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Blogging Durban: Week 2, Day 2 (Dec 6)

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

Well, Monday started out so promising, with an apparent signal from China that it would commit to a binding agreement on climate.  However, an analysis of what transpired today throws some cold water on the whole shebang.  Let’s see what happened today:

Slipping Beneath the Waves

Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, observed that the Parties of the current COP are the ones who will determine how to address the problem of “…out of control climate change, a world divided bitterly between rich and poor, the vulnerable and the privileged…”  No pressure.  In doing so, he referred to very vivid anecdotes of resident children of Kiribati, fearing to go to sleep at night, due to the threat of their country “…slipping beneath the waves.”  So too, did he cite statistical evidence, such as UNEP’s climate change reports on the Emissions Gap and others.

Further, he responded directly to the repeated concerns that the global recession will make fighting climate change more difficult: “Yes, we all recognize the realities of our time, the economic crisis that dictates fiscal security.  Yet, the world cannot accept ‘no’ as the answer to Durban.  I say to you, this is the time to be ambitious.”  Restructuring national and global energy production (among other things) may be very costly in the very short term; however, rising sea levels, unpredictable agriculture, changes in precipitation – all this would dramatically damage (if you want to put an economic spin on it) global productive capacity.  In the Canadian NGO press conference, Gerry LeBlanc of the United Steel Workers similarly observes that shifting to a green economy is a forward-looking approach to thinking about jobs and the environment – really valid points, but some that are having a hard time gaining traction.

Ban Ki-Moon finally observed that $30 billion, in identified sources, has been earmarked for fast-start financing in the transition towards greener economies in LDCs.  “In Cancún, you created the Green Climate Fund.  Let us launch it here in Durban.”  It seems like the GCF is coming out of here alive: I’ll lay 4-1 odds on an institutionalized GCF by the end of Durban.  Any takers?

Seriously, Canada?

Today, Climate Action Network – Canada, on a panel led by Hannah McKinnon, spoke out bitterly against their government’s action on the UNFCCC.  “What happened to the Canada we know?” asks Stephen Guilbeult.  The panel goes on to point out that Canada – which again, has the 7th highest emissions per capita globally (PDF) – has poor records on 1) indigenous environmental rights; 2) commitments to the climate regime; 3) carbon dioxide emissions.  In particular, the reference by the Harper government to tar sands extraction as ‘ethical oil,’ rankles.  The point is driven home, when Daniel T’Solo, a Deneh activist points out the overwhelmingly disproportionate impact of tar sands extraction on indigenous peoples.

One of the positive developments seen here, is the attention to the local level impacts of climate change on different populations.  At the meeting of the state delegates, as much as the NGO conferences, people are stating concern about the impact of the poor in LDCs, as well as the poor in rich countries – this marks a welcome divergence from a state-centric look at negotiations, which does not capture the importance of societal and human diversity, and what it means for climate vulnerability.  The briefing ends with a really cute display of children’s art, illustrating their concepts of a just future and a just climate.  I believe the children are our future, etc.  Concluding, McKinnon notes that the stated withdrawal of Canada represents a “…failure of political leadership.”

Acting in a Responsible Way?

What to make of China’s recent statements that it will support a binding agreement?  Ostensibly, the reluctance of the major emitters in the developing world to iterated obligations has been the source of the tension and roadblock persisting so far in the debates.  Thus, if taken seriously, China’s recent statements could severely undermine the legitimacy of the US and Canada’s foot-dragging.  Xie Zhenhua certainly seems to buy into this, saying: “It’s time for us to see who is acting in a responsible way to deal with the common challenge of human beings.”

The problem is, it’s not clear today what kind of binding agreement China is discussing, since Xie’s statements today focused on the Kyoto Protocol.  While legally binding, it obviously carries no cost for China.  Thus, the public pronouncements by Xie may serve as a rhetorical cudgel to make the US and OECD defectors look bad, rather than make any progress (initial optimism notwithstanding).  While the Indian delegate mentioned the possibility of considering a second binding agreement, it’s certainly not obvious that this would include conditions for developing countries, a point that the delegate herself brought up.

Basically…

The BASIC Countries – Brazil, South Africa, India, and China – acting as a bloc today, under the coordination of China, primarily have good rhetoric, but this should not be confused with any intent towards a binding regime.  Minister Xie Zhenhua claimed that “…we are countries of action.  the BASIC Countries, together with the G-77 group, will play an active and constructive role in implementing the UNFCCC, the KP, the Copenhagen Accord, and the Cancún Agreement.  The KP should be continued, and a second commitment period of the KP is a must.”

At the same time, the Indian delegate calls out the developed world as not fulfilling their obligations, asserting that the poorest of the world “…should not be expected to make legally binding commitments…” when they are struggling for basic survival.  While true, it is not clear how this precludes action by the industrialized and energy sectors of Brazil and China, at the very least.  Further, for the same reasons listed above, the KP is really attractive as a framework to developing countries (such as BASIC and the G-77), in that they don’t have to commit to anything, and can thus push for it without fear of political blowback.

The Per Capita Argument

The Indian delegate goes on to say that there should be equity in the use of atmospheric resources.  This is a really interesting argument.  Something to keep in mind is that the poorest countries tend to have a really minute impact on the climate in a per capita measure.  One way of thinking about this is that, if the atmosphere consisted of discrete units, which could be allocated to the world’s population, each American, Canadian and Russian (to use the hyperlinked report) would use far more than their fair share, while each Ethiopian, Tanzanian and Bangladeshi would use far less.  If we attempted to regulate climate according to per capita equity, the developed nations would have to cut overall outputs by staggering amounts – 80%, say – to allow the poorer populations more ecological space.  While certainly politically impossible, it’s worth thinking about precisely how problematic the current allocation of the world’s resources is.

