EDF Talks Global Climate

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

Posted in Deforestation, News, REDD, UN negotiations, Warsaw (COP-19) |: | Leave a comment

IPCC mention of geoengineering, though brief, opens window for discussion

The IPCC's latest report includes a brief mention of geoengineering — a range of techniques for reducing global warming through intervention in the planet’s climate system. (Photo credit: NASA)

Just a few weeks ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first piece of their fifth crucial report on global warming – and it confirms that our climate is changing. Key messages from the report include:

  • Warming of the climate is unequivocal
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear, and the evidence for human influence has only increased since the last IPCC report
  • Further changes in temperature, precipitation, weather extremes, and sea level are imminent

In short, humans are causing dramatic climate change—and we’re already witnessing the effects. Oceans are warming and acidifying. Weather patterns are more extreme and destructive. Land-based ice is declining—and leading to rising sea levels.

None of this should be surprising to those following the science of climate change. What has generated surprise amongst some, however, is the IPCC’s brief mention of the science of geoengineering, tucked into the last paragraph of the IPCC’s 36-page “Summary for Policymakers.”

Understanding the science of geoengineering

As communities and policymakers around the world face the risks presented by a rapidly changing climate, interest in the topic of “geoengineering” is growing.

Geoengineering refers to a range of techniques for reducing global warming through intervention in the planet’s climate system, by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (carbon dioxide removal, or CDR) or by reflecting away a small percentage of inbound sunlight (solar radiation management, or SRM).

Some of these ideas have been proposed by scientists concerned about the lack of political progress in curbing the continued growth in global carbon emissions, and who are looking for other possibilities for addressing climate change if we can’t get emissions under control soon.

With the risks and impacts of rising temperatures already being felt, the fact that SRM would likely be cheap to deploy and fast-acting means that it has attracted particular attention as one possible short-term response to climate change.

The world’s governments tasked the IPCC with investigating these emerging technologies in its new report, and the IPCC summary rightly sounds a cautionary note on their potential utility, warning:

Limited evidence precludes a comprehensive quantitative assessment of both Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and their impact on the climate system…

Modelling indicates that SRM methods, if realizable, have the potential to substantially offset a global temperature rise, but they would also modify the global water cycle, and would not reduce ocean acidification. If SRM were terminated for any reason, there is high confidence that global surface temperatures would rise very rapidly to values consistent with the greenhouse gas forcing. CDR and SRM methods carry side effects and long-term consequences on a global scale.

So what does this mean? Three things are clear from the IPCC’s brief analysis:

  1. CDR and SRM might have benefits for the climate system, but they also carry risks, and at this stage it is unknown what the balance of benefits and risks may be.
  2. The overall effects of SRM for regional and global weather patterns are likely to be uncertain, unpredictable, and broadly distributed across countries. As with climate change itself, there would most likely be winners and losers if SRM technologies were to be used.
  3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, SRM does not provide an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, since it does not address the rising emissions that are the root cause of ocean acidification and other non-temperature related climate change impacts.

This last point is particularly important. The most that could be expected from SRM would be to serve as a short-term tool to manage some temperature-related climate risks, if efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions prove too slow to prevent severe disruption of the earth’s climate.

In that case, we need to understand what intervention options exist and the implications of deploying them. In other words, ignorance is our enemy.

Need for inclusive and adaptive governance of solar radiation management research

While much of the limited research on solar radiation management has taken place in the developed world – a trend likely to continue for the foreseeable future – the ethical, political, and social implications of SRM research are necessarily global. Discussions about governance of research should be as well.

But a transparent and transnationally agreed system of governance of SRM research (including norms, best practices, regulations and laws) does not currently exist. With knowledge of the complex technical, ethical, and political implications of SRM currently limited, an effective research governance framework will be difficult to achieve until we undertake a broad conversation among a diversity of stakeholders.

Recognizing these needs, The Royal Society, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences) launched in 2010 an international NGO-driven initiative to explore how SRM research could be governed. SRMGI is neither for nor against SRM. Instead, it aims to foster inclusive, interdisciplinary, and international discussion on SRM research and governance.

SRMGI’s activities are founded on a simple idea: that early and sustained dialogue among diverse stakeholders around the world, informed by the best available science, will increase the chances of SRM research being handled responsibly, equitably, and cooperatively.

Connecting dialogues across borders

A key goal is to include people in developing countries vulnerable to climate change and typically marginalized in discussions about emerging science and technology issues, to explore their views on SRM, and connect them in a transnational conversation about possible research governance regimes.

This month, for example, saw the launch of a report by the African Academy of Sciences and SRMGI describing the results from a series of three SRM research governance workshops held in Africa in 2012 and 2013. Convened in Senegal, South Africa, and Ethiopia, the workshops attracted more than 100 participants – including scientists, policymakers, journalists and academics – from 21 African nations to explore African perspectives on SRM governance.

