Global Climate Policy Conference 2014 – summary and reflections

by Heleen de Coninck along with CS and CDKN teams

What can researchers contribute to the current efforts to break the logjam at the international climate change negotiations? Over 80 participants representing various groups of stakeholders gathered at ODI in London on May 7th and 8th to take part in the first Global Climate Policy Conference. The organisers – Climate Strategies and CDKN – wanted to provide a space for discussing new ideas provided by researchers in a variety of climate fields, that could push climate negotiations forward and contribute to breaking the deadlock. Issues and perspectives seem to come and go in the negotiations in what can seem to external stakeholders like confusion and isolation. The conference agenda was based on solid contributions from researchers taking some of these issues and subjecting them to rigorous analysis. Does “green growth” really offer a new narrative for achieving climate progress? Are the notions of equity behind the original UNFCCC treaty changing? Are aspirations for effective levels of public and private financing at all realistic? Does the idea of “clubs” of countries cooperating on adaptation, mitigation or both, hold promise or will it undermine the chances of a global solution? These and other questions were tested by presenters and an invited audience, mainly pf experts in their field, with enough time to hold the issues and positions up to the light and debate them fully.

In the opening session chaired by Mattia Romani of GGGI, the conference started with changes in economic thinking bearing on sustainability. Carlo Jaeger and Michael Grubb presented their ideas on sustainable development and green growth and whether this was a “new focus or an optical illusion”. Carlo Jaeger emphasized that the green growth idea could be helpful but that the narratives behind it need development. One such story was told by Michael Grubb, whose book “Planetary Economics”, based on over 20 years of policymaking and academic experience, observed that for transformative change, it is not helpful to argue over whether standards and regulation, markets and pricing or strategic investment (in infrastructure, knowledge or innovation) would deliver the best result. As contexts differ, we need experimentation and implementation in all of these policy pillars. Focusing on only one will lead to disappointing results, as all have shortcomings. For a global agreement, the lessons learned in the Planetary Economics approach contain useful lessons, for instance for NAMAs, the Technology Mechanism and carbon markets. Respondent Radhika Perrot, from South Africa confirmed that all three pillars were recognized as important, but not consistently observed, in her country’s strategy for green growth.

In a session chaired by Ambuj Sagar of IIT, on how mitigation and adaptation packages could secure finance, Jose Garibaldi explained how current initiatives between like-minded countries in Latin America and the Caribbean were succeeding in “cross-subsidisation” of local mitigation policies through adaptation mainstreaming and country to country cooperation. Adaptation, over time, was a bigger cost for most countries than mitigation, and the case for support in adaptation was improved if action on mitigation could be demonstrated. Progress could be made if language was changed to emphasise differentiated but ambitions action by all, a “small is beautiful” approach, the availability of support, and the benefits of crossing the boundaries of the traditional negotiating groups.

A conclusion from these two sessions was that cooperation in clubs, or coalitions of the willing, could be a useful complement to UN-based systems. Examples like the Quisqueya case that Jose Garibaldi introduced could be formed by clubs of countries where cost of climate change exceeded their mitigation costs. Michael Grubb argued that coalitions of countries that depend on fossil fuel imports could work for agreeing on mitigation. In the consensus-based UNFCCC negotiations, countries who do not share such interests could block such deals. Tom Brewer argued that such clubs could be helpful by forming coalitions that further efforts, but also highlighted risks of exclusion and regulatory capture. The idea of clubs (covered more extensively in the last session) could be also risky, as boundaries in the negotiations are often deep-rooted in history, emotions and tactics – argued Michael Cutajar, who went on to chair the next session on CBDR.

Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR/RC) is a term that almost defines the UN Convention on Climate Change, but could use a rethink, argued both Xiaohua Zhang from the perspective of China, and Christoph Schwarte from an international legal perspective. Xiaohua Zhang argued that the term remains highly relevant, but more differentiation than Annex I/ non-Annex I is now needed. He introduced a grouping of developing countries with high capabilities to implement low-carbon growth strategies: “Capable DCs”. Christoph Schwarte ran through the recommendations of the recently-completed work of the International Law Association. He argued that in the spirit of the Convention, the distinction between developed and developing countries should to some degree be maintained but that more differentiation is needed, and mentioned a “spectrum of States’ commitments” and making a framework more flexible in order to manage the remaining atmospheric space as a common natural resource. The implication of this latter suggestion would need to be further investigated.

In Sonja Klinsky’s presentation at the session on equity and fairness, chaired by Daniel Klein of UNFCCC, socio-psychological viewpoints of what people perceive as fair played a crucial role. She argued that there was not a single concept of equity, and often what is fair cannot be easily expressed in words or argued. Sometimes, something just is not fair. The ultimate injustice done to people or groups occurs in situations of war. Still, some communities succeed in overcoming the aftermath of war; peace and reconciliation processes can provide useful lessons. To agree on a way forward after injustice, perpetrators need limited liability; a limit to the claim that can be put on them. Victims need a new deal, or a structural change that convinces them that things will get better. This was summarized as ‘backward-looking justice and forward-looking peace’. It was also noted that compensation payments can undermine such an approach, and that it is important for all participants to have a sense that there is procedural justice. A conclusion could be that future narratives about a climate-resilient future that are credibly implemented (forward-looking peace) could be accompanied by gradually phasing out the rhetoric of historical responsibility (backward-looking justice).

