It doesn’t take much effort to see that a large and dangerous gap has opened up between the level of emission reduction pledges and the global carbon budget and emissions trajectory needed to maintain a high probability of keeping warming below 2o C, much less the 1.5o C limit demanded by highly vulnerable countries. This ‘Gigatonne Gap’ is at least 5 to 9 Gt CO2e, depending on whether countries achieve the low or high end of their 2020 pledges, according to the figures from Project Catalyst. And they rely on a 450 ppm scenario which itself is not a sure bet to keep the global temperature rise to below 2o C. At current emission rates, the remaining global carbon budget for a 2o C or less world will be eaten up by some time in the early 2020s. The gigatonne gap is one we can’t afford to fall into, and it’s coming on fast. For a true and adequate response to the climate crisis, there can be no sweeping of actual emissions under a rigged-accounting carpet. Measurement and accounting for ‘what the atmosphere sees’ is essential. Where did the gigatonne gap come from? There are several reasons for it: lack of ambition, loopholes in agreements (both existing and under negotiation), and the absence of some key sources and sectors. Most developed countries simply have levels of ambition that fall far short of any reasonable mark. In addition to general un- willingness by governments, a major reason for the lack of ambition is that the US continues to pollute far above the level any measure of equity would allow. The US lack of ambition will surely come back to bite it, as other countries seize the economic advantages of the low-carbon future. And there is growing concern about the level of financial resources to support adaptation, REDD and mitigation in the bill about to be introduced in the US Senate. If the US does not take on its fair share now to close the gap, then other developed countries will have to take up the slack both in mitigation and financing action in developing countries. Moreover, as the world waits for the US to stop hanging separately from the rest of the planet, the leadership already being shown by countries such as Costa Rica, the Maldives and Tuvalu to reduce their own emissions should inspire those with greater responsibility. The ambition deficit is a big part of the Gigatonne Gap, but there’s much more. Let’s highlight a few of the loopholes that Parties should consider closing. There are loopholes throughout the architecture of the existing agreements, especially the Kyoto Protocol. As one example, the shoddy and loophole-ridden LULUCF accounting rules do not, in fact, reflect what the atmosphere sees. Then there is the CDM, which hardly has a stellar record in achieving real and additional emissions reductions, as well as keeping the door propped open for emitting technologies and bad investment choices in developed countries. The banking of ‘hot air’ AAUs is also a live issue that urgently needs a clean-up. The EU Commission estimates that over 10 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emission units will likely remain unused during the 2008 to 2012 commitment period – and where and when will they land? These all need to be addressed in the KP negotiations, and no new loopholes should be allowed into either the LCA or KP track for the future. Remember: it’s what the atmosphere sees that counts. New sources and sectors of emissions also contribute to the Gigatonne Gap. Glo- bal aviation and shipping emissions are still not subject to reduction targets and that undermines the integrity of honest efforts being made to reduce emissions. Industrial gases, including HFCs, NF3 and N2O, should be removed from the CDM and addressed outside the market through a fund approach. Black carbon is a forcing agent that remains outside any control, and reducing it will have substantial development and health co-benefits. Addressing fossil fuel subsidies, as agreed in the G20, not only will help close the gap but add directly to the low-carbon transformations of the global economy. While the Gigatonne Gap is an urgent agenda item for the UNFCCC in 2010, there are many entry points and options, and they can be mutually supportive. Suggestions include a series of workshops to frame the discussion, a secretariat technical paper, and placement as a new SBSTA agenda item in addition to the LCA and KP negotiations. Closing the Gigatonne Gap is an opportunity for all countries not only to avoid the costs of climate change, but also to help achieve sustainable development in a fair way that respects common but differentiated responsibilities while taking advantage of respective capabilities. The Gigatonne Gap must urgently be addressed, so that the atmosphere can breathe more easily.
Tag: climate change
CAN-International recently sent the following letter to Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations in order to inform his search for a replace to Yvo de Boer, who announced he will be stepping down later this year as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Dear Mr. Secretary-General:
As the world’s largest network of NGOs collaborating on global solutions to the climate crisis, with an active engagement with the UNFCCC process since its inception, we at the Climate Action Network – International wish to support your efforts to fill the vacancy left by Yvo de Boer’s impending departure.
