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Blogging Warsaw: Nov 18

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, Haiyan/Yolanda, International Relations, Warsaw COP-19

Progress on Post-2012?

Bangladesh has signed the Doha Amendment (PDF) to the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes a new commitment period for some Parties after 2012, when the Protocol was initially slated to expire.  Four ratifications down, 144 to go!

The poorest countries are doing what they can, which is mostly focusing on trying to figure out what they can do to avoid impending climate catastrophe.  To this end, the 48 poorest of the poor have now submitted their National Adaptation Plans to address how, for example, subsistence agriculture will be made more resilient to deal with droughts, floods, and the like.

Notably, however, the Doha Amendment expires at 2020 (when the new current commitment period ends), and it is also not clear what is going to take place after that.

The US and the Post-2020 Climate

When asked about what the US would do in regards to attempts to create a new regime, the rep referenced Obama’s recent positive changes, including raising the CAFE Standards for automobiles, and support to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan.  He also referenced the Climate Change Working Group, established with China, which is a voluntary, bilateral program to reduce emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and increase overall energy efficiency.  One of the important things they’re doing as well, is phasing out the tremendously warming HFCs (which initially, were inadvertently encouraged under the Montreal Protocol  to avoid depleting the ozone layer).  Given projections of a massive increase of HFCs in the future, and their huge Global Warming Potential, this is a big deal.

Projected HFC consumption

Still, while the US is thinking about a post-2020 commitment, they are unwilling to state anything concrete at this time.  They also expressed sympathy for Japan, having unilaterally dropped their commitment from cutting emissions by 25% due to their recent crises with Fukushima, and their shift away from nuclear energy.  When asked by a member of the press on the US’s negotiating position, or approach to dealing with international efforts to create a post-2020 treaty, he said, “I’m certainly not here to negotiate that with you, heh heh heh heh heh.”

Business and Energy

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC had some words for the coal industry today.  Stating that the fifth report from the IPCC – AR5 – “is not science fiction, [but] is science fact,” Figueres called on the global industry to make dramatic changes.  Interestingly enough, Figueres makes in part a financial argument.  Observing that international development banks are increasingly unwilling to finance coal, and that cities “choked by air pollution are limiting the burning of coal,” she pointed out that continuing coal extraction may create a “business continuation risk.”

Coal Mining in India

However, she also underlines that there is a major environmental need to change as well.  Since it is clear that business as usual will lead to us overshooting the two degree Celsius limit, she calls for pretty serious steps, such as leaving “…most existing reserves in the ground.”

In talking about coal use and consumption, the US representative said “that’s not gonna change overnight.  But at the same time, if we’re going to get a grip on climate change, the balance of energy is going to have to tilt much more toward non-fossil sources.”  Still, this seems slightly more accepting of current and projected coal use, since he noted that the proper way to deal with coal in the current climate (ha ha) is to adopt carbon capture and storage.  Why change your energy habits, if you can just hide them, after all?

Blogging Warsaw: End of Week 1 of COP-19

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, Haiyan/Yolanda, International Relations, Warsaw COP-19

Haiyan/Yolanda, Developing Countries, and Climate Change

Aw yeah!  Blogging time!  Since I didn’t learn anything from COP-17 in Durban, it’s time to cover some of the goings-on, claims, positions, and new developments sure to come over the next week at Warsaw, where the Parties to the UNFCCC hold their 19th COP.  This is a pretty interesting time for the climate change regime, particularly since it’s the first year of the (post-Kyoto?  Second commitment period?  Ambling zombie-fied regime?) post-2012 era.  To recap: the Parties have so far agreed that it was impossible then (2010, 11, 12) to get a binding agreement before Kyoto expired, but committed to commit in the future to a globally binding Protocol, with Obligations and Requirements for All.

