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The Shining Path to Lima

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

by Felix von Geyer

As the world’s climate negotiators pack their bags this week for darkest Peru where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will host its twentieth Convention of the Parties (COP 20), New Orator sheds light on what some of the key issues will be.

The Lima UN Climate Change Conference will aim to hammer out as much of the draft text required for next year’s Paris COP 21 as possible for the world’s governments to commit to a global climate treaty and framework ‘with legal force’ that is to be implemented by 2020.

This is what governments agreed to at the 2011 COP 17 in Durban where they agreed that any 2015 agreement would be informed by the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC was quite categorical in its report that fossil fuels needed to be phased out by the end of the 21st century.

More specifically, the International Energy Agency stated in its recent World Economic Outlook, that the IPCC’s global carbon budget is likely as much as 1000 gigatonnes of CO2 before global warming would exceed 2 degrees increase in average global temperatures and deliver serious climate change.

According to the IEA, the current state of the world’s global energy infrastructure means that carbon budget will be used up by 2040. Only in 2011 the IEA stated that to avoid exceeding 2 degrees, the world had until 2017 to avoid a 100 percent locking-in of the global energy infrastructure that would create serious climate change.

The IEA message remains clear. All parties to the framework should include a mitigation component that should address their country’s energy infrastructure and transition to a low-carbon future. Speaking on Thursday, IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven outlined 5 pathways for negotiators and policy-makers to consider as climate talks reconvene in December:-

A downward bend of the global emissions curve by 2020 is necessary to create a pathway to reduce global emissions; a focus on decarbonisation of electricity; an immediate reshape to accelerate innovation in low-carbon technologies; a mobilisation of otherwise non-climate goals such as economic development, air quality improvement and liveable communities and achieving fiscal balance as goals best promoted through emissions reductions within the energy sector. Finally, strengthening the energy sector’s resilience to climate change.

Van der Hoeven was forthright that governments must get started immediately in addressing these fundamentalsand should reflect these pathways within their INDCs. Essential components of an Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) should include policies and actions to unlock existing high emissions assets; the new landscape of emissions trading schemes; energy metrics to track decarbonisation progress and targets to reduce air pollution and GHG emissions.

To achieve this requires an agreement to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies and transfer that investment into renewable energies between 2014-2035 to achieve a so-called 450 Scenario – where emissions do not increase beyond 450 parts per million by volume, the level at which IPCC scientists believe serious climate change will be unleashed.

Yet the question remains, how will governments and the UN framework approach the whole issue of INDCs at the Lima climate talks?

The task ahead of Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Peru’s Minister of the Environment and President-Designate of COP 20 will be to create an ‘elements’ text that comprises elements of a draft negotiating text with the express view that it will become the negotiating text for Paris 2015. The starting point will be a ‘non-paper’ due from the Chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action set up in 2011.

As Elliot Diringer, Executive Vice-President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES – formerly the Pew Center for Climate Change) think-tank said during a webinar on Thursday, there are three options. One is to have mitigation included with adaptation, finance, technology and capacity-building. The second is to have differentiated mitigation levels for developed and developing countries following the line of thinking of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDRRC) that could also take the same approach as the Kyoto Protocol in partitioning emitters into Annex 1 countries – effectively developed nations who are historically responsible for the bulk of GHG emissions, and non-Annex 1 developing countries who may be allowed a higher emissions profile in their quest for economic development and poverty alleviation or eradication.

The final option is mitigation only.

However, the timeframe for mitigation and other national commitments might be contentious with 2025 and 2030 becoming likely competing timeframes. However, the recent US-China accord agreed between US President Obama and Chinese President Xi two weeks ago could create a spirit and intent akin to previous language of contraction and convergence, where developed countries supposedly act first to reduce emissions while develop countries converge mitigation efforts to meet developed countries’ efforts but at a later point, similar to the 2007 Montreal Protocol agreement to eliminate ozone depleting substances.

However, the level of ambition remains essentially contested as does the concept of a binding agreement ‘with legal force’ as agreed at the Durban climate talks during the infamous huddle in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Diringer for one cannot see how a Paris Agreement next year could be any more legally binding than the Kyoto Protocol – from which Canada, the world’s leading rogue nation on climate change, withdrew during the final year of the first period without penalty despite failing to reduce any of its greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels. Instead Canada’s own emissions projections for 2035 will likely be 35 percent beyond 1990 levels. This emissions profile will exceed 2005 levels by around 15 percent compromising Canada’s pledge at the Copenhagen 2009 talks to reduce its emissions in line with the US to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Consequently Diringer stated that a binding commitment will not actually guarantee countries will meet their commitments. However, he did offer the caveat that any substantive agreement might be slow, as is often the case until the last moment at climate talks. But where van der Hoeven’s first request is for countries to seek to a downward bend on the global emissions curve by 2020, Diringer cannot see that initial INDCs will put the world onto a 2 degree or 450 ppm pathway.

For Lima to prove a success and provide any shining path on the way to Paris will require having all the elements in place for an agreement that can be seamlessly scalable to increase all future levels of ambition for mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance without the need to renegotiate the framework agreement itself.

Quebec flies in face of Canada to launch its cap and trade

Friday, December 16th, 2011

While Canada may have announced it wants to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the French-speaking province of Quebec announced its cap and trade scheme to combat its own greenhouse gas emissions.

Where Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are some 25 percent above 1990 levels when its Kyoto target should be 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, Quebec`s actual emissions are 2.5 percent below 1990 levels, all the more remarkable as the province has approximately 95 percent hydro-electricity power-generation which means that fuel switching to cleaner sources of fuel is not an option.

Instead so-called ‘final mile’ emissions reductions, the ones that are hard to achieve, have been implemented.

In January, Quebec will commence a transitory pilot-phase to its cap and trade scheme under the California-led Western Climate Initiative scheduled to be rolled-out in full in 2013.

In the initial phases of the scheme, industries producing 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year will be included in the scheme and, as of 2015 and similar to the original proposals of the Waxman-Markey legislation defeated in the US, fuel distributors for transportation and buildings that emit over 25,000 tonnes or more of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions will also be included.

Emissions allowances will be ‘grandfathered’ or provided free in the first instance and will then be capped by 1 percent and then 2 percent until 2015.

Companies emitting more than their allowances must invest either into clean technology or buy emissions credits.

Liberal Prime Minister Jean Charest has committed to reducing Quebec’s provincial greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, in keeping with Canada’s Kyoto Protocol target that Stephen Harper’s Conservative government abandoned in 2007.