Ari Huhtala of CDKN chaired the session on private climate finance, where Christa Clapp spoke about growing investor interest in green bonds, renewable energy in China and divestment campaigns. While more investment from the private sector should be encouraged, governments, researchers and UNFCCC have lots to do to create an enabling environment and to reach a scale that could make a difference. Problems along the way include adequate definitions or certification of “green” , to avoid the re-badging of BAU, achieving sufficient liquidity in the green bond market, persuading Governments to engage in de-risking (there were examples from developing countries, but the financial crisis has made all governments nervous about putting their balance sheet at risk), and persuading more investors that “green” is not just a synonym for “poor returns”. Different views were expressed about the importance of disclosure of risks and green activity by companies.

The last session, chaired by Heleen de Coninck, focused on clubs.Carlos Rossi presented a proposal by Peru for COP20 in Lima. The key was technology integration approaches, with a new focus on regional technology centres, producing technology that can be widely shared in a global pool. Globalization of technology, regionalization of application and diffusion, respect for capabilities and trade implications all played a role in the Peruvian proposals. Tom Brewer highlighted an area where such integration of technology could be furthered by developing the “club” approach: reducing methane leakages from LNG transport and processing, where emissions are increasing as a consequence of booming LNG trade globally. Such an agreement could develop general rules for methane leakage, certify exporters, importers and shippers, and verify whether agreed leakage rates are not exceeded. However, the incentives on clubs to achieve real reductions, and the possibility of undermining the international approach to a global problem, needed to be watched carefully.

Simon Maxwell of CDKN brought the conference issues together. Climate policy would not make progress unless it was grounded in research, linked to theory, multidisciplinary to reflect the “wicked” nature of the problem, alive to the changing structure of the world economy, and connected to the intellectual trends that moved today’s politicians, the public, and other stakeholders. The conference could not find all the answers, but asking the right questions was a major advance; it should never be forgotten that even policy research had to follow the basic rules of research: generate testable propositions and, for each of them, do the work necessary to assemble the evidence and refine the hypothesis.

Looking back over the event, other participants raised issues about effective and acceptable developing country participation and agenda-setting, capturing and accelerating the signs of positive momentum in the areas of finance, clean technology and donor initiatives, how technology can be developed for all and not just for the elites, and how to educate the public, generate a social movement and allow and help individuals across the world to look beyond their personal self-interest.

What happens next

The conference proceedings are being made available on video, accessible from the CDKN and Climate Strategies websites. A summary will be presented in a UNFCCC side-event in the Bonn Negotiations in June, featuring some of the papers presented to the conference. The full presentations will be assembled in a peer-reviewed publication which will appear later in the year. And Climate Strategies will be picking the most suitable issues and ideas from among those presented to turn into substantive research projects.

The general reaction to the conference so far has been very favourable; if this continues a further conference in the run-up to the UNFCCC Paris negotiations in 2015 will be considered, perhaps in a form that allows a multidisciplinary “laboratory approach” to some of the most intractable issues.

Signed: Heleen de Coninck along with CS and CDKN teams

 Climate Strategies and CDKN wish to thank all presenters, chairs, respondents and participants for a though-provoking event, and express their hope that such questions, and many others, may get addressed at the Global Climate Policy Conference 2015 – which – we hope – will become an annual event. Please let us know your interest in participation by emailing: info@climatestrategies.org

Presentations as well as the video from GCPC 2014 are already available on Climate Strategies website.

Conference contributions by the speakers along with the summary of the discussions will be published in late August / early September 2014 in a professionally edited volume. Please check Climate Strategies and CDKN websites for announcement (www.climatestrategies.org and www.cdkn.org)

The UNFCCC – 20 years on

By Joanna Depledge, Cambridge

Twenty years ago today, on 21 March 1994, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change came into force.   The world was, of course, very different then.  The EU had only 12 members.  The Russian Federation and Eastern Europe were in the throes of massive political and economic dislocation.  The internet was in its infancy, and unheard of throughout much of the globe.  Mobile phones were newfangled gadgets for business executives (and only made phone calls).   The idea that PV solar technology might bring telecommunications – largely through mobile phones – to vast swathes of Africa was pure fantasy.  Oil cost under $14 a barrel.  China’s impending dominance over the world economy was on the horizon, but still far out into the future.   The idea that Asian companies would end up “owning” substantial parts of Western industries would have seemed fantastical to mainstream analysts.

Climate change was just emerging as a major issue on the international stage.  Public awareness was limited, especially so outside of North-Western Europe.  National emissions data was sparse – few countries, outside the most advanced, knew much about their own emissions profile.  Carbon trading was but an eccentric idea peddled by maverick academics.  The notion of funding carbon offset projects in developing countries to gain emission credits was almost taboo (remember AIJ – Activities Implemented Jointly?).  Atmospheric CO2 concentrations had risen to around 359 ppm, but the landmark figure of 400 ppm – now inevitable within the next two years– was reassuringly distant.  Most significantly, there was still time to act, and a sense of optimism that temperatures could be stabilized at a safe level.

Since then, the climate scene has become much bleaker.  Advances in climate science have brought more bad news than good.  Global emissions have risen by 50%, and the upward trend shows no signs of decelerating.  Although emissions have largely stabilized, or even fallen, in many (not all) of the richer OECD nations, these gains have been cancelled out by huge increases in many developing countries.  The prospect of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees is growing slimmer by the day.