Finance and Development

As expected, one of the major issues has to do with the economic and environmental vulnerability of developing nations to climate change.  As academics like Roberts and Parks noted in the book A Climate of Injustice published by MIT Press, developing countries have argued persuasively that the problem of climate change is in part a problem of inequity.  In short, the accumulation of GHGs and the warming climate came because of industrialization and growth in the developed world; now the ones facing the major impact of the predicted increasing strength and frequency of storms like Hayian/Yolanda, are the poorer countries in the developing world, who are also now expected to curb development to solve a problem they had little hand in creating.

Yolanda’s Devastation in the Philippines

At the very least, academics and activists from the developing world have argued that they will take action to curb emissions, but this action must be heavily subsidized by mitigation and adaptation finance provided by the richer nations: 1) they can afford it; 2) they are responsible largely for the crisis. The events of Typhoon Haiyan provided the backdrop for all this, as representatives from the Philippines and the developing world were very clear that they saw the Storm as a result of the global society’s inaction on climate change.

NGO Participation: Terms Subject to Change

Long-term finance was particularly important to the Third World Network (consisting of ENGOs like ActionAid USA and Jubilee South from the Philippines) who were explicit in saying that what was needed to address current and future crises in developing countries was not “ad hoc, charity donations,” but rather actual commitment to help poor nations deal with loss and damage from climate change.  This was a sticking point for this coalition, particularly since, as Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA noted, the Adaptation Fund set up to help developing countries was running out of money.

Wu stated acerbically that the lack of willingness from developed nations to sponsor adaptation & mitigation in poor countries is due primarily to a lack of political will, not capability.  For instance, the unfulfilled pledges for Adaptation for one of the major environmental crises of our time totaled a mere $100 million, or “0.014% of what US spent to bail out banks in 2008.”  In addition, while the international society agreed to establish a Green Climate Fund with full funding by mid-to-late 2014, Wu noted that the text & timeline of the Fund are “not legally binding.”  Wu went on: “There’s no money.  There’s no predictability,” and without those, we have no “…assurance that developed countries have at least some minimal interest in meeting their finance obligations.”

However, on Friday, three members of Friends of the Earth Europe were expelled from the COP, and banned from participating for the next 5 years for expressing solidarity with the Philippines ENGOs’ concern about Yolanda.

Negotiating Positions and Future Treaties?

One other point: after 2012, the Parties to the UNFCCC made unilateral pledges to curb GH emissions.  This week, we saw why unilateral, unbinding pledges are problematic.  Japan decided to reduce their pledge, saying “we used to have a mitigation target of -25% by 2020 from 1990,” but have now decided that their new mitigation target is -3% below 2005 levels, or equivalent to 3.1% over 1990 levels.  To be sure, this target was justified in light of Japan’s own recent environmental crises.  The representative stated that, in light of Fukushima, Japan was planning on building no new nuclear power stations.  “Perhaps we may be able to revisit the mitigation target in the near future…  Some of you may say this is a very easy target for Japan.  It is not.”

Fukushima At A Distance

While the COP isn’t necessarily trying to establish a new agreement now, time is short, and hopefully we will move closer to some kind of consensus by November 22nd.

***Want to donate to help victims of Haiyan/Yolanda?  Check for options here***

Science and Climate Change Policy – Is There Really A Connection?

Categories: Climate Change, International Relations

News from the IPCC

The IPCC, lead advising body to the UN Framework on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, has finally started releasing its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).  On one hand, I suppose this is a triumph of science.  It’s full of carefully researched and synthesized data on the level of anthropogenic GHG emissions since the late 19th century, the level of sea rise, and the decline in Arctic ice.  The IPCC concludes that global warming is “unequivocal.”

On the other hand, it’s not clear that this is going to make any difference whatsoever to the foreign policy of the laggard developed states – the US, Canada, and Japan.  AR5 does not seem to add any more certainty than that present in AR4, which came out in 2007 (although, since AR4 was criticized for some methodological problems, I might be wrong there).  This may be, as the Guardian indicates, a “landmark report,” but I really don’t see this influencing the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP-19), currently scheduled for this November in Warsaw.