Renewing Kyoto

Echoing many of the delegates, Ban Ki-Moon asserted that renewing the KP is sorely needed, stating that, as indicated in previous posts, climate financing, clean development, carbon trading, and afforestation projects are closely linked to the institutional framework of the KP.  Thus, while the regime itself does not provide much in the way of meaningful regulation (honestly, the US, the EU, and Canada’s position that – by only covering 25% of the world’s emissions – it is a poor regime, is a good one), its benefits may extend beyond its content, to the support it creates for other actions.  This may be the only purpose it serves, however, especially considering that some of the domestic commitments – such as those of the EU – far exceed the requirements of the KP.

And on that note, I leave you with the new theme song for the climate conference.  Enjoy.

Blogging Durban: Week 2, Day 1 (Dec 5)

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

Xie xie Xie

 

All About China

Well, today’s updates are primarily about China.  The country gave an interesting announcement about the likelihood of national support for a binding accord – including one with obligations on the developing nations.  While I discuss the US here also, China is a big player, and not much has been heard from them lately.  What have they got to say now?

Are There Any Circumstances in Which China Will Consider a Binding Deal?

Xie Zhenhua, speaking for China!  Alright… it’s always interesting hearing from the main obstructionists; hearing their rationales for action.  Here’s the kicker: in response to the above question, the Chinese delegate actually supported a binding regime, even if it applied to LDCs, saying “We accept a legally binding regime.  With conditions.”

The conditions are:  “Firstly, we need to speak to the UNFCCC and the KP.  A second commitment period is a must.  Secondly, developed countries must honor their commitment of $30 billion fast start fund, and $100 billion a year long term fund.  And the GCF must be accelerated.  And there shall be supervision and monitoring system for technology transfer and financing.  Fourthly, we must have some consensus, some institutional arrangement for issues like funds, technology transfer, and forests, etc.  And we need to have a review by the end of 2015.  Fifthly, we need to speak to common but differentiated responsibility principles and equity.  Every country shall undertake obligations and responsibilities, according to their national capabilities.  China would love to take part in that.  These aspects are not new, and they have been negotiated over the past 20 years.  The important thing is to implement them.”

Moreover, by pointing out that China has unilaterally adopted domestically binding rules to raise their energy efficiency (measured as CO2 emissions per unit of GDP) by 45% by 2020 (notably, while this may lower China’s overall emissions, it does not have to – particularly if economic growth increases faster than efficiency gains), Xie is positioning China as a swing state on a binding regime (note – despite this positive movement, there will not be an Amendment or new Protocol at the end of this COP).  Though not clear, this seems like a signal that China would be open to an arrangement that paralleled that of the Montreal Protocol – accept binding obligations, in exchange for clearly institutionalized financial and technical assistance.  While this may not be enough to generate the international political will needed to get a binding agreement by 2013 or 2014, this may undercut some of the arguments by the Umbrella Group.

So, what does the Umbrella Group have to say about it?

New US Special Envoy

Todd Stern in the house.  He equivocates some about China’s pronouncement, stating that he will discuss what this means directly with Xie Zhenhua later.  Right now, he says the US is primarily interested in two main elements: 1) Carry out the Cancún Agreements on new takings by all the major economies, and a GCF; 2) Figure out what to do about the KP.  While the US hasn’t done much to establish a clear legislative path (in comparison to, say, China) to meet its stated objective under the Cancún Agreements – namely, cut 17% below 2005 by 2020 – Stern points out that the US has, for example, raised the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards for cars sold in the US to 54.4 mpg by 2025.  For Stern, this plus the recent investments in green energy by the Obama administration, point to a continued engagement of the US executive branch with climate change.

Still, one has to wonder about the US’ commitment to the Cancún Agremeents – not because the US may or may not fulfill its stated goals (in large part, this depends on the commitment of the government post-2012 to domestic environmental regulation – sobering, if any of the GOP front-runners win) but because so many of the goals are conditional on the adoption of binding obligations by other Parties.

Blogging Durban: Weekend Edition

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

This is going to be a two-fer, covering relevant new stuff from Saturday and Sunday.  I didn’t update on Saturday, because 1) it’s Saturday, and; 2) See 1).  So, right now, the issues covered here are the Strategic Body on Implementation (SBI) meeting today, to discuss carrying out the Cancún Agreements, and the UNFCCC’s half time status update.

The Quixotic Enterprise: the KP is Dead

COP-17 President, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, starts off noting that we are at the halfway mark, reiterating confidence in – at a minimum – moving forward on the Report of the Transitional Committee of the GCF.

The Chair of the AWG-KP looks so sad.  He says the body is still working towards a second commitment period, asserting that there is among the Parties, “…common ground on the need to work towards continuity,” thus avoiding an implementation gap (if not an emissions gap).  This seems to contradict directly, with the positions of the Umbrella Group, at the very least.  Of course, just in case anyone thought he was pollyanna-ish, he notes that “…ratification with entry into force by 1 January 2013 is not achievable.”  Further, for Annex I “…provisional application does not seem possible either.” So, we can officially forget about a binding agreement starting in 2013.

So, how to get continuity?  The Chair notes that Parties to the AWG-KP have proposed, variously, a “two stage process,” where Parties take a Decision, then pass amendments to the KP later, to be ratified as a second stage; 2) A Decision-only outcome, without an Amendment; 3) Parties adopt unilateral Declarations.  These last two in particular “…would not involve amendments to the KP and ratification.”  While noting that this would lead to reliance on voluntary commitments, at least in the next few years, he observed that pushing for a binding regime here would lead to “…locking in low ambition.”

“We Haven’t Agreed to Anything”

The Chair of the SBI starts off by saying that he is “optimistic” about the direction of the conference, and the possibility of implementing the Cancún Agreements.  However, in discussing one of the draft documents for the Agreements dealing with Least Developed Country commitments (PDF), he says the Parties will “bracket the entire document,” noting that “…we haven’t agreed to anything.” The US delegate noted that this would create, in a very diplomatic phrasing, “time management problems,” but along with Bangladesh and Gambia, supported the motion.

