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.

Posted in Emissions trading & markets, Paris, UN negotiations| Leave a comment

What the Paris Agreement's references to indigenous peoples mean

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

paris_indigenous

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:

Posted in Indigenous peoples, Paris, REDD+| 1 Response

California and Quebec’s Carbon Auctions Sail into 2016

The results of California and Quebec’s carbon market auction released today show that the market can operate as designed and continue sailing along.

Participants in the Feb. 17th auction, California and Quebec’s 6th joint auction, had an opportunity to bid on over 81 million carbon allowances. Of those:

  • 71.5 million of those allowances were current vintage allowances (2016 and earlier), which regulated businesses can use this year or in any future year for compliance. 95% of current vintage allowances sold at the minimum floor price of $12.73. In the November 2015 auction, prices anticipated the 2016 floor price and sold at $12.73 although the floor price was about 60 cents less.
  • Just over 10 million of those allowances are only available for use in 2019 and after. 93% of the 2019 vintage allowances sold at the floor price of $12.73.

These results show steady prices and average participation by regulated businesses. It is somewhat unusual that some current allowances did not sell at this auction. However, these auction results demonstrate an important feature of the California-Quebec market that safeguards against large price swings like those seen in other commodity markets: a minimum price floor in every auction that increases steadily each year. Read More »

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6 successes from California and Quebec’s third year of cap and trade

Source: Flickr

Photo Source: Flickr / JoeBehr

The joint carbon market in California and Quebec holds its first carbon market allowance auction of 2016 today.

The auction offers a good opportunity to reflect on some of the notable successes of the market in 2015.

The California-Quebec market is one of the prime examples of a successful carbon market that many countries will look to as they consider how to meet the commitments made in Paris, where countries successfully negotiated an ambitious climate deal that outlines multiple pathways for nations to use markets to meet their long-term goals.

Here are the top six successes of California and Quebec’s carbon market in 2015, in no particular order. Read More »

Posted in California, Emissions trading & markets, United States| Leave a comment

To understand airplanes’ climate pollution, a picture is worth a thousand words

Thousands of words have been written this week about a new efficiency standard recommended by a technical group of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The standard, if adopted by ICAO’s executive council, is intended to require aircraft manufacturers to start producing more efficient airplanes.

But one picture makes clear that even with the new efficiency standard, international aviation still has a huge gap between its anticipated emissions and its own environmental goals.

Graph of aviation's emissions gap

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

The top of the upsloping curve shows how international aviation’s emissions are slated to skyrocket in coming years.

The horizontal red line toward the bottom, labeled “Emissions Cap at 2020 levels,” shows the industry’s own goal of “carbon-neutral growth from 2020.” ICAO has also embraced this goal.

The area below the top of the curve and above the horizontal red line at 2020 is the total amount of emissions that international aviation must deal with to meet this goal.

This week, ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) recommended that ICAO’s Executive Council adopt, at its next meeting in June, a carbon dioxide efficiency standard for aircraft, akin to a fuel economy standard for cars. That’s a step in the right direction.

But how big a slice will this new standard take out of international aviation’s skyrocketing emissions? At best, that’s the blue sliver shown in this picture. (The red sliver aviation hopes to cut through “operational improvements” like better air traffic control.)

That leaves a huge “Emissions Gap” – shown in green – about 7.8 billion tonnes of carbon pollution that international aviation will have to deal with to meet its own climate goals, let alone the kinds of reductions that will be needed if the sector is to bring emissions down to the dashed red arrow, along the lines of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The industry has a long way to go to make carbon pollution go down, not up.

ICAO’s pledged to finalize, this September, a global market-based measure (MBM) with offsetting to drive industry’s net emissions down to the 2020 cap. President Obama has made climate action a centerpiece of his legacy. Success in cutting aviation emissions could help – but that will only happen if the Obama administration takes the lead in the intensive talks now underway in ICAO.

The picture is clear: While the aircraft standard will help, the Administration now needs to keep its eyes on the prize the ICAO decision on the market-based measure in September.

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International action on aviation emissions: What's at stake in ICAO

If international aviation were a country, it would be a top ten emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), on par with Germany or the United Kingdom. And it’s expected to grow enormously: with more than 50,000 new large aircraft slated to take to the skies, its emissions are expected to triple or quadruple by 2040.

In Paris in December 2015, the world hailed the success of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in adopting the first broadly applicable instrument to start driving carbon pollution down, with a goal of limiting warming to 1.5-2° C.

But Paris didn’t cover pollution from flights between countries. Why not? Because in 1997, aviation lobbied for, and got, the UNFCCC to defer these to another UN body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

ICAO talked about the issue for fifteen years until 2013, when, with Europe poised to enforce a cap on emissions of inbound/outbound flights, ICAO pledged to act by 2016. Quiet talks are now underway on:

  1. An ICAO CO2 standard for aircraft – akin to a miles-per-gallon standard for cars. In Montreal next week, possibly as early as Monday, February 8, 2016, a technical group is expected to agree a recommendation for this standard.
  1. A cap on international aviation’s total CO2 emissions at 2020 levels. ICAO is slated to vote in September 2016, on the cap and a market-based measure (MBM) to help airlines implement it.

Here’s what’s at stake:

Caption

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

Without any new rules, international aviation’s carbon pollution is expected to skyrocket (top red line). Better air traffic control can trim some pollution (top red wedge). An ambitious CO2 standard would mean fewer emissions per passenger-mile, further slowing the sector’s emissions growth (blue wedge). But because the industry’s overall emissions are expected to far outstrip these per-trip efficiency gains, there’s still a huge gap (green triangle) – at least 6-8 billion tonnes – to get to the goal of an emissions cap at 2020 levels (red horizontal line), or even more ambitious goals along the lines of the Paris agreement (red dashed line).

The real prize is the market-based measure to cap aviation emissions and drive pollution down, not up.

Learn more at edf.org/aviation.

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