We’ll see, but it might be a cold day* in Hell before any of the laggard states change their tune due to science.

 

*Ironically, due to climate change, possibility of cold days in Hell projected to increase over the next 50 years.

Whither Republican Leadership on the Environment?

Categories: Climate Change, International Relations

Climate change is back on the radar of the presidential election, but this time as a punchline.  As is probably well known at this point, Romney gave a speech at the Republican National Convention in which he and the delegates vocally ridiculed the idea that climate change is a problem.  The video is available below:

This may seem like yet another example of the GOP, as an institution, rejecting well-established climate science.  For example, the only GOP presidential candidate last year to admit that anthropogenic climate change existed was Jon Huntsman, who never rose about the double digits in support.  And then, of course, even he went ‘squishy’ in his position in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, where he invoked the East Anglia Climate-gate controversy, calling for more thumb-twiddling until climate scientists could get “a better description” of the problem.

Of course, recalcitrance in the face of climate change management is not a partisan issue.  Famously, the Byrd-Hagel Resolution which handcuffs the US Executive branch from committing to any international treaty that does not bind developing nations (and preventing US ratification of Kyoto) is a bipartisan agreement.  But climate change denialism seems to be largely a Republican practice – and this in the face of ever mounting evidence from the IPCC that, yes, anthropogenic climate change exists, and is a threat to global security.

But it wasn’t always so.  One of the most vexing issues in the American political system, is that environmentalism has, in the past, had Republican support.  Some of the lead agencies responsible for managing environmental issues, the EPA, and the Council on Environmental Quality (as well as milestone acts, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts) were created either under President Nixon, not known as one sympathetic to the Democratic Party, or with Republican support.  This local environmentalism was but one part of a growing international environmental movement, as only a few years later, the UN held the Stockholm Convention on the Human Environment in 1972.

Sadly, of course, this changed dramatically in the anti-regulatory climate of the Reagan administration, with the appointment of Anne Gorsuch to head the EPA.  While Gorsuch’s tenure was mercifully brief, and despite later environmental triumphs, such as the ratification of the Montreal Protocol (under Reagan!), the damage had already been done.  Anti-environmentalism and anti-regulation had become such a central plank to the GOP platform, that we are left with the fact that what should be a straightforward debate about cause-and-effect has become highly polarized and prone to gridlock.

It is clear at this point, that a GOP presidency will likely mean a 4-year hiatus on any environmental regulatory progress, if not an outright reversal of what gains have been made to date.  The problem, of course, is that while environmental policymaking is partisan, environmental degradation is not.

Never Trust the ‘Win-Win-Win’ Scenario

Categories: Climate Change, Green Consumerism, Green Energy, International Relations

 

The Solution to Global Warming

Well, I suppose it’s about time that I started blogging again.  Don’t worry; nothing environmentally bad happened between December 12 and today – or I would have caught it.  Clearly.

On Thursday, I heard an interesting report on NPR.  Climate scientists, such as Durwood Zaelke of the Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development, and Drew Shindell of NASA have suggested a new, effective way to fight climate change: instead of attempting to create treaties or institutions to deal with carbon dioxide, we should focus on reducing our global emissions of soot and methane.

Why Soot and Methane?

The rationale behind doing so sounds very seductive: 1) both these gases have a higher Global Warming Potential (GWP) than carbon dioxide per unit weight – methane is 21 times more powerful than CO2 per weight, while soot (comprised of incompletely combusted carbon, sulfur, organic carbon and other chemicals – also known as “black carbon”) has a GWP of 680; 2) as illustrated by NASA, both methane and soot are potentially harmful to human life – soot, because it exacerbates pulmonary and cardiovascular illness, and methane, as it contributes to ground-level ozone; 3) both soot (despite its carbon component) and methane have shorter atmospheric lifetimes than CO2 – one or two decades, as opposed to hundreds of years.