This lack of concrete progress in curbing emissions trends is an inglorious feature of the UNFCCC’s first two decades.  There are many reasons for it.  One is the lack of effective institutional mechanisms for countries to automatically “graduate” into stronger commitments, once they reach a certain level of development.  The major Asian and Latin American economies have therefore grown over the past 20 years without any serious prospect of future constraints on their carbon emissions.  This was no oversight – some of the countries that were first in line to face pressure to curb their emissions growth (read China, India and the oil exporters) made quite sure such mechanisms were not included in either the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol.  The fact that the US is such a laggard on climate change – as reflected in its persistently high emissions, in aggregate and per capita – has made it infinitely more difficult to persuade these emerging powers that they should restrain the growth in their carbon emissions.  The distancing of Canada, Japan and the Russian Federation from the Kyoto Protocol – and Australia’s negative domestic stance – has made things much worse.

A frustrating feature of the climate landscape is the apparent disjuncture between domestic action and the international negotiations.  This is a theme taken up by Michael Grubb in his Editorial in the latest issue of Climate Policy (vol. 14, issue, 3) – out soon.  In many countries, notably China, some US states, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa and elsewhere, there are promising moves towards effective emission reduction policies and a lower-carbon development path.  And yet these do not follow through into a positive “can do” atmosphere in the negotiations – anything but, as (almost) everyone tries to argue why they should do less than anyone else.  Why?

This disjuncture – where the UNFCCC negotiations always reflect the lowest possible ambition – is also apparent in the context of other international arenas.   It is becoming almost commonplace, now, for major countries to make solemn pledges and promises in bilateral or multilateral (eg G20) forums, not to mention such big jamborees as Rio+20, only to renege on these in the UNFCCC or related negotiating forums (China’s reported failure to follow through on bilateral promises made before Copenhagen is an obvious example; India’s alleged backtracking on G20 pledges to soften its stance on HFC controls is another).  Why?  There are many puzzles here for students of international relations.

And yet the story of the UNFCCC is much more complex, and perhaps more positive. Counterfactual questions are impossible to answer, but this one is worth posing – where would the response to climate change be without the UNFCCC?  Consider the following achievements – many of them largely unsung – of the Convention:

  • Massively raising awareness of climate change, and throughout the world.   Part of the reason why the climate negotiations are becoming more difficult, is because there is a whole new crop of countries – rather passive in the early days – that are now actively participating in the talks, with high levels of awareness and understanding of their own particular interests and concerns.  In the long run, this can only be a good thing.
  • Keeping climate change on the political agenda.  The annual cycle of negotiations ensures that climate change can never fall completely off the international radar.
  • Catalysing action on the ground, even in laggard countries, and even without the imperative to comply with legislation.  Without the awareness-raising and agenda setting of the UNFCCC, would California have set up its own trading scheme?  Would Abu Dhabi and Qatar be rebranding themselves as pioneers of the green economy? Would certified carbon neutrality have become fashionable among large business brands?
  • Establishing a rigorous reporting and review regime.  Over 40 countries have now been reporting their greenhouse gas emissions, in considerable disaggregated detail, on an annual basis for nearly 20 years.  The quality of these emission inventories has increased significantly over time, largely due to training materials and opportunities within the UNFCCC.  This knowledge is passing on to the developing countries, who are now required to submit biannual reports on their emissions.  This extension of the reporting regime for developing countries is a huge recent achievement in the negotiations.
  • Setting a limit on global temperature rise.  The 2 degree goal may be inadequate for some, too ambitious for others, and legally unenforceable, but it is there, and provides an important marker towards establishing commitments that are actually based on science.
  • Pioneering new ways of controlling emissions, through emissions trading and offset mechanisms.  It is difficult to imagine, now, how controversial the market mechanisms were when they were first launched under the Kyoto Protocol.  Emissions trading and the offset mechanisms – joint implementation and the CDM – were largely untested and required sophisticated rules and regulations that would enable transparency and rigour, while attracting investment.
  • Designing a ground-breaking emissions accounting system.  The credible functioning of the market mechanisms required the establishment of unprecedented system for accounting of emission transfers.
  • The market mechanisms under the UNFCCC/KP have catalysed a multitude of trading schemes around the world aimed at controlling emissions, now increasingly so in developing countries.
  • For all its flaws (well rehearsed in the literature), the CDM has engaged a wide group of countries for which the notion that saving carbon could generate value was previously alien
  • Making progress on deforestation.  Although the REDD+ mechanism is perhaps not as ambitious as initially hoped for, the climate change regime – under the UNFCCC – seems to have made more progress in setting up concrete mechanisms to reduce deforestation than in many other areas of specifically forestry negotiations in the international system.
  • Harnessing and leveraging funding for mitigation and adaptation.  There will never be enough money to tackle climate change, but without the UNFCCC and its funding arms, there would be a lot less.  The climate change regime has also pushed other multilateral funding institutions to up their game on climate finance.

