris Agreement, signaling political recognition of the urgent need for better protections as well as financial incentives that confirm that forests are more valuable alive than dead. Outside of the climate negotiations, Germany, Norway and the UK confirmed their support by pledging $5 billion in REDD+ funding between 2015-2020, while developing countries presented their progress on creating and implementing REDD+ programs.

7) Clear and growing momentum to implement the Paris Agreement shines a spotlight on the next big climate win the world needs: adoption of a global market-based measure in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

International aviation wasn’t covered in the Paris Agreement, due in part to these emissions falling outside national emissions accounts. However, the UN’s aviation arm is working on a deal this fall that would limit emissions from this rapidly growing sector. ICAO is developing a proposal for airlines to offset all emissions above 2020 levels through high-quality, rigorously verified emissions reductions in other sectors – such as through reductions in emissions from deforestation, achieved under the UNFCCC's "REDD+ Framework". A cap on aviation at 2020 levels could achieve 8 billion tons of emissions reductions in the next two decades – reductions that would otherwise not be obtained under the Paris Agreement.

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Solving the “Paris equation”: The role of carbon markets in meeting the Paris Agreement’s ambitious goals

Source: UN,

Source: Flickr, UN Photo/Mark Garten

As nations around the world consider the results of the historic climate agreement reached at the 21st annual climate talks in Paris last December, one thing is clear: the Paris Agreement is contributing to – and a sign of – growing momentum around the world to address climate change. For the first time in history, nearly all the countries of the world have put forward concrete pledges to cut pollution and address the impacts of climate change on local communities.

Two significant outcomes of the Paris Agreement reflect that momentum:

  1. A more ambitious global goal, in which nations agreed to hold warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and “pursue efforts” to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
  2. A requirement that nations come back to the table every five years to strengthen their individual pledges, in order to achieve their collective goal over time.

While the pathway necessary to limit warming to 2.7 or even 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit is not specified by the Paris Agreement, nations did agree that they would achieve a “balance” between anthropogenic (i.e., human-caused) emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and anthropogenic removals by so-called carbon sinks, such as via reforestation or afforestation, “in the second half of this century.” That translates to the following simple equation, which nations agreed to solve no later than 2100:

(anthropogenic emissions of GHGs) – (anthropogenic removal of GHGs by forests and other sinks) = 0

Notably, nations also provided several market- and transparency-related tools that could help solve this “Paris equation”:

  • Provisions that facilitate high-integrity, “bottom-up” linkages of domestic carbon markets to cut carbon pollution. These linkages (described in the Agreement as “cooperative approaches”) promise to reduce costs, and unlock the finance needed to drive deeper global emissions reductions;
  • A new, centralized market mechanism, governed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to reduce GHG emissions and contribute to sustainable development; and
  • An enhanced transparency framework, requiring regular reporting and review of all nations’ climate efforts.

These three elements of the Paris Agreement reflect the widespread recognition among nations that carbon markets accompanied by a clear, comprehensive transparency framework will help drive the deep emissions reductions called for by science.

 

What the Paris Agreement means for carbon markets

By affirming a role for carbon markets in international climate cooperation, the Paris Agreement recognizes the realities already on the ground, where emission trading systems are at work in over 50 jurisdictions home to nearly 1 billion people. When China adopts a national carbon trading system, beginning in 2017, that number will rise to 2 billion – almost a third of the world’s population.

Figure 1:  Existing, Emerging, and Potential Carbon Pricing Jurisdictions

And more than half of the world’s countries are using, or plan to use, carbon markets to stimulate the innovation and investment needed to meet their Paris climate pledges.

With the UN now blessing the growing use of bottom-up cooperation between jurisdictions to link their markets and spur greater efficiency, as California and Quebec have done, the challenge now becomes how to accelerate the transparent, high-integrity international cooperation needed to solve the Paris equation.  That cooperation – needed both inside and outside the UNFCCC – is the subject of my next post.

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What the Paris Agreement's references to indigenous peoples mean

By: Chris Meyer, Environmental Defense Fund, and Estebancio Castro, Independent Indigenous Leader

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The Paris Agreement makes five explicit references to indigenous peoples, their rights, and their traditional knowledge. Above: A report launched at a December 2015 press conference in Paris found indigenous territories hold one-fifth of the world’s tropical forest carbon. Credit: Environmental Defense Fund

Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but they can also play a crucial role in stabilizing the climate. Though the 1997 Kyoto Protocol didn’t include a single reference to indigenous peoples, the Paris Agreement– though not perfect – made some great strides.

The Paris Agreement and implementing decisions include:

  • five explicit references to indigenous peoples, their rights, and their traditional knowledge. These appear in the preambles of both the Paris Agreement and the Decision text, and in specific topic areas of the exchange of experiences and adaptation.
  • a reference to a topic important to indigenous peoples, non-carbon benefits in relation to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

Importantly, the references to indigenous peoples in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, and repeated in the preamble to the Decision text, say that countries need to respect indigenous peoples’ rights when taking action to address climate change. It’s significant that this rights language is included in the preambles, as it ensures these rights will be part of the framing of the whole agreement and implementing decisions.

The Paris Agreement and its Decision texts contain important references to indigenous peoples' rights that can help drive change at the country levels, where it is most needed.

The other references to indigenous peoples discuss the need to include them in the exchange of knowledge, especially considering the topic of adaptation. As they are one of the more vulnerable groups, they will need access to more western knowledge to support their own indigenous knowledge about how to adapt to climate change and protect their livelihoods. Additionally, the Paris Agreement recognizes indigenous peoples' “traditional knowledge” as an asset for helping themselves – and their neighbors – adapt.

Indigenous peoples for many years advocated strongly for the consideration of non-carbon benefits as a part of REDD+, including through a number of formal submissions to the process. The inclusion of explicit language in the REDD+ article to promote non-carbon benefits reflects their efforts and the importance of the topic.

The Paris Agreement and its Decision text aren’t perfect, and though some may have wished to see a greater number of specific references to these rights in the text, the Paris outcome was kept intentionally broad so it could be applicable to nearly 200 countries.

Regardless, we see important references to indigenous peoples' rights in the Paris Agreement and its Decision texts that, together with other international human rights instruments, can now be leveraged to drive change at the country levels, where it is most needed. That is the challenge in the years to come – to ensure indigenous peoples and their rights are adequately represented and respected in countries’ policies and actions they take to implement the Paris Agreement.

Additional resources:

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

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Source: Flickr/ UNClimateChange

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

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

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

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

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

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