Consequently, concentrating efforts on soot and methane mean you would be able to discern greater changes in atmospheric CO2e accumulation.  In fact, Shindell was lead author on a paper, published in Science Magazine, that suggests focusing on these two gases would reduce the amount of global warming from the projected rate of increase by 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.  This is no small potatoes, considering that the margin of increase recognized by the IPCC as tolerable for human society is a 2 degree increase over current global averages.  Finally, and I suspect this may be a more important development than anything else, combating soot and methane means you’re less likely to confront the industries – transport and energy – responsible for producing carbon dioxide.  Methane primarily comes from agriculture and landfills, particularly in less developed countries, while it is also a byproduct of coal mining.  Soot comes from biomass stoves, burning wood and dung, which again are largely used in developing countries.

So, What’s the Problem?

Not surprisingly, this idea – treating climate change by focusing on patterns of behavior that are not connected to vested industrial interests – has received a lot of vocal support, including among conservative researchers.  “So rather than focusing only on carbon dioxide emissions, where we have to make a tradeoff with energy prices, this strategy focuses on ‘win-win-win’ pathways,” says Jonathan Foley of the University of Minnesota.  “This is an important study that deserves serious consideration by policy makers as well as scientists,” says John D. Graham, former OMB head under the Bush administration.

Obviously, the proposals advanced by Shindell and his co-authors, if funded, would provide immeasurable benefits.  Reduce cardiovascular illness among lower income, biomass stove-using populations; reduce ground-level ozone; mitigate short-term climate change.  But, I worry that the attempt to focus on other gases may present a moral hazard, if policymakers and the public lose sight of the main problem, which remains carbon dioxide.  While soot and methane are comparatively speaking, short term problems, ‘solving’ them as issues without dealing with the main driver of climate change will only postpone severe climatic problems.  Recall that carbon dioxide lasts for about 100 years in the atmosphere.  The catastrophic implications of global warming would thus be postponed until well after our natural lifetimes, but what about afterwards?  Surely we have a moral obligation to consider future generations.

Moreover, there is something deeply unsettling about a policy approach that has implications for future obligations on lower income populations, or developing countries, while treating carbon dioxide emissions in the developed world as a fait accompli.  Zaelke, who worked on the UNFCCC, said this in regards to the new study: “I mean, it’s like picking a fight with the biggest bully in the schoolyard.  You know, you get your lunch money stolen, you get your pants pulled down, and you get sent home humiliated. We’ve made about that much progress with CO2.”  That same article goes on to say: ” Few governments have been willing to endanger development with limits on CO2.”

First, that last sentence is misleading.  The entire EU bloc has been more than willing to restrict CO2 emissions, quite sharply, and has done so even in the face of a global recession.  Rather, a few (but key) governments (you know who they are from following Durban, I imagine) have refused to address CO2, leaving us all with the bag.  Second, if we want to characterize CO2 as a bully, I would hope that we as a global society will eventually generate the courage and determination to confront that bully, rather than acquiescing each and every time.

Engineering Solutions

Categories: Climate Change, Corporate Behavior, Green Consumerism

ICE to see you!

Now that we know that the only thing coming out of the recent COP-17 at Durban is an agreement to agree in the future, and the Zombie Protocol, the question becomes: what are nations going to do to address climate change?  In a move straight out of a Schumacher film, Mongolia is planning to engineer ice shields to keep their capital city, Ulaanbaatar cool – particularly since Mongolia has warmed 3x faster than the rest of the world on average.

While this may or may not work (and it’s very doubtful that it will), it’s somewhat unfortunate that Mongolia, with a mere 15.6 million tons of CO2e (PDF), or 3 million tons per capita is both a tiny contributor to global warming, and particularly vulnerable to the changes already being observed worldwide.  Moreover, while climate mitigation is almost certainly something that countries should be investing in, engineering solutions to global warming is only a small and potentially problematic response to the emerging crisis.

