EDF Talks Global Climate

U.S. subnational leaders enjoy banner event at COP 23

America's Pledge event at COP23 | Photo: UNClimateChange

COP 23 has been a banner event for subnational actors, and especially for California. Between events and breaking news, our EDF California team has enjoyed visiting informally with representatives from around the world.

One theme from these conversations is “we’re so glad you are here!”

The presence of American states and NGOs, and the leadership of states like California, has not gone unnoticed, especially when the absence of U.S. leadership on climate is so obvious.

Some have asked if we have received backlash from the United States about being here (so far so good!), and there’s universal enthusiasm for the US Climate Action Center (or “igloo” – nicknamed both for the big white tents and chilly temperatures).

It is clear from these announcements and conversations that the leadership of California is more critical than ever.

Here’s a quick round-up of key state-level news:

America’s Pledge – California Governor Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg shared the first report of their joint initiative, America’s Pledge. A reaction to the United States’ dismissal of the Paris Agreement, this project demonstrates the power of collective action and aims to spur greater climate ambition. If they were one country, the signatory cities and states would have the third largest GDP in the world, and would be home to one-third of the American people. This is a significant rejection of the Trump Administration’s rhetoric on climate, and a testament to Governor Brown and Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership.

Under2 Coalition Signing – A joint initiative of Governor Jerry Brown and the German state of Baden-Württemberg, the Under 2 Coalition commits ambitious states and regions around the world to making commitments on emission reductions consistent with the Paris Agreement and to keeping global warming below 2°C. Virginia became the latest partner in the Under 2 Coalition, solidifying its climate leadership and the state continues to works toward greater electric vehicle infrastructure and reducing carbon emissions from the power sector.

California’s Progress and Promise – Governor Brown, CalEPA Secretary Matt Rodriguez, Assembly Member Cristina Garcia and others have each had speaking engagements at COP 23, and across them all two themes emerge. First, California is leading the way on reducing emissions, cleaning up pollution, and striving for equitable climate policy. But the second theme is that there is much more to do. While celebrating these achievements, the state has further to go de-carbonizing the economy and improving local air quality.

California-Acre Luncheon – One of the most exciting things about COP23 is the opportunity to build connections across countries and cultures on issues of mutual importance. The California Legislative Delegation had the opportunity for lunch with the delegation from the state of Acre, Brazil. They discussed deforestation and its impact on the climate and local communities, as well the need for global partnerships to go further and faster stopping climate change.

2018 Global Climate Action Summit – Want your own COP-like experience? Governor Brown invited attendees to join him and sub-national leaders from around the world at the 2018 Climate Summit in San Francisco! Described as the “COP for subnationals,” one key goal is to establish a San Francisco agreement on sub-national climate action. Businesses, cities, states, investors, and civil society will explore how much more we can do together on climate action, learn from each other, and build positive momentum for COP 24 in Poland.

It is clear from these announcements and conversations (not to mention Governor Brown’s rock star status at COP 23) that the leadership of California is more critical than ever. This is especially true now that the United States is the sole country opposing the Paris Agreement, now that Syria and Nicaragua have joined the agreement.

California’s role as climate champion, success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining economic prosperity, and concerted efforts for greater climate equity are all stories we are proud to be sharing with the rest of the world.

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Agriculture negotiations reach agreement at COP23

Photo by UNClimateChange

In what could be the iconic decision of COP 23, negotiators in Bonn agreed to new future negotiation processes to “jointly address” a number of new agriculture topics, overcoming longstanding hurdles that had blocked progress on the topic in recent years.

Why is this important?

Emissions from agriculture are expected to continue growing as the world’s population continues to expand and diets change with rising incomes.

However, a recent journal article by Griscom et al. published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found activities under the agriculture and grasslands rubric, such as management of fertilizer use, could achieve roughly 6% of needed emission reductions to stay below a 2 degree temperature change. To realize that potential though, farmers need new tools and incentives.

Additionally, farmers are expecting to find their jobs of growing our food harder as climate change makes weather patterns more unpredictable, and makes climatic events such as droughts and flooding more frequent and intense. Farmers will also need new methods and technologies to make their farms more resilient and adapt to the new conditions.

Agriculture has been discussed for years, but progress had been stymied by disagreement related to potential trade implications on key commodity exports, whether to prioritize adaptation or mitigation in the agenda, and UNFCCC process-oriented concerns on what could and couldn’t be negotiated based on the last agriculture decision.

What’s in the decision?

The negotiators agreed to have the Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) review issues associated with agriculture by using workshops and technical expert meetings.