As you continue your search for a new head of the UNFCCC, we urge you to keep the following principles in mind while assessing potential candidates:
1. Commitment to the science: The fundamental objective of the UNFCCC under Article 2 is to avoid dangerous climate change. This objective has guided and should always guide the work of its Secretariat. As such, any head of the UNFCCC must have a sound understanding and fundamental adherence to the scientific basis for combating climate change, applying the precautionary principle in order to ensure the Convention fulfills its objective.
2. Political savvy and leadership: The UNFCCC in conjunction with global civil society has been successful in raising the profile and urgency of climate change effectively at the highest levels. Over 100 Heads of State attended Copenhagen and their continued engagement is both expected and essential. In this context, the new head of the UNFCCC must be able to thoroughly engage leaders and governments at every political level. This skill set must also include the strategic use of media, public attention, and private discourse.
3. Understanding of and experience with the negotiations: As our collective understanding of the climate crisis deepens, the negotiations within the UNFCCC continue to become more complex. Add to that the many challenging procedural dynamics and negotiating tactics, and it becomes clear that any candidate must demonstrate a deep understanding of how negotiations are to be managed from both procedural and strategic perspectives. Better still would be direct experience in the negotiations, to enable a deeper understanding as well as garnering trust from parties.
4. Commitment to the valuable role of civil society and marginalized communities in particular: The global civil society community engaged on finding a solution to the climate crisis has become larger, more organized, more strategic and ever more effective in recent years. Further, the UN and its members have consistently affirmed and reaffirmed the importance of civil society participation in the negotiating process. Notably, indigenous peoples, women and youth are often or will be most affected by climate change but very often, unfortunately their voices struggle to be heard. Any new head of the UNFCCC must work closely with civil society, women, indigenous peoples and youth (in cooperation with the Parties) to ensure proper, complete and effective participation of these constituencies. A demonstrable track record to this effect would be an important qualification for any candidate.
5. Thorough understanding of the challenges of development in the Global South: Climate change poses an existential threat to many lives and livelihoods throughout the world, but most the threat is most acute in the poorest communities. The challenge of addressing climate change and promoting sustainable development must always be approached in the context of existing challenges of poverty eradication and parallel development challenges. In addition, participating in the international negotiations themselves can often present a challenge to the poorest and most vulnerable countries in particular. The most vulnerable countries must be supported by the Secretariat (in cooperation with the Parties) to ensure their proper representation and voice in the process. A candidate with a keen and thorough understanding of these challenges is needed in order to achieve the right solutions.
6. Willingness to be assertive: Climate change is here, now. An aggressive and rapid response is urgently required, and the UNFCCC needs a leader who is willing to be bold and guide Parties along the ambitious path that is so desperately required. At the same time, of course, the head of the UNFCCC needs to ensure Parties feel their voices are being heard and that their concerns are being addressed in this context. However, the successful candidate must not be timid nor unwilling to take risks where required.
7. Commitment to transparency, process, and cooperation: The political stakes at the international climate negotiations have never been higher than at present time. As a result the tensions surrounding the negotiations are heightened as well. In this super-heated atmosphere, principles of transparency, good process, and cooperation can help to avoid unnecessary controversies. An leader with a strong commitment to these principles can help keep the focus of negotiations on delivering a fair and ambitious outcome rather than on procedural issues.
8. Commitment to smooth logistics: The Secretariat has an important role to play in ensuring the negotiations run smoothly from a logistical standpoint. Similar to the issues around transparency and process, ineffective or defective logistical arrangements can add distractions to the negotiations rather than contribute, while proper arrangements can obviously help provide an effective negotiating atmosphere. A head of the UNFCCC with a commitment to ensuring efficient negotiation arrangements will help to ensure the Parties and Observers can both focus on the incredibly important issues at hand.
In addition to the key qualities outlined above, we urge you to select someone who can inspire. Talks are currently at a tipping point. They need someone who can show that not only is a fully agreed international process for transitioning to a low carbon society urgently needed, but that it is achievable and indeed, the only way forward. We need someone who can challenge our leaders to do better, who can join the calls of millions of global citizens all around the world demanding that their governments do more on their behalf.