Approaches like this, or other, more complex geoengineering solutions such as (seriously) space mirrors – contemplated by the UN and IPCC, no less – are flawed in that they 1)  take away attention from the root causes of the problem, by not addressing underlying consumption (indeed, they make it easier for richer societies to continue consuming, as long as they pay their way in technological solutions); 2) may cause environmental problems of their own – particularly in doing things like (again, seriously) dumping iron in the ocean; 3) in the words of David Attenborough (yes, THE David Attenborough), are “fascist” – they place too much power in the hands of rich nations.  I mean, controlling the weather is something straight out of a bad science fiction movie.  We’ll keep an eye on things, but hopefully we’ll spend more time investing in ways to cut consumption, rather than punting it down the road.  In the mean time, enjoy these chilling puns!

Durban’s Epilogue: The Zombie Protocol

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, International Relations

The End of COP-17

In a surprise turnaround, the ending of Durban’s COP-17 is actually about as positive as I could have hoped, given the state of affairs on Saturday morning.  At 6:00am yesterday, Poland’s Marcin Korolec (who took over for Chruszczow), announced that this COP has led to a “historical moment,” noting that they “adopted the Durban platform, which will us lead to legally a binding agreement, adopted by 2015, which will engage all parties, including the major economies.”  It is currently expected that the agreement negotiated in the future COP will come in to force in 2020.

Agreeing to Agree

In short, the Parties have agreed to agree (in the future).  Although almost derailed at the last minute by India, and although stopping short of creating a new binding agreement to cover between 2012 and 2020, this nevertheless marks a change in that developing countries (particularly the BASIC ones) have agreed to be bound by iterated, specific obligations.  This would not have been possible without splits in the G-77+China caused by the wavering of Brazil and South Africa on the BASIC group, and with the support for the EU’s position offered by the most climatically vulnerable poor countries among AOSIS and the Least Developed Countries.  While there is still no guarantee that a relatively binary North-South split will not derail the future negotiations, it is heartening to see compromise possible between the richer and poorer nations on this pressing issue.  In the words of Connie Hedegaard: “What difference does a roadmap mean?  It marks a turn away from the 20th century, where the developed countries have to commit, and the others have to do voluntary actions.  In the future, we can have different efforts, but whatever we pledge, whatever we do, will have the same legal value…. This is very important.”

But wait!  That’s not all!  Resurrecting the Kyoto Protocol almost single-handedly, Korolec, speaking for the EU said that they “…proved that the Kyoto Protocol is alive…” (it’s alive!) by agreeing to sign on to a second commitment period starting next year.  While the KP itself (covering, at this point, only 37 countries – including the 27 EU countries – and 15 – 20% of the world’s GHG emissions) is a shell of an institution, its resurrection means 1) institutions such as the CDM, LULUCF accounting rules, and flexibility mechanisms will persist, given their dependence on iterated cuts; 2) it may serve to catalyze the conditional commitments under the Cancún Agreements.  So, Hedegaard , invoking the EU’s pusher strategy in this COP spoke very favorably about the extension of Kyoto in large part due to its function as part of a broader commitment, rather than as a stand-alone institution: “The EU strategy worked…  The strategy, saying that we will only commit to a second period – although only a few others will do it – we are ready to do it, but only if in return we get a roadmap for the future.”

To be sure, they haven’t signed on to a second commitment period yet, but that’s due to the need to hash out the technical details of further emissions requirements – necessary, particularly since the EU has already surpassed its requirements under the first commitment period.  You can’t just add new requirements, a fact observed by Hedegaard thus: “We have to go back and calculate the QELROs (Quantified Emissions Limitation and Reduction Objective)…  It’s not something you just do in a night or so.”  Echoing this sentiment, Korolec pointed out: “That was a political decision.  We are now sending a text to lawyers… it’s a long legal process.”  But in the end, Hedegaard emphasized the commitment of the EU to a second binding period of the KP: “We are taking a second commitment period.  That is clear.”  In short, while undoubtedly pretty far from a meaningful second commitment period, the Zombie Protocol serves a purpose.