Using both the SBI and SBSTA to review a topic “jointly” is not a frequent negotiation strategy pursued by negotiators. That’s because the complexity of the negotiation rises exponentially when a topic is jointly negotiated rather than negotiated in a single process. But this process was used for the set of policy approaches for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), which ended up being the only sector with its own article in the Paris Agreement.

Regarding topics in agriculture that the processes might first consider, they include:

  • How to assess adaptation, adaptation co-benefits (code for mitigation), and resilience
  • How to improve soil health, soil carbon in grasslands and croplands, and related water management
  • How to improve nutrient management – e.g. more efficient fertilizer use
  • How to improve livestock management systems
  • Studying the socioeconomic and food security issues associated with climate change in the agriculture sector
  • Any of the previous topics discussed in a set of workshops in recent years

Importantly, the negotiators also left other agenda items to be added as needed, which let countries see flexibility in the future to add a topic of more relevance to them.

 What is the timeline for the process?

The decision asks for reports back in three years at COP 26 in 2020. If the process is successful, countries should then have more knowledge and methodologies at their disposal to take action in their respective agriculture sectors in the post-2020 climate regime. At the moment, there is no clear guidance for them on how they might take such action, nor are there incentives for them to do so.

With this momentous decision on agriculture at COP 23, we now have a great opportunity for making our food supply and farmers’ livelihoods more resilient while also contributing to mitigating climate change.

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California to showcase subnational climate action at COP 23

This week, signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) meet in Bonn, Germany to discuss implementation of the Paris Agreement. While much of the domestic news will focus on the Trump Administration’s “break-up” with the Paris Agreement, there will also be significant focus at the COP on actions of sub-nationals: cities, states, and regions around the world who are stepping up to address climate change.

California is a leader in sub-national climate action, and Governor Jerry Brown has been designated Special Advisor for States and Regions to COP 23. He will be welcoming new partners in the Under2MOU: a coalition of 188 jurisdictions around the world acting to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Governor Brown was also instrumental in creating the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bi-partisan group of states committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement, even if Washington, DC tries to walk away.

At the U.S. Climate Action Pavilion at COP 23, Governor Brown, together with Michael Bloomberg, will release a new report on November 11th highlighting the progress of U.S. states, cities, and businesses in addressing climate change. He will also be participating in other events with the “We Are Still In” effort to promote American climate action and leadership. These are important examples of sub-national action that increases the ambition of other regions in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

To illustrate California’s state-level achievements, Environmental Defense Fund has two new publications for COP 23. “California’s Cap-and-Trade Program Step by Step” explains how California set up its cornerstone climate policy, cap and trade, in an easy-to-follow 10-step formula. Other sub-nationals as well as interested countries will be able to learn from the state’s experience in developing their own emissions trading system.

Cutting Carbon and Growing the Economy” highlights the progress California has made since cap and trade began in reducing emissions, strengthening the economy, and ensuring all California residents benefit.

Reducing emissions and growing the economy go hand-in-hand. The state is on track to beat the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and the state’s Gross State Product has increased more than 16% since 2006.

At the same time, California’s job growth has outpaced the nation, and the growth in “clean jobs” has dwarfed overall job growth. Revenues from cap and trade mean over $5 billion is being invested in communities across the state. This includes funds directed toward air quality and other environmental justice issues in the most polluted neighborhoods.

Together, these publications demonstrate the progress California has made in addressing climate change. In partnership with the California State Delegation to COP 23, EDF will illustrate to the world that the Trump Administration doesn’t have the last word on American climate action. States like California are leading the way and are encouraging other sub-nationals to join them in ambitious climate action.

For further questions please reach out to any of EDF California’s delegation heading to Bonn this week: Quentin Foster, Erica Morehouse, or Katelyn Roedner Sutter.

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How will forests be on the “menu” at UN Bonn climate talks?

The 2017 UN climate talks will take place from November 6 to 17 in Bonn, Germany | Photo: Pixabay

This year’s global climate conference (COP23) is upon us and will be an interesting mix of Fijian diplomacy and Kölsch beer. As I do every year, in this year’s pre-COP blog I lay out what will be happening during the COP related to REDD+ in the negotiations and what I hope to hear about in the hallways and many side events.

The COP23 conference is expected to be a working COP as parties make the necessary progress in rule writing to meet the 2018 deadline of a final rulebook. There will also be a lot of news about non-state actors – the private sector, states like California, and other non-federal entities – being discussed as a reaction to Trump’s reckless decision to leave the Paris Agreement.

For a good overview of how we are doing in with respect to the climate change and forest sector, I suggest reading this year’s New York Declaration on Forests report. It includes a good review on progress in the private sector (or lack thereof) and funding for forest conservation – and activities causing deforestation.