We in the Climate Action Network – International stand at the ready to assist you in any way as you complete your search for a successful candidate. Further, once a candidate is confirmed, we very much look forward to working closely with the successful candidate to ensure the Convention achieves its ultimate objectives.
Finally, as Mr. de Boer enters his final days as Executive Secretary, we would like to commend his work in furthering the negotiations, his sincere commitment to their success and his efforts to support civil society within the process. The next Executive Secretary will clearly have big shoes to fill.
Director, Climate Action Network - International
Cc: Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC
Richard Kinley, Deputy Executive Secretary, UNFCCC
Janos Pasztor, Director, UN Secretary-General’s Climate Support Team
Members of the UNFCCC COP15 Bureau
As Copenhagen prepares for December, a strange combination of Christmas lights, clean energy expos, evergreen wreaths, and security barriers have begun to crop up around the city. It's an exciting time to be in Copenhagen reflecting on a year of intense pressure, activity, and engagement around the world.
Over the past several months (and years), a growing movement has coalesced around the conference here next month and it's hard to believe it's finally almost here. In June, the sleepy German town of Bonn saw hundreds of activists descend in the rain upon the normally quiet Subsidiary Bodies negotiations at the UNFCCC's home. Thousands around the world participated in the September 21 Global Wakeup Call. Then in Bangkok in October thousands marched outside the UNESCAP building calling for climate action. October 24th saw the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet's history, spearheaded by 350.org, with over 5000 even in 181 countries around the world.
And now, rumors of tens of thousands are looming on Copenhagen, including, by my count so far, at least 15 Heads of State who have committed to attending the talks (although Yvo de Boer said in Barcelona that he expects at least 40).
The last time I wrote, it was a dark and gloomy day in Copenhagen. But today was beautiful - the sun was out, the weather warm, and the bustle on the street was electric.
The last time I wrote, I was convincing myself, and others, that all was not lost for December. Now, on this bright and sunny day, I'm as convinced as ever that world leaders can achieve an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen if they try.
Even in the past week, we've seen movement around the world. The Alliance of Small Island states continue to raise its collective voice of conscience against a weak outcome in Copenhagen. We've heard that the Chinese would be willing to bring a number to the table in Copenhagen. We've seen South Korea confirm a voluntary emissions reduction target of 30 percent below business as usual by 2020. The European Union has said that it would like a binding agreement in Copenhagen. France and Brazil came out with a "climate bible" - an agreement between two nations to work together on climate change. This follows Brazil's previous announcement of voluntary emissions cuts of 36-39% by 2020 below business as usual in a "political gesture" some weeks ago.
Even the Danish government, which had caused so many hearts to sink with its proposal of a "politically binding" outcome in Copenhagen, seemed to change its tune...if only just a bit. The Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaard (who will chair the negotiations in December), spoke in a press briefing at the close of the preparatory meeting last week, assuring the world that her aim is a legally binding outcome from the negotiations.
Finally, eyes continue to focus on the US. In the joint announcement between the US and China, President Obama indicated his team could bring further commitments to the table in Copenhagen. As Copenhagen creeps towards December, the question remains, will Obama come to Copenhagen?...and if so, will he come bearing gifts or a lump of coal?
Originally posted on Grist.org on 16 November
Waking up on a dreary Sunday morning this weekend in Copenhagen (where I've recently moved to prepare for the upcoming climate talks in December), I was met with a barrage of headlines, mostly from U.S. media, telling me that Copenhagen is doomed to total failure and I might as well head off to Mexico City where next year's summit will be held. The New York Times cried out: World Leaders Agree to Delay a Deal on Climate Change. The Washington Post bellowed: Copenhagen talks unlikely to yield climate accord, leaders told. Not the best way to start a Sunday morning.
Is Copenhagen really over before it begins? Had I moved to this dark, rainy (but beautiful!) city for no reason? Should we all just pack it up and hope that political declarations will solve it all?
The answer, thankfully, quickly became a resounding "no." As Grist's own David Roberts is often the first to point out, the mainstream media clearly got it wrong. There's still hope -- a lot of it, at that.
Let's start with those headlines. Who are these "world leaders" who agreed to delay? Well, the plural may be accurate, but just barely.
