… getting to like you, getting to hope you like me ….
Yesterday closed out the first of a grueling series of climate change negotiating sessions scheduled to conclude in Copenhagen in December with a new global agreement. President Obama’s Special Envoy for Climate Change and his Deputy Special Envoy used this meeting to listen and refrained from announcing new US positions. This was wise, given that Todd Stern has been in his job about six weeks, while Jonathan Pershing had barely been appointed before he was boarding an airplane for Germany.
Against sharp criticism, they defended the President’s target of reducing US greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% reduction by 2050. The European Union, by comparison, has already pledged to reduce by 20% below the 1990 baseline. Stern emphasized that President Obama is committed to putting the US on a path to the 2050 goal with measures like green jobs included in the stimulus package and a proposed tripling of federal support for research and development of low-carbon technology.
Obama’s launch of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) may be a brilliant stroke. This is a recasting of the Major Economies Meeting created by Bush to promote voluntary measures (and many believe to undermine the UN negotiations on binding commitments). In contrast, Stern emphasized that the negotiation will remain in the UN process, while the MEF allows the subset of truly essential nations a less positional forum to seek a shared understanding. That ultimately may make a deal in Copenhagen possible. And by convening an MEF head-of-state summit at the end of the year, President Obama will provide the added incentive of a global audience to boo or cheer their efforts.
Of course, the real challenge for the US team will be to ensure that the Senate will ratify the Copenhagen Protocol (sorry Jonathan, I don’t think a congressional-executive agreement will do the trick here). No one wants a repeat of the sad spectacle of the Kyoto Protocol where signing the agreement is followed by Senate repudiation.
Hillary Clinton’s confirmation yesterday as Secretary of State puts the US on the path to advance President Obama’s climate change agenda in the global forum of the United Nations climate negotiations.
Our new President promised in his inaugural speech, “With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.” Read the rest of this entry »
My father always said that his psychoanalytic patients only got to the “good stuff” in the last ten minutes of the hour. So too with the COP. Rumor has it that the conference facility has been reserved until Sunday, although the conference was scheduled to end today at 6:00pm. Expectations are that discussions will continue until late tonight (or early tomorrow, depending on how you look at it). With the clock running down, a work program for 2009 may be the most concrete result of COP14. Let’s see what we wake up to tomorrow.
The sharp edge of climate change is natural disaster. During the past week, delegates to COP-14 have learned that there are demonstrated strategies for disaster risk management and risk reduction that save lives and decrease losses. The diplomats sat through workshops about the human and financial cost of climate change-induced disaster, and about some of the policy responses that they should consider. Side events have presented case studies and detailed reports from a dozen international organizations – although the multiple parallel meetings.
The frequency of disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the European heat wave of 2003, which killed over 35,000 people, rainstorms in Mozambique, and king tides in Tuvalu has roughly doubled over the last twenty years, as has the frequency of smaller but still damaging events.
The prescription for disaster risk reduction includes measures that Californians should already be familiar with, notably careful management of land uses in risk zones. Early warning systems and educating vulnerable communities are two other programs that reduced the damage in flood-prone Bangladesh. The Munich Climate Insurance Initiative proposed managing climate risk with macro- and micro-insurance that would be available to countries – although it was also pointed out that
The emphasis here on climate catastrophes is almost startling. Although adaptation to climate change impacts is one of the five elements of the Bali Action Plan and it has always been part of the climate change Framework Convention, until COP-14 it was neglected and the emphasis has been on mitigation. Harlan Watson, the outgoing senior climate change negotiator for the United States, noted that environmental NGOs long resisted any discussion of adaptation on the principle that focusing on the impacts of climate change would decrease momentum for addressing its causes. Another explanation might be the sheer complexity and enormity of the issue. Along with a growing understanding of disaster management, the emphasis at COP-14 on preparing for the worst reflects, I believe, a new realism about the inevitability of serious harm.