Perhaps most importantly, the regime is inching towards the ultimate goal of an emission control regime that covers the globe.  Until Bali in 2007, the issue of concrete emission targets for developing countries was the great unmentionable in the negotiations.  Now, all but two (Iran and Saudi Arabia) of the top 20 GHG emitters have quantified emission pledges on record.  This is a huge political turnaround.  For all their blustering and posturing, the negotiations are – gradually – moving forwards and starting to deliver.   The negotiating process – and the wider response to climate change that takes its cues from it, and in turn feeds back into it – is desperately messy, but it is nudging the world towards a lower carbon future.  Of course, it may all be too little too late, but one important lesson from the history of economic and technological transformation is that, once change gets underway, it can happen much faster than could ever be expected.  The contrasts between the world of 1994 and of 2014 pay testimony to this, even if those changes have not all been in the right direction for climate change.  The next two decades may well be the ones in which low-carbon systems finally take hold and start to steer global emissions onto a downward trend; and indeed they will have to be, if we are to stabilize global temperatures at anything resembling a safe level.  Progress under the UNFCCC during its first 20 years has laid the groundwork for this transformation.  The next 20 years must build on those achievements.

Happy anniversary UNFCCC!

Going beyond two degrees? – Tim Rayner & Andrew Jordan

Going beyond two degrees? The risks and opportunities of alternative options                     in Climate Policy Journal, Vol. 13, issue 6.

As the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change convenes for the 19th time in Warsaw, the likelihood that the world can fulfill the Convention’s ultimate objective of avoiding ‘dangerous climate change’ is looking ever slimmer. Since the mid-1990s, that objective has been widely interpreted as preventing a mean global temperature increase of more than two degrees Celsius. The increasing likelihood that the two degrees target will not be achieved was re-iterated by results of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) science report published in September. It shows that the target implies a remaining global carbon budget equivalent to about one third of the greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere since industrialisation. At present rates, this budget could be used up entirely by 2040.

In a new Open Access paper in Climate Policy (Vol. 13, issue 6) written with colleagues from the Tyndall Centre, we argue that however uncomfortable a prospect, the time is now ripe to debate the future of the two degree target as the central aim of international climate policy. If the opportunity is not taken, by 2020 international climate policy could be premised on a target widely acknowledged to be unrealistic, leaving policy with even less credibility and society under-prepared to adapt to a significantly warmer world. Our paper begins to identify, for the first time, key uncertainties, risks and opportunities associated with four policy alternatives:

  • Adjust climate policy to an amended goal of ‘Mitigate for 2 but adapt for 4 degrees’, thereby ‘hedging our bets’ by taking steps to adapt to higher temperatures whilst stepping up to a higher level of mitigation effort.
  • Adopt new goals’: since the two degrees target appears unable to stimulate significant decarbonisation in the short-term, more specific and near-term targets should be adopted.
  • Be politically more pragmatic’: society should accept that science-informed targets such as two degrees have failed to drive change and instead concentrate on taking politically achievable steps in the short to medium term (without an explicit ‘target’ structure).
  • Re-commit to staying within 2 degrees’: the growing likelihood, recently confirmed by the IPCC, of high rates of warming makes it even more important to recommit to what it referred to as “substantial and sustained reductions” in GHG emissions, whatever the cost.

Significantly, therefore, one of the possible options is to acknowledge how radical the changes required to deliver two degrees would really be – potentially including restrictions on economic growth and exploring new definitions of prosperity – and to act meaningfully on this acknowledgment. However politically unpalatable this may be to western societies, could it be that given the choice, citizens might prefer this radical future to the kind of radical future associated with dangerous climate change?

Tim Rayner and Andrew Jordan                                                                                                    Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research                                                                          University of East Anglia

The changing geopolitics of climate change

By Dr Charlotte Streck

OUT NOW: Climate Policy Journal Special Issue (Vol. 13, no.5) - The Changing Geopolitics of Climate Change, edited by Charlotte Streck (Climate Focus) and Maximilian Terhalle (Free University, Berlin)  The Special Issue  features commentaries from UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres and former UK Ambassador Sir Tony Brenton as well as academic articles from Luis Gomez Echeverri (on climate finance), Karl Hallding (on the evolving role of BASIC countries), Matthew Paterson and Erick Lachapelle (on the linkages between national and international climate politics), Maximillian Terhalle and Joanna Depledge (on great power politics, order transition and climate governance), and from Jutta Brunné and Charlotte Streck (on the role of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities).  Read on, as Dr Charlotte Streck blogs on the Special Issue, based on her article with Jutta Brunné…

Over the last three decades, climate change has graduated from an environmental concern to a matter of geopolitics in the twenty-first century. The political and socio-economic environment in which international climate negotiations take place has seen remarkable changes. The problem of climate change has become more urgent and its effects more visible. It has also become clear that addressing climate change will require a massive socio-economic transformation based on a collaborative effort supported by a broad social and economic compact Similarly, it has become (even more) obvious that the solution to the problem needs to be global. Finally, there is an increasing recognition that the climate regime has to be based on a flexible set of rules to reflect the conditions of a constantly-changingpolitical environment.

The world has also seen a profound change in the powers and influences that shape national and international policymaking. India, China and Brazil have risen as new powers and have gained political, economic, and financial influence and confidence vis-à-vis the old powers of Europe, Russia and the US. These new powers are fast-developing economies and while they have begun to decouple economic development from carbon emissions, their emissions continue to increase rapidly. The relative share of the emissions of the developing world is continuously increasing, and their absolute emissions will soon overtake those of the developed world. Consequently, even if all of developed countries, including the United States, were to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030, it would be physically impossible for the world to achieve the frequently-discussed climate target of stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at or below 450 ppm unless there are also significant reductions by China and India.