To build the capacity for an informed global dialogue on geoengineering governance, a critical mass of well-informed individuals in communities throughout the world must be developed, and they must talk to each other, as well as to their own networks. An expanding spiral of distinct, but linked outreach processes could help build the cooperative bridges needed to manage potential international conflicts, and will help ensure that if SRM technologies develop, they do so cooperatively and transparently, not unilaterally.

The way forward

No one can predict how SRM research will develop or whether these strategies for managing the short-term implications of climate risk will be helpful or harmful, but early cooperation and transnational, interdisciplinary dialogue on geoengineering research governance will help the global community make informed decisions.

With SRM research in its infancy, but interest in the topic growing, the IPCC report reminds us that now is the time to establish the norms and governance mechanisms that ensure that where research does proceed, it is safe, ethical, and subject to appropriate public oversight and independent evaluation.

It’s worth remembering that the IPCC devoted only one paragraph of its 36-page summary report to geoengineering. So while discussion about geoengineering technologies and governance is necessary, the key message from the IPCC must not be lost: it’s time to recognize that the billions of tons of carbon pollution we put in our atmosphere every year are causing dangerous changes to our climate, and work together to find the best ways to reduce that pollution.

Posted in Other |: | 1 Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

 One step forward, half a step back

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

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

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

Differences erupt in waning hours

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

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

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

Next steps

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

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

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

Posted in Aviation, News |: | 1 Response

Clarifying the Role of Non-Carbon Benefits in REDD+

(This post was written with the help of Sarah Marlay, EDF summer intern and graduate student at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies)

In the face of the growing threat of climate change, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) has been a hot topic in international climate negotiations for nearly a decade.

Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are currently in the process of deciding on many important elements of the REDD+ policy framework. The ‘non-carbon benefits’ of REDD+ activities is one such issue that is just now being discussed in two different forums under the UNFCCC.

In June, countries at the UNFCCC’s 38th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) proposed a draft text to be considered at the Conference of the Parties’ (COP) 19th session this coming November. The draft text acknowledged the need for clarity on the types of non-carbon benefits and related methodological issues and for the discussion to take place in 2014.

Also, this week Parties will convene a workshop on the COP Work Programme on Results-based Finance for REDD+, with the mandate to explore ways to incentivize non-carbon benefits.

In this post, I offer my answers to the two key issues related to non-carbon benefits that have been raised by the Parties this summer: the lack of clarity surrounding non-carbon benefits; and the need to identify ways to incentivize non-carbon benefits in REDD+.

For a more in-depth discussion, please see  our policy paper on non-carbon benefits.

Lack of Clarity Surrounding Non-Carbon Benefits

Defining Non-Carbon Benefits

‘Non-carbon benefits’ are positive outcomes resulting from REDD+ activities beyond those associated with carbon storage and/or sequestration. Non-carbon benefits are often broken down into 3 main types: social, environmental and governance benefits.

The diagram below provides several examples of potential non-carbon benefits in each of these 3 categories:

One difficulty with the term ‘non-carbon benefits’ is that it encompasses such a wide range of potential benefits that it becomes challenging to target and promote specific non-carbon benefits at the national level.

To provide additional clarity on non-carbon benefits, specific non-carbon benefits should be identified and prioritized at the national level, according to each country’s objectives and context.

Once selected, these priorities for non-carbon benefits can inform the design of the national REDD+ program.

Clarifying the Relationship between Non-Carbon Benefits and Safeguards

At COP 16 in Cancun, Parties of the UNFCCC adopted a list of safeguards that should be promoted and supported by REDD+ activities. Through this decision, key non-carbon benefits were formally incorporated within the framework of ‘REDD+ safeguards.’

While certain safeguards are protective in nature and set minimum standards for REDD+ actions, other safeguards fall within the category of ‘non-carbon benefits’ by extending beyond protective measures to require that REDD+ activities promote and/or enhance social, environmental and governance benefits.

Incentivizing Non-Carbon Benefits

Centrality of Non-Carbon Benefits to the Success of REDD+

There has been growing global recognition of the fact that, if REDD+ is to succeed in mitigating climate change, non-carbon benefits must play a part. It is often through the promotion of these benefits that many REDD+ strategies address the root causes of drivers of deforestation and achieve real and permanent emission reductions.

Ways to Incentivize Non-Carbon Benefits

The discussion in the COP Work Programme this August will focus on Phase 3 of REDD+, when payments for REDD+ results will be made.

Here, I suggest ways that non-carbon benefits can be incentivized in Phase 3 by both the UNFCCC and avenues external to the UNFCCC.

The UNFCCC should incentivize non-carbon benefits by making results-based payments conditional upon compliance with the REDD+ safeguards link more explicit.

Despite significant progress in the UNFCCC in institutionalizing safeguards, Parties have not clearly defined ‘results-based payments.’

‘Results-based payments’ should be defined under the UNFCCC as payments for emission reductions that are conditional upon compliance with the REDD+ safeguards. Under this definition (and as already stated in the Cancun Agreement), only REDD+ activities that enhance social and environmental benefits, incentivize the conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and promote effective forest governance mechanisms, along with the other safeguards, will be eligible to receive payments.