But, back to the UNFCCC …

REDD+ in the negotiation agenda

After a year’s hiatus from the COP agenda, REDD+ will make an expected brief appearance in the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) agenda the first week during discussions about the “coordination of REDD+ finance”. This is a leftover item from the Warsaw REDD+ Framework decision, when parties agreed to not create a “REDD+ Committee” to coordinate REDD+ finance as some parties wished, but rather annual informal and voluntary meetings during the mid-year subsidiary body negotiations (SBs) for 4 years to share experiences about REDD+ financing. Many of the attendees from parties to observers would agree that these informal meetings were of little value.

In this COP, negotiators are scheduled to reevaluate whether to continue the SBs or create the REDD+ Committee. I doubt there will be interest in either of them. However, the agenda item could be used as an opening to push a party’s or coalition’s not completely related proposal for financing REDD+, such as a centralized registry for REDD+ transactions.

REDD+ related negotiation items: transparency, NDCs and market

Much of the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ addressed transparency. After following initial discussions in the broader transparency agenda item that is part of the APA, many parties and negotiators are worried that those negotiations might dilute what was achieved for REDD+. Transparency in REDD+ thus far includes the Lima REDD+ Information Hub where countries submit their National REDD+ Strategies, Reference Emission Level (REL) submissions, Safeguard Information System summaries, and results. The process established for reviewing the RELs, which includes a technical assessment and publication of that assessment, is very important. The fact that the new US negotiator for transparency is the former REDD+ negotiator for the US, however, could be very helpful to ensure no dilution occurs.

Many of the party submissions on producing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) mentioned the land use sector explicitly, and REDD+ implicitly. The more detail related to the inclusion of the land use sector in NDCs the better, but it might be hard for negotiators to come to agreement on the extent or nature of those details.

The market negotiations under the SBSTA will continue; those on Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement and Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs) are particularly relevant. More explicit guidance on no double counting/claiming is needed to ensure environmental integrity for REDD+ and ITMOs that might come from any other sector or project. REDD+ in itself, however, does not need explicit language in Article 6.2.

Other noticeable REDD+ financing developments

The Green Climate Fund recently approved guidance and $500 million for REDD+ results based payments, which I expect to be discussed substantially during the COP. Although the amount is not sufficient, the methodologies the GCF agreed upon will be relevant to other REDD+ finance decisions in the future.

Private finance for advancing deforestation free commodities is another hot topic and I expect to learn more concrete details about the andgreen.fund that was announced earlier in the year. Specifically, I’d like more clarity on how they will be defining jurisdictions advancing in becoming deforestation free, which is a requirement of the fund to determine what private sector actors will be funded.

This year’s report on New York Declaration on Forests provides extensive insight on the current state of forest finance. The report reviews the billions of pledges, commitments, and amounts spent to advance REDD+. More interesting is the amount of “grey” funding available from public subsidies and private sector investment for the land sector. The amount of “grey” funding greatly exceeds direct REDD+ funding and needs to be changed or channeled to activities that support forest conservation.

Indigenous Peoples in the negotiations

Indigenous territories have rates of deforestation eight times less than external forests.

Indigenous Peoples are hoping for a decision on the Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge platform that will support the inclusion of them and their solutions to mitigating and adapting to climate change. A number of parties from Ecuador to Canada are prioritizing and supporting this platform. While interested in all agenda items, Indigenous Peoples will also probably focus on the NDC negotiation to ensure that the need to include them in the development and revision of the NDCs is explicitly mentioned. Many party submissions on the topic included the need for NDCs to discuss how they consulted Indigenous Peoples and other groups in their development.

Indigenous leaders from the Amazon basin will be promoting a new scientific analysis which found, that from a regional level, indigenous territories have rates of deforestation eight times less than external forests. Hopefully, parties will take note of this and include more overt references to the importance of supporting and including Indigenous Peoples in decisions.

Reporting on progress by countries implementing REDD+

While not formally on the negotiation agenda, I expect a number of countries at their pavilions or in other events to present the final versions of their National REDD+ Strategies. Parties have already submitted 25 Reference Emission Levels (REL) and I expect a few more to arrive during the COP or before the end of the year. Discussions around best practices in REL construction and lessons learned will be a popular topic – amongst the technical people at least.

The richest presentations and discussions related to REDD+ will likely happen on November 12th during a set of panels on forests as part of the Action Agenda, now called the Marrakech Partnership for Climate Action. During this event, I hope to hear more about how the private sector is implementing the 700+ deforestation-free related commitments they’ve taken, but largely have yet to implement.

A “working” COP

Many expect no big decisions on forests – like a Warsaw Framework for REDD+ – to be agreed upon at this COP. However, I would like to see a decision on the platform for Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge, which would be helpful for REDD+.