In the 48 hours since initial reports, as Ministers and other government representatives have trickled into Copenhagen for the "pre-COP" preparatory meeting, it's become clear that while the media reported that all 19 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) leaders were in agreement on the so-called "one agreement, two steps" approach, that's not at all the case.
The real story occurred at a hastily arranged APEC breakfast. Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen made a last-minute visit and surprised the room with a speech that was only vetted by a few of the so-called "leaders." One can only imagine a room full of bleary-eyed Heads of State sitting around a big table sipping their coffee and politely nodding at Rasmussen's climate change speech without really understanding how their nods would be translated by the media.
Rasmussen began his speech by saying:
...I would like to share with you how I believe a Copenhagen Agreement could be constructed to serve the dual purpose of providing for continued negotiations on a legal agreement and for immediate action...
And later towards the end of the speech he says:
Some of you might have wished for a different format or for a different legal structure. Still, I believe you will agree with me on one fundamental point: What matters at the end of the day is the ability of the Copenhagen Agreement to capture and reinforce global commitment to real actions.
Doesn't sound like consensus to me; it sounds like a man trying to convince an audience to go along with him. It's not entirely clear who actually did agree with the Prime Minister, but what is clear is that there is nowhere near consensus on such a delay approach; in fact, dozens of countries oppose it and are still wishing--and fighting--for more.
Now, what about the actual plan itself -- the "one agreement, two steps" plan? Two steps to an agreement doesn't sounds so bad, right?
As NRDC's Jake Schmidt wrote, the strategy might not be so bad if you actually thought that the second step would ever be taken. Unfortunately, what Rasmussen has put forward is a cynical approach. It's becoming clear that all he cares about is getting a "positive" result in Copenhagen, and that the second step could just be for show.
If you look closely at Rasmussen's APEC breakfast speech, there's very little incentive to actually finish the job in 2010 (as in, to take the "second step"). Rasmussen explains his vision thusly:
The Copenhagen Agreement should capture progress already achieved in the negotiations and at the same time provide for immediate action already from next year.
The Copenhagen Agreement should be political by nature, yet precise on specific commitments and binding on countries committing to reach certain targets and to undertake certain actions or provide agreed finance.
The Copenhagen Agreement should be global, comprehensive and substantial, yet flexible enough to accommodate countries with very different national circumstances.
The Copenhagen Agreement should finally mandate continued legal negotiations and set a deadline for their conclusion.
Why would any developed country with high emissions want to go back to the table and flesh out a legally binding deal after the pressure of Copenhagen has passed and there is no real obligation to do so? Despite his lip service to "continued legal negotiations", there's no clarity nor firm deadline. Rasmussen's invention of "politically binding"--a term no one seems willing or able to define--is also repeated here.
Furthermore, there is only a passing mention of the Kyoto Protocol later in the speech. Despite what some would have you think, however, the Kyoto Protocol does not expire in 2012. In fact, in 2005, the parties to the Kyoto Protocol agreed to negotiate a second commitment period (2013-2017) and further committed in Bali in 2007 to reaching a conclusion on what that second commitment period would look like. In Rasmussen's vision, this goal seems to disappear in favor of a "politically binding" outcome.
Indeed, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper--one of the leading climate negotiation blockers now that George W. Bush is out of the picture--has been positively beaming in the press about this announcement. Not a sign of a positive development.
Luckily, there's still time to push for more. The Alliance of Small Island States, the African Group of nations, and other vulnerable and least developed countries will surely be pushing back on this plan during the prep meetings in Copenhagen this week. In fact, 11 Pacific Island States already have. Some European nations are also likely to stand up to this plan.
The planet and its people need a fair, ambitious, and binding outcome from this process. Countries should be working on such a document in Copenhagen and they can and should finish it there. After all, it's what they committed to in Bali just two years ago.
Now that the dust has mostly settled and Parties are back at the negotiating table in the KP track, it is a good moment to take stock and reflect on the African Group gambit earlier in the week.
An important result from Wednesday's plenary is that industrialized countries will put their emission reduction targets on the table with no further delays, including the portions that will be met through international offsets and from land use change and forestry. It is truly amazing that after four years of negotiating the post-2012 regime this information isn't readily available.
