Friday, December 02, 2011

Durban Day 6:

The amalgamation of draft text was released in the Long-Term Collaborative Action (LCA) track, setting up much discussion and reading over the next few days. 

Saturday was also the Global Day of Action, with a 12,000 person march through the city of Durban for climate action.

More pictures here

Durban Day 5

Forward movement? On Friday of the first week, a China Daily news article raised some hope that mitigation commitments could be coming together.  While China’s statement that they are contemplating an absolute emission limit, rather than a relative limit per unit of economic activity, helps to raise the ante, it wasn’t received as a certain development, as the target is conditional on economic development through 2020.  Still, the provision in the newest 5-year plan to set a limit on coal production is a small step forward, although China consumes about 46 percent of the world’s coal. 

Other topics under discussion today –

Keeping the Clean Development Mechanism Clean - Developing a grievance or appeals process for the Clean Development Mechanism – the emissions trading system in place for Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.  Advocates have been concerned about approved projects that are not in fact additional to what would have otherwise occurred but for the credit received.  The CDM approved a few coal energy projects before establishing a moratorium on credit for coal power plant.  Advocates are pushing for this temporary moratorium to become established policy so that the trading system has environmental integrity. 

Clearing Up The Hot Air – A flexible compliance mechanism is only as good as the rules that ensure the right balance between flexibility and integrity of the system.  Advocates looking closely at the CDM have spot a series of loopholes negotiated in the process.  They’re looking critically at
-        Carry-over of overallocated AAUs (carbon credits) during the first commitment period.
-        Problems with forestry accounting rules.
-        Emission reduction projects that would have been built anyway (non-additional).
-        Double counting emission reductions by attributing them to both developed and developing countries
-        Emissions from aviation and shipping (“bunkers”), which are not accounted for in the Kyoto Protocol. 

Page 6 of the UN Environmental Program Report on closingthe Emissions Gap suggests that the difference between lenient and strict rules can amount to 2 – 3 Gigatons of CO2e, or nearly 20 – 30 percent of the gap of emission reductions needed. 

Links – Check out TckTckTck’s Hub on COP 17

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Durban Day 4: Legal Form: They Also Have to Agree on How to Agree

One of the most controvertial issues is the legal form of the outcome from the climate talks.  While the popular understanding, and legal form with the greatest expectations of certainty and compliance, is a legally-binding treaty, several countries from different negotiating blocs have initially rejected this approach, broadening the discussion to a range of alternatives. 

Today, I tracked the meeting where countries discussed a "menu" of legal options, first outlined in the Cancun Agreements, paragraph 145, and had drafted an intervention (like a public comment by an observer organization) that was presented by the Climate Action Network.  Several countries weighed in on the options, which include:

1. Legally Binding Instrument(s)
2. COP (Conference of the Parties) Decisions
- Continue discussions to identify the appropriate form of the different elements of the agreed outcome.
- Mandate to conclude a legally binding instrument with a clear roadmap/main content.
- Affirm the importance of a legally binding outcome to provide clarity and vision.
- Statement/declaration regarding future instrument(s) leaving open the legal form.
- Continue substantively addressing all pillars of the Bali Action Plan through COP Decisions. 

There's a saying that "if you're not confused, you're not paying attention." The 192 countries here are parties and observer states to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This framework convention sets common definitions and is a forum for the Parties to discuss approaches to addressing climate change. Under the convention, there's the Kyoto Protocol, in which 37 developed (Annex 1) countries have committed to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. This legally binding commitment ends next year, raising questions about what comes next.

At stake is the future of the instrument that is an actual legally binding treaty, but only covers 20 percent of global emissions. The Kyoto Protocol does not include commitments that apply to developing countries that are also considered emerging markets, such as China and India. In Copenhagen, countries agreed to a political agreement to pledge their emission reductions, and many "Annex II" countries that are not legally bound to commitments under the Kyoto Protocol agreed to reductions in the Copenhagen Accord, a political agreement that was not adopted by the UNFCCC, but was next detailed and adopted into the Cancun Agreements.

This system is a "pledge and review" approach, which has the advantage of including countries that the United States has wanted to see included in an agreement, but has the disadvantage of pledges that fall far short of what scientists say is necessary. Also at issue is the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities," a cornerstone principle of equity between developed and developing countries, but left with "constructive ambiguity," left open to interpretation and further disagreement about what this actually means. The Climate Action Network, the coalition of environmental organizations from around the world, is calling for a legally binding treaty by 2018, to coincide with the end of a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. 

The talks are continuing, with some Parties calling attention to the importance of certainty and trust from a legally binding treaty, and some Parties doubting the political feasibility of entering into binding commitments with ambitious targets, preferring first to achieve political commitments, and perhaps later codify into a treaty.  While function follows form, here it may also be that the form is following function. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Durban Day 3: An Extreme Warning, Negotiations Pick Up

The negotiations plenary opened with a statement from Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  The IPCC publishes authoritative and comprehensive scientific reports to advise global decision-makers on climate science. 
Global warming isn't just about the average temperature rising by several degrees.  It's the extreme events that are particularly concerning.  Some notable quotes:

It is very likely that the length, frequency and/or intensity of warm spells, or heat waves, will increase over most land areas. Based on specific emissions scenarios, a 1-in-20 year hottest day is likely to become a 1-in-2 year event by the end of the 21st century in most regions, except in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, where it is likely to become a 1-in-5 year event.  The 1-in-20 year extreme daily maximum temperature (i.e., a value that was exceeded on average only once during the period 1981–2000) will likely increase by about 1°C to 3°C by mid-21st century and by about 2°C to 5°C by late-21st century, depending on the region and emissions scenario.
When I had the privilege of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC I asked the rhetorical question, “Will those responsible for decisions in the field of climate change at the global level listen to the voice of science and knowledge, which is now loud and clear?
The United Nations Environment Programme released a report titled "The Emissions Gap," examining a range of emission reduction scenarios, including the scenario called for in the Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Agreements.  The report concluded that there is a significant gap between scientific reality and the current level of ambition of nations. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Durban: Day 2

53 Members of Congress Call on Obama Administration to Pursue Ambitious Agenda in Durban

Although this is last week's news, it's important that 53 members of Congress, including Oakland Representative Barbara Lee, wrote a letter to Secretaries Clinton and Geithner urging the Administration to pursue an ambitious agenda at the Durban Climate Change Summit.  The letter focuses on the extreme weather events expected to intensify as a result of global warming, and calls for operationalizing the Green Climate Fund and reiterating the commitment made in Copenhagen to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. 

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South Africa, UNFCCC President
UNFCCC President Calls for Optimism

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, President of the UNFCCC for COP 17, quoted Nelson Mandela, who said "It always seems impossible until it's done."  This year's conference is anticipated to have a more uncertain outcome than ever before, with much at stake. 
The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is set to expire, with wide disagreement over what a second commitment period should look like.  Japan and Canada are indicating that they cannot agree to further commitments unless major developing countries and the United States also commit to reductions.  The United States is focused on implementation of the Green Climate Fund and other aspects of the Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Agreements, but is currently deferring negotiation of more ambitious targets until years in the future, in great part because of domestic dirty energy politics.  Reciprocally, India says they won't agree to further reductions unless the U.S. does the same.  India and China are calling for a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.  Europe will only continue for a second Kyoto commitment period if they are not the only countries carrying the load, particularly if the United States accepts reductions.  Many African and small island states, with a low per-capita carbon footprint, are focused on survival, in anticipation of the devastating impacts of extreme heat and sea level rise on their countries. 

Key issues include mitigation commitments, the legal form of any mandate (forms of either political agreement or binding treaty), the structure, priorities, and commitments of a new Green Climate Fund to assist developing countries achieve clean development, reducing deforestation, technology transfer and capacity building, the role and integrity of carbon markets to facilitate these goals, and adaptation. 
Two common themes in the negotiations are (1) the ambition of commitments, but also (2) responsibility for acting to address climate change.  The countries of the world are still far apart, but for the last two years have agreed on the crucial goal: to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. 

A highlight of my day was a briefing for United States Youth with Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing.  Although the briefing was an important opportunity to better understand and ask questions about the U.S. position on the issues, the situation is complex, and the answers were often not what we wanted to hear.  I'm consistently inspired by the other young people who are actively engaging in the process, through both the long periods of slow progress, and the moments of breakthrough. 

In tracking the negotiations, I'll be focusing on issues related to legal form and flexible / market mechanisms, cross-posting other news and views from the conference, and later this week I'll share South African sustainability exhibits on display outside the conference center. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Durban - Day 1 - Will the World Act in Time?

The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) began today in Durban, South Africa, where once again 192 countries are gathered for the next two weeks to consider how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avert the most serious impacts of climate change.    The progress thus far has been too slow, and often with steps in the wrong direction. The International Energy Agency recently reaffirmed that without more ambitious commitments to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases over the next decade, that we are extremely unlikely to meet the goal set by President Obama and other leaders in Copenhagen of keeping global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  

Canada announced today an intention to leave the Kyoto Protocol, the binding agreement that requires member developed countries to reduce agreed-upon emissions. There are also serious questions as to whether the negotiations will have a meaningful discussion toward a binding agreement to protect the climate, or the launch of the Green Climate Fund agreed to last year in Cancun.  

Stay tuned for daily progress updates, in-depth discussion, links to information resources, and pictures.  

Also, this is information about what the Sierra Club delegation is up to in Durban: 

Today kicked off what will be a busy and exciting week for the Sierra Club's COP 17 delegation in Durban as we connect with partners fighting dangerous coal development around the globe, promote renewable energy solutions, work on climate finance and addressing gender issues, and build the international youth movement. Some members of the delegation even got a head start, arriving in Durban early for the Conference of Youthand Dirty Energy Week.

The Sierra Club will be on the front lines over the next two weeks as we:

• Partner with Greenpeace International on the "Coal, the Dirty Truth" side event inside the conference on Tuesday, November 29.
• Join the Carbon War Room and the Mary Robinson Foundation for a special event to discuss on energy access on Thursday, December 1. 
• Participate in the Global Day of Action march in Durban with activists from around the world on Saturday, December 3. 
• Present on the health impacts of deadly coal pollution at the Climate Health Summit with Health Care Without Harm on Sunday, December 4. 
• Host a Move Beyond Coal workshop with groundWork South Africa on Monday, December 5. 
• Discuss environmental and labor alliances as part of the Blue-Green panel at the World of Work Pavilion on Monday, December 5.
• Stage visibility events to highlight the dangers of coal and the need for action, including a funeral for coal and heads in the sands photo op.
• Hold the first ever Sierra Club booth inside the conference to discuss who we are and what we do during the second week.
• And much, much more! Stay tuned to thedelegation blog to get the latest info.