Other Positives: the GCF

In addition, the Parties agreed to launch the Green Climate Fund in Draft Decision CP.17 (PDF).  This Fund will provide financial support for both adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries.  Unfortunately, although the NGO community asked for official member status for civil society groups on the Board, at present – like the UNFCCC itself – civil society groups are limited to accredited observer status.  This raises concerns about whether the provision of funds and projects will benefit vulnerable societies within recipient countries, a legitimate concern, given the objections raised about REDD+ throughout COP-17.  Observer status is no guarantee that civil society viewpoints will be taken seriously.

So, that’s it for this year’s COP.  The blog will return to covering a range of different environmental issues, domestic and global, in particular those that focus on environmental justice and racism.  Highlights for next year will include the Rio+20 conference, and various other COPs, including the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP-11.  Hopefully, with the various scholarly links scattered throughout, this has served as a useful academic take on climate change negotiations.

Blogging Durban: The Final Day

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, International Relations

You Mean to Say These People Can't Agree on Something?

The Worst of All Possible Worlds

Well, in a turnaround that is pretty dismal, even beyond what I thought might be the case, the talks have been extended into another day, a possible sign of collapse.  So, it doesn’t look like anything is coming out of this conference, unless the delegates manage to come up with some last-minute, face-saving deal.  However, it should be noted that, the last time the Parties to the UNFCCC tried to salvage a COP at the last minute, we ended up with the Copenhagen Agreement (PDF), a three-page, vaguely stated commitment, that the Parties only “took note” of – which meant, according to then-UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer: “…recognizing that something is there, but not going so far as to associate yourself with it.”

It’s not clear what this means for the GCF, the one element that seemed most likely to emerge.  Nor is it necessarily the case that future COPs won’t end in meaningful commitment.  However, for the time being at least, climate change will have to be governed by an inadequate, soft-law regime.  Granted, the Parties may yet come up with something in the waning hours of the extension, and there have been no new webcasts or statements as yet (4:30pm Durban time), but that looks like the extent of it.

Blogging Durban: An Agreement Within Reach?

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, International Relations

 

Civil Society Activist Opposed to the Green Climate Fund

The EU: “An Agreement is Within Reach”

In a very surprising (and potentially welcome) development, some of the main Parties today are indicating that there may be some kind of legally binding regime that emerges after COP-17 after all!  Connie Hedegaard, speaking for the EU, which has proposed a “roadmap [at] the core of the negotiations,” said today that “…an agreement is within reach…  A framework that would be global, and legally binding.”

While the EU has long been a pusher group on the idea of creating a binding regime, the EU’s proposal for the “roadmap” has received some verbal support from the US, in no small part because it calls on India and China to commit to binding targets.  However, poorer nations and blocs, in particular AOSIS, the LDCs, and the African Group are also in favor of the proposal, thus fracturing the coherence of the 131 countries of the G-77 + China.  It’s not a simple poor-v-rich nation debate any more.  Indeed, last night, AOSIS, the LDCs and the EU released a common statement for greater effort and ambition, and stating that “…all parties to the UNFCCC need to commit…,” and committing to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

Moreover, Hedegaard is very explicitly positioning the climate change issue as one that should cross the North-South divide that has characterized climate change: “I find it significant and telling that the poorest countries of the world, the most vulnerable, they now stand together with the EU, that all parties will have to commit in the future.”  Further, she pointed out that South Africa and Brazil (half of the BASIC Countries with India and China) have, as of midnight last night, signaled to the EU that it would commit to the binding commitments implicated under the roadmap.