Outside of the UNFCCC and the REDD+ mechanism, REDD+ activities can receive direct compensation for non-carbon benefits by securing funds from funding sources that promote specific non-carbon benefits.

For example, Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) initiatives worldwide have promoted and directly paid for diverse ecosystem services, like biodiversity conservation.

Additionally, emission reductions associated with non-carbon benefits are more competitive in carbon markets and in attracting multilateral or bilateral funding, thereby providing another incentive for REDD+ activities to promote non-carbon benefits.

In the voluntary carbon market, emission reductions achieved while promoting non-carbon benefits often receive higher prices, and there has been growing demand for larger quantities of these credits. Also, national REDD+ programs with prominent non-carbon benefits may have a higher likelihood of securing multilateral or bilateral funding arrangements (the case of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s Carbon Fund).

The Role of the UNFCCC Moving Forward

To help bring clarity to the discussion surrounding non-carbon benefits, Parties of the UNFCCC should begin identifying and prioritizing non-carbon benefits at the national level. This progress will help clarify the types of non-carbon benefits that will be promoted and potential challenges to their implementation.

In order to incentivize non-carbon benefits, Parties should adopt a definition for results-based payments that clearly defines them as payments for emission reductions that are conditional upon compliance with the REDD+ safeguards.

While there is general consensus that non-carbon benefits are closely tied to the success of REDD+, what remains is for the Parties of the UNFCCC to clarify the role of non-carbon benefits in the global REDD+ framework, and in doing so, strengthen the foundation of REDD+ itself.

Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD |: | 2 Responses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog-exclusive addendum: effect on ticket prices

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

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

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

Posted in Aviation, Emissions trading & markets, News |: | 1 Response

A blueprint for advancing California's strong leadership on global climate change

A key reason California has become a global leader on climate change is its ability to successfully adopt the Global Warming Solutions Act, the state’s climate law that uses market-based tools to significantly reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emission levels.

A group of leading tropical forest experts has presented a blueprint for how California can significantly reduce global warming pollution while keeping pollution control costs down and helping stop tropical deforestation. (image source: Wikimedia Commons)

A group of tropical forest experts has now presented a blueprint for how California can secure significantly more reductions in global warming pollution than the law requires, while keeping pollution control costs down and helping stop the catastrophe of tropical deforestation.

California is widely recognized as the major first mover in the United States on climate change, but tropical states and countries are making strong progress in stopping climate change, too. Brazil and Amazon states have reduced emissions from cutting and burning the Amazon forest by about 2.2 billion tons of carbon since 2005, making Brazil the world leader in curbing climate change pollution.

Research has shown that government policies played a big role in this major achievement. But so far this success in reducing deforestation has been entirely from government “command-and-control;” promised economic incentives for reducing deforestation haven’t materialized.  Pushback from ranchers against environmental law enforcement and the officially recognized indigenous territories and protected areas that cover an area four times the size of California have weakened critical environmental legislation.

Brazil and the Amazon states will continue to reach their ambitious deforestation reduction targets, at least for the next few years, but deforestation rates recently appear to be edging upward.

California now has an opportunity to send a powerful signal that forests in the Amazon – and ultimately elsewhere – can be worth more alive than dead by partnering with sustainable development leaders outside the United States.

Since state-wide, or “jurisdictional,” reductions in deforestation and forest degradation are large in scale and relatively low-cost, it’s critical that well-governed and effective pollution control programs from early movers, like the state of Acre, Brazil, are recognized by California’s carbon market. Ultimately, this can help California control costs, while giving these environmental leaders the sign they need to keep deforestation under control.

REDD Offsets Working Group report

The REDD Offsets Working Group (ROW), along with observers from the governments of California, Acre and Chiapas, Mexico, calls for the Golden State to allow limited amounts of carbon credits from Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) into its carbon market, but only from states that can show that they have reduced deforestation state-wide and below historical levels.

The ROW report: Recommendations to Conserve Tropical Rainforests, Protect Local Communities, and Reduce State-Wide Greenhouse Gas Emissions" recommends:

  • Partner states receive credit for a part of their demonstrated reductions only after showing they have succeeded in halting deforestation through their own efforts.
  • Free, prior and informed consent for local communities in REDD+ programs.
  • Adherence to internationally recognized standards for protection of indigenous and local peoples’ rights and participation in policy design in partner-state REDD+ programs.

REDD+ programs are especially important for indigenous and forest-based communities because these groups have historically protected forests, and typically want to continue doing so, but they have largely lacked access to markets, modern technology, quality health care and social services that REDD+ could help deliver. With California’s help, forest communities can achieve better economic opportunities and forest conservation.

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation, REDD |: | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in News, United States |: | 2 Responses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the climate strategy could mean for Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, the substance:

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

A road map toward a more secure future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the headline.

The cost of delay

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

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

Not an oil shock, but a climate shock

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

Back to the big picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from EDF's Climate 411 blog.

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