This increased relevance of developing country economies as global polluters goes hand in hand with a shift in the global balance of power – economic, military and political – away from the West towards the emerging economies of the developing world. Over the last ten years, China and India have become the world’s second and third largest economies, Brazil has risen to seventh, Mexico to tenth place (World Bank 2013). The increase in economic sway has been accompanied by growing political assertiveness. India and China have discarded the low profile that they kept in international climate negotiations in the 1990s and are now willing to actively defend their interests, make their voice heard and veto decisions that fall outside of their national interests. The emerging powers have started to coordinate some of their negotiation positions in the context of the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries, while a number of other new negotiation groups bundle the voices of particular developing countries or interests.

At the same time, climate change has increased the vulnerability of countries and threatens to seriously affect their development perspectives. A changing climate imperils food, water, and energy security. It will affect human health, trade flows, and political stability (cf Sentence and Betts, 2012). The former U.K. Secretary for Energy, Chris Huhne, has warned that the resulting pressures may check development, undo progress, and strain international relations (Huhne 2011). Climate change allocates its risks and effects in a fundamentally inequitable manner (Ashton & Burke 2004). This asymmetry will create different challenges for different countries, whereby those that suffer most are unlikely to be those that are imposing the problem.

The increasing political relevance of climate change has repositionedthe topic higheron the agenda of international politics and led to more nuanced positions within international climate negotiations. It is harder for the G-77 and China to find common ground and the previous barriers separating the interests of the North and the South is becoming increasingly more porous. For example, the collective position of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) group, which is comprised of 44 of the world’s small island states, has often more in common with that of the collective position of the European Union’s (EU) 27 member countries than it does with the collective position of the 11 members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Similarly, within the North there are large differences between the EU and the USA.

In the emerging new world of climate politics, coalitions among countries often bring together developing and developed countries in the pursuit of particular negotiation positions or issues. Among the many formal negotiation groups, for present purposes it will suffice to point to the ‘Environmental Integrity Group’, which since 2000 has represented the views of Switzerland, South Korea, and Mexico in the UNFCCC. Examples of informal groups that operate outside the Convention umbrella but have strong links to the negotiation process include the ‘Cartagena Group,’ an informal alliance of 27 developed and developing countries, and the REDD+ Partnership, which seeks to scale up finance and actions for initiatives that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Another, related, question is whether regulating the conduct of states will be sufficient to achieve the desired outcome for the global environment. Globalization, transboundary movements of people and businesses, global cooperation and international trade have created powerful private networks responsible for significant parts of pollution. The traditional system of international law that relies on party states to transfer international obligations into domestic law is increasingly overwhelmed in regulating international business. Services and trade easily transcend borders, and production sites are relocated (cfDroege, 2011 and the Climate Policy special issue entitled ‘Consuming and producing carbon: what is the role for border measures’ http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tcpo20/11/5 ). Concerns about economic displacement and competitiveness therefore add justification for governments to seek remedies associated with global as well as national pollution.

What does all this mean for a long-term climate regime?

  • Addressing climate change is a common responsibility of all states, calling for ‘their participation in an effective and appropriate international response’ (UNFCCC, 1992: Preamble), arguably under a common legal framework.
  • States’ responsibilities must be differentiated.
  • Capacity differentials matter, so that developed or developing country status will continue to be relevant but will neither be the only ground for differentiation nor insulate states against responsibility to act.
  • The objective of the UNFCCC, which is to avert dangerous human interference with the climate system (UNFCCC, 1992: Article 2), frames all states’ collective responsibility under the treaty and is part of the context of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), such that current emissions and projected emissions trends are relevant to each state’s responsibilities (Brunné and Streck, 2013).

The discussions on climate finance, the establishment of the Green Climate Fund and the extension of the Kyoto Protocol reflect the continued commitment to consider differences between developed and developing countries. Provided that itlives up to its ambition, the Fund holds the promise of channeling significant financial resources into adaptation and the low-emission development of developing countries and of catalyzing ‘climate finance, both public and private, and at the international and national levels’ (UNFCCC 2011). Similarly, the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol expresses the willingness ofdeveloped countries (even if there are only a few) to assume leadership in climate change mitigation. It also ensures that, in the short-term at least, the differentiation between countries with targets and those without will continue to exist.

A key challenge for the climate negotiations remains the question of how the mitigation burden will be translated into a new climate regime.  State parties, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations have proposed a wide variety of approaches to future differentiation and burden sharing.  However, considering the wide array of national circumstances, defining mitigation obligations along particular, pre-defined groups of countries is becoming increasingly difficult and hence is unlikely. At theDurban climate change conference, countries expressed a spectrum of views on what could constitute valid ‘national circumstances’ and justify differentiation. The proposals range from the structure of an economy, including the degree and nature of any specialization, trade structures, the status of development and need for sustainable development and, still, historic responsibility, over per capita emissions, population and energy mix, to geography, environment and natural resources. Considering this range of categories and factors, it seems almost impossible to define an international burden-sharing process along the lines of defined groups of countries.