Already heavily bracketed, the document contains some of the politically contentious elements that could come into play, if Parties are serious about getting a globally covering regime (as opposed to one covering just the top 12 emitters), including: 1) institutionalizing financial and technical assistance to the poorest countries; 2) monitoring mitigation practices in LDCs; 3) the role of the GCF.  What makes this a bad sign as well, is that the 48 LDCs, as defined by the UN (i.e., not including China and India), comprise only 2% of world GDP, and a correspondingly small share of global GHG emissions.  A gridlock here does not bode well for including China, India, the US, Canada and the EU under a new agreement in the near future.

Fairness and Obligations

Anyway, at present, the debate is clearly at a stalemate.  Japan, the US, and the rest of the Umbrella Group keep talking about the issue of fairness: the LDCs (especially China) need to take action.  The G-77 + China, also talk about fairness, but say that the historical responsibility of the HICs to current carbon accumulation means the poor countries are off the hook.  Thus, while Japan is now pushing for a new working group to deal with a new protocol – thus, doing away with the mission AWG-KP – the chances of a new agreement soon (e.g., by 2014) remain really, really low.

Conditionality, Soft-Law, and Cancún

There is another way to think about the problem of the lack of cooperation here: the US has taken the position that the Cancún Agreements are an adequate approach (at least in the immediate short term) to addressing international commitments to combating climate change.  At first glance, even with knowledge about the Emissions Gap at hand, the Agreements sound pretty ambitious.  Let’s take a look at some of the more optimistic scenarios projected by major economies and emitters in Annex I (PDF) and non-Annex I commitments (PDF) alike.:

  • The US and Canada pledged a cut in the range of 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, and the US promised 30% by 2025.
  • Russia and Japan pledged 20 – 25% below 1990 levels by 2020
  • Australia pledged 25% below 2000 by 2020
  • The EU pledged 30% below 1990 by 2020
  • China and India committed only to making their economies more energy efficient, in China’s case, by lowering its CO2e emissions per unit of GDP by 40%; in India’s case by 25% (not including agriculture)
  • Brazil projected that specific actions (including limiting deforestation) would reduce emissions in 2020 to 36 – 39% below what they would have been normally.

Granted, these are non-binding and, particularly in the case of China and India, Parties are stressing the fact that these are voluntary agreements.*  The problem is that the Japanese, EU, Australian, and other commitments not covered here, are conditional: that is, the Parties have included language indicating that their actions will only be taken if there is (depending on who you talk to): a “global deal,” a “global and comprehensive agreement,” or a “fair and comprehensive international framework” and the undertaking of “legally binding obligations” by “all major emitters” or “all major economies.”  !!!

Without such a deal, the Parties listed above will either take no action, or take action that falls short of the comparatively ambitious goals.

*NB: Though voluntary, presumably domestic and transnational activists, as well as international actors, can use these commitments as means of shaming.  If Parties fostered activities that violated any possible interpretation of these goals – say, by funding the exploitation of tar sands oil – then Parties could be subjected to moral, social and diplomatic pressure from domestic and global actors, and a loss of political prestige (PDF).  Presumably, that would work as a quasi-enforcement mechanism.

Blogging Durban: Day 5 (Dec 2)

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

Protests at COP-17

Hammering Out the Green Climate Fund (GCF)

At present, the Parties are still in the proposal stage for the GCF.  Tomorrow, they are planning to discuss the Report published by the Transitional Committee (PDF).  Let’s see… the Report makes a variety of interesting proposals:

  1. It should be run by a Board of 24, with parity between developed and developing nations (recall: NGOs have been adamant that it should also include civil society representatives – fat chance of that being the case, particularly since the Transitional Committee is staffed by government representatives);
  2. It “will” be funded by developed countries, but “may” receive additional inputs from other sources
  3. It should be operationalized as a “country-driven” approach, and will only “encourage” the involvement of the civil society – including “vulnerable groups and addressing gender aspects,” (which is not entirely encouraging for the chances of this instrument being used to empower the most marginalized populations). It will also encourage private sector activities through a private sector facility.
  4. On that note, and given the concern of indigenous peoples with respect to REDD, it will fund “…full and agreed incremental costs [for] adaptation, mitigation (including REDD-plus), technology development and transfer… capacity-building and the preparation of national reports by developing countries.
  5. At the same time, the Board “will develop mechanisms” for the involvement of civil society groups, women, indigenous peoples, and promote social sustainability in its function.

The last two sound very encouraging.  Very?  Somewhat encouraging.  One hopes, in particular, that the language indicating support for vulnerable populations is taken seriously and is not ignored in the conduct of implemented projects (PDF), a problem that has plagued other international financial institutions.

Obviously, with the KP expiring next year, the GCF would be subsumed under the UNFCCC, which lacks binding, iterated obligations – again, contrasting it with the financial mechanism of the Montreal Protocol.  It should be noted, however, that there remains substantial internal debate about the Report: the US is in favor of moving forward with it, given some amendments; other Parties are opposed; others want to adopt the document almost wholesale.

On to the delegates’ talking points!

The United States:

You know, given China’s and Japan’s withdrawal from the idea of binding commitments under the KP, the US suddenly doesn’t look so bad!  The benefit of lowered expectations…  I’m going to pay a lot of attention to them here, as the US is perhaps the most significant veto state, by virtue of being the largest economy, and the second largest emitter.

Dr. Jon Pershing, the special envoy is finishing up his time representing the US here this week, and will transition to a new delegate next week.  Before leaving though, he had a few points about the current state of the debate.  At present, the delegates are involved in, from his perspective, hammering out a “…package agreement that everyone can support,” again indicating some movement towards a globally applicable draft document.  Still, the US remains uninterested in a legal regime.

In discussing possibly the most likely outcome – the implementation of the GCF, Pershing states that the US is trying to make “…fully operational each of the key elements we agreed to in Cancún…” namely “…technology, adaptation, finance, and transparency.”  So, interest in moving towards a Green Climate Fund seems shared among the various Parties – and is certainly supported by the NGO community.