Some Annex I countries haven't even tabled their overall targets yet. (And ECO won't comment here on the non-Kyoto major developed country and whether they have numbers on the table.)
It is no wonder that many developing countries are feeling more than a little frustrated by the lack of progress on emission reductions commitments from rich countries. If all developed countries actually delivered the requested information on their targets it would, at long last, provide the needed clarity on their opening bids, including how much of their effort will be domestic actions to reduce emissions, as well as how much will simply be bought from abroad. And countries planning on achieving a large portion of their target from LULUCF credits could be queried for clarification on how they expect to do so without resorting to weak accounting rules that allow phantom credits.
The agreement to put these details on the table is an important moment in the negotiations. But mind you, what this development does not do is deliver actual decisions, like an aggregate target for developed countries. If that kind of progress isn't seen soon, no one should be surprised if frustrations rise further and tactics become bolder. Of course, further breakdowns, here and going forward in Copenhagen, can be avoided if developing countries see political leadership from their rich counterparts on the critical issues such as Annex I emission targets.
Right now in Barcelona is the time for Annex I Parties to change their LULUCF strategy and stop looking for cheap and easy credits from this sector. Continuing on this path will undermine the integrity of the Copenhagen climate agreement instead of creating a fair and transparent accounting framework through which industrialized countries take full responsibility for emissions from logging and bioenergy production.
It has already become clear that seriously flawed rules will be challenged by non-Annex I Parties and observers alike. Moreover, continued advocacy for such rules by some Annex I Parties risks a setback in the overall negotiations and raises the necessity for further modifications such as caps or discounting.
Fair and effective forest management accounting rules will provide an incentive to make structural changes in forest management that benefit the climate, and discourage forest management practices that yield little value. Yet the options in the current working text are flagrantly asymmetric.
Sources of debits are variously removed from the accounting altogether, defined away in the reference levels, explained as natural disturbances, or delayed for decades by favorable wood product accounting. Erasing debits is like deciding that nobody will ever fail in a pass/fail system – and will provide about the same amount of motivation for the effort to get forest management right.
It's a little hard to believe, but the positions taken by many Annex I negotiators effectively define their preferred management choices as carbon-neutral, regardless of what emissions actually are. In this fantasy world, you incur no debits for a ‘business-as-usual’ policy of cutting forests at age 50 even if most of the national forest estate is now 49 years old and you’re about to cut it all down! Nor do you receive debits for stepping up forest harvest to produce bioenergy. But the atmosphere sees the debits as emissions that should not have increased.
Annex I LULUCF negotiators need to remember -- or be reminded by their ministers and civil society -- that the planet is at stake here and, yes, we actually need to reduce emissions. Good intentions are welcome, but we are not here to engineer rules to avoid changing how forests are managed.
ECO is pondering what would happen if other sectors played the LULUCF game. How about assigning zero emissions to the power sector if they ramp up production using a business-as-usual practice of burning oil? In the LULUCF world they would only count the emissions if the sector switched to a dirtier fuel like coal. But that's not what we meant by 'ambition' in a good Copenhagen deal.
CAN member 350.org, in close collaboration with a large number of partners, has organized close to 5000 actions in over 180 countries around the world on Saturday, October 24th, calling for immediate and aggressive climate action. It figures to be one of the largest global days of action of all time, on any issue, and looks to provide a boost of momentum in the lead up to Copenhagen.
In the buildup to the event, the USA Today published a column by former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, endorsing the event and its goals. In it, Tutu writes, "In South Africa, we showed that if we act on the side of justice, we have the power to turn tides. Worldwide, we have a chance to start turning the tide of climate change with just such a concerted effort today."
Bill McKibben, Founder and Director of 350.org, published an op-ed in the Boston Globe on Friday, as US President Barack Obama prepared to deliver remarks in Boston at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. McKibben reminds readers, "Global warming is different from almost every other problem we face. The negotiation that really counts is not between Republicans and Democrats or industry and the greens, or even between the United States andChina. The real bargaining is happening between human beings and physics and chemistry, and that’s a tough negotiation."
For more information on the Global Day of Action, visit the 350.org website, where you can find an activity in your area.