A lively debate about cap and trade began in the kitchen this morning, where I was outnumbered by colleagues who argued that the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is irretrievably flawed. My reply, as ever: whether you like it or not, we’re going to have cap and trade, so we need a tight cap and well-regulated trade.
Cap and trade showed up throughout the COP today. Negotiators tried to reach agreement on whether or not to allow carbon capture and sequestration projects to qualify for CDM credits, with concerns over the uncertainty and risks of the novel technology set against the position that CCS is a necessary tool to reach deep reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. More on this next week, when a decision should be made.
In parallel sessions, expert panels sponsored by NGOs, international organizations, and governments (“side events”) presented analysis and policy recommendations on a range of subjects, including an excellent panel that concluded that the prospects for a US cap and trade program will remain with the state RGGI and Western Climate Initiative for the next year or two, and that the potential for linkage with the EU emissions trading system is good.
There is no doubt that there are problems with emissions trading and particularly with offset credits, the credits that are created outside the regulatory framework that applies to the developed countries. Launching a new policy instrument at such a large scale was bound to result in some rough patches, and problems like improving the sluggish project review process can be fixed relatively easily. Other problems aren’t so simple.
The most profoundly difficult issue is the requirement of additionality. As hard as it is to determine whether a project would have occurred without the financial incentive of CDM credits when the credits have never been available before, over time it becomes increasingly hard to demonstrate the counter-factual: that this project wouldn’t have existed but for the CDM. Some of the people in the kitchen this morning have demonstrated in their published work that, in fact, a large number of projects that were approved by the CDM were planned long before the CDM became available and thus were not additional. In their view, this is an insurmountable problem.
But these serious problems – underscored by a new, critical GAO report – haven’t slowed the development of carbon trading. The Kyoto Protocol parties have invested wealth and human resources in emissions trading, and they intend to continue both the EU-ETS and the CDM after 2012. California is in the process of adopting a cap and trade program of its own, intended to be part of the Western Climate Initiative, and the RGGI states have held their first auction of allowances.
We will have emissions trading programs, and that is why, in my view, it’s time to stop fighting against markets and to focus instead on how to make them effective. A question that has had too little study is which sectors of the economy should be excluded from cap and trade. Another, which has gained insufficient attention so far, is how to ensure that the enthusiasm for securitizing investment risk in the carbon markets doesn’t go the way of the mortgage markets. This is the time for financial regulators and environmental policy experts to collaborate on making carbon markets secure and effective.
14th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP14), Poznań, Poland
Is there any reason to believe that over 10,000 people traveling from all parts of the world to Poznań, Poland will avert the worst impacts of climate change? It may be an act of extreme optimism to think so, particularly with financial collapse and terrorism drawing attention away from the longer, slower threat of the climate.
Exactly one year ago, the major emitters of greenhouse gases – the US, Europe, China – were joined by the countries most likely to be seriously harmed by climate change, such as the small island developing states, and agreed to negotiate a new, serious climate change treaty. Following a plan intended to bring recalcitrant parties to agreement in just 24 months, which would be lightening speed even if the Obama administration were already in place, foreign ministries have been studying and discussing the problem until this week. The current meeting will begin the far more difficult process of putting words on paper, words everyone can agree to.
After twelve months of talking, it’s time to start writing. The Executive Director of the climate treaty secretariat opened the conference by calling on delegates to speed up their work and to move from discussing the issues to negotiating text for what will become – it is hoped – a new protocol to be signed at Copenhagen in December 2009. In these first days of the conference, governments are urging serious negotiations notwithstanding the financial crisis. Substantial time has been scheduled to discuss technology transfer and adaptation to the hazards that climate change will pose. Both of these issues may come down to a debate about financial transfers from industrialized to developing nations, if today’s events are a guide.
Over the next two weeks, visit again and see whether the international process can give reason for optimism.I’ll be posting every day or two with reflections on the progress I see here in Poznań.