There is some stated confusion regarding who would be subsumed under legal obligations.  Pershing states, in the course of one speech, that rules would have to apply to “all major economies,” “all Parties,” and “major emerging economies.”  The problem is, these are different subsets of the international society – but they do, at least, include the BRIICS nations.  Nevertheless, it is worth noting that, while the US is usually portrayed as the bogeyman in the UNFCCC, the lack of progress towards a legal regime is the foot-dragging of the G-77 + China.  You really have to feel for AOSIS on this one.  With the Umbrella Group and the G-77+China at loggerheads, they and the EU have limited scope.

Another problem characterizing the debates, is that Parties seem to differ as well on what the timeline for additional action will be.  Some see the COP as aimed towards getting an agreement to cover action “between now and 2020,” some are looking for “a proposal beyond 2020.”  The US’ position is that Cancún “…takes us through 2020,” and is vocally skeptical about whether there is additional international interest, not only within the US, but among other nations, in creating new pledges between now and then.  Thus, for the US, Cancún (nonbinding, yes, and?) is the way to go.

The Emissions Gap

Recognizing, however, that (as indicated earlier) fully implementing the Cancún Agreement would still lead to an Emissions Gap, Pershing states that moving towards that is nevertheless a step in the right direction.  In short, rather than making the perfect the enemy of the good, Pershing states that you have to “…marry a politically pragmatic outcome with a scientifically important conclusion.  If you demand more than the politics can deliver, you don’t succeed.”

In contrast, however, Runge-Metzer speaking for the EU, calls for even more ambition than has been indicated so far, given the implications of an unstable climate on global well-being.  At the very least, Parties should start, by the latest next year, 1) trying to understand what the Cancún Agreements mean for Parties; 2) continue the CDM; 3) develop a clear accounting mechanism for all GHG emissions.

The EU

My main man, Tomasz Chruszczow!  Artur Runge-Metzer, in the house!  In discussing his region’s push for a “road map” towards an “…instrument, that eventually we will have on the board, all emitters.  100%.  Globally.”  He claims that developed and developing countries are on board for a legally binding agreement involving 100% of the Parties – this sounds extremely unlikely.  At the same time, the EU is also on board with the idea of creating a second commitment period of the KP which, again, has been rejected so far by Japan, the US and Canada.

Even the EU, however, thinks that a binding agreement will not emerge before 2013 – 2015, but stresses that one has to be created at, “…by the latest, 2020.”  All major economies will have binding emissions agreements, with “common, but differentiated responsibilities.”  Perhaps with voluntary commitments among the poorer LDCs?

Chruszczow makes a point about the problem of linking China with the G-77 as a negotiating bloc: understandably, the G-77 is concerned about applying binding emissions requirements to poor, comparatively agrarian, under-industrialized countries – particularly since they tend to have less emissions per capita than the wealthy nations.  China, however, has per-capita emissions of almost 6 tons of GHGs, while India has emissions at only 1.8 tons per capita.  The implication is that China is covering their irresponsibility with concern about the legitimate grievances of poorer LDCs who are now being asked to respond to a problem not of their making.

Positive Outcomes?

Perhaps the most positive is the interest from all Parties in the GCF.  Other than that, I’ve learned how to spell “Chruszczcow.”

Blogging Durban: Day 4 (Dec 1)

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

Demonstrations Outside COP-17

Good news!

Oh, wait.  No there isn’t.  Anyway, back to COP-17.  At present, the EU is by far, the biggest pusher for a binding regime.  They’ve already adopted, in 2008, a regional plan to cut 20% of EU emissions by 2020, and promised that they will increase that to 30%, if a binding agreement is signed for the post-Kyoto commitment period.  Moreover, they’ve been pretty adamant about getting parties on board a “road map” towards a binding agreement which should enter into force by the latest, 2020.

At present, it’s not entirely clear what the EU proposed Durban Road Map will look like: one major issue is that Tomasz Chruszczow stated on November 24 that a binding regime should include “100 percent of all emissions under one global umbrella,” while other recent press releases refer to targeting the “major emitters.”  This is an important distinction – due to the necessity of obtaining consensus to create protocols and new agreements under the UNFCCC – just on the basis of numbers – it will be far easier to create a binding regime focusing on the top 12 emitters (which combined, emit 80% of the world’s GHGs) than to try to convince close to 200 countries to agree on something.  Of course, doing so would mean breaking down the G-77 bloc on this issue.  The thought, at this point, of global consensus on binding obligations, is mind-boggling.

Brazil, the EU Road Map, and Financing

Some of the delegates themselves seem, already, to be somewhat disillusioned.  In discussing the EU Durban Road Map today, the Brazilian delegate, ambassador André Corrêa do Lago stated with some resignation, “Well, we have to talk about the same subjects, basically, every day.”  No kidding.  Anyway, Corrêa do Lago indicates that there may be some confusion among the principals about what the proposal is.  While expressing support for a binding regime, strengthening the UNFCCC and KP he states some concern about textual ambiguity in the EU proposal: “The issue is that, in these negotiations, a little word can make a lot of difference.  We have to see which elements Brazil can be comfortable with.”  Finally, reiterating the position of the G-77 + China bloc, “we are not agreeing with the idea of the world, in this road map, as a whole.”

Corrêa do Lago also makes an important, and potentially sobering observation.  One of the mechanisms through which the KP was being implemented is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).  In short, Parties with Annex B commitments could get credits for cutting emissions by funding low-cost projects in less developed countries (LDCs).  Potentially a win-win situation, this theoretically would allow richer countries to cut emissions cheaply (since the atmosphere doesn’t care where carbon comes from), while fostering technological transfer to LDCs.  Without binding commitments, there will be no incentive to invest in the CDM.  This also raises a similar question about the Green Climate Fund (GCF).  While the Montreal Multilateral Fund was an important element in obtaining LDC support for phasing out Ozone Depleting Substances (ODSs), it was created pursuant to a binding agreement.  Without that, it’s not immediately clear what kind of institutional support there will be to transfer the technology needed to China, India, Brazil, etc., to allow them to ‘leapfrog’ over the path of dirty industrialization, particularly as there would be no agreed-upon standard of cuts to which the provided funds would apply.