A range of different legal approaches would be compatible with these interlocking demands. While a legally binding regime of negotiated commitments may well be preferable for a range of reasons, neither the objective nor any other provision of the UNFCCC demand a legally binding outcome. Similarly, althougha ‘top-down’ regime of negotiated commitments may seem better suited in principle to ensuring collective ‘ambition’, a ‘bottom-up’ regime which allows parties to self-select their commitments may well be the most practical approach at this juncture. One can also envisage combinations of these approaches. For example, parties could maketheir self-selected pledges binding by opting into a legal regime, or parties could operateunder a binding regime while their individual pledges remain non-legally binding. An element of self-selected differentiation, through individual states’ pledges, couldbe the most likely way to arrive at a truly global commitments regime. The only constraint that the objective framework imposes is that all parties make commitments under the same regime and that parties’ individual commitments, while self-selected, bemeaningfully directed towards advancing the treaty objective.

Dr Charlotte Streck, Berlin, 17 August 2013

Ashton, John, Tom Burke 2004, The Geopolitics of Climate Change, Article 13, The responsible business expert, Briefing Paper, April 2004.http://www.article13.com/A13_ContentList.asp?strAction=GetPublication&PNID=942

Brunné, J. and Streck, C. (2013), The UNFCCC as a negotiation forum: towards common but more differentiated responsibilities. Climate Policy, 13(5).

Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2013.822661

Droege, S. (2011), Do border measures have a role in climate policy? Climate Policy, 11(5), 1185-1190. Retrieved from:

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2011.600844

Huhne, Chris (2011), The Geopolitics of Climate Change, UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, 7 July 2011, accessible: http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/chsp_geopol/chsp_geopol.aspx

Sentence, Andrew and Betts, Richard (2012), International Dimensions of Climate Change, Climate Policy, 12 (S1), S1-S5. Retrieved from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2012.735804

UNFCCC. (2011b). Report of the Conference of the Parties on its seventeenth session, held in Durban from 28 November to 11 December 2012 – Decision 3/CP.17: Launching the Green Climate Fund (FCCC/CP/2011/9/Add.1).

World Bank, GDP 2012: http://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/GDP_PPP.pdf


[1]This blog draws on JuttaBrunné&Charlotte Streck, The UNFCCC as a Negotiation Forum: Towards Common but More Differentiated Responsibilities, in: “The Changing Geopolitics of Climate Change” Special Issue edited by Charlotte Streck and Maximilian Terhalle, forthcoming in September 2013.

Consumption-based GHG accounting: a “policy journey” – by John Barrett

While there have been a number of papers that calculate consumption-based GHG emissions, we were keen to present a paper [now published in Climate Policy Journal, Vol. 13, issue 4] that documents its application to climate policy, recognising the uncertainty in the calculations and presenting the future research challenges. In this blog I’ve mapped out the “policy journey” of consumption-based emissions in the UK. The journey began in 2005 with initial estimates of the UK’s consumption based emissions right up until 2013 with consumption-based emissions now being a headline indicator for the UK Government with a number of serious policy options being considered.

One of the first calculations of the UK’s consumption-based emissions were in 2005 in a publication by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) with WWF-UK using a very simplistic model to understand the emissions embodied in traded goods and services. A year later Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) commissioned SEI to undertake a study to produce a time series of the UK’s consumption based emissions. When it came to publishing these results it met considerable opposition from politicians and senior civil servants resulting in a significant delay in the release of the data.  This did not come as a major surprise when considering the findings – consumption emissions up 20% from 1990 and territorial emissions down by 20% over the same period. Clearly the analysis questioned conventional wisdom on the success of climate policy in the UK and resulted in considerable media attention. In 2007 the UK government response was one of defence, failing to see additional data on the UK’s emissions as an opportunity.  The paper attempts to demonstrate that there are a range of international and domestic climate policy options that become credible and more visible when viewing it from a consumption perspective.

The research continued at the University of Leeds with support from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) where the models became increasingly sophisticated and detailed and more examples of the application to policy were undertaken resulting in numerous academic and policy publications.

In 2011 DEFRA commissioned Leeds to provide a consumption-based emissions official indicator for the UK government. This represented 6 years of continual effort for a consumption based approach to be recognised in climate policy; however it did not stop there!  The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee decided to investigate consumption based emissions and advise the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on the position that they should take. The report strongly recommended that the UK government monitor these emissions and take an international lead in forming an appropriate response. This then led to a detailed study by the committee on climate change. The study recognised the complementary nature of consumption and territorial based emissions and started to develop a range a potential policy responses that may be required if emissions embodied in imports failed to reduce in the coming years.

We understand that technology development takes some time and we develop learning curves to try and predict this, however clearly there is an additional learning curve associated with policy development.  It has taken 8 years to go from the first estimates to serious consideration by the Committee on Climate Change. Future scenarios of climate mitigation clearly need to recognise the inertia in the policy process.

The journey of consumption based emissions was never going to be an easy one. I think the predominant reason for this is that it highlights the difficult relationship between emissions and economic growth and the serious lack of decoupling between them. We still don’t have a definitive answer on how exponential economic growth will be achieved in a carbon constrained world.

By John Barrett.