South Africa: the Gracious Host

In a very carefully hedged statement, the South African Minister of Environment positioned itself as active in seeking a solution on the climate change issue and the EU roadmap.  “As you know, the negotiations are still ongoing.  We are part of finding a solution that would be attractive to all delegates.  I’ll just leave it at that.”  Lord, what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall of these debates.  Of course, given that the press and NGO participants are regularly excluded, that is not likely, unless I get nominated to a national delegation.  (Note to self: if academic career doesn’t work out…)

Finally, Hedegaard pointed out that the US has repeatedly said that it would be interested in a legally binding deal under the EU roadmap, provided that others (including developing countries) were bound – a statement that aligns with China’s recent statements.  Optimistic, yes?

Cautious Optimism

However, this optimism should be tempered by the fact that this regime is governed by consensus.  1) the Umbrella Group is probably going to be unhappy with an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, and 2) the other two BASIC Countries are unlikely to be happy with the binding agreements implied in the EU roadmap.  Further, reports on the text of the roadmap, which has been made available so far only to the press that is actually at COP-17, indicates that the binding targets are only going to come into play “after 2020,” when the current (non-binding) requirements of the Cancún Agreements are commonly held to expire.  This agreement could come into force in 2015 – “not an unfair deadline – four more years!” she emphasized – although the US is sending clear signals that it is not interested in establishing a timetable.

Further, alluding to the “small rooms” in which most of the discussions and decisions take place, Hedegaard made it clear (in as diplomatic manner as possible) that “those few big ones… are still not giving in” in committing to a decision in a timely pace.  While the COP is scheduled to end today, and may drag out for a few hours more, this may yet scuttle the progress that has been made over the past 2 days.

The Clock is Ticking…

In short, if you want meaningful, binding action now, your choices are: 1) the non-binding Cancún Agreements starting now; 2) an extension of the Kyoto Protocol (sans Canada, Japan, and the US) starting 2012; 3) wait until 2020 for binding cuts to take place.  This is not to say that no meaningful action will be taken, but it should be emphasized that, if we are going to cut global emissions in such a way as to prevent serious climate change (i.e., above 2 degrees C), it will have to be done through action that is more ambitious than any of the global commitments or agreements made between now and 2020.

Nor is it clear, for option 2, what extending the Kyoto Protocol would mean.  In addition to the fact that three major Annex I economies have clearly stated that they are not interested in a new period, the EU, and technically, post-Soviet states have exceeded their Kyoto requirements.  For it to be meaningful, the new Parties would have to create new targets, which would almost certainly be a profoundly politicized issue.  You can take a look at some of the options considered by the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA here (PDF – specific to the KP) and here (PDF).

In any case, no Decisions have been announced yet; it is 11:11pm Durban time – the COP-17 is scheduled to end today, and we’ll see what comes out.  I predict (hope?) 1) institutionalized GCF; 2) very watered down Kyoto Protocol, obviously sans Canada, US, Japan and BASIC country requirements.  The only question remaining is whether Parties will make a commitment to negotiating a binding regime in a future COP to come into force by 2020.  That could go anywhere at this point.

Blogging Durban: Special Edition

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, International Relations

 

Abigal Borah, Kicked Out LIKE A BOSS.

Abigail Borah: “The United States Government Does Not Speak on My Behalf”

In an inspiring display of bravery, Abigail Borah, class of 2013 of Middlebury College, spoke today against the politicization and gridlock of COP-17 of the UNFCCC. Here’s how it went down:  At the 7th meeting of the COP today, the various delegates walked through their national positions on climate change.  Two hours and twenty minutes in, the Greece Minister of Environment, George Papakonstantinou, just finished alluding darkly to the unwillingness of some Parties to commit to binding agreements, asserting that – even though Greece is in the midst of an economic crisis – such action is necessary.  The next presenter scheduled was Todd Stern, from the US Department of State.  Then, right before he could speak, this happened (skip ahead to 1:15):

While Borah was making her speech, the COP President attempted to shut her down, stating: “Thank you, can we listen to the speech?  Nobody is listening to you.”  However, this was belied by the fact that, right after she finished her speech (and Borah will now be banned from the rest of the conference), the audience of government delegates, press, and civil society representatives erupted in applause.  In response, the COP President tried to spin the situation: “Mr. Stern, this clapping is for you.  You have a very nice welcome now, so you can start.”