Japan

Japan has an interesting approach here, which may be comparable to that of the US.  Japan has already stated that, like Canada (and effectively the US), it has no interest in ratifying a second commitment to the KP.  At the same time, they’ve not withdrawn from the KP, and are in fact going to “…continue our efforts towards GHG reduction, and would like the improve the CDMs and so on.”  Moreover, they want to adopt “…a single legal document that establishes a fair and effective framework with which all the major economies will cooperate” in the future.  On this approach, they state they will stand “hand in hand with the EU” in lobbying for a binding regime – but one which does away with the KP’s limited approach, incorporating rules for a small majority of GHG emissions.

In addition, they’ve  been promoting their multilateral aid program on climate change, stating that “…it is necessary for both developed and developing countries to achieve low carbon growth all over the world.”  Under this plan, Japan is pledging to transfer policymaking expertise and technological know-how to LDCs through “concrete measures” intended to go right up until Rio + 20 next year.  At present, Japan has provided $12.5 billion dollars, primarily to the poorest countries, and is planning to develop technological transfers in goods such as solar cells.

Take it away, Climate Action Network!

CAN

Well, right off the bat, Kelly Dent from Oxfam states that the world will need $200 billion a year to get the action necessary to meet our climate goals.  I’m not sure what she’s basing these numbers on, but if she’s right, I’m buying beachfront property in Montana right now.  The rest of their press conference is too depressing to cover.

Overview: Are We Talking About the KP, or Something Else?

One thing that seems to be muddled in the discussion right now, is: what kind of a binding agreement are people talking about?  The NGOs, particularly CAN-I, as well as developing countries in the G-77 + China (if Argentina is to be believed) are primarily interested in creating a second commitment period to the KP.  The Umbrella Group is ostensibly interested in a binding agreement, but are explicit in saying that it should NOT be reification of the KP – again, for pretty valid reasons.  Now, the NGOs claimed today that the EU is on board for an extension of the KP, but based on the EU’s earlier pronouncements that LDCs should be held to binding obligations, it’s not clear that that is correct.

What would be the benefit of extending the horrid, horrid institution of the KP in a second commitment period?  It is doubtful that it would necessarily lead to decreased global emissions, particularly since the countries responsible for about half of the current GHG emissions (US and China) are not under the regime.  However, it would create incentives for continuing the CDM and, given the repeated interest in institutionalizing the GCF, may create the institutional support for the Fund.

Well, we’ll see.  At the moment, I’m primarily curious about the creation of the GCF.  At present, that remains my best hope for a positive outcome this year.  Again, I’m not sure how that will play out absent some kind of related regime, but, eh, couldn’t hurt.

Blogging Durban: Day 3 (Nov 30)

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

Indigenous Protestors against REDD

So, where are we at now?  The statements coming from various delegates indicate that states are, more or less, going with their various representative blocs.  The Umbrella Group wants LDCs to commit to something binding and meaningful; the G-77 wants HICs to take the lead (especially the US), and to actually pay for the costs of transition; the US is not particularly interested in a binding agreement – and wouldn’t be able to commit to one anyway; the EU is trying to get people on board a binding commitment; the NGOs are mad at everybody.

The Green Climate Fund and the Financial Mechanism?

On the plus side, there does seem to be movement towards creating a meaningful Green Climate Fund.  One of the more cited decisions of COP-16 in Cancún was Decision 1/CP.16 (PDF), which pledged the creation of a financial mechanism – modeled on the Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol - to build the capacity and will among poor countries to transition away from high emissions practices.  The EU has been vocally supportive of the idea, and it’s certainly one appreciated by the G-77 + China, as well as the NGO community.

Among some of the issues being discussed by the Transitional Committee on the GCF include a submission by Malawi that the fund consider gender issues (PDF) in allocating resources, observing that women are disproportionately affected by environmental vulnerability.  Very good.  As discussed in the Millennium Development Goals, women are disproportionately affected (PDF) by poverty, which is exacerbated by the land degradation, erosion, and unstable agricultural conditions that will mark the changing climate.

In the interest of improving the link between local community needs and climate financing, Climate Action Network (CAN) also issued a recommendation to the Transitional Committee that the proposed GCF Board include, as non voting-observers, representatives from affected communities, civil society organizations, and the private sector.  This may be ambitious, but perhaps institutionalized financing may be one saving grace of COP-17.

Proposals and Changes?

Something potentially interesting: Papua New Guinea and Mexico have issued a proposal to the COP to change the voting rules.  In short, the proposal would allow amendments to the Convention to be adopted by a 3/4ths majority vote (PDF), if all attempts to achieve consensus have failed.  Intended to avoid the gridlock that characterizes international regime creation, this proposal is currently being debated in informal consultations under the COP.

At the COP: Science, Hot Air, and the CDM

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, starts off the 3rd meeting of the COP, observing that 20 – 30% of observed plant and animal species are likely to be negatively affected by climate change.  A further downer – melting ice-caps threaten low lying islands (so, what we already knew), but notes that in some places, things aren’t so bad: “…[In] some regions, droughts have become less intense, or shorter,” particularly in Central and Northwest America, and coastal Australia.  Moreover, Pachauri emphasizes that climate change is primarily a problem for developing countries – measured as loss in GDP, loss of life, and other metrics.

Poland, speaking on behalf of the EU, promotes the further utilization of the CDM, such that LDCs can “leapfrog” over dirty industrialization, but calls for greater top-down methodologies in calculating emissions reductions – ideally, this would reduce the capacity for states and corporate actors to cheat, gaining credits for minimal or no action.

Kazakhstan proposed an amendment to Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol, which would effectively give the country a binding obligation to hold its GHG emissions to 100% of its 1992 levels (PDF).  While keeping emissions at 1992 levels would probably be a good thing for, say, the US and Canada, Kazakhstan is currently  emitting slightly below its 1992 levels, thus 1) encoding activity in which Kazakhstan is engaging anyway; 2) allowing that country to participate in Joint Implementation projects, or selling its ‘excess’ emissions, thereby gaining access to potentially lucrative investment and markets, while doing nothing to curb overall emissions.  This, of course, illustrates the ongoing problem with creating regimes – legal rules that violate the entire spirit of the endeavor.