His full article on consumption-based accounting is published as: John Barrett, Glen Peters, Thomas Wiedmann, Kate Scott, Manfred Lenzen, Katy Roelich & Corinne Le Quéré (2013), Consumption-based GHG emission accounting: a UK case study.  Climate Policy Journal, vol. 13, Issue 4, pages 451-470

Was blocking SBI in Bonn justified? – by Anna Korppoo

I was asked after Bonn whether Russia, Ukraine and Belarus blocking SBI seemed justified. Blocking SBI (or any other negotiation stream) is of course a radical undertaking as it wastes the scarce negotiation time the UN process has per year. However, this time the action of these three countries, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, cannot be labeled as a simple protest only, as they are raising an important substantive point.

Adding an agenda item on procedural and legal issues related to decision-making gained importance in the eyes of these countries in Doha in December, when the amendment to the rules of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was adopted against their agreement. This further stretched the vague concept of consensus decision-making. Even though consensus does not require unanimity amongst all countries, this time the view of a group of countries was ignored on a legally binding substance matter that applied to the protesting countries (redefinition of their commitments for the second commitment period). Even though they can decide not to ratify the second commitment period, they still felt strongly that this was unprecedented.

So perhaps we should rather be asking whether the request of these countries to add an agenda item (or originally sub-item 17a, which had been recorded in the agenda as a separate item 19) to ensure that the matter is discussed, was unreasonable. And why it raised opposition amongst others, as the concern on the vagueness of the procedural rules is sympathized by many other parties – although all this sympathy may not always be spelled out in the negotiation room.

It could be argued that an additional agenda item could cause at least two kinds of procedural trouble in the future. First, also other countries could start suggesting agenda items, which would slow down the process, and make it difficult to judge which item could be legitimate to add, and which one not. Second, and maybe more important, is the difficulty of the task such an agenda item would establish. The consensus rule is not easy to define further due to its nature. The adoption of the Rules of Procedure for the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC have so far failed, and thus, COPs have been run on draft Rules of Procedure for almost two decades. This means that for instance voting rules do not exist, and thus, ‘consensus’ is used in decision-making. As a result, the agenda item could possibly delay the negotiation process. The counter-argument of these three countries is that it would be problematic to negotiate a new agreement without clarity about the procedural rules. Further, some more political opposition to a new agenda item came from countries which have unsuccessfully suggested agenda items in the past (most importantly: India on intellectual property rights).

The compromise suggested by the Chair would not have ensured that the issue raised had got sufficient attention in the future, as its aim was not to record the item in the actual agenda, but in other documents. Such recording could have easily been sidelined by parties willing to do so. Thus it is understandable that these compromises were turned down.

Finally, all this takes place in a setting which has got used to thinking that these countries do not take climate protection very seriously. Their domestic measures are vague, and their pledges for the Kyoto second commitment period were unrealistically loose, allowing them more or less unlimited headroom for emission growth. Russia has withdrawn from the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in terms of legally binding commitments. Also, especially Russia has demonstrated its ability and willingness to block the process in the past in order to gain political or economic benefits, and even though the substance matter is this time legitimate, it must be difficult for other parties to overcome this past, and see the protest as a separate event. Also the way the debate has evolved due to Russia’s rhetoric has perhaps strengthened this impression, and wider political motivations behind the argument from this camp certainly come to mind.

For more on Russia’s participation in the climate negotiations, see Anna’s article on Doha in Climate Policy. (vol.13, no.3).

 

Carbon Fiddles While the Planet Burns – by David Levy

Carbon Fiddles While the Planet Burns

Reposted from Organizations and Social Change: Latest Insights from the Organizations and Social Change Research Group at the UMass Boston Department of Management and Marketing

By David Levy.

A milestone on the road to catastrophic climate change was reached last Thursday, May 9th, when the Mauna Loa research center in Hawaii recorded atmospheric CO2 levels above 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time. The level during pre-industrial times was around 280 ppm, and has been rising at an accelerating pace due to burning fossil fuels and clearing forests. For the last 400,000 years or so, CO2 levels have fluctuated between about 180 ppm, at the depths of ice ages, and 280 ppm during relatively short warm periods, or interglacials (see graphic). The last time CO2 levels reached 400 ppm was at least 3 million years ago, a much warmer world where sea levels were 60-80 feet higher.

Despite more than 20 years of accumulating evidence concerning the serious consequences of rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases on the global climate, including rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, and more frequent floods and droughts, the organizational response has been dismally inadequate. Carbon markets have been widely embraced by many policymakers, academics, businesses, and even environmentalists as a way to put a price on carbon emissions, but these markets have clearly failed to address the issue. Carbon markets are complex political and legal constructions crafted to serve the interests of many actors, but they were deliberately designed not to disrupt our carbon intense economy and lifestyles.

Many have attributed the failure to address climate change to the vested interests and political power of the fossil fuel industry as well as the inertia of our complex fossil-fuel based society, with interlocking technologies, infrastructure, lifestyles, and corporate assets and competencies (See my earlier work on this here and here, and a recent introduction to an Organization Studies special issue on Climate Change and the Emergence of New Organizational Landscapes). Bill McKibben has written alarmingly about the 2795 Gigatons “of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn.” This amount is five times more than we can realistically burn and hope to stay within the 2 degrees Celsius warming target, but McKibben points out that it is “economically above ground”, because it’s already figured into corporate share prices, credit ratings, and national budgets.