The parties should make progress on advancing the markets, NDC, and transparency negotiations that are indirectly related, but no less important, to REDD+. Decisions on those topics at the COP next year, as mandated in the Paris Agreement, are essential for continuing the implementation of REDD+ and unlocking necessary finance.

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Bonn climate talks manage slow progress on technical issues, but key political differences loom

Today's end to the international climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany were marked by two weeks of slow progress and unresolved differences, and seemed sharply disconnected from the realities of natural disasters that have been ravaging the United States in the past few months.

Global surface temperature anomalies in May 2011. (credit: NOAA)

Here in the U.S., we’ve been learning that the erratic weather events and temperature extremes just in the past few months have been breaking records.  Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this week indicated:

A NOAA spokesperson said climate change is to blame for part of the increase in frequency in the extreme weather events.

"Slow, incremental progress" made

Back in Bonn, negotiations among more than 190 countries were taking place to develop a global agreement to address climate change.

Countries managed to make slow, incremental progress on some technical issues, but the large differences that have been part of U.N. climate negotiations process for more than 20 years remain unresolved.

EDF’s International Counsel Annie Petsonk said in a statement at the conclusion of the negotiations today that it looks like real progress to curb global warming is going to take place outside the U.N. talks:

There is still a potentially useful role for the U.N. talks regarding common rules for measuring and accounting for emissions necessary to create strong markets – but only if countries find ways to negotiate decisions more efficiently.

It looks increasingly likely that the real progress on fighting global warming will take place outside the U.N. process, in national, regional, and state-level carbon markets.

Strong carbon markets have shown they can stimulate large amounts of finance; for example, in the past five years, the EU’s emissions trading system became a $140 billion-per-year market; in contrast, the Kyoto Protocol’s inefficient mechanism, the Clean Development Mechanism, only reached $20 billion total in 2010.

Large-scale capital, Petsonk, said must be mobilized quickly — especially with the intensifying signs of global warming — but:

If the U.N. process can't get decisions made about the future of the Kyoto Protocol, then the smart money will move into low-carbon development opportunities in those countries and communities that deliver the incentives to go low-carbon.

Many large differences among countries remain unresolved after the two-week session made only incremental progress on some issues. Above: the Maritim Hotel in Bonn, Germany, where the U.N. climate negotiations took place. (photo credit: Gus Silva-Chávez)

One of the biggest shake-ups in the negotiations was a proposal by Mexico and Papua New Guinea to amend the 1992 climate treaty, to let the parties make decisions by majority instead of by the current standard of “consensus.”  This stemmed from a move in December’s Cancun conference in which Mexico, then the conference chair, showed major decisions cannot and should not be blocked by a single party.  Petsonk said:

That proposal has really begun to concentrate the minds of negotiators on improving the way the U.N. climate negotiations are conducted.

Among specific policy issues, once again the most progress was made on policies to reduce emissions from deforestation (REDD+).  Petsonk said

Tropical forest nations made good and steady progress on the key technical issues they need to resolve to be able to offer to carbon markets well-verified reductions in emissions from deforestation.

The meeting also launched a consideration of how agriculture, which has a large potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers around the word, should be included in a global climate treaty.

Many critical issues left unresolved

A few crucial questions loomed large over the talks, and were not resolved in the two weeks.  These include:

  • Will the world's biggest-emitting countries, including the United States and major emerging economies, join the EU in making significant emission reductions after the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012?
  • Where will nations get the financing to stimulate investment in low-carbon development and to fund adaptation?
  • Can countries find a way to extend and improve the Kyoto Protocol, or will they need to move to a bottom-up world based on national and regional carbon markets?
  • With growing concern among countries that the Kyoto Protocol is not the ideal basis for a global agreement, how much of a new framework can be built in Durban?

Countries will have the opportunity to address these issues in the upcoming meetings, announced this afternoon, which will be held in early July in Berlin, late July in Auckland, New Zealand, and in September or October at a location to be determined.

The meetings that ended today are part of the twice-annual meetings for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)'s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to meet and work out the technical details and make recommendations for draft decisions for review by the larger meeting of the Conference of Parties.  (This year, the June meetings also included groups responsible for the broader aspects of an international climate agreement, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention [AWG-LCA] and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol [AWG-KP]).

The largest of the U.N. climate meetings are the ministerial-level Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC, held near the end of every year.  This year’s 17th Conference of Parties (COP-17) begins November 28 in South Africa’s beachside city of Durban.

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Bonn 2: Text on table, horse-trading begins

The Bonn 2 UN climate talks opened in Germany today, and this could be the session that produces a rough outline of the scope and ambition we can expect from a new 2009 global agreement to stop runaway climate change.
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