The Civil Society Speaks

To highlight concerns associated with environmental injustice, Conrad Feather from the Forest People’s Programme raised the specter of disenfranchisement caused by the application of REDD projects. While using forests to curb global carbon may be a worthwhile goal in the abstract, it is decidedly not, if doing so requires the coerced relocation of rural and agricultural peoples.

Roberto Espinoza, an indigenous Peruvian from an indigenous rights advocacy organization and Jorge Payaba from the Madre de Diós federation discuss the problem of afforestation policies as a climate change strategy.  Espinoza, in a presentation on the “…piracy, abuses, and scams against indigenous people under the name of the REDD program,” argues that it is a piracy that is a “…design of the REDD program in its entirety.”  In short, the concern is that international assistance to the state of Peru is not translated into concern and well-being for local populations – the state benefits from hundreds of millions of dollars in international and financial capital, but it is a state that engages in land grabs, forced relocation, and the centralization over land tenure.  Thus, strengthening the state in the name of environmental green behavior obscures local injustice and unsustainable practices.

So, yes, OK, somewhat depressing.  Nevertheless!  Will there be meaningful financial commitment at the end of it all?  Will indigenous concerns be taken seriously?  We’ll see…

Blogging Durban: Day 2 (Nov 29)

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

 

Durban, South Africa

Now I’m beginning to regret this.  Sorting through the various press releases is consuming far more time than initially planned – combined with what looks like a thorough lack of political will for meaningful progress, this may be a bad week.  In any case, here’s a summary of some of the highlights of Day 2 in Durban.

A Reminder: The Emissions Gap

Six days ago, Achim Steiner (current Executive Director of UNEP) reiterated a concern that the international society is moving insufficiently slowly towards ameliorating the climate problem.  In particular, Steiner illustrated that, if we don’t commit to meaningful action, we are likely to experience an Emissions Gap in 2020.

To recall, the goal of the current round of climate debates is to hold the increase in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius above average.  One way to think about this figure can be summarized in an Emissions Gap Report (included downloadable PDF files) published by UNEP earlier this year: in short, the most likely way we will attain a manageable climate is by restricting the total atmospheric emissions of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) to 44 Gigatonnes (Gt) in 2020.  At present, business-as-usual will mean a total accumulation of possibly 56 Gt.  Alarmingly, even if states complied with the current most optimistic interpretations of the Copenhagen and Cancún Agreements, we will still have an Emissions Gap of about 5 Gt of CO2e, torpedoing the goal of stabilizing the climate.  You can get a look at a nifty interactive map tracking country pledges, including the optimistic scenarios here.

So, what are the delegates and participants saying?

Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol

The AWG-KP, established in 2005 by Decision 1/CMP.1 (PDF) of the Kyoto Protocol – explicitly to promote a binding agreement and avoid an implementation gap among commitments from Annex I Parties – met for the first time in this COP today.  Their mission seems doomed from the outset, given (as mentioned yesterday and several times before), the demonstrated lack of interest among many Parties in creating a binding agreement to begin immediately after 2012.  In fact, given the timeframe it takes for a treaty to be negotiated, signed, ratified, and entered into force, the AWG-KP has quite a Quixotic task at the moment.  However, despair is not evident in their eyes.

The Chair of the AWG-KP starts off stating that he is still committed to the idea of creating a binding agreement in fact.  What do the delegates at the AWG-KP have to say about this?

The Argentinian delegate, speaking on behalf of the G-77 + China reaffirms the position of the bloc: “The political commitment of the G-77 + China to a second commitment period after the Kyoto Protocol remains firm.”  Not surprisingly, while asserting that developing countries are interested in doing something to address climate change, the commitment period will/should focus on the HICs, in the interest of “…science, equity, and historical responsibilities.”  In short, invoking the possibility of an Amendment to Annex B, which applies emissions reductions only to Annex I- namely developing countries – the stated goal of the G-77 is to focus on the contribution, and hence responsibility, of the Global North to the current crisis.

Australia, speaking for the Umbrella Group, notes that collectively, Annex I Parties are on target to comply with the Kyoto Protocol.  Hysterical.  This is true technically, but only because the target (a collective cut in emissions of 5% below 1990 levels), was achieved primarily by the collapse of the post-Soviet economies (see earlier post).  In any case, speaking for the Umbrella Group, Australia asserts that the work of the AWG-KP should be concluded, but in a way that does away with the current focus of the KP: reflecting earlier statements by the EU, the KP is criticized as a regulatory regime that regulates a small minimum (25%) of global emissions.

Switzerland wants all countries to commit to a binding agreement; the EU similarly calls for a binding agreement, building on the KP, but again reaffirming the need of “…all Parties…” (i.e., the LDCs) to commit to stated, explicit obligations.  Indeed, the idea of a binding agreement is essential to the EU’s statements, observing that the KP “…is the only international climate agreement with legally binding emissions targets.  It has proved to work.”  Not sure about the basis of the last statement – quite possibly invoking the ‘technical compliance’ with the goals of the 5% reduction from 1990 levels mentioned by Australia.

The Climate Action Network

This time, let’s hear from some NGO participants.  The following participants presented under the rubric of Climate Action Network – International (CAN-I).  Tove Ryding from Greenpeace; Rashmi Mistry from OxFam South Africa; Mohamed Adow from Christian Aid; One of the positive developments of the global environmental governance structure is the willingness to engage with the global civil society.  Contrast this with the institutions of international trade, for example.

In any case, Ryding reiterates what a lot of environmental activists seem to believe 1) the KP is “…what we have that describes how we reduce emissions.  It’s the outcome of 17 years of negotiations.”; 2) that “…we need a larger regime to be built.  So, in addition to the KP, we need a new, legally binding agreement, to be adopted no later than 2015…” in order that “…the KP comes out of here alive.”