The 400 ppm threshold was reached just a few weeks after the European Union failed to agree on a plan to prop up the European Trading System (ETS), the world’s largest cap-and-trade market, prompting the price to collapse to under $4/ton. The recession and ensuing austerity has cut the EU’s appetite for subsidies for clean energy and shifted priorities. In the US, plans for a national cap-and-trade system failed in the Senate in 2010. Theda Skocpol, a political scientist at Harvard (fondly known here as UMass on the Charles) has recently attributed this failure to the collapse of political will after the recession, the resurgence of fossil fuel industry and Tea Party opposition to climate opposition, and strategic miscalculation by environmental groups who ignored the grassroots to focus their efforts on Washington DC elites.

In a similar vein, my own academic work has built on the work of Niccolò Machiavelli and Antonio Gramsci and developed the concept of ‘strategic power’, the ability to study a political arena and deploy resources in a way that integrates economic, cultural, and political forces to create real change. Unfortunately, groups funded by the fossil fuel industry, the Koch brothers, and other conservative billionaires have successfully exerted strategic power, exploiting the recession to lobby politicians, and organize and train anti-climate activists. Perhaps their biggest success has been to weave climate change into broader cultural-political themes dominant in the US, such as individualism and consumerism, fears of unemployment, suspicion of government and foreigners, hostility to taxes, and antagonism toward scientific, political, and financial elites (see my related 2009 blog piece).

Many of those concerned about climate change supported the development of carbon markets for strategic reasons, because they saw that carbon taxes and direct regulations were considered politically impossible. Drs. Peter Newell and Matthew Paterson, for example, in their 2010 book Climate Capitalism (see my review here), grudgingly embraced carbon markets, despite acknowledging their many flaws. They bring a political economy perspective to climate change; if we are to address climate change in a meaningful way within the necessary timescale, carbon capitalism is the only game in town that can galvanize a powerful network of actors with the potential to take serious action. They stress that carbon capitalism offers the opportunity to successfully mobilize the resources, energy, and political support of key sectors of business and finance, as well as policymakers. Carbon markets offer strategic flexibility for manufacturers, new market opportunities for traders and financial firms, and a source of capital for developing countries. A few key players, such as Cantor Fitzgerald and Deutsche Bank, were central figures in forging the carbon markets, and not surprisingly, they shaped the rules and processes to suit their capabilities and interests. Carbon markets are therefore political and institutional constructs, relying on a vast legal and accounting infrastructure to commoditize carbon: to establish property rights, count and certify tradable units, and to enable exchange across different jurisdictions and gases.

Dr. Janelle Knox-Hayes at Georgia Tech has spent the last couple of years studying the nascent carbon markets. The picture that emerges from her work is that these financial institutions are involved precisely because they see the opportunity to apply their financial expertise and institutional capacity to a new market. So these actors created carbon markets that look a lot like the markets for other financial instruments and commodities, complete with futures, options, and other derivatives. This is unsurprising, given what we know about how organizations build new institutions by adapting existing templates. These are the very same players who brought us sub-prime mortgages, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and value-at-risk models. These were attractive because plain-vanilla mortgages had become simple commodities with very low profit margins, while the complexity of new derivatives enabled these companies to charge high fees for specialized products and the associated proprietary expertise and valuation techniques. The financial firms thus have a vested interest in market instruments that are complex, opaque, volatile, and hard to value. So there are legitimate grounds for concern that carbon markets were not designed to provide the clear and simple price signals needed to stimulate a broad transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Carbon markets have lost us more than 15 years in the battle against climate change”, according to Dr. Steffen Böhm in a recent piece in the Guardian. He points to three systemic failures that have plagued carbon markets. First, the Clean Development Mechanism that generates a high proportion of globally traded credits is so flawed that many, if not most, CDM projects do not pass the “additionality” test of reducing emissions relative to a hypothetical business-as-usual baseline, and certainly don’t reduce emissions in any absolute sense. Second, carbon markets are beset by corruption and lack of independent oversight. Third, they can promote environmentally questionable practices, such as burning rice husks to generate ‘renewable’ power and carbon credits, instead of their traditional use as fertilizer – therefore increasing the use of energy intense chemical fertilizers.

Carbon markets were not primarily designed to solve the climate crisis, but rather to gain political support from business, policymakers and civil society actors in a grand ‘carbon compromise’. Competitiveness concerns led policymakers to design carbon markets to be sufficiently flexible and with sufficient credits that carbon prices would not impinge too much on corporate product strategies. Policymakers could claim to be addressing the issue without affecting core business strategies. The (failed) proposals for federal cap-and-trade in the US, as well as the RGGI system that (barely) functions in 10 northeastern states, were designed to keep carbon prices well below the $30/ton level, a price that roughly translates into an increase of 30c/gallon of gasoline, and about 2.1c/kWh of electricity. Prices in the RGGI market have recently been under $3/ton of CO2. While some point to the low price as an optimistic sign that carbon emissions are in fact lower than expected, the emission reductions are only a temporary result of the recession. If business is to commit large scale resources to long-term investments in carbon reduction, then the carbon price signal has to be strong, consistent, and predictable. Markets are not magic mechanisms that solve all problems, but political and institutional constructions that serve particular interests. As atmospheric carbon surges past 400 ppm, it’s clear that carbon markets have failed us, and a new strategy is needed.