“I’m delighted that I have a very enthusiastic crowd here.  This is great.”

After Borah was ejected, Stern continued with his speech, reiterating comments made earlier in the week – the appropriate, and “only basis” on which climate change can move forward, is the Cancún Agreements.  Later today, in a press conference discussing environmental criticism (and mentioning Borah obliquely) Stern will repeat the idea that the US commitment to Cancún is sufficient as an approach to climate governance: “What is embedded in the Cancún Agreements is much more meaningful in terms of potential emissions reductions than what is in Kyoto; there is no contest.”

To this end, Stern cited actions such as the increase in CAFE standards, and the $90 billion invested in green energy under the Obama administration.  Further, in an attempt to burnish the US’s green credentials, Stern points out that a “leading environmentalist” – Dan Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign for the Auto Industry – described the move as “…the biggest single step that any nation has taken to cut global warming pollution.”  I covered the debate over the Cancún Agreements already, but suffice it to note that, accepting the US’ position that this would be the most appropriate basis for this current COP requires accepting that there would be no binding framework, which would 1) undermine the possibility of the conditional obligations of Cancún; 2) undermine the likelihood of extending the Clean Development Mechanism; 3) undermine the institutionalization of the Green Climate Fund, at a minimum – even though the US is vocally supportive of the GFC.  Indeed, today, Stern said that the US is committed to “promptly moving forward” on that front.

Granted, the CDM (and other flexibility mechanisms) are severely problematic – poor implementation and measurement may mean that countries receive credits for actions that were unnecessary, or double-counted.  You can see a report published today by CDM Watch on the problems of flexibility mechanisms here (PDF).  In short, loopholes currently mean that developed nations can meet their pledges primarily by “accounting tricks,” such as hot air, as indicated in the report.  Thus, being critical of the US’ position should always be tempered by the observation that binding regimes (such as the KP) are no guarantee of success.

In any case, the official US position is that 1) they have already made a proposal for a binding regime that was rejected by China; 2) the US is exercising political leadership, stating that: “It’s nonsense to suggest that what we’re doing is proposing a kind of hiatus to deal with climate change until 2020.  I’ve heard this everywhere from ministers, to press reports, to the very sincere and passionate young woman… I just wanted to be on the record saying that that’s just a mistake.  It’s not true.”

Developed and Developing Countries: AOSIS

On the point of the CDM and the Cancún Agreement, the German NGO Forum on Environment and Development presented a synthetic study (PDF) on the commitments pledged last year indicating that “…the developed countries had put smaller pledges on the table than developing countries,” at a ratio of 5:4 GtCO2e.  This is severely problematic in that this is, in their words, “far out of line of what would be considered equitable,” and exacerbates the problem of the Emissions Gap, and the likelihood of a rise in temperature above 2 degrees C.

As a Caribbean, I thought about these discussions – the inequity between the rich and the poor nations; the remaining Emissions Gap (even with the most optimistic interpretation of the Cancún Agreements); climate responsibility – all of this, as I watched the somber presentation of the AOSIS members.  ” Citing the scientific information that is widely accepted in the conference, the Minister from Grenada stated: “You think that our countries are a paradise.  It’s a paradise when you come to visit, but for us, it’s a living reality.” It’s important to remember that, while climate change (and the mitigation effects of climate change) are likely to be very costly, for too many , climate change could lead to the erasure of an entire people – already, two South Pacific Islands in the state of Kiribati have disappeared beneath the waves.  The AOSIS delegate says he thinks it’s not too late.  I hope he’s right.