Ouch!  Ryding representative takes some well-deserved shots at Canada, noting 1) their abdication from the KP has made them the “…laughing stock…” of the conference, and 2) condemning their commitment to the Tar Sands development (Keystone XL, in other words) which Canada described as “…ethical oil.”  Moreover, for the first time, someone describes the Copenhagen Accord as a meaningless document, contrasting with the interesting love-fest it had been receiving from the state delegates.

Rashmi Mistry from OxFam, co-presenter, calls for a carbon tax on global transportation to 1) cut down on emissions; 2) generate immediate funds for LDCs in a Green Climate Fund.  Ostensibly, this could lead to $10 billion a year, which would go some way towards supporting the transition, particularly among the poorest countries, which are also those most vulnerable to climate change catastrophes.  Mohamed Adow similarly calls for strengthening the “rulebook,” such that South Africa does not become the “…burial place of the KP,” invoking Shaka Zulu, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Prophet Noah throughout his presentation.  Someone prepared nifty soundbites ahead of time.

Anyway, drama!  Enemies!  Alliances!  Where will it go from here?  Let’s find out tomorrow.  In the meantime, here’s my theme song for the Durban conference:

Blogging Durban: Day 1 (Nov 28)

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

Climate Change Negotiations at COP-17 of the UNFCCC

 

Because I have a taste for masochism, I’ve decided to blog the entire Durban conference, and discuss it here.  Good times!  Well, I teach environmental politics, so I suppose there is no way to avoid being on top of this…

So, this day marks the period in which the participants lay out their general policy positions.  In the interest of time and space (I still have my own work to take care of), I’ll only cover a few countries each day.  Overview: nothing really unexpected, when looking at the statements of some of the big players.  The US wants a binding agreement to apply to the LDCs; Brazil and the G-77 want the HICs to pay for most of the action, and the EU is somewhere, comparatively speaking, in the middle.  The major surprise was Canada, which is actually a pretty poor country, in terms of climate change.  Not only are they laggards in regime negotiations, they are also one of the top emitters of GHGs per capita, barely below that of the United States (PDF).  Bad, Canada!  Bad!  And now for more detail:

Oh, Canada

Yesterday, the Canadian government made a pretty interesting statement: the government will pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, in part because of the lack of binding agreements applied to LDCs.  This certainly strikes a significant blow to the already fleeting hopes that a new agreement would be signed.  Again, it seems very unlikely that anything new will be created before 2020 (so, one wonders what the scope of this COP is – at best, some new framework, or perhaps an elaboration of the Copenhagen Accord?).

Brazilian Press Briefing

The Brazilian representative seemed very interested in linking the current climate change COP with other environmental treaties: the ambassador mentioned Rio+20 and the upcoming COPs on the Convention on Biological Diversity, indicating perhaps, a comprehensive look at global environmental problems.

In response to a question about whether Brazil would be interested in committing to a binding regime (one that would apply to LDCs), the ambassador deferred, stating instead that his government would try to come to some consensus within the G-77 + China about LDC commitments in any future period.  At the same time, he called for increased attention to climate change, even in the face of the global credit crisis.  To be sure, his call for attention and action emphasize that the primary responsibility will have to come from the HICs.  In short, the ambassador states “…the Annex I countries are the ones that have created the patterns that now tend to be followed by most of the persons.  So, the Annex I countries have to take the lead in the sense, also, of showing that there is a sustainable way to go ahead…”

It sounds in particular, that he is linking the solutions to the global credit crisis with solutions to climate change – calling for Northern support for “sustainable development” in LDCs certainly invokes some of the unfulfilled promises made at UNCED in 1992 for financial support for environmentally friendly economic growth among the poor nations of the world.

USA Press Briefing

The Deputy Special Envoy of Climate Change, Jon Pershing from the US State Department invoked the Cancún statement in pledging to create a Green Climate Fund, and support for adaptation funds.  Moreover, despite the vagueness of (or, perhaps because of) the commitments in the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancún Agreements, the US pledges to fully implement the goals stated therein.  However, right off the bat, he asserted that there must be binding obligations assessed to LDCs, affirming that it must apply to “…all significant emitters,” obviously code for India, China, and Brazil (among others), invoking the Byrd-Hagel Resolution.

While not necessarily rejecting binding agreements per se, he seemed leery of the push towards a hard law regime.  Some of this, it should be noted, is based on the US delegation’s analysis that it will be very difficult to get meaningful commitment to a binding regime, and an argument that non-binding regimes may be a better way of generating political will among states.  Shades of Underdal and Victor!

In a positive direction, however, the US administration is now explicitly recognizing the science behind climate change (which may be news to domestic policymakers), and in a question from the audience about US resistance to science, the Special Envoy sounded a little testy.  Moreover, he made an explicit argument that, while much of the current dialogue focuses on attaining action up until 2020, there must be long term commitment (including financial support in the figure of at least $100 billion) to combating climate change.

EU Press Briefing

Tomasz Chruszczow, head of the Polish delegation, sounds really hoarse.  At the same time, he sounds adamant that what are needed are “…immediate actions on the ground…” to hold the increase in global climate temperatures to 2degrees Celsius above the global norm.  Again, invoking Cancún, he called for operationalizing financial commitments to LDCs.

He takes a slightly different tack from the USA: emphasizing the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility,” he asserts that what is needed is a binding framework that incorporates all actors, but treats some (developing countries) differently from the HICs.  Renge-Metzer also notes that we need to cut emissions by 50% from 1990 levels by 2020 (bringing to mind the First Assessment Report of the IPCC).  Echoing the USA however, Chruszczow notes that the Kyoto Protocol is a pretty poor model for an agreement – since it only applies binding obligations on Annex I countries (exempting the USA, Russia, China and India), it governs only 25% of the world’s emissions, of which 11% are in the EU.  Thus, 75% of global emissions are not regulated by the Kyoto Protocol.  In his words: “…Kyoto alone cannot save the planet,” but it is clear that a binding commitment is sought for.

In a move that overlaps with the Brazilian delegate’s position, he invokes the EU’s involvement in providing Official Development Assistance (ODA) as a means to support environmentally friendly sustainable development.  Artur Runge-Metzer, his co-presenter, takes up this point, illustrating that “fast-start finance” is particularly necessary to change short-term practices, talking up the EU’s provision of about $4billion to LDCs under the aegis of climate change to reduce emissions from industry and deforestation.  Africa, in particular, is targeted for bilateral aid.  Notably, however, the EU delegates are stressing that aid must be in loans and support private sector investments and the free market.

In a question asked about Canada’s abdication from the Kyoto Protocol, the EU delegates are similarly sanguine about this event, noting that Canada was not particularly interested in committing to anything after Kyoto at this point.  Nevertheless, the EU is expressing confidence in the political process.

To close it out, here’s a clip of highlights from the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, as of yesterday:

(Addendum: one of my students, in response to the notification that I will be covering this, wrote: “Warning warning UNFCCC jargon/nearsightedness/intrinsic Northern hegemony guaranteed to harm your health, crush your soul and undermine your spirit. Previous attendees and followers of conferences recommend taking up martial arts or hibernating instead.” This may yet prove prophetic.)

No Binding Agreement on Climate Change ’til 2020?

Categories: Climate Change, International Relations

Rajenda Pichauri, current head of the IPCC

It’s been a very mild fall, so far. Up until last week, we’ve had temperatures in the 60s here in Vermont.  Very pleasant, but not entirely becalming.  So, now that we’ve finally had some snow, and – alhamdulillah – a break from work, I can take the kids out and enjoy some of what makes the New England winters bearable.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with one of my students: as of this Sunday, the rich nations have essentially given up on trying to negotiate a binding agreement for the post-Kyoto period.  As a result, next week’s round of climate talks in Durban, South Africa is unlikely to end with new commitments to address climate change after the Protocol expires in 2012.  At present, the optimistic scenario is that an agreement might be signed and enter into force at the earliest, 2020.

The Usual Suspects

The usual suspects are to blame for this impasse.  Developed nations are essentially making the argument enshrined in the US’ own Byrd-Hagel Resolution – that any future agreement must include binding targets for less developed countries (LDCs).  LDCs counter with the observations that 1) given the long lifetime of GHGs (over 100 years for CO2), and 2) the wealth disparity between the rich and the poor made possible by rampant industrialization, the richer nations are primarily responsible for the current predicament.  Indeed, one study by the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies carried out for the scientific advisory body for the UNFCCC assessed that the industrialized world, with 15% of the world’s population, is responsible for 64 – 70% of current global warming (PDF).  Consequently, any action taken by LDCs should be voluntary, not mandatory, and should be accompanied with far more financial and technical assistance such that the costs of environmental regulation do not harm nascent economies.

Concerned observers note that without a binding agreement, it is unlikely that nations will be willing to cut emissions after 2012.  Problematically, we currently have an accumulation of 389ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.  Further, according to the IPCC and the National Climatic Data Center of NOAA, we are adding more CO2 at the rate of 1.9ppm per year – by 2020, we will have, at that rate, 406ppm of CO2, or just over the 400ppm recommended to keep an increase of global mean temperatures below 2 degrees above the current norm.

Institutions?

So what’s the upshot?  Those in favor of institutions note that they are potentially extremely helpful in regulating international problems.  In short, they institutionalize monitoring, provide transparency, encourage iterated discussions among parties, and provide consistent benchmarks against which progress can be measured.  On the other hand, skeptics counter that this begs the question: why should we assume that the requirements encoded in institutions are meaningful?  Indeed, some say that the tendency in international regimes is that states are likely to commit only to institutions and obligations that satisfy the least ambitious among them.  Problematically, the rules encoded in such unambitious institutions are probably going to be ineffective solutions at best.  As a result, the best bet is that sufficient global attention around the issue has been generated that domestic populations will independently drive improved behavior.  A long shot, but perhaps more likely than hoping for a serious international agreement.

A New World Record!

Categories: Climate Change, International Relations

Stunning news!  Not really surprising though (nor necessarily encouraging), but here it is.  In the most recent bulletin by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), issued at the time of writing (Monday, November 21, 2011), data show a steady increase in the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere (PDF). At present, we are at 389 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2, the highest recorded in the past 10,000 years.

At present, this is substantially higher than the 350ppm hoped for by 350.org, a transnational science and advocacy network, but still within the range deemed acceptable by the Fourth Assessment Report (AR-4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – namely 350 – 400ppm, as described in their Summary for Policymakers (PDF).  For clarity’s sake, this is the range in which most scientists feel we have the best change at stabilizing the projected increase in global temperatures at 2 degrees above the current average.  Further, as indicated in the bulletin, it is assumed that the 350 – 400 CO2 level would correspond with a similar leveling of other GHGs, such as methane, sulfur hexafluoride, and nitrous oxide, such that we would have a total accumulation of 445 – 490ppm of CO2 equivalent.

Hot Like Fire

It goes without saying that, even if we took the slightly-less-alarmist AR-4 as the better predictor, we would still be in dire straits.  To get to that level, we would need to cut global emissions by 50% – 85% of 2000 levels.  Further, this assumes that we would not dramatically raise the amount of other GHGs in the atmosphere.  While CO2 is usually held up as the bad boy of the atmosphere (and is currently responsible for about 70 – 80% of current anthropogenic warming), data held by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) show that the other GHGs are more powerful warmers, based on ppm, than CO2.  (This is due to their longevity, as well as chemical makeup).  Unfortunately, these show no sign of decreasing and some, like HFCs, are increasing at alarming rates.

Theoretically, we still have time to act.  Politically, engendering the will to do so is another question.  Part of this depends on our disposition to alarming data – will these trends cause apathy, alarm, or disdain?  We don’t know to a certainty what all this means, but the problem is too many people take this to mean we don’t know anything.  One way or the other, we’re going to find out.  We are, after all, to borrow from Roger Revelle, “…carrying out a large-scale geophysical experiment” with the atmosphere.  I suppose that, for those skeptical about climate science theories, the logical thing to do is to take the experiment to its conclusion.